Liverpool remain confident of success in their High Court showdown with their American owners despite Tom Hicks denying he ceded control of the club to chairman Martin Broughton.
The boardroom battle between the England-based members of Broughton, managing director Christian Purslow and commercial director Ian Ayre on the one side and Hicks and George Gillett on the other revolves around who has the controlling authority.
Hicks believes the deal to sell the club to New England Sports Ventures (NESV) for £300m (€344m) is invalid as, minutes before the meeting to discuss the offer on Tuesday, he changed the make-up of the board – removing Purslow and Ayre and replacing them with his son Mack and Lori McCutcheon, who works for Hicks Holdings.
However, Broughton yesterday said Hicks had “flagrantly abused” undertakings, given to major creditors Royal Bank of Scotland when the sale process began, which outlined Broughton as the only man with the ability to change the composition of the board.
As a result he refused to accept the changes and progressed the board meeting with neither owner willing to participate and that resulted in the agreed sale to NESV.
But Hicks is determined to fight to the end and the dispute will be resolved in the High Court early next week, Press Association Sport understands, and not tomorrow as has been suggested.
“There were no such undertakings given to Broughton, the board has been legally reconstituted, and the new board does not approve of this proposed transaction,” Hicks’ New York-based spokesman Mark Semer told Bloomberg News.
Broughton said the Americans were well aware of his role in the sale process when the club was first put on the market.
“When I took the role it was because George and Tom recognised the only way to move forward was to sell the entire club,” he said.
“They said if they sold the club they wouldn’t have credibility, so I was to add credibility to the process.”
The ownership of the club is likely to be decided one way or another by a week on Friday as that is the date for repayment of the £237m RBS loan.
Should Liverpool lose in the High Court to Hicks and Gillett, and judging by Broughton’s comments they feel that is highly unlikely, there is still the option of the bank – as the major creditors – calling in their debt and forcing the sale through to any party they feel meets their requirements.
Realistically that means NESV would still end up as the new owners, just by a slightly different process.
“NESV has been in serious discussion with us for some weeks, we’ve been to see them in Boston, London and Liverpool,” said Broughton.
“They’ve done their due diligence and they’ve recognised October 15 is the deadline to get their bid in.
“They could have put [their bid] in on October 14 to pressure the bank, but they’ve chosen to do it now.
“RBS has played a big role in this, working alongside us.
“I am confident we will prevail, but you can never be 100% when you go to court.
“We will be seeking a judgment that we acted within our rights. They tried to remove Ian and Christian, and after taking legal advice I told them that was invalid.
“I think we’ll get there, but I can’t make a promise.
“If the case goes against us, we do have a fallback position, but we’re not prepared to discuss this at present.”
If the NESV deal goes through, Hicks and Gillett stand to lose £144m as the bid will only pay off the debt used to acquire the club in March 2007, about £200m of which is owed to RBS.
It is for that reason the Americans are putting up major opposition as they want a higher purchase price to lessen or even cancel out their losses.
But Broughton believes his stance is based on a firm legal footing.
“I’ve not spoken to Tom Hicks since Tuesday’s board meeting, but he has been understandably disappointed,” he told the Liverpool Echo.
“Our collective objective was to find the right buyer – not necessarily the highest bidder.
“There was no minimum price. I made it clear this was a willing buyer/willing seller process.”
Liverpool manager Roy Hodgson has welcomed news of the sale.
“It’s very positive and of course I’m delighted,” he said.
“It’s been going on a long time and I know how hard the board have worked to set things up.
“I know it’s not easy for them because the owners have other ideas in terms of the sale of the club and what is achievable.
“But I was delighted to hear the news and have it confirmed that it looks like it is going to go through.”