American businessman John Henry looks to be one step closer to completing his takeover of Liverpool after arriving at the London offices of the legal firm where the club’s board are meeting to discuss the sale.
Henry tonight travelled to the offices of Slaughter and May and, when asked what it was like to nearly own the Reds, gave reporters a thumbs up gesture.
Despite strong renewed interest from Singaporean billionaire Peter Lim, Henry claims to have “a binding agreement” with regard to the purchase of the club.
The battle for control, which follows an overwhelming victory in the High Court for creditors Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) and Liverpool against current owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett, may be a short affair if Henry’s New England Sports Ventures (NESV) already have a signed and sealed deal.
However, Liverpool chairman Martin Broughton earlier admitted the need to “take legal advice” as to whether he has a duty to consider the increased offer from Lim that stands at £320m (€365m), an improvement of £20m (€23m) on that from NESV.
In a statement from NESV, however, Henry maintains his £300m (€340m) bid is legally the only one on the table that has credence.
“NESV welcomes today’s High Court judgment, which is a huge step forward for Liverpool FC,” said Henry.
“NESV has a binding agreement in place with the board of Liverpool FC and we are looking forward to concluding the deal.
“We are ready to move quickly and help create the stability and certainty which the club needs at this time.
“It is time to return the focus to the club itself and performances on the pitch.”
While few would dispute Henry’s sentiments, Lim will be reluctant to go away, particularly if Broughton discovers he has a legal obligation to explore the renewed offer further.
Like Henry, Lim also welcomed the decision of the court, stating: “The way is now clear for the board to sell the club.
“I have delivered my offer to the board and believe my ownership represents the best option for the future of the club and it’s supporters.
“I hope that when the board is reconstituted tonight that it will not simply ratify a sale to NESV, but will consider all the offers before them.
“I am asking the board to run a full and fair process that enables all of the offers to be considered on their merits before the future of the club is decided.”
The apparent tug of war between Henry and Lim comes after a ruling by Mr Justice Floyd against Hicks and Gillett and in favour of RBS.
The bank had accused the Americans of breaching the terms of their financing by seeking to change the board last week.
Hicks attempted to block the deal with NESV, who own Major League Baseball side Boston Red Sox, by removing managing director Christian Purslow and commercial director Ian Ayre from the board of Liverpool FC.
Hicks then installed his son Mack and a business associate, Lori McCutcheon, in order to control board voting ahead of a meeting to decide on which bid to accept for the sale of the club.
However, this compromised the agreement the Americans signed with RBS when the bank extended its credit facilities.
The RBS loan, which amounts to £237m (€270m), ends on Friday, with the bank applying to the court for an injunction to allow the sale to go ahead in order to recoup its money.
NESV’s expected takeover will stick in the craw of Hicks and Gillett, who were expected to be in attendance, despite today’s shattering result that effectively ends their three-and-a-half-year tenure in charge.
Paul Girolami QC, lawyer for Hicks and Gillett, offered no comment, while a leading sports lawyer, Andrew Nixon, confirmed it to be “the end of the road for them”.
A statement on Liverpool’s website underlined the club’s position as it read: “We are delighted the court has clarified the issue of board composition and has removed the uncertainty around the sale process.
“We will now be consulting with our lawyers and planning for a board meeting tonight. A further statement will be made in due course.”