Political Economy of Football
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Thais Step Up Interest in Liverpool FC



Foreign takeovers are the flavour of the month as the globalisation of sport gathers pace and Bangkok's Thai Rath newspaper has reported that Thaksin Shinawatra, the country's billionaire prime minister is about to sign a deal to take a Bt4.6bn (£64m) 30 per cent stake in Liverpool (other local investors may also be involved). The club has been controlled by the Moores family for more than half a century and chairman David Moores hinted in January that he might be prepared to relinquish some of his 51 per cent share.

Strange to think of one of our leading clubs under partial Thai ownership - but that's globalisation folks

According to The Nation the prime minister met with Liverpool chief executive Rick Parry at Government House in Bangkok on 10 May and an announcement is anticipated on Friday May 14th before the end of the English season. Among others present at the meeting were the Thai ambassador to London and the president of the Football Association of Thailand, Vijitr Getkaew. A key intermediary in setting up the deal appears to have been Deputy Minister of Commerce Pongsak Ruktapongpisal. The populist prime minister made his money in telecommunications before he went into politics. His family controls Thailand's largest holding firm Shin Corp which has a market capitalisation of BT103 billion. The deal would entitle Mr Thaksin and his partners to commercial rights in Asia. Liverpool would also help Thailand establish a soccer academy to improve Thai players. However, if the money being invested on Merseyside had been invested in local talent, Thai football might have benefitted more.

Liverpool has made no comment on the report (other than a holding statement on its website), including the suggestion that prawn crackers will be made available from catering outlets around the ground. What has been discussed is the replacement of Carlsberg on 'Liverpool's uniform' by Chang Beer. Liquor baron Chareon Sirvadhanabdhakdi was present at a dinner with Thaksin and Parry at the Plaza Athennee hotel in Bangkok. Chang Beer is already available in the UK, but its market share is less than one per cent. Eventually, however, they decided to sponsor Everton.

Concerns have been expressed by Amnesty International about Thailand's human rights record which is alleged to have deteriorated under Thaksin's premiership, leading to a so-called 'Climate of Fear'. (For a statement by Amnesty on serious human rights violations and abuses said to have occurred in Thailand go to Thailand ). The acquisition of Liverpool might boost his popularity after criticisms of his handling of the avian flu outbreak, but local reds are divided about his involvement. The local following for Liverpool is very strong, but one fan has alleged that the prime minister once professed to be a Manchester United supporter. There are also concerns about suggestions that Thaksin would insist on the Merseyside club fielding Asian players. Some initial reactions have been highly unfavourable:

  • The editor of fanzine Through the Wind and the Rain (could this refer to the Merseyside climate?), Steven Kelly stated: 'We should have distanced ourselves from this guy from day one. If we had an ounce of humanity, we would have said no immediately.'
  • Nation TV announcer Thira Tanyapaibul, evidently a Scouser by adoption, said, 'We need someone who has a Liverpool soul to own the club. We don't want a profit seeker.'
  • Sports columnist Apisit Apisksiri stated, 'Liverpool fans in England will question his agenda because all that has been said about it is how Thailand's One Tambon, One Product [scheme] can take advantage of the deal.'

    A possible future at Anfield?

    Morgan launches bid
    If we had a fit and proper person test for being involved in running a football club, this person, prime minister or no prime minister, would be deemed unsuitable. Out of favour rival director Steve Morgan, a construction multi-millionaire based in Jersey, has now launched a new and more lucrative bid of his own. Thaksin has said that the chances of his own bid succeeding are now fifty-fifty. However, it won't end there. He has expressed an interest in Fulham in the past and will no doubt be looking for another Premiership club if he doesn't succeed at Liverpool. It is becoming the ultimate status symbol for a wealthy foreigner.

    Morgan's bid would inject £73m of new capital to strengthen the playing squad and to help to finance the new stadium. He would underwrite a share issue of £61m and issue a further £12m of shares to new supporters. A key aspect of the proposal is that chairman Moores would be able to buy shares rather than dilute his shareholding, retaining his hold on the club and remaining as chairman. However, Morgan would be an active figure in the boardroom which might not go down well with Moores. One of the attractions of having Thaksin involved from a board perspective was that as he would be attempting to run a country thousands of miles away, his involvement would be minimal. Professor Tom Cannon of Kingston Business School told The Times , 'There is going to be a long-term fight over this and it might get dirty. Steve Morgan is in a strong position to block a new share issue, which must be the basis of the Thai Prime Minister's offer. Interestingly, Granada with their 9.9 per cent stake in the club could end up being the powerbrokers.'

    Morgan bid rejected
    After a five hour board meeting Liverpool Football Club has rejected the so-called Bridgemere Proposal made by Steve Morgan. Morgan had pleaded with the board not to judge him on differences with chairman David Moores or by his criticism of manager Gérard Houllier, but it was the content of his proposal that the board did not like. A statement described the proposal as 'not attractive' on the grounds that it appeared to value the entire club in its present state at just £61 million. Morgan countered that he was bidding for a stake in the club, not control. In any event the question remains open about how Liverpool is going to generate the funds it needs to catch up with Arsenal, Chel$ski and Manchester United.


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