Liverpool owners FSG are expected to receive formal expressions of interest in the coming weeks.
The search for investment into Liverpool by Fenway Sports Group will likely hot up in February and March as interested parties potentially make their moves formal.
FSG are open to selling their full shareholding of the football club should someone come in over and above the $4bn mark, although the preference of principal owner John W. Henry has been one of sourcing partial investment through an equity share sale that would allow them to raise capital to aid their required team building and other infrastructure projects.
There has yet to be any formal offers made for the club and serious discussions with any parties have yet to take place. There will be interest in an asset such as Liverpool, one with a global fan base and appeal, but FSG are in no rush to part company with the club. Instead, they would prefer to find a ‘strategic partner’ that could aid their goals, reduce some risk and burden on their shoulders and provide them with an exit route in the future through any minority investor accreting their interest into a majority stake over time.
The next month or so could well see some of the interest that has yet to show itself formally crystallise, with US institutional investors and private equity firms and money from the MENA region likely to be assessing their options.
For FSG one, potential route could be the selling of a piece of the club to a sports investment group that has already established a multi-club model. That is something that FSG have looked at in the past but never acted upon despite having had an interest in the Brazilian market as it prepares for a seismic shake up that will welcome outside investment and the creation of a ‘Super League’ of the biggest Brazilian clubs.
The recent splurge in the transfer market of Chelsea has only served to highlight how tough it will be moving forward for Liverpool and FSG to achieve sustained success through their model, which has largely been built on hiring the best people to execute on strategy through digging deeper into the data. The Reds have long banked on being the smartest guys in the room.
Multi-club models, while not universally popular, have the potential to be a very useful tool when it comes to recruitment, especially given how it has become more challenging for English clubs to acquire foreign players following Brexit, with the introduction of the Governing Body Endorsement (GBE) regulations that work on a points-based system that players have to reach before being granted a work permit.
The signing of Enzo Fernandez by Chelsea for £105m is one that many clubs, including Liverpool, will look to as a victory in recruitment – for Benfica. The Portuguese side signed Fernandez for £10m last summer from River Plate. Less than 20 league games later they have sold him for a £95m profit.
There have been similar tales in Portuguese football. Darwin Nunez arrived at Benfica for €24m (£21.5m) in 2020 and was sold for £85m two years later to Liverpool. Others, such as Reds winger Luis Diaz, acquired from Atletico Junior in Colombia in 2019, have shown that in getting overseas recruitment right there can be enormous benefits.
Players need to have a grounding, of course. Fernandez, Nunez and Diaz all arrived in a strong Portuguese league but one that was outside of Europe’s big six. What they did have was the chance to get lots of game time and compete in European competition and find their way in the European system.
There are understood to be parties interested in Liverpool who already have pre-existing football investments. Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment (HBSE), owned by Crystal Palace shareholders Josh Harris and David Blitzer, have numerous sports teams in North America under their control, including the Philadelphia 76ers NBA team. In football, Blitzer, has investments in clubs including Palace, Estoril Praia, Beveren, Augsburg, Ado Den Haag, Brondby and Alcoron.
HBSE, who were in the running as part of a consortium that tried to buy Chelsea last year, are understood to have been monitoring the situation at Anfield, but sources say that while a play for a minority stake isn’t out of the question, although it would require them divesting interest in Crystal Palace, they are unlikely to make any play to acquire a team like Liverpool outright given the enormous cost burden.
Blitzer, when speaking at the Sportico Invest in Sports conference in New York in October, where the ECHO were present, hinted at their approach if a major Premier League asset became available again.
“At the end of the day I love Crystal Palace, and people who know me well will know I love Crystal Palace,” said the 53-year-old, an extremely well know figure in investment circles in the US.
“But there are a handful of teams/brands out there on a global basis, and Chelsea is one of them. The opportunity to invest in that particular situation with a very small number of people, frankly, given it was a complicated situation, we were comfortable giving that our best shot.
“We would have had to divest our interest in Crystal Palace had that come through. If that had happened it would have been a really sad day in one sense, but again back to the investment part it would have been a really interesting investment in terms of what’s out there for Chelsea. Then I would have probably had to hide a little bit when I went to London.”
Having partners that own other clubs could allow for FSG to realise some strategic objectives when it comes to recruitment, as they seek to try and redefine what Liverpool are about and the route it takes to success after seeing a stark decline this season on the pitch following a stellar year on it in 2021/22. This follows the loss of a number of key minds behind the scenes, such as former sporting director Michael Edwards and the impending departure of director of research Ian Graham, causing some concern.
Identifying recruitment opportunities ahead of the curve will be key but to get it right would likely provide a significant cost saving over time for FSG.
Chelsea, despite their major spend over the last two transfer windows, have ambitions of their own to try and avoid having to make such spend on a consistent basis.
Behdad Eghbali, Chelsea co-owner and co-founder of Clearlake Capital, said at the Sportico conference in October: “We think that there is a global pool of talent, and where that comes into play with multi-clubs is that you have pathways for players, where you’re managing your content, you’re managing your costs much more effectively and not buying the 30-year-old free agent.
“We think there is certainly a path to manage labour costs and, frankly, still produce a winning product using data and using the multi-club model. Multi-club, by the way, is an interesting tool for player trading. The ones that we have looked at who’ve done it successfully, Red Bull, £15m, £25m maybe £40m payroll for their largest clubs, they generate £50m to £100m per year in profit from player trading and player sales.
“For us, Portugal is an interesting market, the gateway to South America and European visas. The French market is interesting given the quality of the league. Africa we think is a big, big market. The [Los Angeles] Dodgers (part-owned by Boehly) have an academy and farm team in Uganda. Looking at Africa as a market, it is an untapped market of talent that is close to Europe, time zones close to Europe. We are all teetering on the surface of where this is going to go.”
There will be a number of potential avenues that could open up for FSG. There are partners that could come on board and aid the club’s push to generate greater revenues by unlocking some of the latent value that exists in Premier League football through leveraging the club’s global status to greater effect, and better monetising their global fans, something that would raise more money for re-investment in the team. Then there are the partners who could provide capital as well as the ability to better align with their strategic football objectives. There are then those who will simply be willing to invest and wait for returns when the club is sold, they hope, for a higher price in the future. Then there is the option of FSG simply taking a major offer and walking away altogether.
Strategic partners is understood to remain the preference, US sources have continued to tell the ECHO, although if someone is willing to go pay a very big asking price there can be nothing taken off the table.