Simon Ingram, solicitor at Anderson Sutton, says a quick sale could increase the chances of takeover talks, but more radical action may not make sense
It started as a simple matter of amending an employment tribunal award for sick leave pay.
But it quickly escalated into something that could undermine the integrity of football’s giant financial institutions and threaten the huge incomes generated by Premier League teams.
At the centre of this claim is former Liverpool and England midfielder Steven Gerrard. The retired footballer was sacked in April 2012 after being diagnosed with a heart condition – and The Mirror is now seeking payment for 400 hours of unpaid sick leave he claims he was entitled to.
A careful reading of the 37-page writ shows why Liverpool’s decision to terminate Gerrard’s contract has reached such an important phase. It’s clear Gerrard wanted to continue as a player until his heart condition was resolved, yet Liverpool says it had no choice.
Gerrard claims Liverpool should have granted him compassionate leave. But the club maintains that Gerrard should have advised his medical specialists of his condition – something his case clearly fails to support.
In fact, Gerrard left a voicemail message for chief medical officer Dr Steve Mandell, expressing a desire to play until his heart condition was resolved – but only after the club had decided to dismiss him. It appears clear that the club’s doctors used that voicemail to make the decision.
And, crucially, it’s made clear Gerrard did not tell the club that the condition was diagnosed by heart specialist Dr Neil Hulme, a leading expert on heart conditions and performed Gerrard’s test on 5 April 2012 – almost a month before the allegations.
To date, Liverpool have ignored what Gerrard’s solicitor Suzie Sutton describes as “one of the most significant breaches of Liverpool’s duty of care towards [his] employee”.
It’s hard to see how this is in the best interests of Gerrard’s employer, the club and the sport he loves, as it risks undermining the integrity of UK collective employment protection.
As the International Labour Organisation (ILO) set out, it must be said that Liverpool’s handling of this case has also been highly unusual.
The claims have generated a degree of acrimony, even if the allegations have not been proven, and the severity of its disciplinary action is unprecedented.
In the event of Gerrard failing to demonstrate he has settled his contractual claim to the satisfaction of the club, Liverpool, the players’ union and Hulme, he could lose his benefits payment for unpaid sick leave.
The process has already taken more than six months, which has left Gerrard – who still works for the club – without the financial security of his employment agreement.
To our knowledge, the club has never done this before.
Then there’s the complicated arbitration procedures that Liverpool is pursuing on behalf of its employees. It is aware that this was not a very satisfactory first attempt to resolve the case and feels certain that it can amend its employment contract by January 2016 so as to cover the period covered by this claim.
Such a switch to the more economic year-by-year approach could help diffuse the situation and enable Gerrard to continue with the hope of his future.
But to do so Liverpool, the players’ union and Mandell, may well need to meet a tribunal on 22 July to discuss any issues that may arise.
And if that can’t happen, there are no other legal means for Liverpool to settle the matter other than it being taken directly to the courts.
Either way, the process of reaching a consensus with all those parties on the same table is likely to be complex, painstaking and stressful.
The only certainty is that there will be no more games played by Gerrard.