Tom Hicks has today made yet another bungle in his long list of errors and misjudgements since taking over at Anfield with the nowadays silent George Gillett.
Reports on Friday night that hit the papers on Saturday morning spoke of Jurgen Klinsmann having been offered the Liverpool job before accepting his new role as manager at Bayern Munich. Liverpool FC refused to comment on the stories, and remained silent throughout the weekend.
However that silence was making things much worse for them. There was little doubt that they had approached Klinsmann, the rumours were far too strong and had come from far too many directions in the football world, in the US, the UK and in Europe.
Rafa’s position was being made increasingly difficult.
Added to this was the speculation that Hicks and Gillett were about to sell out to DIC if they couldn’t get that loan refinanced.
Today Hicks made a number of contradictions when trying to explain recent events to the Liverpool Echo.
In an article headlined, ‘Tom Hicks: Jurgen Klinsmann “only an insurance”‘, Tony Barrett gets the scoop of the year so far as far as Liverpool are concerned. The restrictions Tony faces when reporting on such matters mean he perhaps can’t say what he’d like with regards the quotes from Hicks. The paper has always tried to be careful not to offend the top brass at the club, and the editor of the paper, part of the same group as the Daily Mirror, would not allow the article to be pitched too far in opposition to the owners.
Hicks’ story is full of holes, when compared to previous statements, and suggests he either assumes Liverpool supporters are slow-witted imbeciles, or perhaps hasn’t the wit to check his previous statements first to avoid making those contradictions.
The Echo say that Hicks and Gillett met Klinsmann in Hicks’ other home, in Southern California. This meeting took place during the US Thanksgiving Holiday. The 2007 date for Thanksgiving was November 22nd, the day before the never-to-be-forgotten press conference where Rafa repeated the “concentrating on coaching my team” mantra. The following day was the Newcastle match at St James’s Park, where Rafa wore his tracksuit and trainers instead of his usual suit.
At that time Liverpool had just won their previous two matches – the 8-0 Champions League win over Besiktas and the 2-0 win over Fulham in the league. They were still unbeaten in the league and certainly still capable – despite having had less invested than the likes of Chelsea and Manchester United – of challenging for the league.
The owners’ plot included wining and dining both Klinsmann and his wife Debbie, Klinsmann being told he’d be the perfect for the club should Benitez either leave the club or be fired.
Hicks admitted that an offer was made to Klinsmann – but claims it was purely an “insurance policy”. He now says that Benitez has his full support. Unfortunately his word means very little these days.
Rafa has always maintained that at a meeting following the draw with Arsenal on October 28th that everything was fine between him and the owners. But it’s known that Foster Gillett disappeared from England after that game, only returning in December. Back at that October meeting Liverpool had already failed to win those first three Champions League games. Yet the owners did not tell Rafa of any problems with that situation.
The Arsenal game was followed with a Carling Cup win over Cardiff and a goalless draw with Blackburn, before those wins over Besiktas and Fulham.
After the Fulham game came the international break. A number of Liverpool’s players were on international duty, and those that weren’t were injured. Rafa had more time than normal to look at transfers. Transfers he’d discussed following that Arsenal game. But the owners had seemingly lost interest. They and Rick Parry were trying to fob him off; Foster had already disappeared, perhaps to ensure he didn’t let the cat out of the bag about Klinsmann.
Hicks has claimed through the Echo that it was doubt about the Reds progress in the Champions League – following the Besiktas defeat back in October – alongside “communication problems” that made them turn to Klinsmann as a so-called contingency. In actual fact the time from the Arsenal game until the time of the Newcastle game was pretty much the thirty days Hicks said it would take for their refinancing application to be approved. It’s still not been approved now, almost another two months down the line.
Exactly what the “communication problems” could be that were sufficient enough to line up a replacement is hard to work out. Foster Gillett may have disappeared, for reasons still unknown, but Rafa just wanted to move forward with plans he’d already discussed a couple of weeks earlier. He was told then that the plans he had were fine. Yet four weeks later they weren’t. Why? Had the owners got money worries? Or was it something else?
Hicks explains, or tries to: “In November, when it appeared we were in danger of not advancing in the Champions League, weren’t playing well in our Premier League matches, and Rafa and we were having communication issues over the January transfer window, George and I met with Jurgen Klinsmann to learn as much as we could about English and European football.”
For two weeks of November there were no fixtures, since they’d last seen Rafa Liverpool had at least got the Champions League back on track with that 8-0 win and they were still unbeaten in the league. And now Hicks is adding to his claims that the meeting with Klinsmann was to help them learn a bit more about the game of football over here! Which is it? To learn about the game, or to offer him Rafa’s job?
It seems it was the latter really: “”He is a very impressive man. We attempted to negotiate an option, as an insurance policy, to have him become our manager in the event Rafa decided to leave our club for Real Madrid or other clubs that were rumoured in the UK press, or in case our communication spiralled out of control for some reason.”
Real Madrid had not been rumoured in any reputable English press articles at that time. Rafa was also under contract for another two-and-a-half years. To use that as an excuse is nonsense.
Hicks told the Echo that when they finally managed to get their backsides across the Atlantic, and then after a few days in the country finally talk to Rafa, that they then suddenly realised that there was now no need to go any further in their move for Klinsmann.
A few days after that meeting Hicks used Sports Illustrated to belittle Rafa, claiming he “pouted” when told to concentrate on coaching. The fact he’d perhaps just found out they’d interviewed his replacement had nothing to do with that then? Rick Parry used the BBC to warn Rafa publicly that he had to keep quiet in public about club policy. Gillett spoke at a party before pretty much disappearing again.
Rafa has never said he wanted to leave Liverpool. The one time that happened was well before the Moores sold out to the Americans, and Rafa chose Liverpool above his boyhood idols. He and his wife and kids love the country and the city; he loves the club and the fans. He was promised so much yet given very little by comparison. Now he’s being blamed for the owners talking to Klinsmann – it’s back to them being worried he was going to leave! Hicks said: “After George and I had our long and productive meeting with Rafa following the Man United match, we put all of our issues behind us and received Rafa’s commitment that he wanted to stay with Liverpool.” Rafa’s commitment has never been in doubt Mr Hicks. Where’s your commitment to Rafa? We don’t trust your word; it’s been shown not to be worth a great deal.
Klinsmann never signed the contract with the Americans, probably because he knew his popularity would start off very low and would struggle to increase, and also probably when considering that if this sneaky way of doing business and managing key staff is how the American work, it was perhaps as well he steered clear. Hicks says: “We never reached agreement on an option with Jurgen, and we are both pleased for him that he has a great opportunity to return to Germany and coach a great club team.”
It’s the first time we’ve heard anything close to support for Rafa from Hicks, but it sounds hollow: “Rafa has both of our support, and our communication has greatly improved. Foster, Rick Parry and Rafa now have regular meetings at Melwood on Monday mornings. The two families always try to have a telephonic meeting on Monday afternoons, so we all are on the same page. We all want to win more games.”
The way to show that support for Rafa is to extend his contract. But in reality the damage has already been done. The owners just can’t be trusted. Rafa has earned a lot of respect from Liverpool fans and this respect has allowed him some time to make mistakes, and some patience from the fans. That patience is running out, but it does remain. The owners have done nothing to earn respect from the supporters, quite the opposite, and so patience is something they will struggle to get.
They say they invited Klinsmann over for Thanksgiving because they wanted to learn about football on this side of the pond, then they say they got him in to ask him if he’d mind awfully being the backup should Rafa be sacked or leave.
They claim they thought Rafa might leave because of press reports linking him with Real Madrid “and other clubs”. Which other clubs? When did these reports come out, and were they from anyone remotely reliable?
They also claim that they were considering firing him because of poor results in the league. Yet from the Arsenal game where they were happy until Thanksgiving only had two league games – one was a draw and the other win, and they were still undefeated in the league. They certainly weren’t out of touch of the top. They’re further away from that now, having had three draws in their last three games, so surely Rafa is now under even more of a threat?
The Champions League dropped points had already happened before that Arsenal game; by the time Thanksgiving came along they’d got back on track with an 8-0 win.
There’s also an admission via another Echo story that they had almost come to a deal with DIC for the Arabs to buy a share in the club. Their high valuation of that shareholding blocked the deal. It also alerted DIC to the troubles the owners are in, hence their sitting in the wings waiting for their opportunity to take over. Yet back at the end of November, Rick Parry told the Daily Post, that the stories talking of Hicks looking at selling shares was untrue: “I have seen the story, and as far as I am aware it is complete rubbish,” Parry said at the time.
Chris Bascombe has taken a lot of stick over his reporting, when he was at the Echo and even more now that he’s at the News of the World. But he’d certainly got enough contacts to find out most of the truth that Thanksgiving weekend, with the gaps being filled in during the following weeks.
The owners have used a mixture of lies, spin and silence to avoid owning up to the truth about their intentions. Forget “Snoogy Doogy” and talk of being custodians. They’ve no intention of putting anything of their own into this club, and judging by their ill-advised – if they even were advised – plan to install the failed manager that is Jurgen Klinsmann then it seems they really just don’t care all that much what happens on the field.
This time they’ve gone too far. Already there is deep-seated anger from more and more supporters at the way they are handling our club. And already fans are discussing ways of making this known to the owners. It should also be made known to the financial institutions the owners are speaking to, because they need to know that the owners are not what they make themselves out to be. They’ve not got a clue how to run a football club, and there is a serious risk that the club’s status will fall under their ownership. Liverpool could easily drop out of the top four, even the top six, by employing inexperienced coaches and failing to try and invest in the team at the same rate as their rivals. Another year’s revenue from the new stadium has been lost due to their pathetic showing off of a stadium they couldn’t afford. All in all these owners stand to ruin this club. It’s only a matter of time before they remove their rubber masks to reveal they are actually Neville Neville and Norman Whiteside.
They need to do a lot more than this to even start to win the supporters over. And I believe it’s already too late. Time they left. Time the financial institutions were warned – there’s a vote of “No Confidence” in Hicks and Gillet.