Liverpool’s future remains on a knife’s edge, with conflicting tales coming out from all involved in that future. Today’s Sportsweek programme on the BBC’s Five Live radio channel carried some interesting allegations that add yet more weight to the stories that the owners are looking to get out.
You can listen to the programme here: Five Live Sportsweek Podcast. The story on Liverpool FC begins a couple of minutes into the piece.
According to the presenter, the future for the American owners now seems to be “quite clearly” away from Anfield. He said that negotiations have actually already taken place for DIC to take over, but that DIC won’t pay over the odds. They remain insistent they will pay no more than the true value of the club, which they now consider to be “around £300million”.
The presenter went on to say that DIC were keen to stress that their desire is to make the club financially stable, and to invest in players.
He also says that he had been told relationships between Liverpool and the owners have not been good from day one. He was told by a source that a close family member of Hicks had told him after a game at Anfield last season that, “They couldn’t wait to get rid of the club and they were sick and tired of it.”
The source also said that the relationship between Hicks and Gillett is strained, and that once against Foster Gillett has disappeared: he’s not been seen in Liverpool for two weeks.
The presenter claimed that the relationship between Tom Hicks and Rafa Benitez was “like a tinderbox” and that a contact of Benitez had told him last week that Rafa views Hicks with “complete contempt”.
Meanwhile the BBC’s banking sources had claimed that the refinancing deal with RBS would be completed this week, and that this would put Hicks and Gillett in a stronger position to sell.
The present said a city source said he was sure it was only a matter of time before a deal is done.
The BBC had tried on several occasions to get Hicks to an interview, but he had declined on every occasion.
It was the BBC website yesterday that claimed a bid was about to be made by DIC for the club. In fact of course it’s one of many recent claims along those lines. Yesterday’s BBC report said this bid replaced DIC’s earlier plan, revealed midweek in the Liverpool Echo, to buy out Hicks alone. They now wanted to buy out both owners. The figure quoted originally in the BBC report, £500m, was later amended on their website to a substantially lower £350m. That’s dropped again today in the BBC’s radio report, to “around” £300m.
Back from a break, Chris Bascombe was again writing in the News of the World this morning. It was his revelations last summer in the Echo, and later on during the autumn in the NOTW, that set alarm bells ringing about the mess the club seemed to be heading for. Chris’s report this morning also spoke of the bid from DIC, worth £350m according to his report, in which he quotes an ‘Anfield source’ as saying: “In a strange way DIC may think it’s worth waiting for the Americans to refinance because it will lessen the value of the club because of the level of debt. But the best thing that can happen is for the pair of them to get out now. It’s clear the old board has made a huge mistake selling to these two.”
The Gillett camp is maintaining its silence of the past couple of months.
The Hicks camp is maintaining its stance of being unaware of any offers and of having no intention of selling up.
In reality the businessmen who own the club will both have their own idea of what kind of price they’d sell for. It was on Monday that the Echo revealed the owners came close to selling 15% of the club to DIC before Christmas, the deal falling through because the price equated to the club being worth £1bn. This was in the same set of reports in which they exclusively revealed the admission by Hicks that he’d lined up Klinsmann, as an “insurance policy”. But if £1bn seemed too high to DIC before Christmas, it’s way over their valuation now. The lowest price quoted for their bid – £300m – would be enough to pay off the finance taken out by the owners for the deal last year, but would not leave them with a great deal of profit.
With all of these reports of DIC making a bid for the club, and no denial from DIC who have come out with replies along the lines of “we can’t comment on that yet”, there is very little doubt that DIC have made that bid, or are about to make it. And they would not make a bid without feeling there would be at least a chance of success, suggesting an indication came from the owners that an offer would be likely to be accepted. It’s as if the offer has been made for the lowest possible price that DIC feel the owners would accept. As if DIC knew how much to bid to make it a tough choice for the owners. If they refuse the offer, and DIC decide to once again call it a day on their attempts, Hicks and Gillett could be stuck with a club they can’t afford, one where the fans sing their names in derogatory terms every game, singing from under banners that demand the owners leave. But DIC may no longer be willing to bail them out by then.
The BBC claim that a Hicks family member made such a comment after a game at Anfield last season seems quite far-fetched. There were no signs of problems last season, the first signs really started to show themselves as we got towards the end of May, and the Athens final. Perhaps behind the scenes they were worried after finding their speed-dating approach to due diligence meant they’d missed something big. Maybe their post-takeover talks with Rafa had made them realise literally for the first time that the European transfer market was well-and-truly a seller’s market, not to mention quite unlike the US systems for acquiring new team members.
This raises a question that Liverpool fans still need to ask. Are we sure that DIC are not just a fire to jump from the frying pan into? Are we certain that DIC’s intentions really are more honourable than what we now believe Hicks and Gillett’s are? Are we sure that the masses of anti-Hicks reports are not just propaganda put out to strengthen DIC’s position whilst weakening Hicks and Gillett’s?
If it is propaganda, the Hicks camp have handled it badly. Most of the claims that were made before Christmas have turned out to be true. The reasons given for lining up Klinsmann would perhaps be acceptable to some supporters, if only they actually matched what the situation was at the time. The “insurance policy” argument fails on a number of counts. First of all, were not struggling in the league at that point in the season. We were still unbeaten, if perhaps with too many draws against our name. The Thanksgiving holidays, the time Hicks says the Klinsmann interview took place, came at the end of a two-week break from domestic football due to internationals. So there were certainly no poor results that could prompt this move at that time, unless it had been planned far in advance of that week. Managers do not get sacked for being knocked out of the group stages of the Champions League. Yet Hicks admitted that Rafa would have been out of a job had that happened. This threat caused the club’s first league defeat of the season, a few days before the last group game in the Champions League. There was no way Rafa was going to take a risk against Reading that would lessen his chances against Marseilles.
So in reality the so-called poor league performance wasn’t poor enough to be sufficient to sack a manager like Rafa – in fact had the pressure not been telling on Rafa and his demoralised squad during the recent run of three drawn games, Liverpool would have been three points off the top when taking their game-in-hand into consideration; three points that perhaps wouldn’t have been dropped in that Reading game. The other reason given was that the owners felt Rafa was going to leave. This is quite laughable really – they say that they believed press speculation enough that they had to get someone lined up to replace him. The same people that tell us to ignore the stories of the past few months because it is – they say – just press speculation, were now expecting us to accept they lined up Klinsmann because of press speculation!
There are too many contradictions in their denials for us to be able to trust them, and without trust they will struggle to ever get the supporters back on their side. Denials have been made either individually by Hicks, by the club on behalf of both owners, by Hicks’ spokesman on behalf of both owners, or by Rick Parry on behalf of both owners.
We saw the story the stadium was to be downgraded carefully denied one Saturday, only to be admitted two days later. That admission included a denial that the credit crunch was to blame for delays in getting the new finance deals in place. This denial came about 30 days after Hicks had said it would take 30 days to get that finance in place, finance that still isn’t in place. And Hicks admitted on Monday that the credit crunch was a factor in the delays after all. Hicks also said in an interview with SI in the US that the UK press had made up the stories he was planning to fire Rafa – and of course his admission on Monday that Rafa had been one game away from the elbow was in effect an admission that he’d lied to SI!
Unless they make big efforts to explain the long list of contradictions and to demonstrate with actions rather than words some of the claims they make, they are in an irretrievable position. They say they support Rafa, which would contradict the claims on the BBC today, but saying it proves nothing. They have effectively stolen a season from Rafa in terms of his being able to have a crack at the league – so they would need to offer him a 12-month extension to his contract to give him that season back. If they genuinely are concerned he could up and leave one summer, why not structure this new contract in such a way that Rafa walking out of his own accord would hit him financially, through the use of loyalty bonuses and so on?
An explanation of where the money went last summer would help them, but it would need to be done honestly. Liverpool’s income after a long run in the Champions League would have been slightly higher than normal last year already, but those massive TV contracts the owners were enthusing about at takeover meant that Rafa’s transfer budget should have been higher than normal even without the owners adding to it. Don’t forget also that sales of players brought in more than in a normal summer. They borrowed a substantial amount over what was needed to buy out the previous shareholders, and there seems to be nothing to show for this. It doesn’t necessarily mean that money has been wasted, or that the owners should have put more money in, but until it’s explained it actually does look that way.
The Hicks camp are aware that protests are planned for tomorrow night’s game at Anfield, but it’s difficult to predict exactly how much that will hurt them. It’s important to point out that the protests are not against the US as a whole, despite the inevitable wording on banners and in songs, but are against the current owners. And the protests remain against both owners – Gillett has made no effort to respond to requests that he put his side of the story forward, to distance himself from the actions that seem mostly to have been carried out by Hicks. With ‘soccer’ still so low-key, despite recent growth in interest, in the US the protests may barely register in Hicks’ homeland, although US Reds will no doubt do what they can to draw attention to the banners and chants.
This week could be one of the most memorable in the club’s history. There is no doubt whatsoever that DIC are making a bid. The amount of that offer is in doubt, due to the fluctuating reports in that regard, but an offer is there to be made. The doubt is whether either of the owners will accept the offer. The indications are now strong that they will, finally, be able to get the new finance in place this week – finance that could leave the club struggling in the future due to the high interest rates it will inevitably attract. The offer from DIC would give them at the very least a small profit, depending on which figure finally turns out to be true.
Whether the owners sell to DIC or stay on with that new finance deal, there’s no doubt that Liverpool’s ownership structure will differ substantially from what was promised at takeover last year. The club will be heavily in debt under Hicks and Gillett, and with that debt in place could not afford much more delay to the new stadium. But the new stadium plans still haven’t been chosen from the two currently on the table – and neither of those have planning permission. If on the other hand DIC win their battle to take over, we’re really unsure of how our future will map out. They seem to be intent on releasing money for investment in the squad, but how heavily remains to be seen.
Whatever happens, we have to accept that the Liverpool of old has already gone. What we’ve got to hope for is that the new Liverpool will try harder to keep to the traditions of the old than this interim version has.