Tom Hicks has gone off on one again, or so it seems. Gone off into one of those wild fantasy worlds where he vehemently denies something or other to do with his ownership of Liverpool Football Club. All around him are great big pointers to whatever he’s denying being actually true, yet he stands there and says it isn’t. It’s funny when it’s a child denying having eaten the chocolate cake despite having his face covered in it. It was funny when the Iraqi information minister was denying the presence of opposition troops when they were practically standing behind him. But we can’t laugh at the various Hicks denials.
One day we might laugh, maybe, if these dark days ever end. One day we’ll probably laugh at him, as we come to terms with whatever was left behind when he does finally leave. It seems doubtful we’ll ever laugh with him. For now his attitude causes anger and the kind of resentment that meant his son Tommy was unable to sit in an English pub near Anfield and talk to fans.
Somewhere near the end of an article about Hicks’ baseball team, the Texas Rangers, and their pre-season stay in a place called Surprise in Arizona was the quote from Hicks about Liverpool. When he’s not denying something that’s obviously true, he’s claiming something that is obviously false. As you read this article you can picture him bristling angrily, blurting out his response quickly, without really thinking about what he’s saying, without really considering how his words will be received across the Atlantic. Does he care how his words are received?
“I’m not selling,” he insisted of his stake in LFC, then broke into what sounds like a rant: “Not only am I not going to sell, my partner (Gillett) cannot sell without my approval. So I kind of have the ability to determine the outcome of what is going to happen and I am right in the middle of that… For a lot of reasons I can’t discuss, I haven’t been able to fix it yet, but I am preparing to be in a position to fix it.”
Now there’s a claim. “My partner cannot sell without my approval.” Is that really true Mr Hicks? Actually don’t answer that. We think we know the answer already. We often do when we hear a claim from Tom Hicks.
He blamed the newspapers for making up stories that Rafa was going to be sacked. Then he later admitted that in fact he had not only been planning to replace Rafa, he’d lined up a replacement and offered him the job.
That admission itself was qualified with more claims that were clearly inaccurate. He said the replacement was lined up partly because of poor results, and – ironically given his insistence that supporters should ignore newspaper reports – partly because of newspaper reports Rafa was going to join Real Madrid. Jimmy Melia revealed yesterday that in fact the real reason was because he’d fallen out with Rafa.
He also denied having been in talks with DIC about selling his share of the club before Christmas. He later admitted that he had in fact been speaking to them about them buying a minority share. The list goes on.
“My partner cannot sell without my approval,” he claims. The truth is that because of pre-emption rights Gillett will be obliged to let Tom Hicks try and match any offer he gets for his shares before he can accept it. Gillett will also need to give Hicks a reasonable period of time in which to match that offer. If Hicks can match the offer, he can have the shares. If he can’t, then he can’t legally stop Gillett from selling. In some cases a company will be set up in a way where the shareholders have restrictions on what type of person shares can be sold to, but this is usually in family-run companies where the family want to try and ensure the company remains in family hands. Each owner’s legal teams, involved in drawing up the original agreement, will not have set an agreement up that left their client in a position where they couldn’t sell their shares at all.
A reasonable period of time could be a month. It’s not a figure set down in law anywhere, but has to be reasonable for all three parties involved. Gillett can’t demand £200m by noon the following day, just as Hicks can’t demand six months to stump up the cash, and anything much more than a month could put an offer at the risk of being withdrawn. Martin Lipton of the Mirror wrote a story on Valentine’s Day in which he claimed a takeover would be done by the middle of next month. That part of his story at least ties in with a lot of other information coming out. We keep hearing “two weeks”, we keep hearing “middle of next month”. It all points to a deadline having been set by Gillett for Hicks to match the offer or step aside. And it’s easy to imagine a look of satisfaction on Gillett’s face as he hands his foe the ultimatum.
The statement starts with, “Not only am I not going to sell,” and that at least is in Hicks’ control, for now at least. But If DIC did succeed in buying Gillett’s half, Hicks might find he is unable to get the club to pay the interest on the loans that are “at holding company level” and secured on his assets. If Gillett and Hicks remained in control they’d happily authorise the club to pay dividends to cover the interest payments on that £245m portion of the loan. It would be in both their interests. But DIC wouldn’t be in that position, they could easily argue that the club can’t afford to make that payment and block the funds from going out. That must represent a nightmare scenario for Hicks.
It’s obviously not easy for Hicks to find help in his attempts to buy Gillett out – if it was then Gillett would have sold up before signing for the refinancing package. Why struggle to scrape together the assets needed for security if an offer’s on the table. Hicks’ friends have perhaps turned out not be quite as friendly as he thought. But he won’t give up easily. He looked like losing out on getting the finance deal authorised, but managed it in the end, right at the last minute. If he’s not bringing a new partner in to replace Gillett, his only other option is to sell something – and something big.
Whatever he’s got lined up, he can’t quite get it to work out: “For a lot of reasons I can’t discuss, I haven’t been able to fix it yet, but I am preparing to be in a position to fix it.”
When he says, “So I kind of have the ability to determine the outcome of what is going to happen and I am right in the middle of that,” he is of course right, just as long as he can raise the figure needed to buy Gillett out. And with that small detail still in doubt, perhaps the emphasis should be on “kind of”. He only has the ability if he has the money.
Sometimes Hicks seems to speak too quickly, tripping himself up and leaving himself open to criticism. To anyone who actually believed him, the Hicks statement must have been devastating. There are many reasons why Hicks is quite literally despised by fans, but this whole outburst served as a reminder. Even if what he said had been true, it smacked of a bully stamping his feet and forcing his will on anyone else without a care for the consequences. He seems unable to see outside his own world or beyond his own needs. His son Tommy seems to be a different kind of person altogether, and seems to be trying hard to find out how the grass-roots supporters feel. It could be argued that it’s all a part of some PR exercise, but his efforts had been received much better than would have been predicted, despite the spitting and beer throwing incident. How well he’s able to stand up to his father is impossible to tell, and he may well be another victim of bullying, but he isn’t his dad.
Putting aside the worries that the Hicks family can’t actually afford to take Liverpool forward, the difference between father and son is that one of them actually seems willing to listen, and perhaps really does care. The other seems unable to listen, and incapable of caring.
Tom Hicks’ words today said, in effect, that if he can’t buy Gillett out then nobody will! Apart from it being false, it also showed how he puts his own ego ahead of the needs of the club. If he’s genuinely trying to raise the funds to buy Gillett out, then fair play to him. But if he can’t, he needs to stop fantasising and accept that even billionaires (in dollars) can’t have everything they want. The club needs to be owned by people who actually show some interest in it. Gillett has no interest in the club now, he wants to go and play cars at Gillett Evernham, his NASCAR team and his latest toy. Sooner or later, two weeks from now probably, Hicks has to either put up or shut up. If he knows he can’t put up, he should shut up now and let DIC take that stake in the club they are so desperate for.
And we need honesty. The circumstantial evidence always draws attention to the flaws in what he says as soon as he says it. A little more time passes and the evidence proves the lie. Why did Hicks spend most of last week in Dubai and London, talking to representatives of DIC? DIC are paying good money for the best advisors in their pursuit of a stake in LFC. Where they haven’t already got the best people in-house, they hire the best people: for legal advice, media relations advice, financial advice and so on. Their takeover attempt is costing them money. Why would they spend all that money and waste so much time if they knew Hicks was able to so easily block their attempts to buy out Gillett?
An honest statement from Hicks today could have done him a little bit of good. Silence would have done him no harm. This statement has confirmed his first instinct isn’t for the truth, and strengthens his image as a bully.
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