Liverpool co-chairman George Gillett will be at Anfield on Saturday, sharing the director’s box with at least one member of his fellow owner Tom Hicks’ family, as Liverpool prepare to face Manchester United in the league. Whether they’ll sit next to each other for the match remains to be seen, but even if they do it shouldn’t be taken as a sign that the feuds of 2008 are over.
It’s hard to keep count of the feuds related to Liverpool FC now, all of which will bring laughter to most fans of Saturday’s opponents, who are close to catching Liverpool’s long standing record of league titles.
Hicks and Gillett made it clear in public earlier this year that their working relationship was over, Gillett using the word “untenable” to describe it. Gillett claimed in the summer that they’d now started to get on with each other again – given their lack of appearances together it seems more that they’ve decided not to speak to each other rather than argue. Whatever their individual plans are, it seems that they did finally realise that if they weren’t going to be able to separate as business partners, their business was going to be hurt by their public spats.
We’ve then got the feud between Rick Parry and Tom Hicks. Hicks sent Parry the letter that hit the headlines, asking the CEO to resign. Many of the points listed as reasons to resign were valid points, and in any other company Parry would either have gone or be under close scrutiny to fix the issues. But LFC don’t have one man making decisions, and Parry has Gillett on his side. It’s a mystery just quite how a club like LFC is expected to function successfully when one exact half of the ownership wants rid of the CEO and the other half is refusing to let him go.
The situation with manager Rafa Benítez has – or had – many similarities. Rafa was reluctant to show it in public, to be seen to be taking sides, but was believed pretty supportive of Hicks at one stage. This was back when Hicks said he was all set to buy Gillett out. Hicks didn’t buy Gillett out, and Gillett and Rafa have far from a trusting and stable relationship. Just as Hicks would have sacked Parry had he been in control last spring, it’s understood that Gillett’s feelings towards Rafa mean the Spaniard would need a new job straight away if the Canadiens owner ever got the power.
Parry and Rafa may have each got their preferred owner, a different one each, but there’s no love lost between each other. It’s not hard to imagine where the stories of failed transfer bids due to phones not being switched on came from. Rafa was frustrated by Parry’s approach to transfers, and told the owners so. Although they’ve been seen smiling with each other and have even issued statements denying any conflict with each other, they are still known to be far from happy with each other. Regardless of any issues each might have with the owners, it’s clearly not good for the club that the two top Liverpool-based men at the club struggle to work together. It’s unlikely any other organisation would tolerate this kind of relationship in their staff of that level, but for LFC nothing will happen due to the 50-50 voting system and the lack of trust between each voter.
David Moores is in the background and except to criticise the owners (‘them fellas’) and back his friend Parry is unwilling to really get involved. That’s the public side at least. He’s not believed to be quite so reserved in private. If that’s the case, it can only be assumed his decision to keep his head down is to ensure he keeps his place on the team bus and (subject to availability) gets tickets for the directors’ box for every game. Every day that he wastes his position, sitting back without acting in any way to try and find a resolution, it makes his decision to ditch Dubai for the extra £8m in US dollars more and more sickening. One person who could at least try to end the feuds, instead he sits back letting the club suffer more and more.
Although he can’t be blamed for the timing of extracts hitting the back pages, Jamie Carragher’s autobiography is now adding potential for another feud to be played out in public. Carra knows that Rafa has been far from angelic during this whole saga, as do many other players no doubt, and he’s mentioned this in his book. It depends on how Rafa takes the comments, but it does seem that Carra’s criticism was relatively constructive. If Rafa chooses to turn it into a public feud then it puts more ammunition in the hands of his enemies, or critics, who are already unhappy at the regular leaks of his alleged threats to leave the club and his dealings with the press.
Rafa himself is the cause of many feuds amongst fans, which are more serious than they would normally be. He’s already being compared with Gerard Houllier, his predecessor, who everyone agreed (eventually) was allowed to stay in the job far too long. At the same time there are other sets of supporters who feel that any decision to get rid of Rafa now would set us back to the beginning of another five-year plan. Grey areas are ignored as supporters pick their sides – our own supporters, arguing far too angrily with each other.
And of course the supporters are turning on the club. Tired of the lack of action in getting this mess resolved, the seemingly complacent approach over the summer to getting LFC moving again, SOS are marching at the weekend. It’s a protest against Hicks and Gillett; it’s a protest against the mess in general. Some want to protest more than others, some want Moores and Parry included. It’s inevitable that LFC supporters protesting against the regime in charge of their own club will cause some damage to the club itself – it has to if it’s to cause any harm to those being protested against. It’s not deliberate, but the protests bring negative attention to LFC as much as to Hicks and Gillett. But leaving the owners, and Dubai, to sort this out themselves hasn’t worked. SOS are doing what they think is best for the club. It’s disgraceful that LFC is in such a mess that SOS have no other way of speeding up the move towards a resolution. It’s disgraceful that LFC – according to reports – have to worry about the safety of their owner in the face of their own fans.
How much more fighting and feuding do we have to endure before we get a resolution to the mess? How much more damage will be done by the time the winner gets to raise his flag to celebrate his victory?