Liverpool boss Rafael Benítez still hasn’t got the new contract he was promised before the end of the season, but wasn’t willing to complain about the fact when asked about it yesterday.
Tom Hicks promised Rafa would get one just as soon as he’d taken control from George Gillett, but neither of those things has happened yet. Chief Executive Rick Parry’s contract is due up in January, but it seems unlikely either contract will be improved or extended under the current joint ownership structure, where both owners must unanimously agree on such decisions.
Whilst Parry’s only sees him through into the New Year, Rafa still has just under two years left on his, which runs until summer 2010. He’s happy at Anfield, despite the off-field happenings, and any threats on his part to quit should really be taken with a pinch of salt: his family are happy he’s at Anfield too, having taken to life in Liverpool rather well, and so Rafa wouldn’t walk out on a whim.
Rafa’s name will always be linked with vacant manager’s positions at certain clubs, even when the positions aren’t yet vacant. But short of using such interest to hurry along a contract renewal, it’s unlikely Rafa will leave the job he’s started at Anfield. Claudio Ranieri is the latest name linked with the sack, he’s currently boss at Juventus, and although Sam Allardyce is out of work it seems Rafa is one of the first names linked to take his place. Even if Rafa’s agent has been approached, it doesn’t mean Rafa would be interested – but it does help with those contract talks of course.
Rafa shouldn’t really need his agent to mention interest from other clubs to get him a new deal. He’s no automatic right to a new contract, but if the owners believe he’s right for the job then they should be wary of the day Rafa does show some interest. They should be wary that the happiness Montse feels on Merseyside means little if her husband is unhappy. And it wouldn’t just be a lack of a new contract that would make Rafa feel it was time to look elsewhere.
A new contract would also help him feel more secure, but he doesn’t seem to have the threat of the sack hanging over him now like he did for large parts of last season. He knows that nothing is likely to happen with his contract under the current set-up, not in a hurry anyway, and said he wasn’t going to let it bother him. He said: “I’m not worried about the situation at the moment. I am trying to be pragmatic about it and am just concentrating on the things I can improve. It doesn’t make it more difficult for me to plan for the future. I can only control things on the pitch and try to improve the squad. If I can do that, then things will be easier in the future.”
Dismissing any potential interest from Juve or any other clubs, Rafa said: “I’m really pleased and I have two more years left on my contract, so right now I’m just trying to do my job the best I can. I have always said I want to stay here for many years and I have the same idea now.” It’s of course difficult to gauge what will happen next in the boardroom, with even Rick Parry now seemingly kept out of the loop in terms of any possible sale, and Rafa knows that if he loses the support of Tom Hicks his days at Anfield could be numbered regardless of performances. Whatever he feels about his contract situation this isn’t a good time to use the press to grumble about it.
In terms of the club’s future ownership it seems most of those involved have now gone back to playing their cards close to their chests. The partnership remains unsuitable, if not completely unworkable. Dubai are still waiting in the wings, but their offer still remains short of a figure Tom Hicks would accept. But there is some hope in a snippet from Oliver Kay’s piece in The Times today. He writes: “Hicks and Gillett are firmly expected to sell Liverpool in the coming months, with another prospective investor having joined Sheikh Mohammed, the Crown Prince of Dubai, in declaring an interest in recent weeks.”
It’s clear that anyone wishing to buy the club needs to be prepared to bid more than Dubai have bid previously. The club can tick over, much to the regret of supporters, without any real difficulty and without a new stadium. Transfer budgets may be minimal, but the club could at least pay its loan payments.
The current finance is believed to have been extended until July already, and by then the club will have shown for two-and-a-half years how it has coped financially with such a burden. For it to be further extended is a very strong possibility. Hicks and Gillett put a relatively small amount of cash into the club, plus have certain guarantees in place as part of the finance. It isn’t really costing them anything to keep the club ticking over, and unless they needed that cash for other projects then there’s no real hurry on their part to sell.
What the owners do see, Hicks in particular, is a club that will one day make a lot of money from a new stadium and any other facilities it builds on and around the current of Anfield. The new stadium would see a capacity almost 30,000 higher – and all of those would be paying more than a seat on the Kop costs today. And of course some of those will be corporate guests, paying for more than just the match. If as well as this the owners built a hotel, there’d be yet more money coming in, and there are other means to make more money from the club.
At the moment the owners have the keys to that potential future profit. They own LFC. They just can’t actually put the extra funds in right now to bring them all of that extra profit, at least not on terms that make it worthwhile. So their choice is now whether to give the keys to somebody who can, or to keep hold of them until they can do it themselves.
So far they’ve not been offered enough for the keys to hand them over.
If it’s so obvious that putting money in will bring far more money out, why have Dubai still not made an offer Hicks would accept?
It’s one thing building a big stadium; it’s another one filling it. Many of the names on the season ticket waiting list will be duplicates, many more already use a season ticket anyway – it’s just in somebody else’s name because people don’t tend to give up season tickets, they tend to loan them out season by season. As people start to look for ways to save money, football will be on the shortlist for what they cut out or cut down on. And that goes for corporate ticket buyers as much as any individual.
Football’s living off the back of good TV money now – and that might not always be quite as good. And with Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini always looking at how they can change the game, there’s no guarantees football will be as easy to make money from.
In other words, those big future profits are only projects, estimates based on football being as popular in five-to-ten years as it is today. And perhaps Dubai are more cautious than the current owners, perhaps they fear that their money would be better invested elsewhere.
You can also add to this that Dubai are confident Tom Hicks will be forced to sell in the end. With nobody else competing with them for LFC, they are happy to sit and wait for the right moment. The club hasn’t particularly gone up or down in value since the last round of refinancing, so they can bide their time without worrying too much about it working out more expensive to wait. Not that this stopped them previously.
Despite all the claims about members of the Sheikh’s family being fans, admirers, occasional watchers or otherwise of LFC, their interest remains purely based on making money. That doesn’t mean it can’t be a lot of fun for supporters at the same time, but there is no urgency on their part. The club won’t really change value if it has 18 or 19 league titles; it won’t go down in price in Manchester United go equal on 18. That drives us onto demanding success, and more transfer money, but it doesn’t quite do it for Dubai.
New interest means that Dubai either have competition, and so may finally up their bid to avoid being gazumped like last time, or it means they have new partners, which again could see the bid go up as more investors join up to share the risks and rewards. At the moment it’s hard to tell, but there is every chance this would be a completely separate bid.
If potential new investors are led by someone with the same kind of passion that supporters feel for this club, then there’s a very strong chance that the gap between valuations will be bridged and a price finally agreed. Then the club can finally move forward.
If not then we remain at the mercy of the credit crunch, with the markets deciding who folds first, before we can end this 1:1 voting system where both voters barely talk. Rafa could be waiting a while for that new contract – but hopefully not too long.