It's just two-and-a-half weeks since Liverpool's co-owner George
Gillett was talking about buying "Snoogy Doogy" for Rafa Benítez, all Rafa had
to do was let him and his fellow owner Tom Hicks know. It was in the aftermath of the defeat in
Athens and Rafa's complaints the day after that defeat that there was a lack of
urgency from the club's money men in getting him the players he needed. Worries
of fans were allayed when Gillett said: "If Rafa said he wanted to buy ‘Snoogy
Doogy', we would back him."
Whereas we all thought that meant Rafa could have pretty much
anyone he wanted – within reason – it now seems that Gillett was actually only
giving Rafa the green light to buy a player called Snoogy Doogy. Gillett must
have done his homework – there are no players on the market called "Snoogy
Doogy". His money is safe.
Around the same came a leak from Newcastle that Michael Owen
was available for just £9m thanks to his transfer release clause. Liverpool
fans had a quick debate, a familiar one over whether Owen should be forgiven or
not, but soon went back to ideas of signing the likes of Samuel Eto'o from Barcelona
or Carlos Tevez from West Ham or whoever it is that actually owns him. The fans
felt it was down to Rafa who he went for, thinking of Owen as a possible
bargain – but only after one of the big signings had been brought in.
Gillett seemed to acknowledge this, saying: "Owen is a great
player but it is down to Rafa's recommendation, not us. Rafa's feeling is we
need more depth because of the rigours of the schedule to be competitive."
He accepted that Rafa had to be the man making the decision
on who had to be brought in, how much had to be spent: "In every sport I
participate in, there is a difference between a league season and the
play-offs. That's where the genius of the manager is so essential and that's
where Tom and I have to defer to his background and genius."
Today's reports of Rafa being given confirmation that the
owners aren't willing to invest any more of their own funds for players means
that Owen now becomes a serious target for Rafa, who is looking to recoup a
similar fee for Craig Bellamy.
Back in February, after being unveiled as the Gillett's
fellow co-owner, Tom Hicks seemed to understand how the transfer system worked
in football, and the way that clubs wanting to progress each season cannot
afford to stand still. He said at the time: "Talking to Rafa this morning, he
was talking about you need to combine keeping your core players, the need to
bring in some top star players and also the need to develop your own young
players." The keeping of the core players is almost done, with Carra, Gerrard,
Xabi and Pepe all signed up, and Momo and Finnan said to be close. Developing
young players seems to have been addressed to, with a number of promising
youngsters being brought in. Of course this interview was held when defeat to
Arsenal's young sides in both domestic cups was still a fairly fresh memory. It
was no surprise to hear Hicks put some emphasis on that aspect: "Young players
are the lifeblood of any team and we talked a lot about how we could improve
the whole development process."
But the other point he made, "bring in some top star
players," seems to have been forgotten – not by fans or by Rafa, but by the
co-owners. At the time he didn't commit to a particular figure, but fans put
this to the back of their minds – it made sense not to reveal a budget in
public: "We're not going to put a budget on what we are going to do. We will
let Rafa and Rick bring us their plans, then we'll support those plans." So, on
the face of it, the new owners were ready to listen to what Rafa asked for. And
let's face it, they knew we already had a transfer budget each year without their
investment, so what they were saying, without naming a figure, was they were
definitely adding more money to that budget. They can argue now about the kind
of figure they had in mind, but they can't deny the never said they'd add to
the budget. Hicks also said: "If we have the chance to get a great player,
we'll get great players, but that's Rick's job, that's Rafa's job to help bring
us those requests."
Other rumours coming out of the club add an even bigger
negative spin to the situation, and have now seemingly been picked up on by the national press. These are rumours of a major fall-out between the two owners, and although some more credible sources have hinted at this story, it seems the rumour has similar sources to the Thierry Henry rumours from last week. There's no doubt that the lack of work permits for the two chairmen's sons isn't
helping the situation. Hicks and Gillett seemed to get on so well and despite
their wishes to bring their own children onto the board, seemed happy to let
Rick Parry continue to run the show: "We are going to be co-chairmen. We are
equal partners in every sense of the word and we will each have one of our sons
on the board as well. That's the kind of relationship you have to have to be
successful. George and I feel we now have that knowledge and confidence to be
successful. Both of our styles is to be successful, but in the sports industry
you depend on the people who run that business. In this case, Rick is running
the business and we'll be his board members."
The honeymoon period is now over, but at this stage this
story is nothing more than a rumour coming from various directions, but all the
directions have no need to tell lies about what they've heard. Chris Bascombe
from the Echo has maintained for some time that Rafa is not getting the
permission to buy big, and the lack of any signs of real activity, actual bids,
adds extra weight to the impression that the owners have changed their minds
about supporting the boss.
Gillett did say in an interview earlier today with the Montreal Gazette that the stories of tension between the new owners and the manager were untrue: "I read that Rafa is throwing hand grenades at us and making demands, that there's a tension or disagreement between him and the Gillett and Hicks families. Nothing could be farther from the truth."
The fact the budget rumour is still a rumour gives them time to change their
minds back again, to revert to their promises of supporting Rafa in his plans,
but they need to act quickly before Rafa's first-choice targets, the names on
those plans he wrote back in February, are snapped up by other clubs. Gillett's Snoogy Doogy wasn't one of the names, but Gillett and Hicks promised we could have whoever Rafa asked for.