Liverpool co-owner Tom Hicks says that rumours of him looking to sell his stake in Liverpool are “rubbish”, and that the stories about Rafa being sacked were a “misunderstanding”. But he’s not denied that he was planning to sack the manager.
Hicks spoke to the Echo’s editor John Thompson in an exclusive printed in today’s edition of the paper. The story seems clearly designed to put a positive spin on the owners’ relationship with each other – not surprising given the fact that good links to Liverpool Football Club help the Echo’s sales substantially.
Thompsons talks about Hicks attending an NHL owners’ conference with “close friend Gillett”. Thompson also writes that both owners have “clearly been taken aback by recent stories in the British media, including one that Rafael Benitez is facing the sack, which as far as they are concerned have no foundation in fact.” Unfortunately that statement from Thompson regarding the threat of Rafa being sacked does not come matched up with any quotes from Hicks to back it up.
The interview was given last night, after a story had broken in the Mirror about Hicks wanting out of Anfield and actively seeking a buyer. Today’s Mirror – part of the same group as the Echo – says that DIC are interested in the club again. Both stories in the Mirror were written by Chief Football Writer Martin Lipton, who was the journalist approached last year by Noel White.
Hicks is quoted as saying: “I just want to clear up with you that I am not selling any of my shares to anybody. I have no idea why anyone would think that. It was just rubbish.”
Asked about the claims from many sources that there were plans in place to sack Rafa, Hicks deflected the question: “The fans are very passionate and that’s what we love about them. It’s been a big misunderstanding blown very much out of proportion. George and I are happy to see that it has settled back down.”
The hope here is that the owners have realised the huge mistake they were about to make by sacking the manager, that they have realised there were cultural differences between sports in the US and Europe and that they are now ditching their plans to let him go. Those plans were to let him go irrespective of results, the only thing holding them back from carrying out the act was an opportunity, or excuse, to do so. Perhaps they’re still waiting, because the Texan spoke about the forthcoming fixtures: “We’ve a big game on Sunday against Bolton, a big game against Marseilles and a big game with our neighbours to the east and the main thing is the team is playing better.”
Foster Gillett disappeared a month ago, returning again this week after the fuss had reached great heights. Rafa still hasn’t spoken to him, but despite this Gillett claims that Foster will help communication: “I guess we are absentee owners – there’s no question about it. But Foster returned to Liverpool last week. He’s our day-to-day person to help facilitate communication – and we come as often as we can.”
Strange that Foster refers to Hicks and Gillet as “close friends”, a description that has never been attributed to the pair in the past. Hicks “laughed” at the suggestions (again from more than one source) that the pair were at loggerheads with each other: “George and I have never been closer. We both were very disappointed and confused as to where that inaccurate information came from.”
Hicks has much to get used to with the English media. He is actually in business with the owner of the hated and boycotted Sun newspaper in some parts of the world, a link rarely mentioned. He praised the Echo though: “It’s a new experience for us because the UK media is very different. The Echo has been great. But we’re disappointed fiction has been treated as fact by others.”
Unfortunately for Hicks, Liverpool supporters aren’t as slow on the uptake as he’d perhaps like them to be. The claims Rafa will be sacked have come from a myriad of sources. More than one source has confirmed that both Rafa and the owners were happy for that story to come out – whether it came from the owners or the manager originally, neither side denied its truth. The split stories have come from more than one source too.
Hicks has still to deny that he was planning to sack Rafa. It’s a very simple statement to make, yet he’s refused to make it. Yet as soon as any story about there being a split between the owners comes out either Hicks or Parry are immediately issuing statements. Parry said nothing as the storm over Rafa started to grow, but yesterday he once again spoke of there being no split. His last comments were a couple of weeks back, saying much the same thing. But no denial of Rafa’s job being at risk.
Gillett has been extremely quiet throughout the whole storm.
Hicks claims that: “Owning Liverpool has been great, we’re still enjoying it.” Quite what he’s enjoying is unclear, him having only been to one game since May. Thompson said Hicks told him that he and Gillett were looking forward to seeing Rafa at the Manchester United game in a fortnight.
Martin Lipton’s story today claims that DIC’s Sheikh Mohammed wants to buy Liverpool from Hicks, but that he won’t do so until he gets the green light from Reds fans.
Yesterday’s story was that Hicks had put a value of £1billion on the club, which seems a little steep and may in fact have been $1billion. Whatever the fee, Lipton claims that the Sheikh is interested in spending some of his £7billion fortune on the club.
Liverpool fans seem to have mixed feelings on the idea of being taken over by DIC. But a lot of accusations made against DIC around the time their bid collapsed are said to have come from those who wanted the US bid to succeed. And a lot of what was promised by the US owners at the time of their bid seems to have been broken.
The story is that Gillett wants to stay on at Liverpool, but Hicks doesn’t. Whether any new bid from DIC – if one is even being considered – would be to buy just Hicks’ stake or to buy the club outright remains to be seen.
Rick Parry’s denial of the story yesterday was short and sweet: “I have seen the story, and as far as I am aware it is complete rubbish.” A similar denial was never issued about Rafa’s job being under threat.
One positive point for many fans yesterday was confirmation from Rafael Benitez that he wasn’t planning to sell Peter Crouch as part of the various deals he’d started to negotiate before Hicks blocked any transfer dealings at the club. Crouch and Rafa were said to have had some differences earlier in the season, but these are now patched up and Crouch was not planned to be sold. Rafa confirmed this after new links with the player and Manchester City surfaced. Rafa said: “We do not want to sell Peter. So there could be rumours in the press but we are really happy with him. The players in a top side know sometimes they will not play every game but you can see how important Peter Crouch is for us.” Crouch scored Liverpool’s fourth on Wednesday night against Porto, but played an important role for the team as well as that: “The other day he was a key player with Harry Kewell and we do not want to do any movement. We want to enjoy and see Crouchie score a lot of goals.”
Rafa likes Crouch’s professionalism: “Always you know Peter in every training session is a very good professional. He is always ready if he must play and if he is not playing he is working hard to be ready for the next time.”
Whether Rafa is still in a position to choose who stays and who goes by the time the January transfer window kicks in remains to be seen, but there does seem to be some softening in the stance of the owners, even if it’s without any admissions of what they had planned.
However until they allow Rafa to make bids or accept offers for players – even if they are made or accepted through Rick Parry – then Rafa’s job remains in doubt.