Tom Hicks continues to deny the never-ending stream of reports that say he is about to sell his stake in Liverpool Football Club. Anothr denial was issued tonight.
His ownership of the club, alongside George Gillett, has been gradually coming under opposition from supporters since the first signs of trouble last summer, when it was revealed that Rafa’s original list of targets, as discussed with the owners after their takeover, was no longer going to be paid for. This followed an outburst post-Athens from Rafa that he wanted actions not words from the club with regards transfers – an outburst that rumours at the time suggested had almost cost Rafa his job, but for the advice of Rick Parry that the owners would not be forgiven.
The Hicks grudge against Rafa is said never to have gone though, and in the autumn reports of Rafa’s departure being imminent were released, just after his well-remembered “just concentrating on coaching” press-conference. Rafa was blocked from making transfers, Hicks later describing Rafa’s reaction as “pouting”. It was later reported that Jurgen Klinsmann would replace Rafa, a report that seemed unbelievable to most fans. But the rumour would not go away, and Hicks was forced to admit it when Klinsmann’s bosses at Bayern told the press that Klinsmann had indeed been offered Rafa’s job.
That was the last straw. Those who’d given the owners the benefit of the doubt could no longer do so. The owner’s explanation of why he’d interviewed Klinsmann did not stand up to scrutiny. The reasons given were not sufficient: League results were not poor enough to replace Rafa with a coach who was clearly not suited to take his first ever club coaching job at Anfield. An early exit from the Champions League would be frustrating, and of course would reflect badly on Rafa if his position was reviewed at the end of the season, but on its own was not enough to sack a manager who’d won the competition two years earlier and had been to his second final just months earlier. The other reason given was that the owners were worried about press speculation linking him with a move to another club – given that Hicks is so often critical and dismissive of press speculation, why base such a major decision on the same?
Also in the autumn came the first of the reports that the owners were looking to go back on their promise not to put any debt on the club. These reports were accompanied by the first claims of disagreements between Hicks and Gillett, supposedly caused by Gillett’s reluctance to go back on this agreement. We started to hear of problems even with this attempt at refinancing, Hicks’ prediction that 30 days would see the finance in place turning out to be very optimistic. That was at the end of October; three months on and there’s still no finance in place.
Soon came reports of a renewed interest from DIC. The stories were often denied by either the owners or the club on behalf of the owners, but revelations when the Klinsmann approach was admitted confirmed the reports hadn’t been unfounded. DIC had been approached to take a small stake in the club, around 15%, but chose against it due to what they felt was an unrealistic price.
That’s now moved on. DIC’s interest has become one of taking over the club completely. Reports earlier in the week told of DIC buying out Hicks alone, but now the reports all talk of a complete takeover. The price has dropped over the course of 24 hours, from £500m to around £300m, but there’s little doubt that an offer has either been made, or will be made early this week.
Hicks has issued a denial tonight, but for once it’s a denial only of his own position on this matter. In earlier denials he has always included Gillett’s name, but the nowadays silent partner is not mentioned today.
There had been three different and reliable reports of the DIC offer this weekend, two from the BBC and one from the News of the World that had remained without comment from the club or either owner. Hicks actually spoke to PA Sport this afternoon, but they referred to a report from a “Merseyside-based media agency” which had gone “so far today as to suggest the club had indeed been sold to DIC.” If that’s the “report” I saw circulating earlier, it’s a spoof story, based on a spoof email that has been doing the rounds recently, predicting Gary McAllister would become Rafa’s assistant at DIC’s insistence, and that David Dein would replace Rick Parry. It did say the deal was done, but was instantly recognisable as a spoof. If that’s the report PA put to Hicks then it’s no wonder he described it the way he did, as “a complete fabrication and … absolutely and categorically untrue.”
His denial was issued through a consultancy dealing in corporate and financial communications, FD. His statement said: “I have not received any offer to purchase the club from the DIC or anyone else, much less accepted any such offer. Nor do I have any intention of doing so.
“Whoever is behind this false report, the facts are that I and my family have always been, and remain, fully committed to co-owning the club; that no-one in my family has ever indicated any intention or desire to sell our stake in the club; and that we expect and intend to be co-owners of the club, and to actively and enthusiastically support the club’s manager, players and fans for many years to come.”
In fact that is the public line that the Hicks family have maintained throughout the recent troubles.
Unfortunately for Hicks, his recent contradictions mean that Liverpool supporters find it difficult to take him at his word. His refusal to be interviewed live is not helping his cause – the use of PR agencies or written responses mean he’s able to choose which questions to answer, and can’t be pressed on certain issues. Obviously some questions can’t be answered because of reasons of commercial security, but others can – and should – be answered. An open and honest interview with a journalist that Liverpool supporters trust is the only way he’ll be able to start winning back even a small amount of trust from supporters.
An offer from DIC, whether it has been made already or is about to be made, is not on its own confirmation that Hicks is selling up. As things stand the majority of the supporters want him out, and despite Hicks saying wants to actively and enthusiastically support us all, actions speak louder than words. That said, one word he’s failed to use in all of this is “sorry”. He owes the manager a massive apology, not to mention the supporters, because this background turmoil has cost us more points than any dodgy refereeing or bad tactics. We’ve lost out on the chance to challenge for the title this season as a result, and considering how much our hopes had been raised just under a year ago, that’s almost unforgiveable.
And it’s also about time George Gillett came out of hiding.