Digging out old interviews with the owners is about the only way you can read about their views on Liverpool FC these days. Tom Hicks and George Gillett are battling to get a new finance deal in place before the current one runs out in two weeks, and are going to have to either accept a poor deal – poor for the club – or admit that they need to consider the proposed offer from DIC. Meanwhile Hicks is releasing occasional statements denying he wants to sell, Gillett has all but disappeared.
Just one interview shows how much Gillett’s public face differed from what was going on behind the scenes. It was in the Montreal Gazette on June 11th last year. This was the day when the word first started to break that the manager’s expectations in terms of budget were not going to be met after all. It was the first time that the owners had admitted, to Rafa, that they were not going to pump money into the club for transfers after all. Looking back now, it seems obvious – they have no cash, so how could they? We were little over two weeks after Athens, and Gillett was still putting on that public face of caring about the club. First of all he spoke about the final: “I think the birth of our children was more worrisome on one hand, and more pleasurable on the other. But short of that, it was pretty exciting.”
He also enthused about the semi-final win against Chelsea: “It was magical, like attending the greatest sports event you ever go to on steroids. Nothing can compare to it.”
Gillett seems to have been taken to by the fans of one his other franchises, the ice hockey side Montreal Canadiens, also known as “The Habs”. There was a lot of resentment to Gillett when he took over the Habs, yet for the majority of Liverpool fans, trusting that David Moores had made the right decision, Gillett was welcomed from the beginning. The resentment came later, when his promises weren’t forthcoming, and grew and grew as more and more details of poor decisions leaked out. Now he’s despised by just about every Red, something he’ll probably never be able to turn around. He knew Reds fans were passionate, yet he seemed to assume he could lie to fans and not face any backlash.
He said at the time: “I don’t think in hockey there’s a group of fans who know more about sport or are more emotionally invested in their team than in Montreal. The same is true for Liverpool. To some extent, both communities have a chip on their shoulder. They’ve been through a lot and both are coming back nicely. Montreal is doing well economically; we’ve got an outstanding mayor and a new government that seems to be doing well. There’s some of the same in Liverpool, one of the fastest-growing cities in Europe.”
Trouble between the boss and the owners, certainly Tom Hicks, had already started in the aftermath of Athens. It’s said that Hicks wanted to sack Rafa, Gillett wasn’t arguing, and it was only the intervention of Parry and Moores that stopped them. But the grudge remained.
Liverpool fans that have now seen through Gillett, and probably in time to come fans of his other franchises, will recognise the little man’s laughing face, the face he has on every time he wants to hide something. He laughed about money, saying it was coming, it never did. He laughed about a rift with Rafa denying one was there, yet as time has shown us, it was there. Fresh from taking the Reds to the Champions League final, where Liverpool had lost after going behind to a goal which was against the run of play, for a dubious free kick, and involved a handball from the goalscorer, Rafa was upset. He felt he didn’t have the players that could break down a Milan defence determined not to repeat their loss in 2005.
Unfortunately the owners weren’t actually planning to spend any money on the squad, but until now they’d not owned up to this. They weren’t going to put extra money into building the squad, money that could be factored into a long-term plan including the income from the new stadium, because to them it would be running the company at a loss. Rafa was frustrated because he just thought the owners were stalling, that the money was there but they felt they had plenty of time to sign the cheques. Rick Parry was unable to sign the cheques now, and the owners were stalling. Rafa was growing angry behind the scenes, but Gillett was putting on that laughing face again, denying any problems: “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.”
Gillett still maintained he was going to spend money on the squad, giving the impression yet again that extra investment was forthcoming. “As far back as February, Rafa laid out a program for us. Each one of our sports businesses has a core concept. You can’t just flop around looking at opportunities here and there, go left, go right. It has to be part of an integrated plan. We have one at Liverpool, as we have with the Canadiens, one we understand 100 per cent, believe in and support. The plan involves us spending money, but it will be part of a plan, not just spending like a drunken sailor.”
There it was. One of Gillett’s most well-known comments, the ‘drunken sailor’ one, perhaps only beaten by his ‘Snoogy Doogy’ quote a few weeks earlier. So Rafa laid out a “program” for them, therefore they knew what he was looking for. He had told them in the February. They said they’d spend money, but not like that inebriated serviceman. That sounds, well, sound. If they saw Rafa’s “program” and felt it was a little over the top, all they had to do was tell him, back in February. Otherwise they were happy with his plans, happy to see them come to fruition, happy that Rafa wasn’t asking them to spend big purely for the sake of it. Nobody wants the club to spend more money than it can afford, we’d all just been under the impression that the long-term plans of the owners would have seen squad improvements factored in now. Instead they wanted us to wait until the stadium is built, which again would have been acceptable to many, had they just told us that in the first place.
Then again, from the beginning, communication has been unbelievably poor, and not just with the manager. Most of what was said at the opening press conference turned out to be false, as did many of their interviews following on from that. They’ve issued numerous press releases and statements denying speculation, but they left some of the speculation unanswered. They’ve long since stopped giving live interviews. Gillett’s long since stopped giving any interviews relating to Liverpool, although he has been quoted recently talking about his more recent sports franchise, Gillett Evernham Motorsports so we at least know he’s not been kidnapped. Hicks is now using PR agencies to issue statements on his behalf, still stinging from the reaction to his Klinsmann revelations. Foster Gillett, one of Gillett’s sons, disappeared for a month after the Arsenal game, and has disappeared again – TV pictures on Monday night showing quite clearly that nobody representing the owners was at the game against Villa. Yet Foster is supposed to be the go-between that bridges the gap between the two families and the club. Communication issues have been blamed for many of the problems, implying that distance and time zones have caused a lot of the issues. That’s a get-out though – it’s the lack of honesty that’s caused most of the issues.
Back in June Gillett was talking of the owners and the club working together as one team: “Hockey and soccer are all about teamwork, and Rafa believes in that very strongly,” he said. “It’s the same in almost all of life – it’s about partnership, teamwork and communication. It’s not all about money.”
So what happened George? The troubles had already begun, despite that public laughing face making out everything was fine. It was already an “us and them” situation, no doubt Rick Parry unable to work out which side to be on. He seems to have worked that out now, meaning the rift between the owners and the club has grown even wider.
Another statement seems appropriate now too when looking back. Thanks to Rafa having to sacrifice at least one league game due to fear of being sacked if he lost the European Cup game that was to be played a few days later, thanks also to the speculation and the impact on moral, not to mention the pressure on everyone on the playing side, this season is heading towards being a write-off. We can’t win the league, and although the ability to finish fourth is still in the club’s own hands, the mess has left us having to win all our games to be sure of that. The debts the owners have in mind mean we literally can’t afford to drop out of the top four. Can team spirit and moral be improved enough by the time the Inter Milan game comes up? There’s a good chance that this season will be Rafa’s first at the club without being in a major final. Which is what makes this statement stand out so much: “In all candour, the Gillett and Hicks families have to say we’ve been pretty lucky to arrive on the scene and enjoy this first-season success,” Gillett said. “It’s heady and a lot of fun, but it sure would be a mistake for us to try to act like we had anything to do with it. This is the work of David Moores and Rick Parry and Rafa and the players. We were the fortunate beneficiaries of circumstance.”
They were supposed to build on the circumstances they had benefitted from, instead they have knocked down what was there and judging by their “insurance policy” regarding Klinsmann, their willingness to bring debt on the club, their delays on getting the stadium work underway and their inability to show any kind of honesty they will be replacing what we had with something Liverpool supporters really don’t want to have to face.
If they remain in charge we’ll be losing the manager. We’ll lose arguably the best player in the world in his position, Javier Mascherano. Thanks to interest payments, we’ll have less money to spend in the summer than we’d have had under David Moores. The latest version of the plans for the new stadium should have been unveiled by now, and there’s talk that they still will be before the end of the week, but they won’t even have planning permission so work is still a long way off being started. And this loan that they are trying to take out now doesn’t include the hundreds of millions they’ll need for the new stadium, which means another loan will be needed, and the interest payment for that are likely to eat up all the extra revenue from the new stadium.
The owners don’t want us to win though. That’s been made clear more than once. Nobody expected them to take over and not want to make money, but that’s their only aim. If they can make money, even a small amount, by keeping the club ticking over then that’s what they’ll do. They think they can make money by supporters buying the shirts, watching the games at home or at the ground, and all regardless of league position or success. And if it all starts to go wrong, it’s not their money anyway.
Most of the funding will be secured on the club, but they’ve also got to use some from other interests or assets they have. Which means fans of Dallas Stars, Texas Rangers, the Habs, Gillett Evernham Motorsports and any other Gillett or Hicks franchise need to start being wary. Hicks has admitted in the past that he does not see it as an issue to use money from one franchise to help another. This loan will leave things so tight that the owners may well have to take money from their other interests just try and keep Liverpool propped up.
And fans of those other sports sides need to stop taking the word of the owners at face value. Liverpool fans already have.