Three of Liverpool’s last five matches have seen the Reds score an own goal, but it’s the joint owner, Texan millionaire Tom Hicks, who seems to be scoring most own goals.
After refusing to speak to Sportsweek on the BBC’s Five Live radio station last week, he relented today and gave an interview. Last week’s programme included an accusation that a Hicks family member had been overheard bemoaning their decision to buy into the club, and also spoke about the interest from DIC. This week’s programme was allowed the interview only on the condition that they didn’t talk about debt. As the interviewer said, paraphrasing Hicks: “I’ll speak to you but I won’t speak about debt”.
Clearly designed as part of what will be a constant PR campaign from across the Atlantic, Hicks has even allowed the interview to be carried on the official site. There are slight variations in the wording on the official site’s transcript, but nothing particularly significant other than the omission of Hicks’ flippant remark about shooting lawyers.
You can download the whole podcast of the show here; the interview with Hicks is about a minute-and-a-half in.
You can read the official site’s version of the transcript here.
The interviewer was Garry Richardson and he began the interview by asking if Hicks was glad that the refinancing had been done.
“Well we are happy to get it behind us. It should have happened weeks ago. These things take longer. We ought to line up all the lawyers and shoot them. But we got it all done. We’re pleased and we’re going about our business.”
The remark implying the delays were all the fault of lawyers is at odds with what various sources “close to the deal” have been telling reporters for weeks. As believable as it is to blame a profession that is notorious for slowing things down, the delays are more down to the fact that Hicks and Gillett had to negotiate their way down from putting 100% of the burden directly onto the club. It really was the eleventh hour when they got the deal done, the banks only willing to provide the loan if secured on the owners’ other assets.
Asked what the implications of the new deal might be, Hicks said it was going to allow the new stadium to get underway: “Well it refinances the bridge loan we took on when we bought the club and more importantly it provides the capital for the next year and a half to take the stadium forward and as soon as we finish our approval process and our judicial review we’ll start digging in Stanley Park and get it going.”
He isn’t lying, the money could well be used to get things started at long last, but it’s important to note that this £350m total finance package does not pay for the stadium to be built. That will require another loan, of at least £300m, probably more if the costs keep rising. They’ve not even got planning permission for the new stadium yet, planning permission which will not be forthcoming unless they can demonstrate improvements to transport facilities in the area.
Hicks was asked if he could see himself in charge for the foreseeable future, and as he’s maintained throughout this whole saga he said he could: “Absolutely. I’m learning a lot about the club, I’ll learn even more and more over the coming years but I think it’s the most fantastic fan base and I’m very excited about the future of the club. I think as people come to understand the new stadium, it’s the finest football stadium in the world and everybody in Liverpool should be very proud of it.” Well it isn’t actually the finest football stadium in the world yet Mr Hicks, it isn’t even a hole in the ground ready to take a new stadium yet. It’s a collection of computer generated drawings of a stadium, that look similar to the collection we saw last summer – and that lot were abandoned. After watching the struggle the owners had to secure this latest round of finance, there’s no confidence amongst supporters that the next £300m will be easy to obtain.
Again there was another dig at the tabloids from Hicks, who fails to realise that many of the accusations against him came from across the whole of the British media – tabloids, broadsheets, television and radio. The dig came when he asked Hicks to confirm that he wouldn’t sell to DIC, or to anyone else: “Absolutely not. I’ve learned a lot about British tabloids and I’m sure our audience already knows that. That was never a serious possibility and it certainly isn’t today.”
He might not have been able to get the digging up of Stanley Park underway, but after his dig at the tabloids he started to dig another hole for himself. He was asked what his answer would be if someone, such as DIC, came in and offered “a King’s ransom” to buy him out: “My answer would be that I can’t think of a price for which I would want to have any interest in selling at all.” Quickly realising that of course he would, he added, “By the way the DIC people are professional and wouldn’t do that anyway.”
The spade was in the ground, the hole was taking shape. Did he ever consider selling the club to DIC? “No. I never did,” he claimed.
Then, waist-deep at least in the hole he was caught out. Although we already knew about this, it was the first time he’d been quoted on having had discussions with DIC in the past: “Well I did talk to them once about a ten to fifteen percent participation but that was months ago, and we gave them a valuation that we would accept a minority investor in, and they thought the valuation was too high. We’ve had no conversations of substance since then.”
So all the denials about having been in discussion with DIC were now looking like nothing more than lies. And note he said “no conversations of substance since”. In other words, talks have continued to take place between DIC and the owners.
Hicks claims that the money from the DIC minority shareholding would have gone towards the new stadium: “Yes they would have been a minority investor and we would use that capital to help build the new stadium. But we’ll find other ways to capitalise the new stadium in a couple of years. Right now we’ve got the capital and I’ve put in a lot of money. We will put in more if we need to and we are going to design the best football stadium in the world and we’ll end up getting permanent capital for it when we need to down the road.”
Quite a lot of claims in just a couple of sentences, but a lot of the claims aren’t true. First of all, he says that they have got the capital for the new stadium – they haven’t. He says “I’ve put a lot of money in,” which apart from standing out again as excluding his partner George Gillett, is a little economical with the truth at best.
So would he be interested in having DIC or other investors come in at some point? “Well I can’t predict the future,” he said. “I know what we are doing now and we’ll let the future unfold. Right now the fans should know we’ve got, I think, the best football stadium in the world that’s going to be built in Stanley Park.” No Mr Hicks, we’ve got the pictures of what looks a good stadium. We still need funding for it, we still need planning permission for it, we still need a team that’s going to play in to a standard that will guarantee it will be filled each time it’s used.
As for Rafa, he said: “I think we’ve got, er, you know, a great manager Rafael Benitez who has our support. We had a lot of consternation about Rafa. After our meeting on December 16th, with Rafa, where he really showed his real strong intent to do the right things with us and by the club, he’s been a gentleman ever since, I think we’ve had much better communication. He’s got my total backing. I’ve made that very clear. We’ve funded transfer requests here in January and we are talking about things for the summer. Rafa’s going to be our manager. He’s got a contract here for two more years and I think hopefully longer than that.”
Hicks obviously thinks the word “gentleman” means “shuts up and doesn’t complain”. Rafa was told not to talk about the club’s policies after that meeting, and has had to try and avoid answering questions on his future ever since, especially after the Klinsmann confession. This is the first time Hicks has spoken in a live situation since the falling out last November, but even then he made it clear that he wouldn’t answer certain questions.
The interviewer tried to see if Hicks would bite when asked if Rafa was underperforming: “Well we can do better. I think the club knows that, the players know that, Rafa knows that. That’s what it’s all about – it’s all about the players, it’s all about what happens on the pitch. The tabloids like to have lots of fun with lots of other issues but it’s all about how we play and it’s time for this club to win.”
So another dig at the press – another attempt to distract from the truth. The press have been in the main spot-on about what Hicks has been doing behind the scenes, and his attempts to pretend it wasn’t true, when the evidence suggested otherwise, caused a crisis for the club. Hicks wants to try and win back the supporters, and we’re now seeing admissions of the truth, bit by bit, but until Hicks is willing to be completely honest and up front, without spin, he won’t even be allowed into the room that contains the negotiation table. And he owes the supporters, the players and of course the manager a huge public apology.
Would he now honour Rafa’s contract: “Rafa Benitez will be here as far as I’m concerned for at least the length of his contract.” We’ll see.
Hicks was then asked that after admitting the Klinsmann approach, could he say, honestly, that he had nobody else lined up for Rafa’s job. He avoided the question to an extent: “No. That was then and that was a long time ago. He’s got a contract in Germany so he’s not part of our plans ever again.” Ok, we know Klinsmann’s not going to be our next manager, but you were asked if you had anyone else lined up.
George Gillett disappeared before Christmas, and apart from a brief statement related to his motor racing team seems to have gone into hiding. For some time now there have been stories that Hicks and Gillett can’t agree on the future direction of the club, and even now there are claims that Gillett only agreed to the new financing because it was better than letting the existing deal expire next week. Hicks admitted past disagreements, but claims they get on well with each other: “George and I get along fine. Sometimes we don’t agree but that’s what business partnerships are all about.”
And as for the reports Gillett was going to go with DIC and buy Hicks out? “No, that was never a possibility,” claimed Hicks.
He was asked if he saw himself still owning the club in five years, which prompted another dig at the tabloids: “There is no question in my mind. I want to win the support of our fans with my actions. I want to get out of the tabloids, out of the blogs. I just want people to watch my actions and not somebody else’s words.”
We are watching your actions Mr Hicks. We’re watching your actions, and pointing out where they contradict your words. You say you’re not talking to DIC, that you never have, and then admit that you did. You say you weren’t planning to sack Rafa, and then admit that you were. Your actions and your words don’t match. We’re watching, and watching closely.
So why does he wants to own the club anyway? “Well I own three clubs and I have real passion for all three of them,” he said. “I think it’s a great long term way to invest my money. I believe in what’s going to happen with global TV and internet growth for teams. I love it. I’m a big fan. I watch every game on television. I couldn’t watch the game today because it wasn’t on television but I got the reports on the website. I wish I could come over for every game but it’s a long way. I plan to come to more. I love baseball, I love hockey and I love English football.”
It would be interesting to hear Rafa’s views on Hicks’ next statement, in response to being asked if there would be any more signings before the end of the month: “We have never turned down Rafa’s request for money on any player that he’s asked for. If you look at the signings last summer and the signings this month we’re already having conversations about the summer, so you’ll have to ask Rafa about that. But we’ve never turned him down.”
So what happened in October again? Rafa trying to get some transfers moving, including a couple of free ones, and being told he wasn’t allowed to? What happened in the summer, when talks with players had to be stopped in the absence of any authorisation from the owners to continue with talks?
He was asked if he’d be willing to endorse the Mascherano transfer, which is a £17m deal but over five years: “Absolutely,” he said. Well he’d best get moving on that, because Mascherano might well decide to accept an offer elsewhere if he’s not given the security of the new deal soon.
He was asked for a message for supporters: “Well we’re on our way. We’re going to build the greatest football stadium in the world. We’ve got a great manager, we’ve got great fans and it’s time to put all the press frenzy that’s been there behind us and move down the road.”
And no question he’d be selling the club, quite definitely? “There’s no question in my mind,” he said.
The interview was recorded last night. After it had been broadcast the interviewer pointed out that since recording it, “My information is that there have in fact been negotiations this past week with DIC.”
Will we ever get the truth from Tom Hicks?