Before Tom Hicks and George Gillett became partners in the ownership of Liverpool FC they barely knew each other. They met now and again at NHL meetings and matches, and although they were never friends they were never enemies either. That came later, which is why the club is now once again looking at a change of ownership.
But if Hicks and Gillett grew to loathe each other over nine or ten months of being distant partners in a distant venture, what hope is there for the relationship between Hicks and his potential new partners at DIC if they already seem to loathe each other?
Once again the constant bickering seems to be playing out in the press, the tone of the arguments very much like that between young, bored siblings fighting in the supermarket much to their parents’ annoyance. All it needs is a cry of “He started it,” and “No she did,” to prove that’s how it’s all working.
Tonight Liverpool’s co-owner Tom Hicks was so angry at seeing a leaked letter of his appear in the papers that he went to the Associated Press to complain about it. The letter, to Sameer Al-Ansari, included a paragraph where he intimated his disapproval of Amanda Staveley’s use of the press in recent days. Staveley is the representative for DIC in these negotiations and Hicks probably hoped that by complaining to her boss that the use of the press would stop.
Dated Wednesday (5th March) and sent “via email”, the letter was reproduced in The Telegraph, and read:
A group of my people will be in your region this weekend and early next week.
I thought it might be useful if they came to your office on Monday to visit. If you are available, I will have Roy Bailey, Executive Vice President of Hicks Holdings, Casey Shilts, Chief Operating officer of Hicks Sports Group and my son, Mack Hicks, Vice President of Hicks Holdings meet with you.
They have another meeting that day with someone with Dubai Investment group, but can work around your schedule.
Amanda has certainly made the press and interesting read in the UK the past few days. I think all of our Club’s fans will be pleased when George’s ownership is resolved.
I look forward to hearing from you.
Very truly yours,
Thomas O. Hicks
DIC have accepted the idea of taking a 49% share, as long as agreements are in place that suit their needs and protect them as they feel appropriate. Hicks has the right to block a sale by Gillett if he can match any offer, and also claims to have the right to buy 1% of the club from Gillett as part of any sale to a third party. But reports earlier in the week suggested those rights were based on some weak foundations legally, weak enough that DIC felt a challenge was possible, and from those doubts came the 49-51 compromise. A legal challenge would be lengthy, costly and not exactly good for the club. All parties felt the compromise was best for the club according to last night’s statement from DIC.
The statement was issued by Staveley, subject of Hicks’ more restrained rebuke in the leaked letter. Hicks was no longer willing to show restraint in his own use of the press earlier today, launching into another angry tirade in what is fast becoming a regular occurrence. He said of Staveley, in what sounded once again a threatening tone: “If she thinks that is an appropriate way to acquire a stake in Liverpool FC, she had better think again.”
One serious, large, and almost certainly unmoveable issue that Liverpool fans have with Tom Hicks is that he seems to act in anger rather than careful reasoned thought of what’s best. He seems to bully his way towards his goals. A large proportion of Reds supporters assume Hicks was the force behind the original decision to sack Rafa in the summer, a decision made in anger and only put on ice due to advice that it would cause a backlash. In November Rafa got wind of what Hicks and Gillett were up to – lining up Klinsmann as his replacement – and was angrily told to shut up and concentrate on coaching, as we all found out at a press conference. After a December meeting Rafa was warned not to discuss the club’s affairs with the press, yet Hicks saw no problem in going to the US press himself to mock Rafa and accuse him of “pouting”. He happily uses the press to get his own points out, but hates getting a taste of his own medicine.
Clearly riled, Hicks continued his enraged attack to AP on the woman who could be a fellow board member if the deal goes through: “Amanda Staveley, who has a reputation for being pretty smart, she should know better than to publicly put words in my mouth, particularly words that she knows or should know perfectly well aren’t true.”
And then came an accusation: “She should also know better than to release actual copies of my private correspondence to the press.”
How does Hicks know if it was Amanda Staveley who actually leaked the letter? It was sent from him to Sameer al-Ansari. If al-Ansari sent it on to Staveley, how many other relevant DIC employees got to see it? Was it passed around those who attended discussions with Staveley in London earlier this week, representatives of both Hicks and Gillett? Also at those meetings was Rick Parry, LFC’s current CEO. It was a leaked internal document, alluding to DIC’s seven-year plans for their investment in LFC, that gave Hicks and Gillett a boost in their own takeover bid little over a year ago. Is it the same source leaking this document now, as a way of trying to reverse a decision he now regrets? Is Hicks sure he’s not got someone in his own camp willing to leak this kind of document?
It was certainly perfectly valid for it to be distributed to a large number of individuals, particularly with it being written under the LFC logo. The poor quality of the copy shown by the Telegraph suggests they didn’t get their copy from a forwarded version of the original email.
Hicks has also appointed himself as broker for Gillett’s shares, according to another claim he made to AP: “DIC is one of several potential minority investors we are or will be talking to.” Does George know about this, after all it is his stake? Or is this another lie, another show of disrespect to Liverpool supporters?
Hicks has despised the use of the press by DIC in recent weeks and was reportedly angry at this prediction from Staveley: “Tom Hicks knows that in the long run we will be 100 percent owners of the club, but we are prepared to play a waiting game. We will be able to pay the price for the financing of the club and construction of a new stadium.”
Gillett is set to receive a ridiculously high £80m profit for his year of broken promises and tacky publicity stunts, and will forever be remembered as the greediest man in the club’s history. He was stalling even on that excessive amount until late in the day on Friday, but is now ready to sell.
A DIC source denied that anyone involved on their side had leaked the letter, “a source close to the DIC negotiations” saying: “This letter has not been leaked by DIC or any of our negotiating team to the media. We do not expect any problems with the meetings next week, and we expect the deal to buy George Gillett’s stake to go through.”
A number of members of the Hicks family attended today’s game at Anfield, Alex Hicks finding himself sitting alongside England boss Fabio Capello. Given their previous attendance at games has usually only been for the bigger, higher profile matches, this attendance was clearly designed to send a message. But who was the message for exactly? Was it to DIC to somehow prove they won’t easily be moved from their position? Or, with Alex wearing a Liverpool scarf, was it intended to convince Liverpool fans that the Hicks family are now ready to show more interest in the club? If it was aimed at the fans then it was a wasted effort after the latest spat.
Staveley’s comments are hardly damaging, and show nothing more than a strong desire to become sole-owners one day. But Hicks’ comments are damaging because they represent an attack on the integrity of a person who could be a board member within weeks. Has anyone from DIC been quoted making personal accusations against anyone in the Hicks camp?
Whoever leaked the letter – be they from DIC, Hicks, Gillett or Liverpool FC camps – shouldn’t have leaked it, but it shows nothing we didn’t know already. It shows various Hicks companies are trying to see if they can get investment from various Dubai companies, that representatives also want to meet with DIC, and also that Hicks is not pleased with what has found its way into the papers.
Other than details that are commercially sensitive, Hicks should have nothing to hide anyway.
Before Hicks made these latest statements to the press there were very, very early signs of fans accepting that it might be worth considering giving him a chance. There was a feeling that maybe all parties were finally willing to compromise. Gillett was hardly compromising, after insisting on such a ridiculous pay-off, but DIC had said they would go with 49% and – we thought – Hicks was willing to go with it too, engaging in getting the details of that agreement ironed out. Finally we saw light at the end of the tunnel. And some fans had even turned towards the idea of holding a short truce, to let negotiations go through, to await full details. Not to let Hicks off the hook, but to give time to those involved in the deal we thought had been agreed in principle already.
Tonight we see that this is far from the case at least in Hicks’ eyes, so how can he expect a truce?
We can’t move on as a club until this change in ownership is done. It’s time to stop the public bickering. Time to stop pouting.
It’s time to shut up and concentrate on sealing the deal.