Are Hicks and Gillett really that bad?

At Anfield on Sunday (25th October), there will be a protest march, organised by the Spirit of Shankly group, against the ffice:smarttags" />lace w:st="on">Liverpoollace> owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett. To say that these men are unpopular would be understatement of the century. “There is a lot of anger and people want their feelings known - Hicks and Gillett are not welcome at the club," spokesman James McKenna said, "We hope a couple of thousand fans will turn out for the protest."
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The Spirit of Shankly group believes about 4,000 fans turned out for a similar protest in September 2008, before lace w:st="on">Liverpoollace> beat Manchester United 2-1 at Anfield. There have been other sporadic protests at the duo and some imbeciles have even gone as far as to threaten their families.
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I’m of the opinion that both Hicks and Gillett should sell as soon as possible and that they have made some terrible mistakes in their tenure, but are the owners really as much of a disaster as groups like Spirit of Shankly claim?
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Hicks and Gillett bought lace w:st="on">Liverpoollace> in 2007, after David Moores realised he didn’t have the funds that would be required in order to take the club forward. At this time there was also another interested party, Dubai Investment Capital (DIC) the investment arm of the Dubai government, who many fans now wish had taken control of the club, though Dubai is currently in a severe economic crisis (Dubai doesn’t have much oil, so most of their money came from tourism, which has been hit hard) so in reality, we’d probably be no better off if they had.
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One of the reasons for their unpopularity was that it is obvious that they view LFC as an investment, rather than a labour of love like lace w:st="on">Mooreslace> did. I don’t see the problem myself, as surely if Hicks and Gillett want to sell for a profit, they have to make improvements to the club, in order to make it more valuable. That basically means the new stadium, increasing commercial revenues etc. Anyway, wouldn’t anyone who bought the club be doing it for the same reasons? We’d be really, really lucky if we managed to find a rich benefactor who would pour money into the club while expecting nothing in return.
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Let’s address some of the issues that have caused consternation with many lace w:st="on">Liverpoollace> fans.
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1)The Stadium
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Liverpool need a new stadium, that is universally accepted by all lace w:st="on">Liverpoollace> fans. Unfortunately, Anfield is simply not big enough to not only meet the demand for tickets, but we are also falling way behind other clubs in terms of matchday revenue.
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One of the ways Hicks and Gillett sold themselves to the fans was to announce their intention to build a new stadium. Plans were already in place but Hicks and Gillett appointed new architects and got planning permission for a very impressive looking stadium.
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The first major problem was that the price of steel shot up, meaning that the cost of the stadium almost doubled, which is not Hicks and Gillett’s fault. Then the global recession hit every business, meaning that there just wasn’t the money to build. That’s not their fault either. The fact is nobody can build a new stadium in the current financial climate.
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I’m still confident the stadium will get built, the owners have already spent millions getting as far as they have with it and it is vital to them and their whole plans for the club that it gets built. We’re just going to have to wait until the economy recovers.
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2) Relationship with Rafa
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The owners lost a lot of credibility when it came out that Hicks and Gillett had talked to Jurgen Klinsmann about becoming lace w:st="on">Liverpoollace> manager. Some reports had even said that Klinsmann had been offered a contract.
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That may seem really bad, but remember the context that this episode happened in. In late 2007, Rafa Benitez had fallen out with the owners in a row over transfer funds, and had taken it public, openly criticising Hicks and Gillett in the media. Remember that press conference where he kept saying “As always I am focused on training and coaching my team”? It looked so likely that Benitez was about to walk, bookies stopped taking bets on it.
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What do you think would happen to you if you go to your local media outlet and criticise your boss? How long would you expect to keep your job? With it looking almost certain that Rafa was going to quit, the owners looked to someone else. Now to me, that is actually a pretty responsible thing to do. It’s certainly better than if he had quit and we had no contingency plans for him going, leaving us floundering at an important time of the season, scrambling for a new manager. It was inexcusable, however, that this sounding out of Klinsmann was ever made public.
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The problems with the owners, Parry and Benitez have been expressed in the media far too much. Both sides must take equal responsibility for this unacceptable situation. Benitez uses the media, knowing most fans are with him, to put pressure on the owners to bend to his will. The owners in turn defend themselves, often making the situation worse by suggesting the problem is with the manager. Both sides are as much at fault in this.
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Where there is a problem is when the owners attack each other in the press. At times the two have not been speaking to each other and this is a bit of a ridiculous situation. They have an arrangement where one cannot sell his shares without approval from the other and this has been a stumbling block to other investors.
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3) On-field performance and Transfers
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Since the Americans took control, lace w:st="on">Liverpoollace> has improved greatly in the league. We have closed the gap on the league leaders, no longer finishing 30 points behind the champions (though we have been appalling so far this season) and we probably should have won it last season, if not for some managerial mistakes. We also made a Champions League final, but Hicks and Gillett didn’t have much of an effect on that campaign, becoming owners in the latter half of that season.
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So it can’t be said that we’ve got worse in the league since they came. Now our title aspirations are more in expectation than the hope of previous years.
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On the transfer front, we were promised big signings and we have broken our transfer record a few times in the last couple of years, with many transfers over £15m (Torres, Mascherano, Keane, Aquilani, and Johnson). It is true that they don’t have the seemingly bottomless wealth of Roman Abramovich or the investment group behind lace w:st="on">Manchester Citylace>, but Rafa has had some serious money to spend. George Gillett recently stated that an additional £128m on top of money raised by player sales has been spent in the last 18 months. If that statement is true, then that’s hardly an insignificant amount of money, is it?
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Now there wasn’t much money available over the summer. That was true for most clubs (City excluded). Man United got £80m for Ronaldo and haven’t spent it. Even lace w:st="on">Chelsealace> had a relatively quiet summer transfer wise, compared to some of their previous sprees. That’s another consequence of a terrible economy.
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For all those fans that have decried the sale of Xabi Alonso(which I think was good business, we’d had him for 5 years and got back 3 times what we paid for him), that was due to the breakdown of his relationship with Benitez, nothing to do with the owners.
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4) Money
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We have improved commercially under Hicks and Gillett. They saw the club were underperforming commercially and have started to turn that around. Our new acting Chief Executive, Christian Purslow, has just secured the biggest sponsorship deal in club history (Worth a reported £80m over 4 seasons). He was brought in by the Americans. What may be even better than that is that we are still retaining some links with current sponsors Carlsberg. In fact, it is rumoured that Carlsberg are interested in buying the naming rights for the new stadium, for an amount that would exceed by far the amount Arsenal receive from Emirates.
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Yes Hicks and Gillett are only involved with the club to make money. So were DIC, so would pretty much anyone else. The chances of finding another Roman Abramovich, who ploughs money into lace w:st="on">Chelsealace> simply because he loves football, are remote at best. The fact that the owners know little about football and are not lifelong lace w:st="on">Liverpoollace> fans is unimportant. Remember Roman Abramovich was looking at other clubs before lace w:st="on">Chelsealace> became available.
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Also, the danger of having an owner who just piles money in is that the club loses its self-sufficiency. lace w:st="on">Chelsealace> would be in all kinds of trouble if Abramovich left. Scottish club lace w:st="on">Gretnalace> went out of business after their backer, Brooks Mileson had to remove his money from the club.
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5) The Debt
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Okay I’ve avoided it for long enough. This is where I am very concerned. We are in a huge amount of debt. An unacceptable amount of this debt is on the club itself, though the majority of it is on Hicks and Gillett themselves. Most football clubs operate on some level of debt. The problem is that it seems to be getting bigger, rather than reducing, despite the club producing a record turnover. This is proving a stumbling block for attracting investors as Saudi Prince Faisal has recently declared an interest in buying into the club, but is reportedly unwilling to do so with the debt level so high. This is something which needs to be addressed urgently.
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Most fans dislike Hicks and Gillett. A lot of this seems to be due to the fact that they do not have tons of money to splash out on players. There are people who dislike them because they are not local, or British, but if there was a local with the financial muscle required, they would have come forward by now. Lots of clubs are now under foreign ownership. It’s not an ideal situation but it is the reality we have to live in, the days of the lace w:st="on">Mooreslace> family have gone.
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It will be interesting to see what happens with this protest. It didn’t seem to have much effect last time. With Rafa under pressure for the first time in his tenure in charge, the protest may take on a different look than last time, when it seemed to be Rafa Good, Hicks/Gillett bad.
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I do think that Hicks and Gillett should go. They have made some terrible mistakes, taken the club to an unacceptable amount of debt and have alienated lots of people along the way. The fact is however, we were in danger of slipping too far behind other clubs under lace w:st="on">Mooreslace> and fans may have to accept, however reluctantly, that Hicks and Gillett have done many good things in terms of turning the club around commercially and this may well be the foundation our future successes are built on. As for the stadium, that was just bad timing.