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Know Your Owners – Hicks and Gillett

Tweedle-dum and Tweedle-dee, Dumb and Dumber…. pairings which signal naivity, stupidity, incompetence and lack of  general understanding.

Tom Hicks and George Gillett have in the space of three years, formed their own laughable double act. The painful thing for all Liverpool fans however, is the severe damage they are now doing to the football club and the worry they are creating for all fans. Whatever Liverpool fans choose to call the two Americans, it won’t be complimentary.

This has gone beyond errors of judgment and embarrassing confrontations, the future of the club is in real jeopardy.

The decision of David Moores to sell the club to the two Americans in 2007 is now potentially the most disastrous decision taken in the club’s history. Financial problems, broken promises and management blunders have plagued the club for the last three years. When Hicks and Gillett bought the club, the debt stood at £44 million. Fast forward three years and the debt now stands at over £350 million. With no money being allocated for squad investment the threat of losing star names like Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres is growing. Liverpool are in a mess, a travesty for a club as prestigious as the Reds.

Going back to that fateful decision to sell to the pair in 2007, it’s surprising that there was not more opposition from fans at the time. So desperate were we to gain new investment to take us forward that we welcomed any potential suitors. They certainly said all the right things. The fans enthusiasm couldn’t fail to be sparked such were the declarations being publicly delivered. With regards to the building of the new stadium, which fans had waited so long for, “we will have a spade in the ground within 60 days” was the response. On the subject of debt being loaded onto the club, “we have bought the club with not a penny of debt on it”. On the amount of money for transfers, “the transfer policy will be very player specific, Rafa gives us a name and we will deliver”. Little did we know then that they were referring to the Andrea Dossenas and David Ngogs of this world.

Hicks and Gillett have monumentally failed to deliver on any of these promises.

For Moores and Parry to make such a decision on the future of the football club and sell to the two Americans was a massive risk. They should have realised this more than most after the failed joint managerial reign of Roy Evans and Gerard Houllier some years earlier. Such an arrangement had always been destined for failure. Lessons had to be learnt. To take the decision to create such a partnership within the boardroom has proved suicidal. Chairmen are not so easily removed as managers and in a 50-50 split, the slightest conflict signals huge trouble for the club as an entity, as has proved to be the case.

Hicks and Gillett, even at the time of the takeover, could not be classed as particularly close friends. They had both been involved in previous business ventures together but never in as close a bond as the situation at Liverpool demanded. Once cracks appeared in the friendship, the ability for Liverpool to function on a day-to-day basis was compromised.

Moores and Parry will have certainly carried out extensive research on the pair before agreeing to the takeover, which must have returned positive results. It can’t be denied that they are both successful businessmen back in America; their personal fortunes demonstrate this. The risk of a joint-chairmanship however should have sent alarm bells ringing. The deal clincher for Hicks and Gillett above the other would-be suitor, Dubai International Capital, lay in their previous experience in managing sports teams. Gillett’s ownership of the Montreal Canadiens and Hicks with the Texas Rangers and Dallas Stars show their ability to run successful baseball and ice hockey teams. Their ability to run a successful football club, in a league of which they had experience in, and from thousands of miles away is a different story entirely.

Tom Hick’s first foray into the football world began in 1999 with his investment firm, Hicks, Muse, Tate & Furst, purchasing the Brazilian football club Corinthians. Their reign was unsurprisingly a disaster. The promise of a new stadium was not delivered. Sound familiar? The financial decisions taken were to eventually impact on the team’s performance resulting in relegation and the ownership company was forced to sell the club.

Hicks’s experiences with Liverpool and Corinthians tell us he should stick to what he knows best. When the new owners of your football club, particularly Liverpool, talk of acquiring a new ‘franchise’ in their first press conferences, then they are clearly in the wrong game and have most certainly bought the wrong club. An institution yes, a franchise? No. Hicks had to use Wikipedia to search for Liverpool F.C once Gillett approached him about a stake. Know your owners….know your club. Hicks and Gillett are businssmen, not football fans, a crucial requirement for all football club owners.

Hicks and Gillett were lucky in that they bought the club when it was riding the crest of a wave. Events on the pitch, to an extent, distracted attention away from the takeover and onto most importantly, the pitch. Liverpool were performing well, particularly once again in Europe, soon to head to the Nou Camp, where they would beat Barcelona, knocking the then current holders out of the Champions League on the club’s journey to yet another European Cup Final. It was to be their second Champions League final in two years.

On the eve of the match, Hicks and Gillett, sat down for an interview with Sky Sports in which they laughed and joked with the reporter on the amount of money Liverpool would have for new transfers. Cue the promises once again. ‘If Rafa asked us for Snoogy Doogy we would buy him’ was one response. ‘If the best players become available we will provide the manger with the money to get them to the football club’ another. Lies, damn lies. George Gillett, even went as far as to take a stash of Euro notes out his pocket to flash to the cameras. Little did we know then that that was about the extent of the American’s finances.

When sadly Liverpool lost the repeat of Istanbul 2005 with AC Milan in Athens, Benitez’s disappointment was clearly evident. He demanded of the owners urgent funds in which to begin squad strengthening and to be quicker in player negotiations. Improvements were made. The summer of 2007 saw Fernando Torres arrive at the club, a truly special player. The money for Torres however came not from the owners pockets but in the form of bank loans. Add to that the other substantial transfers such as the £18 million Liverpool paid for Javier Mascherano and the number are adding up, all to be repaid.

The Americans and thus the club, were in no way able to deal with the oncoming credit crunch. As banks stopped lending and loans were called in, Liverpool were in big trouble.

Such is the extent of Liverpool’s financial woes, that they are now paying in excess of £50 million a year in interest repayments. Rafael Benitez’s net spend last summer was nil, even after the £30 million sale of Xabi Alonso to Real Madrid. The fact that Liverpool will now not be competing in the Champions League next season, the worries are growing. Without the income the competition generates, the club are in a much weaker postion with regards to making these repayments. This is the time when clubs begin to consider player sales. For a club like Liverpool to even contemplate this route is frightening.

For owners, already hugely chastised, would they dare sell Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres? Such a decision would set Liverpool back years, their top four status truly destroyed and a recovery would really be questioned. The owners standing in the eyes of the fans would smash through rock bottom. Liverpool would, from that point, be seen in the eyes of football fans as a selling club, a fallen giant whose best players can be poached. Such is the depth of financial misery however, that sales of that kind cannot be ruled out with any degree of certainty.  Kop Holdings, the group set up by Hicks and Gillett to buy Liverpool in 2007 recently posted their losses of £54.9 million for the last year, a damning reflection of their ownership. Added to the £350 million debt, the cost of a new stadium, and funds for the “four or five” quality players Benitez feels is required for next season and one wonders where this money is going to come from. For any new custodian coming in, Hicks and Gilletts asking price means that even just buying the Americans out will be a stuggle.

That the pair can now even think of demanding £800 million for the club they bought for just over £200 million is an insult to the fans, placing yet another obstacle in the way of the club’s road to recovery. When the original takeover took place, Hicks and Gillett’s eyes lit up with dollar bills, their interest firmly fixed in making a quick buck in the lucrative Premier League. They underestimated the fans however, whose loyalty and devotion to the club is unequovical.

As the chant so succinctly declares, they don’t care about Rafa..they don’t care about the fans..Liverpool Football Club is in the wrong hands.

A change can’t come soon enough.

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