Friday, November 30, 2007

Is Tom Hicks Going to Sell?

The latest rumours are clear. Tom Hicks wants to sell his majority share in Liverpool F.C. He has provisionally set the price at 1 billion U.S. dollars--which city analysts describe as "ludicrous". Furthermore, the persistent Dubai Holdings, which got turned over by previous Chairman John Moores' greed for a few extra million, are in the picture again and look willing to make another offer. Rick Parry, senior Liverpool executive for the day-to-day running of the club, has declared that he knows nothing about Hicks having such a plan--but that doesn't mean much. The man himself has angrily denied the rumours, but there are substantial reasons to believe that Hicks might be glad to get rid of the Liverpool franchise just a few months after taking over.

First of all, Hicks is not a "soccer" man and knows little about the game. He does run successful American sports franchises and it was his friend George Gillet (apparently the two are not so friendly anymore!) who convinced him to get involved with Liverpool. Since then, the two American tycoons have seen the world credit market take a downturn and they have been struggling to finance the loan deal needed to pay for the new 76000 stadium. This is one thing. Another has been the very public row with Rafael Benitez the manager of Liverpool. It seems that as an American tycoon, Hicks is used to having his employees living in the shadow of the sack: "cross me and you're out" seems to be his philosophy--and no doubt the American felt it would be the same at Liverpool. However, there are many things Hicks didn't realise. First of all, Liverpool is traditionally a poor area of Britain that often tends towards the extreme side of socialism. Liverpool F.C. became world famous under Bill Shankly in the sixties on the basis of a combination of Liverpudlian and Glaswegian working class values. Shankly even changed the kit to all red in order to emphasise the point. Whatever happened in the rest of Britain, Liverpool F.C. would always be a bastion of working class pride. This tradition was continued by Paisley, Fagan, Dalglish, Souness and Evans. No one is sure of Rafa's politics, but he has embraced the down-to-earth values of the club: these include a simple morality which says that every man should be given his chance. Not all supporters have loved Rafa's rotation policies and occasional fits of egotism, but in three and a bit years he has done OK, winning the Champions League, FA Cup and reaching another Champions League final. He has also done OK in the Premiership amassing a points total of 82 (a Liverpool record) just two years ago. In other words he definitely deserves to have the chance to complete his strategy at Anfield before being judged--and that still has three years to run. Hicks is the old fashioned boss of the type who is very willing to forget past successes after a few under par performances--and it was essentialy this, together with Rafa's insubordination over transfer plans, that led to the very public row between the two men (over which Hicks was said to be "incandescent" with rage). The Kop and Liverpool supporters, however, remember the successes and have vocally supported their manager in the stand-off. What can Hicks do? Sack Rafa and become the most hated man in the history of LFC? Also, could he get a better man to replace Rafa? (who remains one of the best coaches in the world). What would be the result of a downturn in results if Rafa left? Finally what would happen if the great Spanish players of the club--Torres, Alonso and Reina--all wanted out after Rafa's departure? Even Gerrard might go if he thought Liverpool were facing another long rebuilding exercise. Of course, all this would greatly devalue the club--which would also mean the devaluation of Hicks' financial assets. In the final analysis then, Hicks, as things stand at present, would be crazy to sack Rafa.

No doubt all these thoughts are going through Hicks' head right now--and it is quite possible that he has decided that the best solution is to prepare an exit strategy. If "knowledge is power" as the French philosopher Michel Foucault contended, then Hicks' lack of knowledge about football in general and Liverpool in particular, makes his position as owner peculiarly vulnerable. Let us hope that after thinking things over in a level headed fashion, he decides that the best thing to do is sell his shares to someone who has a greater passion for the traditions of the club (hopefully Dubai Holdings, that apparently is still interested in spite of being cheated by Moores first time round).


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7:46 AM  
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