Thursday, May 06, 2010
Tom Hicks and George Gillett are the real problem at Liverpool
Tom Hicks and George Gillett have pulled many stunts in their time, the most obvious one being their purchase of Liverpool Football Club on the back of a string of promises they were unlikely ever to keep.
But even that is starting to look a minor ruse in comparison to their convincing of so many people in football that all of Liverpool’s myriad ills will be rectified by the removal of Rafael Benitez is manager.
They haven’t done it publicly and they haven’t done it with statements questioning Benitez’s ability or pronouncements doubting his aptitude to manage one of Europe’s greatest clubs.
They have done it by stealth, fading into the background after advice from the two PR firms employed by Hicks – both of whom had their costs met, until recently, by Liverpool. The idea may have been simple but the results have been startlingly effective.
While the worst owners Liverpool could ever have wished for have been able to get on with their comfortable lives in the USA without fear of being challenged about their failings and, let’s tell it like it is, their ongoing destruction of one of the most famed institutions in world sport, Benitez has had to face the full glare of the media spotlight to discuss his own limitations and those of his team on almost a daily basis.
This has meant all discourse about Liverpool has been dominated by questioning of Benitez’s signings, his team selection, his substitutions – the furore over Fernando Torres being taken off at Birmingham is only just beginning to die down weeks after it happened – and his apparent coldness.
Let’s get one thing straight – this is not a defence of Benitez. As he himself has pointed out, the Liverpool manager has made some big mistakes over the last couple of years and even his greatest admirers would be hard pressed to defend signing the likes of Andrea Dossena, Philipp Degen, Robbie Keane and, judging by his injury-ravaged travails this season, Alberto Aquilani.
Benitez’s performance over the past 12 months has not been of the standard required and he has to accept his share of responsibility for an absolute abomination of a season in which Liverpool have lost 19 times and limped from one setback to another. At a normal club which is well run and equally well financed, a tumble from genuine title challengers to also-rans would guarantee only one thing for the man in charge – instant dismissal.
But Liverpool are anything but a normal club. They are one which is crippled by inordinate levels of debt (heaped on them by Hicks and Gillett), one which has been riddled by boardroom in-fighting (started by Hicks and Gillett), one which cannot compete at the top level in the transfer market (because of the failings of Hicks and Gillett) and one which is in a state of continuous and insidious limbo (because of Hicks’ and Gillett’s sale process and ridiculous asking price).
It is one where the solution to such limbo is seen to be the appointment of a Chelsea-supporting chairman (to break the boardroom deadlock caused by Hicks and Gillett), where Benitez is handed a five year contract complete with a £16 million payout which means the manager cannot be sacked when things go wrong (as agreed by Hicks and Gillett), where the oft-promised and desperately needed new stadium remains a pipe dream (another failing by Hicks and Gillett) and where the future is becoming increasingly bleak and uncertain (thanks to Hicks and Gillett).
There is a blame culture in football whenever things go wrong but sometimes fingers can be pointed in, if not the wrong direction, then certainly one which allows those who are the biggest culprits to escape the full weight of criticism that they deserve.
Since Liverpool’s predictable defeat at the hands of Chelsea at the weekend, page after page of editorial comment has been devoted to the failings of Benitez. Some of it has been entirely fair and some of it has been preposterous – does anyone with a modicum of commom sense really believe that £1.5 million Sotirios Kyrgiakos was signed as anything other than a squad stop gap because of a chronic lack of funds or that the retention of Danny Murphy would have cured all of Liverpool’s ills – but whatever your opinion of Benitez you cannot have failed to notice a similar lack of critical column inches being devoted to Hicks and Gillett.
Out of sight clearly means out of mind as far as sections of the British media are concerned. Never mind the fact that Liverpool have spent much of the last three years shipping in the region of £100,000 in interest payments every day, a haemorrhaging of money and resources which would jeopardise any business, never mind one which is unable to invest to anything like the same extent of its major competitors.
Again, it must be stressed that Benitez has been his own worst enemy at times during this American enforced era of austerity. His net spend is often used as a defence when his failings in the transfer market and there is some justification to such arguments, particularly given the fact that should Fernando Torres be sold this summer the £70 million he would fetch would all but wipe out Benitez’s spending over and above what he has recouped. But even this should not be allowed to detract from the fact that it was Benitez who scouted and recruited Aquilani, Riera, Degen, Voronin, Dossena, Aquliani, etc. They are his purchases and none have improved Liverpool and when resources become scarce their shortcomings were only ever going to be increasingly exposed.
It is a matter of administering blame where blame is due and Benitez has to take his fair share, anything else would be to create a farcical situation of managerial infallibility and a vacuum of responsibility.
But the overwhelming accountability for the horrendous mess that Liverpool find themselves in must lie with the buffoons who described themselves as “custodians”. It is they who heaped the debt onto the club which means they cannot sensibly afford to sack the manager.
It is they who gave Benitez the five year deal that tilted the balance of contractual power too much in his favour. It is they whose failings have gradually reduced Liverpool’s ability to compete at the transfer market. It is they who have singularly failed to provide anything by way of convincing and decisive leadership ever since they were handed the keys to the Shankly Gates in February 2007.
By all means criticise Benitez. By all means call for him to be replaced. Everyone has a right to such opinions, after all. But let’s not lose sight of the fact that at least his motives are genuine, he wants success for both himself and his team.
The ostensible motives of Hicks and Gillett are to bleed Liverpool dry before moving onto their next leveraged buyout and it is they who must carry the can for the sorry state of a football club which looks increasingly doomed with every passing day, a feeling that will only intensify tomorrow should Manchester City beat Tottenham and put themselves in line for a place at the top table of European football that used to be Liverpool's but one which they may not even be in a position to take up for years to come
thanks Mike Gani for the article