April 16th, 2010
04:42 PM ET

Is it all Gillett and Hicks' fault?"

As a Liverpool fan, it’s very easy to blame George Gillett Jr and Tom Hicks for the current position of the club I love. But is it fair?

George Gillett and Tom Hicks purchased Liverpool in 2007.
George Gillett and Tom Hicks purchased Liverpool in 2007.

Gillett and Hicks have owned the club for just over three years. In that time, Liverpool have won nothing; success in the second-tier Europa League this season would represent the owners’ first trophy during their time in charge. Liverpool have been knocked out of the Champions League at an earlier stage each successive season under their ownership, and currently lie sixth in the English Premier League— well off the final Champions League spot, let alone the title race.

Soon after they took over, manager Rafael Benitez challenged them to spend big in order to catch up with Manchester United and Chelsea. That summer, they broke the club record to buy Fernando Torres. In all, they bought six players in three years for over $15 million:

Fernando Torres
Ryan Babel
Javier Mascherano
Robbie Keane
Glen Johnson
Alberto Aquilani

That is not a bad record by any means. But those big buys stand in contrast to times where the manager has not been able to spend what he’d like.

After Benitez hinted in 2007 that he’d like them to open their wallets to spend in the January transfer window, Tom Hicks lashed out publicly at his manager, telling him to “quit talking about new players”.

And there are the times Benitez was told he had to sell before he could buy. The best example came in the summer of 2008: Benitez had to sell Xabi Alonso to fund the purchase of Aston Villa’s Gareth Barry. Alonso’s transfer to Juventus fell through — and Liverpool never met Villa’s asking price for Barry. By the time Alonso was finally sold to Real Madrid the next summer, Barry had already moved to Manchester City.

Was the manager given enough financial support by the owners? It’s hard to say. He’s certainly had money to spend on major players, but his record in the transfer market has been criticized — Alberto Aquilani hasn’t found a consistent place in the team, while Ryan Babel has endured a troubled few seasons at the club and Robbie Keane was sold just six months after his arrival. But the fact remains that Liverpool do still lag behind their rivals in the transfer market. As Benitez pointed out: United can even afford to have Zoran Tosic, a player worth $18 million, out on loan.

While it’s true Liverpool have gone backwards in Europe — from the final in 2007, to the semifinals in 2008, to the quarterfinals in 2009, to the group stage this season — until this season there has been progress in the Premiership. Liverpool were 21 points behind the champions in 2007. That gap was sliced to 11 the following season. And last season was Liverpool’s finest in the Premier League, pushing Manchester United right to the end of a title race that Liverpool actually led for most of the season.

It’s hard to blame this season’s poor performance on boardroom instability when frosty relations between Gillett and Hicks are scarcely any different to the last — and last season Liverpool finished second.

What it comes down to at the end of the day is the new stadium. Or to be precise, the lack of one. The stadium project has been revised and delayed so many times I can’t find a proper timeline listing all the twists and turns it has taken. Not that it matters: the bottom line is that the new stadium does not yet exist. We have no idea when it will be built and who will pay for it. In that sense we are no further towards a new stadium than we were when the Hicks and Gillett took over — and they took over on the promise of building a new stadium.

Don’t mistake me for an apologist for Hicks and Gillett. The bottom line is that Liverpool have not won anything under the two owners. Gillett and Hicks make a good scapegoat — but to blame them entirely would be unfair.

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Filed under:  Football
soundoff (13 Responses)
  1. Sam

    Well in a way you may be right. We cannot blame them for everything, but on the other hand, this is not the NHL or MLB where you have salary cap and shared league revenues. They should have know better that buying Liverpool and supporting the english soccer culture is way bigger than their actual knowledge in soccer.
    Please do not get me wrong, Like all their moves especially Gillet, it was about making some money fast. They were not commited to the cause of the club. Look at Abrahamovich at Chelsea or Glazer at Manchester United, they bought invested and spent without asking to get the results and with results comes lots of dollars. In their case the first thing they did was to finance their debts with the clubs money. What does it leave for results. Not much!!! As far as Xavi Alonso, he was sold for big $$ to Real Madrid, the problem at the time of the sale, to replace him Benitez was left with Aquilani as the only viable option.
    Also, please remind when did really Benitez had control over market transfer ? it is only when he threatened that he will leave the club if he was imposed players he did not want and learnt that they had already met Klinsaman to replace him. It backfired on them when all the club fans went public against them.

    Gillet's track record speaks for itself. He bought the Montreal Canadians Hockey team for cheap, made out of the Bell Center a money making machine, where the average human being cannot even afford to go in and watch the most basic show. By the way, i live in montreal and to go watch the Habs with my son, if i had to buy semi-decent tickets (not front row seats), i am looking probably to spend 300$ not including 9$ beer and 5$ hotdogs or 5$ water bottle.
    This is the heritage Gillet left Montreal with.
    And he sold the whole thing this year with an almost 300 million dollars profit knowing he financed most of his deal with governemnt funds. Oh yes, what did he spend on the team? really nothing. they did not make the playoff half of the time and the other half they lost pretty early. So really he won nothing in Montreal either.

    That being said,
    this is the best possible news Liverpool FC can have as they really need an owner that will love the club first and foremost before his bank account because even with the bad year they are having, they have a sellout crowd of 43078 every home game.
    Liverpool lovers are among the most loyal fans on the planet and i am sorry to say it, but they DESERVE better than this.

    Sincerely Sam

    April 16, 2010 at 8:19 pm | Reply
  2. torres is a deity

    is there a point to this article? my view is they haven't helped and from what is out there in the news, have saddled us with more debt. and now they are selling out for what will obviously be a bit of a nice profit for them. how come i don't get business deals like this?

    April 17, 2010 at 12:24 am | Reply
  3. Britincolo

    Americans who buy British soccer clubs need to realize that it's NOT all about the money – it's about results and win/loss records. 99% of football fans could care less about how much money their team makes – for them it's ALL about results on the field, and silverware. That is why so many American owners have come unstuck, they simpy don't understand the game and its traditions, and they don't live and breathe the game like ordinary fans.

    April 17, 2010 at 4:59 am | Reply
  4. Martin

    Am I the only one who is rejecting this method of "business"? Billionaires who buy football clubs in order to make profit...
    If football in England is that successful and the fanchise so rewarding, why do they need billionaries in addition.
    Stop gambling!

    April 17, 2010 at 10:12 am | Reply
  5. Abhinandan Reddy

    It definitely is not fair to blame the American owners.

    They have invested loads of money into the club and the players and never, not even for a moment, had any piece of mind, thanks to their over expecting fans, average manager and below average players.

    I think its fair on their part to want to leave the club. Something that the unthoughtful supporters wanted for quite a while.

    Liverpool supporters want a Roman Abrohomovich kind of a owner who will shell many millions to buy big names.

    Unfortunately such owners are very rare, especially in the current economic climate.

    Bottom line: Out of Champs league, Out of Top 4. Owners selling club. Players wanting to leave club.


    April 17, 2010 at 3:50 pm | Reply
  6. henry

    Its totally their fault. They lacked the motivational driveto urge the team on in all the years they have been in charge. They threaten the teams balance by trying to hire Klinsman to replace benitez when they should have supported him. They openly showed that they were at logger heads at times when the team needed them most. The most important issue is the lack of capital injection to help compete with the likes of man u, chelsea and arsenal. Football now is big business, so if you manage it well, the higher the return on investment. We are tired of playing second fiddle to the other teams so please leave us and go back to your yankee.

    April 17, 2010 at 4:01 pm | Reply
  7. Pince

    Fans will never know what exactly happened inside the club's board room. For example like Robby Kean's story, whose fault was it? Rafa said he never wanted him at the first place. But may be, if he kept him playing, we'd have had someone to rely on when Torres need a rest. Alonso's departure was Rafa's mistake, but we don't know who to blame when we cannot get Berry. (I don't think Berry was that good anyway.) But for Aquilani, it was obviously Rafa's lost gamble. The Italian cannot prove he's worth 20 million quid. And also several tactical errors in several games this season that caused us many points, that's Rafa's fault. So, I'd say Rafa should also to be blamed with the American owners, may be 50-50.

    April 17, 2010 at 11:35 pm | Reply
  8. David

    The ownners should sell the club, because the cause of the club downfall is by them not rafa benitez

    April 19, 2010 at 9:18 pm | Reply
  9. Philani

    Real madrid offloaded some quality players last season. Where was liverpool. We could have snapped up sneider and robben. Look at quaresma, the boy has talent but i wonder where the scouts are scouting.

    April 20, 2010 at 7:26 am | Reply
  10. Victor ajewole

    Liver fan are not need to blame d america mlln but benitez need to blame

    April 21, 2010 at 9:11 am | Reply
  11. O. v.d.Berg

    The problem is that Liverpool invests 15 million on a midfielder and the other teams will invest 30 million – and the pattern continues throughout the squad, Manchester United spends 46 million on Berbatov (a total flop) and Liverpool hoped to score with Robbie Keane for 10-15 million. That is the math.

    For 1st tier European stars you have to pay the big bucks. If you go for the players who are "just under" the excellent range, you end up with results which reflect your investment.

    One exception is Real Madrid- they've bought too many BIG players for too little positions and then you get BIG players on the bench, making them under motivated and the team is out of balance.

    If Liverpool wants success, they have to combine youth with superstars. Ajax and Arsenal have used this recipe for success in the past.

    Liverpool position on the table and in Europe is a reflection on their investments, and you can't blame the owners. They obviously don't want to be at the very top, they are satisfied with the sub-top.

    April 21, 2010 at 2:27 pm | Reply
  12. Timc

    They are to blame. They saddled the club with massive debts while failing to deliver the stadium they'd promised. This season they undermined Benetiz's spending power because of the debt. The club needed more money to push on and not go backwards as all our major rivals – including all those teams now above us in the battle for 4th – spent more money than we did. We couldn't even afford a decent centreback to cover for all our injuries at the start of the season. Which had an effect on our poor start to the season. We also had no money to buy a decent back-up striker for Torres.

    April 27, 2010 at 10:51 am | Reply
  13. red trev

    total disaster go and have a look at what hicks did to corinthians I Have supported liverpool all my life traveled europe with them slept in the street for nearly died for them cryed with joy for them i dont care what level of football they play in i will still watch them What these greedy greedy pigs makes my heart rage Y.N.W A

    May 3, 2010 at 7:00 pm | Reply

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