Liverpool Football Club, traditionally a bastion for success, stability and sound operating practices, has been rocked in recent months.
And all because an American dream in England died almost as quickly as it began.
In February last year, George Gillett Junior and Tom Hicks crossed the Atlantic and walked into Anfield to a typically warm welcome, pledging to be solid, privileged custodians of Britain’s most successful football club.
A year on, these big business buddies are no longer speaking. And a Premier League giant’s future lies on the brink with their fractured and embittered partnership. The new stadium they promised to build remains a distant dream on architects’ drawing boards.
The debts they pledged never to heap upon Liverpool following their leveraged £220m (Dh1.6 billion) buyout are already piling on. The club is now responsible for servicing the £350m refinancing deal concluded last month and duly faces interest payments of £28m a year.
Much-loved manager Rafael Benitez has been humiliated and undermined by public admissions from Hicks that they lined up former Germany manager Jurgen Klinsmann to replace him – an admission that infuriated Gillett and saw their growing tensions surface.
And supporters renowned for their passionate vocal backing of the team, rather than a proclivity for condemning owners, are in unprecedented, open revolt. The Kop is demanding the failed Americans leave and allow DIC to become, it trusts, Liverpool’s saviour.
The result of it all is that Gillett wants out – and with DIC offering him an escape route and a personal, up-front profit of £40m, that leaves the ball – or rather one half of it – in Hicks’ court.
But he’s not playing. Or at least he says he isn’t. And if he is playing, then he’s playing hardball.
Hicks has already rejected DIC’s latest £400m offer for the club and with it a personal profit of £25m. He retorts he may buy out Gillett’s share, perhaps veto any Gillett sale to others, or team up with new partners himself after breaking off talks this week with DIC.
Most observers suspect Hicks is simply holding out for a better price. But the Texan talks boldly, insisting he’s at Liverpool for the long term, seemingly happy to ignore the raucous protest calls spilling regularly from the Kop for him to “get out of our club”.
Meantime, while the SOS signs to DIC continue to be hoisted on the Kop, a fan group with high ambitions to purchase the club and protect it from future predators is gathering momentum under its own banner, “Share Liverpool”. Where it will all end, no one can be sure.
But end it must. Because something has to change. And soon.
Hicks and Gillett’s dream partnership is dead, its debris acrimoniously on display amid daily headlines and controversy battering Liverpool. And key decision-making processes frozen in time.
Hicks may try to resurrect a respected future for himself at Anfield, but it’s hard to see how he can ever repair the damage done, let alone find the real equity he now needs.
The simple, sorry truth is that Hicks is now deeply disliked, disowned and distrusted by the vast majority of Liverpool supporters. Probably the only way he can begin to repair his reputation in the city is to admit it’s over, take his quick profit and allow a fresh start under DIC.
The Emiratis are Liverpool’s original suitors after all and with Liverpool supporter Sameer Al Ansari at its helm, DIC look far better placed to both understand and run the club properly.
It’s clear this is what so many who cherish Liverpool want – and what this treasured English football club seems now to need. In short, the club needs to rediscover its dignity and its direction.
To find again “The Liverpool Way”.
Today Dubai International Capital seems to signpost the only credible solution to the greatest off-field crisis in Liverpool’s proud and distinguished history. It may be just a dream, but ask anyone who was in Istanbul three years ago when Liverpool came from three goals down at half time to win the Champions League, and they’ll tell you why the Kop still believes the darkest hour may yet have come just before the dawn. (John Thompson is Sports Editor of the Liverpool Echo.)
‘DIC are Liverpool’s only credible solution’