Tag Archives: Tom Hicks

The Sweeper: Who Are You Calling A Fuck Face?

Big Story
Tom Hicks Jr has resigned from the Liverpool board, after the club director and son of owner Tom Hicks made the now infamous decision to write “Blow me fuck face” to a fan sending him an email. This, of course, will be used everywhere as an illustration of how not to communicate with your customers, or fans, or whatever your preferred phrasing is.

The club’s press release did not exactly express sorrow for the incident: “Liverpool Football Club today announce that Thomas Hicks Jr has resigned as a director of both the club and its parent company Kop Holdings.”

Supporters opposed to the ownership of Hicks and George Gillett played a smarter PR game than Liverpool on this issue (though even Hicks Snr. surely found it hard to defend his son on this one), quickly capitalising on the incident and putting pressure on Hicks Jr to resign through the press. This was the work of Sons of Shankly, the Liverpool Supporters’ Union set-up last year. The group has had its own PR disaster in the past, though that does not mean, of course, that they are not right to pursue this issue, and the broader need for Liverpool fans to have more say as their club is run into the ground by bumbling, incompetent ownership.

Worldwide News

  • Our own Richard Whittall has a sensible post at his blog offering some “caveats” to the coverage about Angola: “The Footy Blog and the Score’s James Sharman admirably admitted that, a few days ago, he didn’t know where or what Cabinda was. Yet many others in the same boat are plowing into instant socio-political analysis on the attack with a full-fledged list of responsible parties, each with their debased motives, primarily the Angolan government for hosting games in Cabinda to prove to oil investors the Angolan civil war is over, the separatists have lost, and the oil-rich region is open for business.” We have, of course, offered our own similar analysis; perhaps it is time to pause for reflection. On that note, and on the need for a broader perspective on Angola, Our weekly columnist, Andrew Guest, will have a post for you this morning which doesn’t focus on the Togo tragedy, remembering his own experiences of life and soccer in the country.
  • Jeff Carlisle at ESPN Soccernet has an excellent historical piece on Americans who travelled to Eastern Europe a couple of decades ago in search of a professional future in soccer: “The late 1980s and early ’90s marked a dark period in American soccer. The NASL was dead. The advent of MLS was still some years away, and the flickering flame of outdoor soccer was being kept alive by leagues like the American Professional Soccer League. It meant if players wanted to advance their game, heading to Europe — anywhere in Europe — was a must. That included countries just emerging from under the yoke of the Soviet Union.
  • Last year, we posted on the price a small town close to my heart and hometown, Lewes FC (who play at the charmingly named Dripping Pan), were paying for mismanagement and over-ambition. Two Hundred Percent sadly reports that they are now just 48 hours for extinction, facing the taxman the third time for £48,000 of unpaid debt: “Their single, solitary season in the Blue Square Premier was an unmitigated disaster. A trip to The Dripping Pan in January 2009 showed a club that seemed to be in disarray both on and off the pitch, with the bar closed and a team that had been decimated during the previous summer simply unable to compete with the professional clubs that they were up against. Their first winding up hearing came in March 2009, and their relegation back to the Blue Square South was rubber-stamped not long afterwards.” Sad days.

The Sweeper appears every weekday, and once at the weekend. For more rambling and links throughout the day every day, follow your editor Tom Dunmore @pitchinvasion on Twitter.

Liverpool Stronger than Ever! Parsing George Gillett

George Gillett

Usually we take the time to parse carefully through the statements of football’s big wigs as they bury the truth deep below their public statements. But George Gillette’s blather in an interview with a Toronto radio station hardly needs a lot of in-depth analysis.

Seeing through his palpable nonsense is easy from the start as he claimed Liverpool were “in outstanding shape” as a club because “Economically, it’s never been stronger.”

How does he draw this far-fetched conclusion, given that in recent months ownership has been notably quiet in the transfer market, admitted their new stadium won’t be built, and spent months in tortured negotiation with their bank over their debt, only taken on to fund Gillett and Hicks’ purchase of the club in the first place?

  • On selling his share in ice hockey’s Montreal Canadiens: this was done to fulfill “family commitments” (it obviously had nothing to do with the desperate shape Gillett and Hicks were in with the banks this year, as they demanded boatloads of money to refinance an otherwise unsustainable debt taken on by Gillett and Hicks just to purchase the club).
  • On why he sold the Canadiens and not Liverpool: the former was more “sellable” than Liverpool (translation: Liverpool are obviously in such “outstanding shape” that nobody actually wants to buy them).
  • On future plans: That Gillett is in it for long-haul with Liverpool is “probably the correct conclusion”. But, on the other hand, “If someone gets beamed in who’s got bags of money, things may change.” (Translation: he can’t give this investment away fast enough, but he knows that because Liverpool are in such obviously “outstanding shape” that will, well, not happen until he can find an even bigger sucker than himself).
  • On the (lack of) a new stadium for Liverpool: “We were going to build an iconic stadium previously. The world economy has certainly suggested that that would be a good suggestion. But in the normal world, building a stadium in the 65,000 to 75,000 seat range – we would look forward to that.” (Huh? Nonsense, but we can simply conclude this is never going to happen as long as Gillett owns the club).

Maybe because it’s Friday afternoon and I’m missing something, but it seems like old George is barely even bothering to cover up the failure of his investment in Liverpool any longer. Perhaps that Share Liverpool FC scheme can save the club?

Liverpool Fans Revamp Buyout Bid

In January last year, ShareLiverpoolFC (SLFC) made a splash as a scheme launched by supporters to purchase the club.  SLFC aimed to raise £500m from 100,000 Liverpool fans paying £5,000 for a single share. Eighteen months later, the original common criticism of this scheme — that the buy-in price was simply too high for most fans to participate — has been addressed, with the share cost cut from £5,000 to £500 in the new proposal SLFC announced on Friday. Is the revamped scheme likely to lead to a concrete bid this time?

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Though SLFC have not come close to achieving their goal of 100,000 members purchasing Liverpool FC (and hence the revised takeover proposal), they have taken significant steps forward as an organisation in the past eighteen months, now guided by a Board and Steering Committee with impressive experience across a broad spectrum of professions.

In June of last year, the Financial Services Authority approved ShareLiverpoolFC as a not-for-profit Industrial and Provident Society. Shares would not be tradable, establishing a one-member, one-vote principle critical for ensuring the membership scheme will always be equitable.

The key for SLFC has been gaining momentum for the scheme amongst Liverpool supporters’ groups. Prominent SLFC figures such as Rogan Taylor have worked to push the scheme to overseas Liverpool supporters groups, especially in Ireland and Scandinavia. The registered SLFC membership certainly reflects Liverpool’s nationwide and global appeal, with only 21% of the members coming from Merseyside; 35% are from elsewhere in the UK and 44% are from overseas (particularly Ireland and Scandinavia).

And in the UK, SLFC have gained the support of the Spirit of Shankly (SOS), a prominent Liverpool supporters union, for their plans (unfortunately, you may only have heard of the SOS from this unpleasant incident).

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The SLFC and SOS partnership is an important step, made at the behest of the government’s then Culture, Media and Sport Secretary Andy Burnham who “made it clear that one single voice was required if any action was to be taken by supporters in relation to ownership of the Club”, according to SOS’s EGM minutes. Burnham proved to be a strong supporter of the scheme, telling a large gathering of Liverpool supporters in August 2008 that “If we all believe, then this is achievable.”

In the eighteen months since its launch, SLFC has attracted close to 10,000 registered members. 6,000 of these said they were prepared to pay £5,000 for a share under the original proposal — and 40% of those said they would pay more than £5,000. The collaboration with SOS brings in another 2,500 members committed to ownership of the club.

SLFC have gained support from numerous prominent ex-Liverpool players such as John Barnes and John Aldridge as dissatisfaction over the running of the club by Hicks and Gillett has grown. Indeed, each misstep by the present owners only reinforces the original stance of SLFC against debt-ridden private ownership that the fans would ultimately be paying the price for.

Tom Hicks

Liverpool’s Debt Problem

The proposal aims to give fans control of the team and at the same time to remove the burden of debt on the football club that has resulted largely from the leveraged buyout of the club by Tom Hicks and George Gillett. According to the Telegraph, “Liverpool and its holding companies owe £350m to two banks, Royal Bank of Scotland and Wachovia. The football club is liable for £105m of the debt, with its holding company Kop Football Ltd responsible for the remaining £245m.”

Notably, Liverpool FC made a net operating profit in 2008-9 of £8.4 million, but significant losses totalling £42.6 million came from the holding company’s servicing of interest payments mainly thanks to the debt burden from Hicks and Gillett’s purchase of the club (the holding company, Kop Football Ltd, are currently renegotiating their loan with the Royal Bank of Scotland).

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The New Share Liverpool Plan

In the new proposal, SLFC aims to raise £150 million from 20-25,000 fans, which would translate into a roughly 60% share of the club — the rest of the money needed for their takeover would come from a commercial partner. Here’s how the plan breaks down:

  • £10 million to come from the sale of £500 shares in ShareLiverpoolFC on a one person, one share basis
  • £140 million to come from shareholding fans acquiring SLFC Loan Stock which gives them a return of 2% a year
  • A commercial partner to invest £100 million in return for a 40% interest in the Club, through a combination of loan stock and equity shares

This would raise in total £250 million to put towards paying down the current £350 million of bank debt. The scheme then proposes that the £100 million balance of current bank debt would be exchanged for convertible loan stock in Liverpool FC, “which SLFC would have rights to acquire from the banks in equal annual instalments over a 20 year term. Acquisition and conversion of the LFC loan stock would eventually raise SLFC’s equity interest in the Club to 71%.”

Importantly, SLFC has now provided avenues for profit for individual investors and has a plan to attract commercial involvement.

The new proposal, then, certainly solves several of the obvious obstacles that the original idea had built in.  SLFC now need less people to sign-up for less money to get the scheme going, and the past eighteen months have shown that there are also thousands willing to pay more. By providing a small return on the larger investments in a separate Loan Stock, but retaining the one share, one vote principle for the ownership of ShareLiverpoolFC, SLFC have found a way to encourage fans to give more without sacrificing control to richer investors.

It suddenly seems a lot more realistic for this scheme to grow wings, though the sum of money needed remains enormous, and finding a commercial partner for a large share of the investment will be a challenge when it’s known they would always be a minority partner to supporter ownership — there is no precedent for this at the top of British football.

But the continuing viability of membership-ownership at peer clubs in Spain and Germany, along with the success of the Supporters’ Trust movement led by Supporters Direct at the lower levels of English football, provides plenty of precedent for successful supporter ownership, and the scheme matches the stated desires of the British Government and UEFA to encourage supporter control. Hicks and Gillett are continuing to dig a hole that one suspects more and more Liverpool fans will feel that only they can get themselves out of by taking control of the club.

Liverpool To Be Bled Dry

This Is AnfieldAn important article in the Telegraph today clarifies how much interest Liverpool are likely to have pay each year on the massive refinanced debt the club has taken on under the ownership of Tom Hicks and George Gillett: £30 million.

So it will cost them a Torres and a half every year, and don’t expect ticket prices to be anything short of extortionate in the coming years.

Liverpool fans often talk about bleeding red, and the owners will need to squeeze every last dollar out of them to keep the club solvent.

All just another reminder of why leveraged takeovers in football are a really bad idea for football.

Photo credit: ah zim

Why leveraged takeovers are bad for football

MUFCIt’s a sorry day for football when those who want to consider the game’s future feel like they need to go to Business School to understand what the hell is going on. But Liverpool fans seem to have been blindsided by the deleterious consequences of their club being the subject of a leveraged takeover, that is, one financed by borrowed funds, despite the fact there was a similar example not sixty miles away in Manchester not long ago.

Some, though, still argue such debt-laden purchases should be allowed in football. The Guardian’s “Big Debate” this week featured for and against viewpoints on the issue.

On the for side was Joe McLean, Partner of accountancy and advisory for Grant Thornton. I won’t mention that he or a tired Guardian sub thinks Liverpool are owned by “George Hicks and Tom Gillett”, but I will inflict on you some of his puerile reasoning for why leveraged buy-outs should be allowed.

Through telephones and the internet, fans can get the kind of access they couldn’t 10 years ago and the Glazers will think they can exploit that technology. Almost half the population of the world is in India and China and that is the market that attracted the Glazers, George Hicks and Tom Gillett at Liverpool, and other big investors.

Well, that’s fascinating, Joe. There’s a big worldwide market out there for football, there’s lots of people in Asia, and some of them even have telephones! Fantastic. If only the Glazers had told us that in the first place!

No, that’s a reason why people would borrow money to buy a club — speculative dreams of the unbounded riches to be made in the Asian market (if only one in ten Chinese would buy my wind-up clock…) has been sending folks east for centuries. Even if they’re right this time and they pull it off enough to keep paying those mountains of interest payments, where’s the benefit for the existing fans?

But McLean reassures us these speculators know their stuff, ignoring the fact United had to have an extremely successful season just to pay down the debt this year, have raised ticket prices, and that in football, fortune is always eventually fickle.

The Glazer family know what they are doing. They say: “We will borrow money, take the club to another level, pay the money back and make a capital gain.” I think that is quite legitimate in world business. It’s what happens in the City, Frankfurt, Geneva and New York. They borrow, take the business on, pay it back and make a profit. Sometimes it goes wrong but often it goes right. The Glazers have taken United forward and Sir Alex Ferguson continues to be a big spender in the transfer market. The profits United are making means they are servicing their debts and that shows the Glazers’ example is working.

Joe, no-one’s saying this isn’t something that happens in world business. That doesn’t mean it’s right for football, and the reason is in that little caveat he slips in there in the middle of the paragraph, which I’ve kindly bolded and italicised for you: “Sometimes it goes wrong”. Notice he doesn’t say ‘rarely’ or even ‘occasionally’. There’s absolutely no reason for the risk of something going wrong to be put onto the club and onto the fans who will pay the price.

McLean’s only argument in favour of leveraged buy-outs is that they happen in business, and there’s a decent chance those behind it will make a profit out of it in a few years, in the meantime using the club’s money — the fan’s money, at bottom — to pay off the interest. Not a word of how it’s in any way good for football.

The ‘no’ portion of the debate is argued by Dave Boyle, head of policy at Supporters Direct (it should be noted that Dave is an occasional Pitch Invasion contributer).

Boyle makes the point I just tried to rather more eloquently.

The idea of a leveraged takeover is that an asset is undervalued and somebody thinks they can make more money out of it so they use debt to acquire the club and then try to make the money back. It’s based on speculation, so the only sure-fire winners tend to be the people who sell up and leave the clubs behind.

Once the debt has been taken on you are at the whim of capital markets and that means the size of the liability can be beyond the club’s control . . .Debt can help achieve new goals but if the only reason is to transfer ownership from one party to another, then the question of most fans would be “Why are we doing this?” It seems like if you have this kind of debt you have to make more money just to stand still.

But even more importantly, Boyle offers a tentative way forward. After all, if McLean’s point is leveraged buy-outs are normal business practice, and our contention is we don’t want them in football, then the solution must involve protecting football to some degree.

Why not introduce a more rigorous process of scrutiny, more detailed financial investigations via a regulatory unit ensuring that owners show they have the money, what the source of the money is, the viability of their business plan and how much debt is involved. Clubs will continue to be taken over and go into debt but at the moment it’s a free-for-all. If there is a recession, consumer spending will drop and season tickets and TV subscriptions could be the first things to go. But the borrowing is based on the belief that the boom will never end.

It remains a cutting and cruel irony that the kind of free-for-all unregulated takeovers going on in English football are being led by Americans who also own sports teams in their own countries in leagues that would never allow this kind of unstable investment without far more severe scrutiny. That’s why they’re in England trying to make a quick killing, and Hicks is saying silly things like this.

Will Dubai International Capital save Liverpool?

Liverpool Fans ProtestLiverpool fans, in their protest against American owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett yesterday, signalled an SOS to Dubai International Capital (the investment arm of Dubai Holdings) to come in and rescue them by purchasing the club. DIC were originally in the running to buy Liverpool last year, but eventually lost out in the bidding to the Americans. A poll last week showed 85% of Liverpool fans wanted DIC to come in as owners.

The essential problem with the Americans’ takeover was that, like that of the Glazers at Manchester United, it was funded by hundreds of millions of borrowed pounds and not by the capital of the new owners.

This puts a massive burden on the club to pay off the interest (running into tens of millions a year) by squeezing as much revenue as possible out of the club (hence United fans are still protesting against the Glazers’ debt-financed takeover, despite success on the field), with the debt hanging over it like an executioner’s blade. Should the club ever stumble on the pitch, with a huge portion of revenue dependent on Champions League qualification, a Leeds-style tumble is not inconceivable.

At best, transfer spending is cut and supporters are charged ever more to pay the debt. And with the global credit crunch hitting when Hicks and Gillett were looking to refinance their debt recently, conflict with manager Rafa Benitz and supporters over the availability of transfer funds ensued and plans to build a new stadium were massively downgraded.

The debt also signals that the owners are not in it for the long-haul — they’re there make a quick buck, banking on the rising value of the elite Premier League teams for a sale a couple of years down the road. A healthier business model is that of Randy Lerner at Villa, who did not borrow heavily and has won over fans who know he plans to stick around. The same can even be said, for all that he’s hardly a good thing for football in general, about Roman Abramovich at Chelsea.

Sameer Al Ansari (left)The question is, are Dubai International Capital in the Glazer-mode or the Lerner-mode? Writing in The Times, Sameer Al Ansari is a long-time Liverpool fan, he “is leading from the heart, not the head.” Yet he also reports that DIC’s investment model is essentially the same as the Glazers or Hicks/Gilletts, based on debt financing and a quick sale:

The investment arm of DIC is the same as any other private equity firm, such as Blackstone, KKR, or Permira, which ran into trouble last year over its acquisition of the AA. Private equity firms acquire companies using small amounts of their own cash and lots of debt. They then push through a restructuring or refocusing of the company and pay themselves a dividend once the company’s fortunes have turned around. After an investment period of about three to five years, private equity firms then sell or float the company if it is private.

Even if Al Ansari is the biggest Liverpool fan in the world, it wouldn’t matter if the purchase is debt-financed: they’ll still have the interest payments to deal with, and they’ll still be looking to turn it around and sell it in a few years to turn a profit. That is not good for the club’s long-term stability.

Kennedy then goes on to make what he seems to think is a positive comparison of Al Ansari to Joel Glazer, apparently unaware all the Glazers are despised by an increasingly vocal and unhappy portion of the Man Utd fanbase.

Having been educated at Liverpool University School of Law, Al Ansari is a big Liverpool fan and goes to Anfield several times a season, in the same way that Malcolm Glazer’s son, Joel, had a passion for Manchester United. How better to satisfy that passion than buying the club? It worked for Glazer and Al Ansari thinks it can work for him, too.

Like Glazer, Al Ansari knows the marketing power of Liverpool is huge and he wants to find a way to turn that appeal into profits. George Gillett Jr, the Liverpool co-owner, said in February 2007 that the Liverpool “brand” needed to be promoted in the Far East. “Liverpool is the No 1 brand in Europe. If you go to the Far East, Man Utd has historically been the No 1 brand, Chelsea has recently become popular,” he said.

DIC was established in 2004, and already has a record of buying a famous British brand and selling it on. In 2005, they purchased the Tussauds Group, selling it on two years later — though they’ve retained a 20% share in the new ownership. One imagines this is the kind of plan Al Ansari has in mind for Liverpool.

The change in the media and fans’ perspective on DIC, as if they are some sort of philanthropic saviours, is remarkable. When they were first mooted as interested in Liverpool in 2006, a banker close to DIC said that “These guys are not after trophy assets. They buy and sell businesses for pure commercial reasons. They have proper investment objectives.” Is that likely to have changed, especially given the asking price has apparently doubled?

Photo credit: 1) Getty Images. See full Liverpool protest photo gallery at the Fanhouse. 2) The Observer, Action Images.

Liverpool fans protest: “Thanks But No Yanks”

As we discussed earlier today, it was a clash of contrasting American ownerships at Anfield tonight: whilst Randy Lerner’s Villa added to Liverpool’s woes on the field by earning a 2-2 draw, off the field, protest chants against owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett could be heard throughout the game. The Setanta Sports reporter even shockingly intimated some of the chants may have questioned the owners’ “integrity” and “parentage”.

The Fanhouse, on the ball as ever, has already got a photo gallery of the protests up, so head over there to see them all (one reads “U messed up Vietnam, u messed up Iraq! Don’t mess with Scousers”).

Liverpool fans’ protest American owners

Again, we mentioned before why we think some American owners do better than others with the fans, but whether they’ll leave soon continues to depend on events out of their control, including the global credit crunch and how deep into their pockets prospective owners Dubai International Capital want to dig.

How an American won over English fans

Today, Liverpool will play Aston Villa with the former’s supporters expected to mount a large protest over the increasingly ill-judged handling of the club by their American owners, Tom Hicks and George Gillett. Meanwhile, at the weekend, Manchester United’s Chief Executive’s house was attacked by supporters venting their anger at the American ownership via the closest proxy.

But there is one American owner in the Premier League who is revered rather than reviled by supporters, and Liverpool fans won’t need to look far to find him: Randy Lerner at Aston Villa (second from bottom and right in the photo).

Randy Lerner and the Villa board

Rob Hughes, in the International Herald Tribune, believes it’s because Lerner has better understood the culture of English football than the Glazers at Man Utd or Hicks/Gillett at Liverpool.

The owners buy in for all manner of personal reasons. But do they understand what they are getting into? Do they understand the English, or the culture in which one’s soccer team is very often an extension of one’s pride and personality?

Randy Lerner may, because he studied at Cambridge University in 1983. A graduate of Columbia Law School in New York, the heir to his father’s billions and owner of the Cleveland Browns NFL franchise, Lerner’s year at Cambridge introduced him to English football.

When he came to buy Aston Villa, he understood that it was one of the founding clubs of English soccer. He could see that the stadium modernization was complete, and the team needed capital investment. The fans see that Lerner, together with the coach, Martin O’Neill, are in it for the long term.

In the Daily Mail, Neil Moxley continues on this theme, as he says “it is difficult to criticise any of Lerner’s major decisions.”

Doug Ellis, watching his pennies before selling up, had scaled down plans for rebuilding the training ground. After Lerner consulted Martin O’Neill, they were revised.

Villa’s players can now enjoy a swim in the hydrotherapy pool, use a huge range of fitness and rehabilitation equipment or enjoy a game of snooker.

The historic Holte pub at the corner of the Trinity Road and Witton Lane had lain disused for years. Boarded up and unloved, Lerner decided it was an integral part of Villa’s history and spent £4m restoring it. He will never make a profit; it was a gesture to fans.

Last season, before the Sheffield United game, the European Cup-winning team of 1982 were paraded at Villa Park. He paid every player’s expenses, plus £1,000 for turning up and and treated them and their wives to a weekend in a four-star hotel. He didn’t need to do any of that. The atmosphere was incredible. Villa duly thumped the Blades.

Even 1981 Championship – winning boss Ron Saunders, who refused point-blank to set foot in Villa Park while Ellis was in charge, was cajoled back and took a lap of honour before last season’s game with Manchester United.

“The fans worship the ground Randy walks on,” said Dave Woodhall of fanzine Heroes and Villains.

“He can’t do anything wrong. He’s got the common touch. He and his staff have tapped into the fans’ mentality. Free scarves, free coaches to Chelsea, refurbishing the Holte pub — and it seems like he genuinely cares.”

So, could the Glazers and Hicks/Gillett have avoided their growing unpopularity with Man Utd and Liverpool players with a little philanthropy and by use of the “common touch”?

I think they could have earned a little more sympathy, yes. But the key difference resides in the fact Lerner invested his own capital and did not land Aston Villa into hundreds of millions of pounds in debt, as happened at both Liverpool and Man Utd. It has seemed apparent from the get-go that the latter cases were leveraged buy-outs attempting to soon cash-in on the clubs’ rising value, banking on the growing global financial strength and appeal of the Premier League.

Those supporters who didn’t see through that from day one — and Liverpool fans did not cover themselves in glory by rashly welcoming Gillett and Hicks with pretty solid support initially — are regretting that now.

Supporters of the major clubs should care more about an owner’s intentions and funding and not his nationality, as the price of Premier League teams means local lifetime billionaire fans are thin on the ground. Whether an owner is American or not does not determine how he will treat the team: where the money comes from and the likely consequences of this is much more telling.

Photo credit: gazjones123123

The People’s Clubs?

Mike Gumballhead returns for another rant, wondering what’s going on with the rich men running Liverpool and Newcastle.

This is AnfieldWhy is it that whenever a grotesquely rich businessman buys a football club, we’re surprised to find that he doesn’t run his team like a corporate Mahatma Gandhi but instead shows all the philanthropic patience of Donald Trump?

This past week, we’ve gorged on Mike Ashley’s madness — please, football gods, let him add Alan Shearer to the Wor Kev Movement at St. James Park — as pundits have wondered how a man brilliant enough to make a fortune selling polyester shirts could have lost his head so suddenly as soon as he bought a football club.

The man made a success of Milletts, for god’s sake, but give him Nicky Butt and Sam Allardyce’s twenty-five man entourage and suddenly he’s sunk in a diving bell 60m below the northern Caspian Sea giving an interview only Cristiano Ronaldo digs.

Meanwhile, on the opposite side of northern England, those damn Yanks have completely lost it, running Liverpool as if they had no history, no glory, as if they were merely the Montreal Canadiens of English sawker!

No, This is Anfield, and I’ve heard Jamie Carragher’s chirpy voice enough on Five Live to know those Yanks wouldn’t recognise the genius of Rafael Benitez even if they were an entire 24 points behind Man Utd right now, instead of a mere 12. This is a man who sees coruscating winger where we see Jamie Pennant, and goalscoring talent where we see Dirk Kuyt turning away from goal for the eight hundredth time.

What is going on, friends? How can men who have long robbed the poor to feed themselves fail to bring instant success to England’s two People’s Clubs? (Sorry, Everton.)

Photo credits: AndyNugent; Pose

American Tom Hicks to Buy Roma?

Well, it’s all Italy all the time here. But this is a weird one. Why — given UEFA regulations prohibit an individual owning a majority shareholding in two competing clubs and that Roma and Liverpool regularly both play in the Champions League — did speculation about Liverpool’s Tom Hicks buying Roma lead to a big jump in their share price? Surely he wouldn’t ditch Liverpool so soon, though it’s conceivable he could buy a small share of the Italian club, which would be interesting given the crisis there.