2007 - A vital year for Liverpool FC?

Posted by Veinticinco de Mayo on January 18, 2008, 11:26:14 AM

There have been a number of hugely pivotal years in he history of the club we love.  Recently we'll think back to 1959, 1974, 1977, 1985 and 1989.  It's very likely that in years to come we will look back at 2007 as a similar turning point. Whether we remember it as the year the club sold it's soul to the man or the year we finally entered the 21st Century and began to compete is yet to be seen.

Money Money Money

2007 began promisingly enough. After years of shamelessly hawking the club round in front of a parade of unsuitable buyers we suddenly had a £450 million offer on the table from one of the biggest investors you could hope for, Dubai International Capital. The bid was generally viewed favourably by all concerned.  Rick Parry was very positive "Already they (DIC) have demonstrated a full understanding of, and respect for, the club's heritage and values...  ...We also believe they share our passion for success. In particular, DIC believes in investing in the businesses it acquires." Rafa, perhaps predictably added "It is always good for a club to have more money and more possibilities." The fans were perhaps a little more cautious, but after a month of positive spin from all sides the general concensus was that if your're going to sell your soul then you may as well sell it to a man with deep pockets and a proven record of success.
Ansari: Don't DIC about with me

It was a done deal, or so we thought. Then on January 31st DIC pulled out of the deal claiming that the Liverpool board were stalling and that DIC would not be lead into a bidding war and overpay for assets. There was much gnashing of teeth (over 100 pages of teeth gnashing to be precise) and the general concensus seemed to be that the world was about to end and it was all Moores' fault for being greedy and being seduced by the evil Gillett. There follows a random sample of RAWKite angst from the period:

Moores has fannied around AGAIN.  :wanker
Moores has wasted DIC's time and money on this and I don't blame them for fucking him off.
What fucking tools our board are.  Shilly-shallying bastards, all of them - shall we take a deal to make LFC into a world Power House once again?  or shall we fuck around, piss them off and consider a guy who likes things just ticking over.
If I had a seasie (which I can't get as WE STILL HAVEN'T BUILT THE NEW FUCKING GROUND), I'd rip the fucker up as we have a board that in no way matches the ambition we have as supporters.
Go fuck themselves.
So what happens if the American bid is accepted.
We as the fans need to do something to stop that deal going through.
the bottom line is that now Liverpool have become the biggest laughing stock in football.
I hope David Moores as asked Gillett how he plans to fund this takeover and ask him if he has learned anything from the 2 times that he went bankrupt on how to run a business.
3 takeover's collapsed and counting....  
and that was only the first ten pages!   Thus we entered a bizarre period of uncertainty, a period when many reds seemed more interested in the standings in the Forbes Rich List than those in the Premier League table.

Tom Hicks, replete with new LFC cowboy boots soon rode to the rescue though and the Americans' PR machine whirred into life...  “Liverpool is a fantastic club with a remarkable history and a passionate fanbase. We fully acknowledge and appreciate the unique heritage and rich history of Liverpool and intend to respect this heritage in the future. The Hicks family and the Gillett family are extremely excited about continuing the Club’s legacy and tradition.".  Rick Parry was equally pleased "This is great for Liverpool, our supporters and the shareholders – it is the beginning of a new era for the Club. The partnership created by George and Tom is very special. They are bringing to the table tremendous and relevant experience, a passion for sport, real resources and a strong commitment to the traditions of Liverpool. Their approach represents exactly the sort of genuine partnership that Liverpool has been seeking over recent times. We know that George and Tom want a long-term relationship with Liverpool and that they also understand the importance of investing in our success both on and off the field. They have made clear their intention to move as quickly as practicable on the financing and construction of our proposed new stadium at Stanley Park and also to support investment in the playing squad. This has been an important time for the Club. We now have the right partners for the future. I am absolutely certain we have now ended up in the right place, with owners who will help the Club succeed and prosper.”
Hicks & Gillett: Two Wallets? Check!  Two Faced? *Cough*

Fears that the club was about to be Glazered were allayed by Hicks "There is no debt involved. As custodians of this wonderful, storied club, we have a duty of care to the tradition and legacies of Liverpool.”

For most of us that was enough to allay our immediate fears and give the Americans time to show us what they were about.  After all we had a big game with Barcelona coming up. Our league form was inconsistent but we were once again on the march in Europe....  The group was navigated without a problem, great away victories in Barcelona and Eindhoven set up a repeat semi-final with Chelsea.  It seemed Frank Lampard was wrong in his book when he described the first semi as a once in a lifetime experience, he and John Terry left the field in tears again  ;D

So we were off to the final for the second time in three years. Well some of us were, although corporate greed denied many real fans the opportunity to make the trip this time. If you were lucky enough to get a ticket after the various commercial customers had taken their cut then you still had to contend with exorbitant prices for flights and accommodation.

The Final
Strangely, in losing 2-1 to AC Milan we showed real signs of progression from that great victory two years ago.

In Istanbul, we may have won it five times but we were also outclassed. For 55 minutes we were given a footballing lesson, like a karaoke singer who had inadvertently stumbled on stage at La Scala we were out of our depth. A frog chorus amidst the silky Milanese arias. Somehow, miraculously, we pulled it round through sheer force of communal will, the pent-up power of twenty years of yearning. It was heroic but it looked like a one-off, a freak, an anomaly.
In Athens, we not only matched Milan, we outplayed them for long periods. In the end, the reservoir of luck that we drank from so headily in Istanbul ran out and the frailties that we all knew existed were exposed. For all our possessional and positional dominance we were unable to create enough clear chances and unable to take the ones we did. So, for the first time in a competitive European Cup final, we bowed out as gallant losers. We shouldn't, however, allow this to distract us from the fact that this time we looked at home in this, the most rarified of footballing occasions. We belonged. The way we were able to make a team that had so recently humbled Manchester United look ordinary was proof if ever that not only are we back on our fucking perch, but we quite like it up here and aren't planning on getting knocked off right now.

Grounds for Optimism
So, despite the defeat, we started the summer in fine spirits. On the pitch the future looked bright. We had a superb manager who had already created a team which plays as a superb tactical unit. We had that priceless ability to stop great teams playing well, if we could ally that with some genuine creativity and consistently deadly finishing then we will be a formidable proposition.

The problem in the past had been that world class creativity and clinical 30 goal a season men have been in the boutique that we couldn't afford to enter. Rafa could only press his nose to the shop window wistfully before popping to the discount store across the road to buy the hard-working, the gangly and the unruly. Now armed with a fistful of dollars, could he at last cross the threshold and shop with the big boys. Of course big signings don't guarantee success and how well Rafa spent his money over the summer would be pivotal to his eventual success as a Liverpool manager. A success that, as ever, will be measured on whether we get to once more hoist the championship pennant up the mast of the Great Eastern.

The Americans Deliver
This is Anfield.
Or is it?
The Americans were certainly good to their word from the off. The summer opened with the signing of Fernando Torres from Atletico Madrid for a fee in excess of £20m.  For all the provisos about our nett spend as compared to Man Utd; this was a statement of intent and it was certainly a step up in price, and class, from all our recent signings. Babel and Benayoun were added to add much needed creativity. Perhaps, #19 was coming into sight? But would the flagpole still be there?

The Americans had wisely ditched the unoriginal and dull Parrybowl design for the new ground and had promised to come back with something that was world class and uniquely Liverpool.  They didn't disappoint. The plans for the new ground were unveiled in the summer amid much hoopla. The reaction from fans and planning bodies alike was generally favourable.  A futuristic and unique design, a huge Kop as it's centre piece, world class visitor facilities designed to attract crowds even away from match days, it was everything they had promised and more.  If approval ratings were taken amongst the fanbase then the American's stock would never be higher.

Stuttering Start
So the 2007/2008 season started with most Reds extremely optimistic about the future. Early results were promising, Torres hit the ground scoring, and following a 6-0 demolition of Derby County Liverpool were top of the table and the press were referring to us gushingly as real title contenders.  A few unwisely weakedned teams in the CL and a run of injuries to key players soon so the roof cave in on that early optimism and by November the team were trailing badly in the league and needed another epic comeback to qualify from the CL group.  Rafa was starting to come under pressure, not least it seems from those who should have been the first to back him.

Hubble Bubble Toil and Trouble
The first sign of trouble behind the scenes came on November 22nd when Rafael Benitez repeatedly used the phrase "I will be concentrating on coaching and preparing my team" in a press conference. A clearly rattled Benitez even went as far as suggesting he may consider the newly vacant England role. It seems that the American's claim that "If Rafa wanted to buy Snoogy Doogy we would back him" had become
"Rafa should concentrate on coaching and preparing the players he has". Benitez was clearly not impressed and reinforced his interpretation of this as a diminution of his role as manager by ditching his usual suit for a tracksuit for the next game at Newcastle.
In his post match interview he was generally conciliatory but still added that "They [Hicks and Gillett] don't understand what the transfer window means in Europe, they need to understand how difficult it is to sign players".  This was once more seized upon by the press and it appears that Tom Hicks at least was less than impressed. He issued an ultimatum for Rafa to shut up or get out. Thankfully for all of us Rafa restated his love for the club and the city and opted for the first option. It would all be resolved, we were told, at a meeting when the owners deigned to visit on December 16th. Until then we had to wait.  Predicatably the rumour mill went into overdrive; Rafa wasn't speaking to Parry, Gillett wasn't speaking to Hicks, Foster had gone AWOL, Hicks wanted out and it was all Parry's fault.

On the pitch the team strengthened Rafa's position by winning the last three Champions League games in some style and setting up an exciting two legger against Inter.
Rafa:  As usual coaching and preparing his team

Post December 16th - The Wheels Come Off
The meeting after the Man Utd game was meant to clear the air and restore things to a normal footing, you know, the Liverpool Way, where the team not the board make the headlines. Indeed George Gillett, who had remained conspicuously silent during the slanging match of the previous weeks was quick to state that "Rafa is the one we want as a manager further on, and we have faith in him." He added: "The transfer window opens soon and we might use the option that gives us, or we might not.".  This time it was the turn of Hicks, perhaps off cooling his boots somewhere, to remain ominously silent.

It was the other revelations to come out of the meeting that rang alarm bells for Reds fans however. First Rick Parry admitted Liverpool have had to shelve their futuristic stadium design for Stanley Park because of spiralling costs. He said:
"We are now considering two schemes but the stadium will be a 70,000 seater.  “The new stadium will be a significant improvement on the original plans and a slightly downgraded version of the new ones." "The single tier Kop remains fundamental to the design and we are not expecting any delays – it should be on schedule for 2011."  Then it emerged that the Americans were attempting to put all the £350 million refinancing package they were negociating onto the clubs books, thus saddling us with a huge Glazer style debt.

What's going on? I'm a glass half full kind of guy. I don't write negative articles. The problem is that I started writing this article in May, in the immediate aftermath of the Champions League Final to be precise (Yes. I am a workshy fop.) The idea being to celebrate our renaissance, the marriage of the team unit that we saw in Athens to the striking talents that our new found money could buy us.  Then I made the fateful decision to wait until the end of the year to finish it, little expecting the turmoil that would ensue in the meantime.  

So, 2007?  As usual with Liverpool FC, it's been a rollercoaster, there have been highs, there have been lows and their have of course been plenty of the false dawns that have plagued the last 18 years.  While it seems clear that 2007 is still a landmark year in the history of the club it now seems that it may be so for all the wrong reasons.  All that optimism that I felt, even in the aftermath of the defeat in Athens, has evaporated. It has been eroded by the constant lies and evasion of the last few months. By the realisation that the new brooms rather than sweeping clean are merely spreading shit of their own. By the nagging feeling that, unlikely as it seems, the new regime may be even more incompetent as than the one they have replaced. We may not have sold our soul to the devil but it appears that we at least mortgaged it to a pair of duplicitous nincompoops. For, make no mistake, if the Americans have not lied to us then they have at the very least been economical with the truth.  Let's take a look at the words and the actions of our new owners:

They said: "Liverpool is a fantastic club with a remarkable history and a passionate fan base. We fully acknowledge and appreciate the unique heritage and rich history of Liverpool and intend to respect this heritage in the future."
They did:  They undermined the manager and the team, they aired their dirty washing in public. They showed they had not the slightest comprehension of how to run a successful English football club.

They said:  "There is no debt involved. As custodians of this wonderful, storied club, we have a duty of care to the tradition and legacies of Liverpool."
They did:  They are poised to saddle the club with £350 million of debt. A debt that will cost £20-30 million pounds a year to service.

They said:  "If Rafa wanted to sign Snoogy Doogy we would back him."
They did:  They told Rafa to concentrate on coaching the players he had. Rick Parry was to be in charge of transfers. They refused to sign Javier Mascherano, a player who is considerably better in the holding role than Snoogy Doogy.

So as we enter January 2008 we have gone full circle and we are all watching and waiting anxiously as another bid from Dubai is mooted while our stadium looks no closer now than it did 12 months ago.

There is much that we don't know about the Dubai bid, and they may have similar plans for the club to the Americans.  So in normal circumstances we'd be viewing their bid with caution.  However, they do have the money required and crucially they have not lied to us, made the club a laughing stock or undermined the team and manager. On that basis they can't be any worse than the current incumbents.

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