A much needed wake up call to the pair who are ruining Anfield.
Dear Tom and George,
I write to you as a lifelong red concerned at the precarious position we find ourselves in, not just in the Premier League but also in the grand scheme of things. Three long, arduous years ago the Dubai International Capital takeover of Liverpool FC hit the rocks. Everyone was crestfallen after dreams of mega money were shattered and we were left right back where we started. However, just ask it looked as though all hope was lost, up stepped two rosy-cheeked, twinkle-toothed knights in shining armour to offer us the money and the know-how to make the step up amongst the likes of Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester Utd at the summit of the game. Those men were you. Those men were liars.
Three years on from your takeover of the club and there is a strong case to argue that we have actually gone backwards; we certainly don’t seem to have progressed. Of course, I am sure that you would immediately point me in the direction of the managers office if I wanted someone to blame for all this but the fact of the matter is you are at the top of the tree here and therefore everything that happens at the club happens as an extension of your control. Former U.S President Harry S. Truman always kept a sign on his desk reading “The Buck Stops Here”, I think you could learn something from your compatriot by way of taking responsibility for things that occur under your ownership.
Please don’t think that I am placing all of the blame at your door here because I do realise that a number of factors have contributed to our decline; poor performances, bad management, injuries and plain misfortune have all knocked us down a peg at one point or another but the real issue here, the one that keeps many a Liverpool fan awake at night, is the very real possibility that we could be witnessing an historic moment in the life of this club. This generation of Liverpool fans may very well be the last to see the club rubbing shoulders with Europe’s elite.
Call me pessimistic if you will but the worst case scenario is one that you ignore at your own peril in this industry. Our illustrious past has bread ignorance amongst a generation of fans who believe our history will provide the coat tails on which we will hitch a free ride to an equally glorious future. The reality is, though, that only a serious injection of cash can take us where we want to go. If there is anything that we can learn from the likes of Leeds Utd it is that the bigger they are, the harder they fall. If we were to slip into a decline even half as severe as that of our one time rivals, you would simply never be forgiven for allowing it to happen.
This brings me onto the real purpose of this letter; to question your motifs, credentials and even financial status. Firstly, I would like to say that I am hugely disappointed at your failure to live up to the promises that you made upon sealing the takeover. I suppose the fact that I bought into it in the first place is a testament to your ability to sell. However, the lack of movement thereafter has come to show that your words were just a smokescreen behind which there is very little substance.
You arrived with the promise of world class players to assist the likes of Jamie Carragher and Steven Gerrard in driving the club to glory yet on only one occasion have you afforded Rafa Benitez the luxury of spending over £20m on a transfer, and that just so happens to have resulted in the acquisition of Fernando Torres, who exploded onto the scene and quickly established himself as the worlds best striker, tripling in value along the way. In the price bracket below that we have welcomed Javier Mascherano, Alberto Aquilani and Robbie Keane to the club all for between £15 and £20m pounds. Mascherano is another player who is arguably the best at his job in world football, while Alberto Aquilani is yet to have had enough time to establish himself but I believe him to be a fine player. Robbie Keane is a tough one to call because nobody really knows the manner in which he was signed but the fact that Rafa shipped him out so quickly shows that he does not dwell on his decisions before cutting his losses.
So tell me, given the managers superb record with larger sums of money in the transfer market, why is it that you do not supply him with such funds on a more regular basis? Instead, he has been forced to operate on a relative shoestring, spending less than not only our direct rivals but also some of the clubs below us in the pecking order. Even with the managerial talents that Rafa possesses it is almost impossible to acquire top class players with the kind of money that you have provided in a market that is always inflating. There are, of course a few exceptions; Daniel Agger, Yossi Benayoun, Peter Crouch, Craig Bellamy and Alvaro Arbeloa to name but a few. However, the majority of these budget signings have been moved on in the name of funding bigger, better signings. The issue here is that when you sacrifice three quality players to sign one world class name you lose your strength in depth which results in the kind of thin squad that has seen us drop way off the pace this season.
Many people are quick to slate Rafa Benitez for his ventures in the transfer market; figures like £200m are banded around freely as the amount of money that he has poured into his signings without any return. This is both ignorant and incorrect. If you completely analyse Rafa’s transfer history then you will see, as I have briefly explained, that his record with big money is fantastic. The thing that tarnishes his name is that he has repeatedly had to gamble on plucking players from obscurity and placing them in front of the expecting eyes of the Anfield faithful. I don’t know a manager in the world that can take a team to the top in this fashion. You wouldn’t buy a Hyundai and enter it into the Nascar Sprint Cup, so how do you expect us so compete at this highest level with second rate players?
It seems to me that when you purchased this club you bit off more than you could chew. I am not for one second going to pretend that I possess an encyclopaedic knowledge of American sports but I think I’m probably right in saying that the passion and personal involvement of a Liverpool FC fan with their club is unrivalled worldwide and far exceeds anything that you expected when you arrived. I also think that you entered this venture as businessmen first, and sports fans second. In this sense it is clear that you could never be as emotionally affected by the demise of this club as the loyal supporters that have dedicated their lives to it. Perhaps all you are sensitive to is the weight of your wallet.
If you were around ten years ago I think you may well have been in a position to really drive this club forward. However, such is the amount of money involved in today’s game it seems that, as wealthy as you may be, you are small fries in comparison with fat cats such as Roman Abramovich and Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan of Chelsea and Manchester City respectively. Even the likes of Lakshmi Mittal and family, the owners of Championship club QPR, have a more significant fortune than both of you put together. The modern game, then, seems to be a playground exclusive to the super rich; I can almost picture Mr Abramovich and co. sitting at the top of the climbing frame while you struggle to reach the first wrung.
As much as it may sadden me I have to admit that passion and desire count for very little in the quest for silverware these days. The game has changed and it seems that the only way to compete with the best on the field, is to compete with them off of it. Whoever has the biggest financial muscle will, more often than not, come out on top and so reap the rewards of their investment, if you can even call it that. We may now have reached the point where the owners of a football club are not just looking for a return on their investment, but more so the pure thrill of owning their own club and being able to say that they are the best in the world. Top flight clubs are now becoming pawns on the rich man’s chess board and in 20 years time I expect most Premier League clubs to be under the ownership of people for whom money is no object.
Given a choice everyone would rather see honours earned than honours bought. However, if it means a long awaited trophy taking pride of place in the cabinet then the fans won’t care how it gets there, just so long as it does. The insatiable hunger for success far outweighs pride and morals here and I think this club is now ready to accept the new money route to glory.
At the last count your combined wealth amounted to about £1bn, around 12th place in the British football rich list. In terms of Premier League clubs there seems to be a direct correlation between your place in the rich list, and your place in the table. For this reason I do not see us ever breaking the super-rich stranglehold under your ownership. Your relatively meagre net worth coupled with the debts you have put the club under mean that while other teams progress we will continue to stagnate and even decline. In fact, going by rich list itself, we would be placed behind Manchester City, QPR, Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal, Everton, Celtic, Watford and Manchester Utd in terms of the respective wealth of British football club owners. Even Cheltenham town owner Simon Keswick has a £966m fortune to rival that of yours combined.
I can do little more to get my point across here than to publish a table of the 30 richest people in British football. So I shall.
1. Shekh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nayan
2. Lakshmi Mittal and family
3. Roman Abramovich
4. Joe Lewis
5. Bernie and Slavica Ecclestone
6. Stanley Kroenke
7. Alisher Usmanov
8 = Lord Grantchester & The Moores Family
8 = Dermot Desmond
10= Lord Ashcroft
10= Malcolm Glazer and family
12. Simon Keswick
13. Trevor Hemmings
Preston North End
14. Mike Ashley
15. Randy Lerner
16. Tom Hicks
17. The Walker family
18. Mohammed Al Fayed
19. Sir David Murray
20. David Sullivan
21. Steve Morgan
22= Sir Martyn Arbib & family
22= David Gold & family
22= John Madejski
25. George Gillett
26. Stephen Lansdown
27. Peter & Denise Coates
28. Sir Elton John
29. Danny Fiszman
30= Marcus Evans
The above data was collected in January last year and I appreciate that you have since, or are about to boost your net worth with the sales of the Texas rangers (£310m) and the Montreal Canadians (£330m). This would take your combined fortune up to around the £1.6bn mark. Although this wouldn’t get you a table with a Sheikh, it is certainly a significant amount of money which begs another question altogether; why aren’t you using it to invest in Liverpool FC?
Here we have two men who arrived at Anfield with promises of big names and a big stadium without the big debt that we so feared. Unfortunately, you have failed to live up to all of those promises and worse still you have dragged the good name of this club through the mud along the way by repeatedly washing your dirty laundry in public and embarrassing us with stunts like Klinsmann-gate. If Bill Shankly were around today he’d be utterly appalled at what has happened to “the Liverpool way.”
Surely, with the sale of your aforementioned assets as well as some others (property etc.), there is no better time to be focussing the majority of your resources and attention on Liverpool FC. You have done so much damage since arriving and here you have a chance to make amends, so what’s stopping you?
You came to the club promising that top class players would follow you through the door yet looking at today’s squad and comparing it with the one that Rafa inherited, there seems to be little difference in terms of quality. We still have a few great players who are dragged down by the incompetence they are surrounded with. You have had the opportunity to do something about this but every time the transfer window opens there seems to be another excuse; the latest being that January was a poor market and offered little quality. It certainly offered more quality than we currently possess.
You have just handed the manager a lengthy contract yet you aren’t providing him with the resources he needs to do his job properly. In this business you get out what you put in yet you seem reluctant to put enough in. Some people believe that your lack of activity is an attempt to starve Rafa of funds so to force him out without actually firing him. This would mean that you could avoid paying off his remaining contract and put any money that you saved into a kitty for a new managerial appointment to utilise. I realise that you have publicly stated that you are fully committed to Rafa and his new contract but you’ll have to forgive me if I am a little reluctant to accept your word as gospel.
It was just yesterday that I listened to a radio interview with West Ham co-owner David Gold who clearly and honestly outlined all of the club’s weaknesses and how they planned to address them. This kind of approach is so refreshing in an industry where secrets and lies are rife. I do not expect you to emulate this kind of openness but I would certainly appreciate it if you would refrain from deflecting the questions put to you and respond with honesty and realism.
What I would really like to know is what your future plans are for the club. So far the new stadium takes the form of a small mound in the middle of Stanley Park and the massive debts continue to anchor our progress. Given the pace at which the game is evolving there is no time to dwell on decisions and I see only two possible outcomes for the future of this club. The first outcome is that you follow up on your way overdue promises of taking this club to the next level and heavily invest in our future. The second, god forbid, is that you continue to starve the club of the nutrients it needs to grow and Sir Alex Ferguson finally succeeds in knocking Liverpool “off their f*****g perch”.
There is simply no middle ground here and we have reached a point where it is glaringly obvious that you need to make a big decision; either you are with us for the long run and you are prepared to invest, or you are willing to cut your losses and leave.
I have to add a third outcome at this point as I think it is most likely that you will, in fact, continue to operate as you are in the hope that someone comes along with a big enough offer to send you packing with a nice profit because as I stated before, you are businessmen first and sports fans second. To you, profit is everything and it doesn’t matter how many people you hurt along the way.
This brings me nicely onto my next question; why won’t you sell? I appreciate that you entered this venture with a vision of increasing the value of the club and then at some point in the future passing it on for a significant profit. However, for whatever reason you have failed to achieve your goals and have alienated the almost everyone involved with the club along the way. It has now reached the point where you have become figures of hate in your own organisation so I have to ask, why is it that you refuse to just up and leave? I’m sure you haven’t been short of offers and although they probably don’t meet your ambitious requirements you probably wouldn’t be out of pocket. Are you trying to protect your reputation as businessmen, or do you actually still believe you can compete with the likes of Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester Utd, Manchester City, Barcelona, Real Madrid, Inter Milan etc? If so, how do you intend to do that without putting your hands in your pockets and providing the necessary funds?
To go full circle, I would again like to remind you that the possibility of a serious decline in the fortunes of this football club is currently playing on everyone’s minds. I’m sure I don’t need to give you a lecture on the basics of business but the fact of the matter is that an organisation with debts like ours has to meet its repayment demands. If the organisation starts to fail in the industry it operates in then the money it relies on to finance the repayments of just isn’t there and this can result in the forced sale of assets. In this particular set of circumstances those assets are the likes of Pepe Reina, Daniel Agger, Javier Mascherano, Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres amongst others. There is also the possibility that some of these superstars could be driven away by their hunger to succeed and that too would be as a direct result of your actions.
Should you allow this kind of deterioration to happen you will forever be associated with the death of the most successful British football club in history. That, surely, will be more damaging to your reputation than simply cutting your losses and leaving. As I stated before you will also never, ever be forgiven for allowing this occur when you have had every opportunity to prevent it. Don’t think of this as a threat but more so a warning.
I would greatly value your honest and sincere response to this letter. Please don’t treat me like a member of the media circus and try to fob me off by spouting figures and pointing the finger at the credit crisis or the manager. I may not be a business guru but I am also no mug and I know more about the football industry and Liverpool FC than you could ever dream of. I have not dedicated my life to the game and to this club to be mugged off by two fabricators who believe that their position allows them to get away with doing or saying anything they like. I therefore don’t want to hear about the credit crisis, if it affected you so badly that it halted our progress then perhaps you aren’t wealthy enough to be in the game at all. It didn’t seem to affect other clubs around us who continued to grow. I also don’t want to be sold the promise of a £100m investment in the near future; I have already heard about this possibility and exciting though it may be for a quick fix, it is a minuscule sum to be discussing when talking about the long term future of the club.
All that is left, then, is the truth. The truth that most of us already know but are yet to hear from the horse’s mouth. I implore you, not only for my benefit but for the benefit of everyone who loves this club so dearly, to reply with honesty, sincerity and realism. Just as it is a players duty to sign autographs outside the stadium for a paying fan who has waited for hours in the rain, it is your duty to take the time to respond to letters like mine, from a paying fan who has spent hours trying to express my concerns about your involvement with the club.
Lastly, I would just like to remind you of the value, and indeed power, of the fans of Liverpool Football Club. You may be the people who have the final say on internal matters, who sign the cheques and who balance the books but we, the fans, are the real owners of this club. Without its supporters a football club is nothing and we just so happen to be a very special set of supporters. We can move mountains with our voices, make or break a player with our support, keep a manager in his seat or if we so wished, even topple him. Do not think that just because you are the owners of this club that you have all the power.
You are very fortunate that you have a good manager in place who has managed to milk every last drop of ability out of his team and have them overachieve in the form of a Champions League title, an FA Cup, a European Super Cup and an impressive title challenge. However, our deficiencies are now starting to show, as are the reasons for them and to quote one of my favourite films, we’re very, pissed off about it.
We, as a collective of fans, are the most powerful entity involved at Liverpool FC and should we so wish we could make your day to day job almost impossible. Should the unthinkable happen and this club continues to slide then you will no doubt incur the wrath of an army of hurting, smarting Liverpool supporters. You will have no choice then but to pack up and leave with your tail between your legs because we would rather take matters into our own hands and run the club honestly than see it ravaged by the greed and mistakes of two men who bit off more than they could chew.
I hope I have made my points clear and I look forward to receiving your response. I appreciate that you are busy and that I may be waiting a while but I expect a response nonetheless. Please bare in mind that your answers are not just for me, but for the millions of Liverpool fans who are desperate for the smoke to clear so they can finally see what the future holds for the club they so dearly love.
Read more from Liam at The Kop End