Monday, January 28, 2008

Tom Hicks Unable To Quell Whispers

Tom Hicks suggested yesterday that he intended to adopt a lower profile and to start winning over Liverpool’s supporters with actions rather than words, but there are whispers from within Anfield about the significance of the continuing silence from his co-chairman, George Gillett Jr.

Gillett, owner of the Montreal Canadiens ice hockey franchise, was the catalyst for the American duo’s takeover of Liverpool last February, but Hicks, who was widely regarded as the silent partner when he came on board late in the bidding process, has had a far more visible public presence during the club’s troubles of the past two months. Gillett’s name was absent from separate statements about the club’s £350 million refinancing deal and its proposed new stadium on Friday and, with Hicks admitting yesterday that “sometimes we don’t agree”, there are growing indications that the pair’s partnership is on borrowed time.

It emerged this month that Gillett has spoken to Dubai International Capital (DIC), the private-equity investment arm of the Dubai Government, about a partnership that would either lead to them buying out Hicks’s 50 per cent stake or the entire club. Hicks maintains that this is not on the agenda, despite confirming yesterday that he and Gillett held talks in October about a deal that would have led to the group becoming 15 per cent investors in the club, but while Friday’s refinancing deal appeared to have stabilised their regime for the immediate future, Anfield sources believe that the Hicks-Gillett partnership cannot survive in its present form. It remains possible that DIC will look to take over the club, either in a joint venture with Gillett or by buying out the two Americans, with the Arab group unconvinced by Hicks’s claim that he will not sell his stake at any price.

Doubts persist about the long-term future of Rafael BenÍtez for as long as Hicks is in place, but, after their very public fallout in November, the Texan is now at least offering the manager his backing in public. “We had a lot of consternation about Rafa,” Hicks said, “but after our meeting on December 16, where he really showed his strong intent to do the right things with us and by the club, we’ve had much better communication. He’s got our total backing. I’ve made that very clear.

We’ve funded transfer requests in January and we are talking about things for the summer. Rafa’s got a contract here for two more years and hopefully longer than that.”

BenÍtez will be allowed to pursue the signing of Javier Mascherano on a long-term deal once Mohamed Sissoko has completed his expected £9 million move to Juventus, while the Liverpool manager also hopes to proceed with a bid to sign Pablo Aimar, the former Valencia playmaker, from Real Zaragoza.

Celtic Interested in Hyypia

According to the Daily Mail, Celtic have made an enquiry about Liverpool's veteran centre-back Sami Hyypia.

The 34-year-old Finland international is out of contract at the end of the season and has not been offered a new deal by the Anfield club.

The defender is said to be frustrated by Liverpool's reluctance to give him another year at the club he has served for nine seasons as he was hoping to celebrate a decade in a red shirt in 2008/9.

This is not the first time Hyypia has been the subject of interest from other clubs.

At the start of this season, he admitted that he turned down big money offers from Newcastle and Wigan because he wanted to have one last tilt at winning the Premier League title with Liverpool.

He has since been linked with Kevin Keegan's Newcastle, Fulham and now the Scottish Champions.

Hyypia's chances of starting every game with Liverpool are diminishing, following Rafa Benitez signing of Slovakian international Martin Skrtel for £7 million and the, temporarily postponed, return from injury of Daniel Agger.

It now appears almost certain that the player will move on in the summer and the news of Gordon Strachan has made an enquiry will give him another possible destination when he considers his options.

Benitez Backed By Reds Co-Owner

Liverpool co-owner Tom Hicks insists manager Rafael Benitez's job is safe for the remaining two years of his contract at the very least.

The Spaniard's position has been the subject of much speculation in recent weeks after Hicks admitted he and fellow American co-owner George Gillett had held discussions with former Germany coach Jurgen Klinsmann as an "insurance policy" after their relationship became strained.

Performances on the pitch have been lacklustre in recent weeks, with the Reds lying sixth in the Premier League, two points behind fourth-placed Merseyside rivals Everton in the race for Champions League qualification.

Hicks, however, is building bridges with Benitez after talks with the Spanish coach last month.

"Rafa has a contract for two more years. He will be here for at least the length of it and hopefully longer than that," said Hicks.

"He has our full support. Rafa has shown his strong intent to do the right thing with us about the club.

"He has been a gentleman and we have had much better communication. He has my total backing. I have made that very clear."

Benitez also seemed to be struggling at one stage to reach agreement with the owners over the club's transfer strategy in the January window, but Hicks insists the manager has the board's full support to pursue whomever he sees fit.

Asked if he would endorse a proposal from Benitez to sign Argentinian midfielder Javier Mascherano, Hicks told BBC Radio 5 Live's Sportsweek programme: "Absolutely. We have never turned down Rafa's request for money for any player he has asked for.

"We have funded his transfer request in January and are already having conversations about things in the summer."

On reports of a fall-out with Gillett, Hicks added: "George and I get along fine. Sometimes we do not agree but that is what business partners are all about."