Thursday, April 17, 2008

Hicks To Use Benítez As Pawn In Anfield Power Struggle

Tom Hicks is considering raising the stakes in the Liverpool power struggle by asking his co-owner George Gillett to place on record whether Rafael Benítez features in his long-term plans for Anfield.

The Liverpool manager has been in frequent email contact with the Americans since Hicks demanded the resignation of Rick Parry last week and revealed, to the alleged surprise of Benítez, that the chief executive had been present at a meeting with the manager's potential successor, the now Bayern Munich-bound Jürgen Klinsmann. Benítez has sought an explanation of Parry's role at the meeting in New York last November and will decide on his own position at the culmination of the club's Champions League campaign.

Benítez and Parry attended a memorial service at Anfield yesterday to commemorate the 96 supporters who died at Hillsborough and, though the chief executive has declared his willingness to discuss the issue with the manager, the rival factions at Liverpool honoured an agreement not to detract from the 19th anniversary of the disaster with further public debate. Hicks, however, intends to intensify efforts to oust Parry and secure majority control of Liverpool by pressuring Gillett to reveal his views on Benítez's continued presence at Anfield. The Spaniard, unsurprisingly, also wants clarification on the matter from the co-chairman before the ownership saga is resolved.

Thus far only Hicks has stated that Benítez will remain in charge should he gain control of Liverpool, and he is believed to be willing to give the manager the greater influence over transfers that he wants should his bid for control succeed. Gillett, by contrast, has offered support only for Parry since Hicks asked him to resign less than 48 hours after the club's Champions League quarter-final defeat of Arsenal and has remained silent on the manager's position were he to purchase Hicks's stake in Liverpool.

Both Benítez and Hicks are acutely aware of the manager's popularity at Anfield and how divisive it would be to Gillett's bid for control, or attempt to sell his share to Dubai International Capital, should his support for Parry come at the expense of the Spaniard. Hicks could formally request Gillett's approval for the chief executive's departure at boardroom level and is also due to appear on television today to reiterate his opposition to Parry, although it is understood Hicks gave the interview earlier this week on the condition it would be aired after the anniversary of Hillsborough.

Tom Hicks Set To Speak Out About Liverpool On TV

Liverpool are bracing themselves for the next saga in their boardroom war when Tom Hicks goes public on the current fallout once again today.

The Anfield co-owner was set to record a television interview last night which is being withheld for broadcast later today.

But the Texan’s recent track record of not holding back in his criticisms of fellow owner George Gillett or chief executive Rick Parry suggests more grenades in the battle for power will be thrown out into the open.

Hicks has already demanded Parry’s resignation in the past week, berating the club’s marketing record under his leadership as well as criticising him for not making it clear to manager Rafael Benitez that he attended a meeting with former Germany coach Jurgen Klinsmann.

That development forced Benitez to demand a meeting with Parry to clarify his position.

Hicks’s latest public statement will come just hours after the memorial service held to commemorate the19th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster, on a day when the in-fighting was put to one side.

Parry and Benitez did meet briefly before the service and sat three seats apart in the stands but the manager emphasised the importance of not letting anything overshadow the tribute to the 96 supporters who lost their lives in the 1989 tragedy.

“This is obviously an important day of the year for everybody connected with our club,” said Benitez yesterday.

“We must take time to remember those who lost their lives at Hillsborough and to be with their families and friends. We must give them our support and show that we are thinking of them.

“It’s important we pay our respects.”

Carragher In Awe Of Torres

Liverpool stalwart Jamie Carragher has waxed lyrical about the club's Spanish sensation Fernando Torres, proclaiming him to be "the stand out striker in world football".

“El Nino” has set the Premiership alight since signing from Atletico Madrid last summer for a club-record £23m fee, but the money seems to have been well spent as the striker has already scored 30 in all competitions is well placed to beat Ruud van Nistelrooy’s record of 23 goals scored in his first Premier League season.

"For me, Fernando is probably the stand out striker in world football and I'm just delighted that he's in a Liverpool shirt," said Carragher, who certainly knows a thing or two about what makes a world-class striker.

"To get 30 goals in your first season is a fantastic achievement and hopefully he can go on and get a few more goals this season.

"People said he didn't have his best game against Blackburn but he scored another important goal and that's his job," he added.

Carragher went on to echo his boss's calls for full focus on the next match against Fulham, despite the fact that the first-leg of the Champions League clash with Chelsea is looming large.

"We've got to concentrate on the Fulham game first," Carragher continued. "We can't afford to look ahead to games in the future.

"If we were to take our eye off the game against Fulham we could end up losing that and maybe losing a bit of confidence for when we do play Chelsea."

Benitez: Fourth Place A Priority

Liverpool have the little matter of a Champions League semi-final against habitual Euro-rivals Chelsea next week, but manager Rafa Benitez is unequivocal: securing fourth spot in the Premier League is the first priority.

Rafa Benitez insists that it is essential for Liverpool to clinch fourth place in the Premier League before his side go into their European showdown with Chelsea next Tuesday.

Liverpool are involved in a scrap with neighbours Everton for fourth place, which would also guarantee qualification for next season's Champions League.

But the Reds are also due to face Chelsea in the semi-finals of this year's Champions League, with the first leg at Anfield on 22nd April, and the return at Stamford Bridge the following week.

Benitez wants his squad to be able to focus fully on Chelsea after the weekend by reinforcing their hold on fourth spot. That means taking three points off struggling Fulham on Saturday.

"It's really important," Benitez told Liverpool's official website when asked about the significance of nailing down fourth place in the table.

"If we can guarantee the fourth position then it will be much better for us and we can focus on the Champions League.

"If we cannot then, okay, we need to use the squad and try to be strong in both competitions."

Liverpool currently hold a five-point advantage over their Merseyside rivals Everton, and a victory against Fulham would all but guarantee the Reds fourth place if the Toffees lose at home to Chelsea on Thursday.

Notorious for his rotation policy, Benitez admits he may be forced to use all members of his squad in order to achieve his aim.

"We will analyse our team and see how the players are," added Benitez. "We will also analyse Fulham.

"We will think about Chelsea but for us to be in the top four is really important and we will have enough energy to play against Chelsea on Tuesday."

Former Liverpool Chairman Moores 'Heartbroken' And 'Let Down' By American Owners

Liverpool's former chairman says he is heartbroken and feels let down by the Americans who bought the club from him last year.

David Moores, who retains his seat on the board, said Tom Hicks and George Gillett Jr. misled him about not burdening the Reds with debt and warned that their feud risks turning English soccer's most decorated club into a laughing stock.

Breaking a year-long silence, Moores said he was enraged when the Anfield civil war intensified Thursday with Hicks demanding the resignation of long-serving chief executive Rick Parry.

Gillett came out in support of Parry, widening the public rift between the co-owners.

"It's heartbreaking. I'm almost lost for words about the damage that's being done to the club at the present time," Moores was quoted as telling Saturday's edition of the Liverpool Echo.

"I do feel let down. With everything that's going on, I have to feel let down. This is not how I foresaw it and I'm sure it's not how the fans foresaw it.

"If I could have afforded to take the club forward I would have done, but I couldn't. I didn't have the sort of money you need for a new stadium and 30-40 million pounds a year for new players.

"So I had no option. I would love to still be in charge but I would have held the club back."

Moores sold his controlling 51 percent stake in the club to the duo before last February and the club's remaining shareholders later sold their stock.

"They talked about putting the money in and the new stadium and having no debt on the club," he said. "At the time I think we all felt it would be a good deal but it's not all materialized."

Gillett and Hicks bought Liverpool for £218.9 million in March 2007, which included an agreement to pay off about £45m of debt and a pledge to build and finance a 60,000-seat stadium.

When the loan used to buy Liverpool was refinanced in January, the club was burdened with debt topping £105m.

Gillett wants to sell his 50 percent stake to an oil-rich Dubai consortium, but Hicks has threatened to veto the deal because he wants overall control. Dubai International Capital has been unsettled by the uncertainty and has halted talks for now.

"It needs to be resolved as quickly as possible," Moores said. "The two owners don't agree on a way forward and unity is essential.

"They have got to stop thinking of themselves and start thinking of the club, its values, its traditions and its heritage. They have to do what is best for the club and get it sorted as quickly as possible because what is happening at the moment is not doing it any good."

The strife is distracting attention from the bid to capture a sixth European Cup.

Liverpool beat Arsenal 5-3 on aggregate Tuesday to reach the semi-finals of the Champions League for the third time in four years.

"We should now be focusing on continuity, stability and working our socks off towards enjoying what will hopefully be a super night in Moscow," for the Champions League final, Moores said.

"But when things are played out like they are at present, it virtually makes the club a laughing stock and that's not acceptable."

Parry Insists Liverpool Will Patch It Up With Boss Rafa Benitez

Rick Parry stepped in as peacemaker yesterday after it emerged that Liverpool made two attempts to install Jurgen Klinsmann as their new manager.

A seething Rafa Benitez demanded answers from the Anfield board after learning over the weekend that Parry had been involved in one of the clandestine get-togethers with the former Germany coach.

Although clearly taken aback at becoming embroiled in an escalating war of words among Anfield's hierarchy, Liverpool's embattled chief executive attempted to take the sting out of the latest fall-out by promising Benitez clear-the-air talks in the next few days.

Parry's priority is attending today's memorial service to mark the anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster, but he intends trying to patch up his differences with Benitez at the earliest opportunity, saying: "I am more than happy to sit down and talk to Rafa about this."

Although there have been calls from co-owner Tom Hicks for Parry to stand down, Benitez could be on dangerous ground after questioning the former Premier League chief's conduct in an angry outburst after Sunday's 3-1 win over Blackburn.

Several well-placed Anfield observers are adamant Benitez would have been dismissed by now but for another outstanding European campaign which appeased George Gillett and, in particular, Hicks.

With doubts persisting about Hicks's financial muscle to take full control and Gillett thought to be exploring ways of raising the necessary funds for a buy-out of his own, Benitez could find his confrontational approach rebounding on him.

After admitting that the former Valencia manager had almost talked himself out of a job earlier in the season, Hicks now appears to have formed a solid alliance with him, possibly influenced by the popular Spaniard's standing with fans.

Hicks and his son, Tom Junior, are in a minority on the board, though, and Benitez may have left himself vulnerable by seeming to side with them and by taking on Parry in such public fashion.

Even so, Benitez's mood will not be helped by the revelation that Parry, Hicks, Gillett and other board members had already sounded out Klinsmann when they convened at the new Bayern Munich manager's holiday home in California last November.

The Liverpool boss claimed he had been undermined by the development and demanded clarification from the board about where he stood and why details of the initial meeting had been kept from him. It is understood he may even have fired off emails to Hicks and Gillett on Sunday night, underlining his displeasure.

Rumours are gathering pace that he could be on borrowed time, but there is another scenario. As he approaches his 48th birthday tomorrow, Benitez may yet beat his paymasters to the punch by walking away.

Benitez has form for packing up and leaving whenever boardroom conflict threatens to cramp his style and the outsmarting of Inter Milan's Roberto Mancini and Arsenal's Arsene Wenger will have sent his stock soaring in Italy and his native Spain.

Just as he quit Valencia in despair over a perceived lack of transfer backing, so his exasperated tone on Sunday hinted at a resignation that had nothing to do with calls for Parry's head.

Valencia are ready to welcome Benitez back after one or two significant boardroom changes and Atletico Madrid are also monitoring his availability.

Both Milan clubs are considering a change of manager, but it is the thought of Atletico winning the chase that will send a shudder through Fernando Torres.

Seeing Benitez take charge of his old club would be unbearable for the Spain striker.

"I think and hope Rafa is going to be at Liverpool for a long time," said Torres. "He is backed by the players and fans and his record is there for all to see."

Benitez And Parry Hold Brief Talks As Anfield Rows Continue To Rumble On

The futures of Rafael Benitez and Rick Parry remain in doubt after the two held a brief meeting prior to Tuesday's Hillsborough memorial service.

Benitez was furious when co-owner Tom Hicks revealed Parry was present at a meeting with Jurgen Klinsmann, a possible replacement for the Liverpool manager. Hicks has demanded the resignation of Parry but George Gillett, Hicks' feuding business partner, has backed the chief executive.

Benitez and Parry discussed the situation in private before the Anfield service on the 19th anniversary of the Hillsborough tragedy, which cost 96 Liverpool fans their lives. They sat a few seats apart at the service. Neither man commented.

Benitez, who led the first-team squad at the service, said: 'This is obviously an important day of the year for everybody connected with our club. We must take time to remember those who lost their lives at Hillsborough. We must give them our support and show that we are thinking of them.'

Hicks is certain to stir up more controversy today when he gives an interview to Sky TV.

Meanwhile, Bolton manager Gary Megson has urged Benitez to pick his best side to face Bolton's rivals Fulham and Birmingham. Benitez was criticised, particularly by Sheffield United's then manager Neil Warnock, when he rested players last May and lost 1-0 to relegation-haunted Fulham.

Liverpool travel to Fulham again on Saturday and visit Birmingham seven days later. Megson said: 'Liverpool are going to have a massive say in which teams go down. We would hope that Rafa Benitez will retain the integrity of the Premier League with his squad selection.'