Ahead of tomorrow's Merseyside derby on which the future financial security of Champions League qualification might ultimately depend, Liverpool were shown by their co-owner George Gillett yesterday to be a club in the throes of boardroom civil war and utterly incapable of progress under the current American regime.
Gillett, whose distaste for co-owner Tom Hicks has been an open secret for months, launched a barbed attack on Hicks, in what might be interpreted as a deliberate attempt to force his business partner to sell the club to prospective buyers Dubai International Capital (DIC). Gillett described the two men's relationship as "untenable", suggested that Hicks' public utterances were dishonest and said the prospect of him selling a controlling 1% of his 50% share of the club to Hicks had prompted death threats from Liverpool fans. "We've tried to be co-operative [with Hicks]. We've tried to be supportive. But when your public persona is more important than the facts, it makes it difficult to have rational relationship," Gillett told Canada's Prime Time Radio.
Gillett's unexpected decision to speak out, having refused for months to so much as acknowledge an interview request, came three weeks after Hicks broke off all contact with DIC, having ended talks in Dubai over the prospective sale of Gillett's stake, which had promised to deliver Gillett a £40m profit.
It appears that Gillett may be attempting to force Hicks – whom he does name directly in his attack – to reconsider a sale, by further lowering his reputation among Liverpool fans. The pressure on Hicks is already mighty: there is no sign of the new investors he has said are lined up and the state of the US financial markets are hitting him hard.
Gillett served a reminder that DIC have the cash that Liverpool – and he – could badly use. "Lord knows they [DIC] have the money," he said. "And with oil prices going up every day, that's not an issue for them. They certainly have the history and they are fans of the club."
DIC sources expressed surprise last night at the comments from a man to whom the consortium remains close. But DIC feels the comments enhance their chances of ultimately buying the club.
If Hicks had any doubt about Liverpool fans' feelings for him, then Gillett dispelled them. He claimed that 95% of the 2,000 emails he says he receives a week from Liverpool are directed at "some of the comments made by my partner" – the revelation that Jürgen Klinsmann had been approached for Rafael Benitez's job presumably high among them. The prospect of selling "even one share of stock to my partner" (making Hicks Liverpool's majority shareholder) had prompted telephone death threats – he said – to him, his son Foster (the Americans' representative at Anfield for a time) and his daughter-in-law Lauren, whose continued unhappiness on Merseyside led to the couple's departure from the city.
"[Fans] don't want him to have controlling interest of this club," Gillett said of Hicks. "They don't want him to have any ownership of the club, based on what they're saying and sending to me... As a result of that, it has been a difficult time. We've received calls in the middle of the night, threatening our lives, death threats."
Gillett was careful to suggest that only 5% of the emails he receives say "go home Americans" and the lines of demarcation he drew between himself and Hicks might be seen as an exit strategy in which he will not be cast as a profiteer after the event.
Some of Gillett's utterances were puzzling. He suggested the death threats stemmed from his phone number being on fans' blog sites. No such publication is known. He also suggested, unconvincingly, that the threats had persuaded him not to sell any shares to Hicks.
Having not watched Liverpool since December and having been an anonymous figure apparently intent on cutting his losses, Gillett seems to intend to join the DIC offensive to make sure Hicks sells.