Benitez insists Liverpool can rival Real on and off pitch

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Presidents from the other sporting passions of the new Liverpool co-chairman Tom Hicks, the Dallas Stars ice hockey and Texas Rangers baseball franchises, yesterday painted an image of a multimillionaire in favour of continuity, delegation and investment, in which case the astute Texan will be overwhelmed with Rafael Benitez's plans to expand his latest acquisition into a global rival for Real Madrid.

Hicks and his co-chairman, George Gillett Jnr - a man so enthused by his purchase of Liverpool that he was physically pulled out of Anfield to catch a flight to a Montreal Canadiens ice hockey game on Tuesday - met Benitez, the captain Steven Gerrard and the vice-captain Jamie Carragher before the public announcement of their £470m takeover for a brief but thorough lesson on the values of the club and a sport in which they, sensibly, confessed to only limited understanding.

Also from Benitez came a detailed marketing strategy that will suit the Americans' objective of long-term growth rather than short-term, inflated expenditure and, as he endorsed the Hicks and Gillett takeover yesterday, the Liverpool manager admitted that the historic and conservative English institution had to embrace the current climate of change.

"It was not a meeting where we discussed how much we will spend on transfers or where we were promised £100m. To be a successful club, it is not just about spending a lot of money on new players," Benitez said. "We spoke about bringing through young players for the future from the Academy, and how we can sign players for the present. We spoke about the future of the club and, by the end, I was convinced they want the best for the club."

The Liverpool manager added: "They recognised they need to change a lot of things. There are some aspects of Liverpool which must remain the same, but it's clear where we can improve. For example, how many club shops do we have around the world? We should be doing more in areas such as Asia, or even Spain, where we are very popular. There is a big difference between the commercial side of a club like Liverpool or Real Madrid. Maybe Liverpool cannot be as big as Real Madrid off the pitch, but they can learn from what clubs like this have done and become one of the biggest clubs in the world off the pitch as well as on it."

For a man who recently compared England's most successful club to Atletico Madrid, Benitez's grand vision illustrates the optimism with which Anfield has accepted the American takeover. Work is to commence on a new £215m, 60,000-seat stadium this spring while Hicks, an obsessive on stadium design, owns several Fox Sports networks in Central and South America that the owners of Liverpool intend to exploit for brand exposure and to entice young talent into the club's Academy system. A notable feature of the Americans' charm offensive at Anfield on Tuesday was their honesty, with Gillett Jnr insisting that the Liverpool board were right to reject his original offer in favour of Dubai International Capital in December and Hicks confessing his interest was stirred by the Premier League's lucrative new contract for overseas television rights.

Those responsible for the success of Hicks' varying sporting interests, however, insist that his motivation is not confined to what he can take out of Anfield.

"Soccer is the leading sport in the world and Tom wants to be involved in one of the biggest franchises, that is his style, but he won't go in there and re-invent the wheel," said Jim Lites, president of the Dallas Stars. "If there are revenues available then, rest assured, Tom will spend what he needs to be competitive. First and foremost he is a sportsman and with the support Liverpool have and the new TV contracts, he will want to win."

Jeff Cogan, president of the Texas Rangers, added: "The boss is very passionate about our legacy, our history, and sensitive about what we mean to the state. We had an opportunity to increase revenue by building a pool in the grounds of our stadium and though most of the board were in favour, Tom said, 'You have to think of the ball park as a cathedral', and turned us down."

As the dust settles on the takeover, it is expected that the Football Association's chief executive, lifelong Liverpool fan Brian Barwick, will meet Gillett and Hicks in the near future.

Barwick has met the Glazer family and the new West Ham United chairman Eggert Magnusson in the past and told the Liverpool Echo last week: "I am sure at some stage I will be able to offer the same invite to whoever eventually invests in Liverpool.

"Liverpool FC is something very precious to me and I have never made any apology for the fact that part of my upbringing has been to support a team. Foreign ownership is an issue that excites an emotional response. Football clubs are not passive. They are a big part of people's lives and they make a lot of people's lives tick.

"However, the reality of the situation in which we live is that nationality is not something that we discriminate on. We have tests about whether people are fit and proper."

Rick Parry is adamant that the great Bill Shankly would have approved of the takeover. "Bill was one of the great innovators of all time," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

Parry said that he did not know why more investors from these shores had not looked at buying into the top flight. "Clearly we have been on the look-out for three years. There have been other clubs for sale, maybe they have overlooked opportunities in their own back yards, maybe the grass looks greener elsewhere."

Comments