Blackwell has sympathy over 'betrayal of Benitez'
Tuesday 15 January 2008
Liverpool and Luton Town may be separated by 61 places in the League structure, but when their respective managers look across at each other from the dug-outs during tonight's FA Cup third round replay at Anfield, they will recognise something in common. Both men know what it is to be betrayed.
Kevin Blackwell has already served notice of his intent to quit as Luton manager on 9 February following the administrator's unilateral decision to sell off five of his players last week. Having discovered the club's financial plight after being lured to Kenilworth Road last March on the promise of big investment and a new stadium, Blackwell now feels, in his own phrase, that he has had the rug pulled from under his feet not once, but twice.
But as he looked ahead to a match where extraordinary circumstances may yet deprive him of other key players – three were actively discussing transfers with other clubs as he spoke yesterday – Blackwell was swift to sympathise with his opposite number in the wake of reports that Liverpool's owner, Tom Hicks, had admitted to holding a secret meeting in November with the former Germany manager, Jürgen Klinsmann, who had been widely tipped as a possible successor to Rafael Benitez before taking up a post last week at Bayern Munich.
"If those reports are accurate, Rafa is a dead man walking, and I don't think he will like that feeling," Blackwell said. "The game of football at the moment, for me, has lost all credibility in how the business of the game should be run. When you think of what Rafa has done for Liverpool, it seems incredible to me that someone has had the cheek to go behind his back and speak to someone else about his job. It's a disgrace. If you have the morals of alleycats in the boardroom, how can you expect players to be the virtuous role models we expect them to be on and off the pitch?"
Blackwell, meanwhile, admits that he cannot be sure who he will have available tonight, and accepts he faces the possibility of a player pulling out on the eve of the match in case an injury should jeopardise his chance of a move, especially as his squad have only been paid for two of the last 10 weeks.
"Someone might come up to me an hour before the kick off and say they didn't want to risk it," Blackwell said. "I would be deeply disappointed at that stage, that's for sure, but I would understand it. The players are frustrated they have seen people moving before we felt they needed to. We felt that we were all in this together and we wanted to stick together.
"This was all part and parcel of why I decided to leave. It's difficult enough to manage a club without having hand grenades thrown in when you don't need them."
Blackwell, who has previous experience of steering a club through financial crisis having managed Leeds United when they went into administration and guided them onwards to a play-off final, was utterly frustrated at the timing of last week's sales, having secured what he thought was an agreement with the administrators to hold off from such action until after the Liverpool replay, when a decision is expected on whether one of what are believed to be three bids for the club would be acceptable.
"I felt that having a match live on Sky TV would be a great opportunity for us to show our wares to the biggest possible audience," Blackwell said. "And if any bidders were to be confirmed, they might want to have a full squad still at the club.
"If no bid was confirmed, we were all ready to do everything we could to help the club sell to keep it afloat financially until the end of the season. The sales happened just after we had pulled in another half a million from the first Liverpool game that had never been part of the calculations. We spoke to the administrators, and we thought we had a strong strategy in place. So to see that blown away within 24 hours ... to the day I die I will not believe when and how it was done. It just made no sense."
Blackwell would not be drawn on whether he might yet stay at Luton if a new owner – and TV personality Nick Owen might yet be that person – asked him to do so. But he feels his CV holds up well, especially as he has stayed to do his bit without getting wages himself, donating the last of his payments to the club's YTS players.
"I've tried to show honour," he said. Something of a rarity, it would appear.
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