Hicks pledges backing for Benitez to appease fans

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The Independent Online

Tom Hicks said yesterday that he "can't predict the future" but the American businessman has attempted to placate Liverpool's disgruntled fans by suggesting that he will still own the club in five years' time and hopes Rafael Benitez will remain beyond the two and a half years which are outstanding on his contract.

Hicks indicated in a BBC interview how desperate he is to win back the support of the club's fans, but refused to discuss the £350m refinancing of the club, which was announced on Friday, and the burning issue for fans of whether his holding company or the football club will take on the interest payments created by the new levels of debt.

Suggestions persist that even after the refinancing went through Hicks was in contact with Dubai International Capital (DIC), the Arab investment group which has been looking to buy out him and his partner, George Gillett. Hicks said that "no conversations of substance" had taken place since he discussed selling DIC a 10 to 15 per cent stake in the autumn, though that does not necessarily exclude the informal discussions which are understood to have taken place.

Hicks is clearly prepared to brave the Glazer-style reception he is likely to get at Anfield when he finally makes his first trip to Merseyside since 16 December. "I hope to come to more games," he said. The global TV and internet potential created by the club has maintained his appetite for English football, he said, and he clearly hopes that fans will view the £300m stadium he has sanctioned for Stanley Park as a sign of a bright future – despite the debt. "This will be the finest football stadium in the world," he said. "People should be very proud of it and I want to win the support of Liverpool fans with my actions."

Hicks' words showed he wants to build bridges with the club's manager, Benitez. "Rafa has a contract for two more years. He will be here for at least the length of it and, hopefully, longer," Hicks said. "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."

Asked if he would endorse a proposal from Benitez to sign the Argentina midfielder Javier Mascherano, Hicks said: "Absolutely. We have never turned down Rafa's requests for money for any player he has asked for. We have funded his transfer request in January and we are already having conversations about things in the summer."

Though the refinancing strengthens the position of Hicks and Gillett, DIC remains interested in buying the club for the right price.

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