Liverpool were facing the grim prospect of scaling down their aspirations from those of past seasons last night as co-owner Tom Hicks, whose US baseball team has filed for bankruptcy, raised the prospect of the club being under his ownership for a further 18 months.
On a day of bitter recriminations, as the club's former owner David Moores pleaded with Hicks and George Gillett to sell and admitted "mistakes" in letting them buy him out in the first place, the goalkeeper Pepe Reina said that he was resigned to Liverpool lowering their sights, with the assumption being that, for the time in decades, members of the Liverpool playing staff will not enter the season with title aspirations. "We have to move quickly [towards the sale of the club] and as long as we build a competitive squad we don't have to fear anyone but it is looking like [there is no sale] yet," said Reina, who warned as early as last September that Liverpool's last league campaign would head nowhere. "We have to be ready to be less optimistic than the last few years and get ready for setting another kind of target maybe," Reina added.
The collapse of Hicks' Texas Rangers club, which has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the US, led the businessman to declare that he wants out of sports ownership. "It's never been my primary business," he told the Dallas Morning News yesterday. "And it's a business I no longer want to pay the price to be in. It's a brutal invasion of privacy," he said.
But in a clear signal that he and Gilllett will refuse to sell for the £350m figure that would represent fair value, Hicks suggested Liverpool may be worth £600m-£800m, a price no investor would be willing to pay. "We are not going to sell it to the wrong group and we're not going to sell it for the wrong price," Hicks said. "We are going to take our time, do it in a very thoughtful way and try to find the right steward to own Liverpool FC. We're hoping to sell before the end of the calendar year and we don't anticipate it will be done before the beginning of next season. I think I have said £600m-£800m is not an unrealistic value range."
Hicks, who has been touting Liverpool for £500m and might conceivably sell for £400m were that offer to come in, said he was a victim of a widespread media conspiracy. "People with agendas can use the tabloids in a way that can get certain messages out and that is what I think is disappointing," he said. Moores' long defence of his position in a sale from which he earned at least £80m, included the assertion that Liverpool had had a "lucky escape" in not selling to Dubai International Capital (DIC), which was the preferred bidder until Hicks and Gillett arrived – but which might have engulfed Liverpool in Dubai's financial turbulence. His explanations for not selling to DIC included uneasiness about Dubai's seven-year exit strategy. Moores said he had looked into George Gilllett's business affairs "in detail". The Independent reported on 2 February 2007, before the sale had gone ahead, he had a bankruptcy on his CV.
Hitting back at Moores, Hicks said Liverpool's sponsorships had grown "from £40m annually in the last year of Moores' ownership to this coming year we'll do close to £100m", though he declined to mention that their outgoings, thanks in considerable part to interest repayments, had increased so much more than income that the club posted a record £55m loss last month.
Hicks insisted Fernando Torres would not be leaving during a summer in which there will be limited resources again, though Torres might have different ideas. The striker's agent Jose Antonio Peton suggested on Tuesday that Torres would not leave this summer, but the player was non- committal at a press conference from the Spanish team camp yesterday. "The most important thing for me now is the World Cup," Torres said. "We will see later but my future and now hopefully the next two months is Spain." Pressed on Peton's comments, Torres said: "I didn't read anything at all."