Gillett & Hicks: Overpaid, Over-leveraged And… Over
At a time when stock market flotations were all the rage in top football circles, performance-related pay (PRP) was all the rage in public sector/civil service offices. Both ideas proved to be rubbish (see “bankers’ bonuses” for details). But not before both wrought considerable damage. A key part of PRP where I once worked was the concept of “SMART” objectives, which won the “misleading acronym of the year” award so often in the early-90s it got to keep the trophy. SMART stood for “Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timeous.” And while this contained an element of superficial common-sense, it failed utterly as a measure of determining pay, for reasons to numerous and dull to detail here.
However, with the “Gillett and Hicks” era at Liverpool coming to a close for the 94th time (although this time, it looks like they mean it), I thought it might be informative to apply SMART objectives to their “lively” three-and-a-bit years at Anfield. This can be done because the share offer document produced by the Americans and their “people” back in February 2007 actually set out a couple of key objectives which met the SMART criteria. And it will surprise no-one that under SMART objective-based PRP, both Gillett and Hicks would owe money.
The “Background to and reasons for the offer” section of the offer document ignores “background” until it has dealt with the key issue, 34 words in: “the club’s ambitions of moving to a new stadium located at Stanley Park.” In the next paragraph, “facilitating the building of the new stadium” is a “prerequisite to any investment” alongside the “wishes and ambitions” of fans: “to be playing top-quality football in a new stadium.” And “it is also recognised that the new stadium is a catalyst for the regeneration of the local area, furthering the club’s involvement with the local community.”
Their failure here could scarcely be more complete, although they did perhaps achieve one supplementary objective, taking “Liverpool to a new level of success in the Barclays Premiership and Europe.” A potential seventh place and the Europa League group stage, it cannot be denied, is “new.” The stadium therefore underpinned everything about the offer document; its non-existence therefore undermined everything. Objectives not met. Only in the next paragraph did the 2007 board require “that any new investor appreciated the need for continued player funding.” Of course, “appreciating the need” for something is some distance from doing it (which Gillett and Hicks arguably have) let alone doing it right (which they definitely haven’t).
There have been highly-funded signings, but for every Torres there’s been a Lucas and David N’Gog needs no further comment. However, those are objectives not met on another report. Rafael Benitez wasn’t the Americans’ appointment. And the grubby pursuit of Jurgen Klinnsmann early in their reign looks fractionally less grubby with every game Ryan Babel plays. Only fractionally, though. Where Hicks and Gillett fail here is the arithmetical hoops they’ve gone through to make it look as if they’ve funded the team to “living the dream” levels. The formula for calculating Liverpool’s “net spend” resembles something that makes cricket’s ‘Duckworth-Lewis’ method look like the ten-times-table. Euclid would probably have taken one look, and asked them to break it down a bit.
I’ll miss the Liverpool ownership saga once it’s gone, though. I’ve learnt a lot about the world and the rich people in it thanks to the number of times takeover talks have been at “an advanced stage.” You can’t look at a scene from the posh seats at an Indian Premier League cricket match without seeing somebody who has appeared under “Billionaires in Liverpool bid talks” headlines. I surprised myself the other day when one of the Ambani brothers was spotted at a game…and I recognised the face. I couldn’t immediately say which brother, as they were both linked with Liverpool bids – although at different times because they hate each other more than Hicks and Gillett ever did. This week’s “advanced stagers” were a Syrian group, advised by “former Celtic captain” Andy Lynch, a name evoking memories of wild perms, Alfie Conn’s sideburns and one of the worst Scottish Cup finals in history (1977), in which Lynch got the only goal against Rangers.
And what about this for a list of movers, shakers and sheikhs, all “linked” with buying Liverpool stakes during the Gillett and Hicks years?: Sameer Al-Ansari, Sheikh Al-Mahktoum, “an Arab group unrelated to Sheikh Al-Mahktoum”, Rafed Al-Kharafi, Grandhi Mallikarjun Rao, Prince Faisal bin Fahd bin Abdullah, the Ras Al-Khaimah family, Subarta Roy, Goldman Sachs investment bank, Robert Agnostelli, Steven Langman and, this week’s model, Syrian businessman Yahya Kirdi. And, not to leave out two special bidders for 50% of the club, while Gillett and Hicks were in charge…George Gillett and Tom Hicks, who tried to buy each other out once a fortnight. Mind you, I could have added Stan Boardman and Jimmy Tarbuck to that list and not diminished its credibility.
So many people ended up so disinterested for any number of reasons. The papers quickly latched onto some of the more obvious ones. The Americans’ insistence that three trophyless and largely joyless years had doubled in Liverpool’s value in a recession. Their belief that someone would pay £100m for a front row but powerless seat at their petty squabbles. But the more recent interested parties to fall by the wayside did so for more straightforward reasons. The Syrians were taken to Liverpool’s 1-1 draw at Stoke in January. Goldman Sachs were confronted with their 1-0 win over Unirea in February. After games like that, who could GIVE Liverpool away? You could say that was bad luck. But you could say with equal credibility that it would have been good luck this season to find a game that wouldn’t have driven the price down. And even if a game was shaping up like that, Benitez would have hauled off Torres… or Benayoun… or Gerrard… or left Emiliano Insua ON the pitch.
No-one at all will miss Hicks and Gillett themselves, though – and especially not that annoying library picture of them which seems to be the only one that English newspapers use. Someone once memorably likened that image of the two to Charles Hawtrey and Sid James. But at least the Carry On films were occasionally funny. So. Farewell then, George Gillett Jnr and Thomas O. Hicks? Gillett, the man who said there’d be a “spade in the (Stanley Park) ground in 60 days” and then tried to claim Hicks said it. Gillett, the man who, according to the offer document, was going to be “a long-term owner” of the Montreal Canadiens hockey team, which “demonstrated his commitment to building a successful team while working to enhance the local community.” A commitment that lasted until November 2009. When he sold the Montreal Canadiens. Hicks, the obnoxious Texan republican (is there any other kind?). The man who… well, obnoxious Texan republican is enough, isn’t it?
I always try to look at a football club’s situation and come up with an opinion from a different standpoint, an alternative to convention. But Hicks’ and Gillett’s deceits, incompetencies and failures have me beaten. Compared to them, stock market flotations and performance-related pay… worked. Good riddance to them all.