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Time for Liverpool to make history, not war

Football FanCast columnist Richard Buxton feels that for the good of
Liverpool FC, the warring factions must reach a truce.


April and August 1898, the United States and Spain were locked in military
conflict over the liberation of Cuba. The battle extended across the Caribbean
and Asia. A similar situation has been ongoing at Anfield since late 2007
between American owners and a Spanish manager that has spanned two continents


Since David
Moores relinquished powers of Liverpool Football Club two years ago this month,
the once proud footballing institution that still serves as a source of
strength to its supporters in the city and beyond has become the battleground for
personal disputes between the boardroom and the dugout. As Moores sits in the
directors' box at Anfield on match days under the guise of the club's Honorary
Life President, a title that carries little weight on the club's board in
comparison to the muscle George Gillett and Tom Hicks possess as owners.


Prior to the
visit of Chelsea at the start of the month, the Daily Mirror's Brian Reade – a lifelong Liverpool supporter himself
– called on all parties involved in the far from civil war ongoing between Melwood
and the United States and I apologise sincerely to Mr Reade in advance if this
article cheapens his well-written piece.


The power
struggle between Gillett, Hicks and Reds' manager Rafael Benitez has been
nothing short of tedious and embarrassing for all supporters of Liverpool, even
if it has not been for the men at the forefront. The war of words that has been
played out in the media since November 2007 doesn't appear to show any signs of
letting up, although Tom Hicks' attempt to put a positive spin on affairs at L4
would make the great spin doctor himself Alistair Campbell proud. Despite
previously confessing to approaching Bayern Munich manager Jurgen Klinsmann about
the prospect of the then jobless German replacing Benitez in the managerial hot
seat, Hicks insisted that the decision was only taken as an ‘insurance policy'
if the Spaniard had left the club for Real Madrid or Inter Milan – positions he
had been linked to last season.


Prior to
becoming embittered in mind games with Sir Alex Ferguson, Benitez had
previously targeted the club's owners with the uncomfortable and now infamous
press conference where he repeated the phrase "As always I am focused on training and coaching my team", eight
times in total. This was in retaliation to comments by Tom Hicks that the Reds'
manager should, "quit talking about new
players and to coach the players we have"
. Clearly this wrangled Benitez
who decided to transfer his gripe with the owners to his pre-match press
conference. Several days later Benitez was on the touchline at St James Park to
see his Liverpool side beat Newcastle 3-1. The manager was sporting a tracksuit,
a rarity for the usually suited and booted Benitez.


This was,
according to rumour at the time, a final show of defiance against Gillett and
Hicks with Benitez showing that he served the club and not its proprietors.
Speculation intensified that the Liverpool manager had resigned and what had
developed from internet hearsay was now making the back pages of national newspapers
claiming that the Kop boss had walked. The Americans claimed there was ‘nothing new to say' but would not
comment on Benitez's future aside from saying they would meet with the manager
the following month to ‘to make decisions
on the team's requirements'


Benitez was
very much still in limbo and four days on from the Newcastle game, thousands of
Reds' supporters marched on Anfield before the Champions League clash with FC
Porto in a unified show of support behind their manager. Liverpool strolled to
a comfortable 4-1 win against the Portuguese champions but there was only one
thing on the manager's mind that night. "I
want to say thank you to our supporters because I think that they were as
always magnificent,"
said Benitez.
"The most important thing is the team so I say thank you for the support.
To the players it was important as I said before the game and it was also for me,
so I say a thank you, a big thank you."
The warring factions sat down
and came to an amicable agreement following a 1-0 defeat to Manchester United
at Anfield in mid-December and all seemed to be right with the world again.


However a
month later the Spanish-American war was reignited when Hicks revealed that the
rumours he and Gillett had held talks with Klinsmann were true. "We attempted to negotiate an option, as an
insurance policy, to have him become manager if Rafa left for Real Madrid or other
clubs that were rumoured in the UK press,"
he told the Liverpool Echo at the time. "Or
in case our communication spiralled out of control for some reason."
It was
also revealed that the owners would have tried to replace Benitez had Liverpool
been eliminated from the Champions League as well as talks over a sale of the
club to Dubai International Capital stalling. A trophy less campaign ensued and
Benitez began to strengthen his squad with £20.3 million Robbie Keane at the
forefront of this. However Keane's time on Merseyside was short-lived and he
was sold back to Tottenham Hotspur in the January transfer window as he
appeared to be second on the manager's list of transfer targets. That top honour
went to Aston Villa's Gareth Barry.


Benitez had
publicly courted a deal for the England midfielder but when Villa increased
their valuation of him to £18 million, Reds' chief executive Rick Parry
indicated that the club would not be held to ransom by them. Despite publicly
intimating his desire to move to Anfield, to a national newspaper no less, Barry
remained at Villa Park. Benitez was yet again irate with the club's hierarchy
and, yet again, transferred those feelings to his pre-match press conference
before the opening fixture of the season away to Sunderland. "Talk to me about football and Sunderland," he
fumed, amidst questions about Barry and the future of Xabi Alonso – reported to
be the fall guy for Barry to make way. "You
can talk about other things with Rick Parry."
This admission by the
manager hinted that he had very little say in negotiations for the Vila captain.
Days after the comments Benitez and Parry displayed a unified front but the
precedent had been set, which is why reports that Benitez was demanding more
control in transfer dealings as part of his new contract came as no surprise to
Reds' fans. Although he has dismissed these rumours, Benitez is still at war
with the Americans.


However more
pressing issues are unresolved at Anfield, most notably the small matter of winning
a league championship for the first time since 1990. Liverpool have performed
well so far this season to get where they are now and they could end that 19-year
wait for the crown. However, as Brian Reade has said before me, the main
players in the Spanish-American war need to set aside their difference for the
good of the club.


Article title: Time for Liverpool to make history, not war

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