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Gillett and Hicks uncovered

The arrival of US sporting tycoons George Gillett Jr and Tom Hicks at Liverpool this week has raised many questions over the direction the club will now take.

The new owners have spoken at length about their desire to retain the tradition and identity of the, for now, Anfield club.

Gillett and Hicks have a long and proud tradition of sporting excellence in North America, here Soccernet calls on two of's specialist writers to bring an insight into the way they have run their teams in ice hockey and baseball.

Scott is a freelance writer based in Atlanta. In this role, Burnside writes several stories each week for

If there is angst in the soccer pubs of England about the pending sale of Liverpool to North American interlopers George Gillett and Tom Hicks, it could hardly be greater than the hand-wringing that accompanied Gillett's purchase of the storied Montreal Canadiens of the National Hockey League in late January 2001.

At the time Gillett became the first non-Canadian to own the most successful franchise in NHL history and a team that rivals the New York Yankees and Boston Celtics as the greatest franchise in all of sport.

The Canadiens had fallen on hard times and it was feared an American with little hockey background would further erode the team's cachet in Quebec or even worse, move the team to the United States. Gillett's chequered financial history, which included the loss of a prized Vail, Colorado ski resort that went bankrupt after the junk bond collapse in the early 1990s, only exacerbated the concern over the future of one of the NHL's cornerstone franchises.

But in a short period of time Gillett not only allayed the fears of legions of Montreal fans but has become something of a favoured son in the mostly French-speaking province.

Although the Canadiens have not returned to the Stanley Cup finals since Gillett's purchase he has allowed the Canadiens to spend competitively with other teams prior to the 1995 lockout after which the NHL adopted a salary cap.

Gillett returned Bob Gainey, a Hall of Fame player during the Canadiens' dynastic years in the mid-1970s, to the team as general manager. Gainey in turn has brought in popular former player Guy Carbonneau as head coach and the team will almost certainly qualify for the playoffs for the fourth time in the last five playoff years.

Beyond that Gillett, who was once the owner and CEO of the Harlem Globetrotters basketball team, has been a driving force in the team's continued observance of its traditions and heroes. The Canadiens are acknowledged around the league as one of the most classy organizations, especially when it comes to recognizing past heroes.

The team, which recently sent Hall of Fame netminder Ken Dryden's jersey to the Bell Center rafters, has even recognized heroes from other teams like the Boston Bruins with whom the Canadiens have enjoyed an emotional playoff rivalry over the years.

As for Gillett's partner in the Liverpool venture, Tom Hicks (with who Gillett teamed up with several years ago on the acquisition of a massive beef and pork operation) didn't have to contend with history when he took over the Dallas Stars in December 1995 but rather ensuring that pro hockey became more than a novelty in the Lone Star State.

The Stars had moved to Texas from Minneapolis at the start of the 1993-94 season. When Hicks took over as owner the Stars quickly became a league power. Hicks spent freely to bring in top-name talent and played an active role in recruiting such players as Brett Hull and Ed Belfour, both whom played a significant role in the Stars' march to the 1999 Stanley Cup. Dallas returned to the Cup final the following year, losing to New Jersey, but the Stars remain one of league's elite teams.

Although Hicks is far better known for his stewardship of Major League Baseball's Texas Rangers, which he has owned since 1998 and where he made headlines by signing Alex Rodriquez to a landmark 10-year, $252-million deal in 2001 he has quietly become one of the powerbrokers of the NHL. The team's support of grassroots hockey programs in Texas is seen as a blueprint for success by teams in non-traditional markets.

Jerry covers baseball for ESPN Insider. His book 'License To Deal' has been published by Rodale.

The consensus is that Hicks takes a more hands-on approach with the Texas Rangers than his hockey team, the Dallas Stars, largely because he's more familiar with baseball than hockey.

When the Rangers signed Alex Rodriguez for $252 million in December 2000 after no team offered him anything close to that, Hicks was portrayed nationally as a bit of a rube. He effectively outbid himself by a huge margin to land the player. Then the Rangers invested big money in pitcher Chan Ho Park, another Scott Boras client who was a complete disaster. After those two experiences, Hicks seemed more willing to back off and trust his baseball people.

He's considered a pretty congenial guy, and he likes to get involved when the team courts big-name free agents. Last year Hicks invited pitcher Kevin Millwood to play a round of golf at the home of the Masters, Augusta National, where Hicks is a member. In December, Hicks was at the table when the Rangers tried to recruit free agent pitcher Barry Zito over dinner. Zito ultimately signed with San Francisco.

Here's an interesting quote from agent Scott Boras that appeared in the Dallas Morning News: '[Hicks] has a recruiting style that is one of the best among owners,' Boras said. 'He lights fires. He creates sparks.'

While Hicks is actively involved, he now picks his spots and isn't as meddlesome as some baseball owners. For example, Hicks allowed his young general manager, Jon Daniels, to make the call when the Rangers fired manager Buck Showalter after last season.

With time, Hicks has come to realize that success is more a function of scouting, signing and developing players through the draft than spending huge money on free agents. Texas' Opening Day payroll of $65 million last year ranked 18th among the 30 big league clubs.

Now the Rangers seem intent on taking a more grassroots approach. They've invested a lot of time and money in their academy in the Dominican Republic in hopes of producing more talent there.

Until the Rangers win anything, Hicks will be known primarily as the guy who overpaid big-time for A-Rod. The Rangers won 95 games in 1999, Hicks' first full season as owner, and they've finished above .500 only once since. It's not a very impressive track record.

• Email Dale Johnson with your thoughts.