Liverpool Football Club: Money, Dreams and Disappointment

Jon FeatonbyCorrespondent ISeptember 30, 2010

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 25:  Liverpool  fans display anti American banners before the Barclays Premier League match between Liverpool and Sunderland at at Anfield on September 25, 2010 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Steve Bruce, so often an adversary of Liverpool Football Club, summed up the current situation at the Anfield club rather astutely when he said "if there's instability above you, it always filters down."

And instability is rife at the very highest levels of Liverpool FC.

How different it was when Messrs George Gillett Jnr and Tom Hicks took control of the club in February 2007. Long-standing Chairman David Moores stood aside and persuaded the rest of the board to follow suit as the Americans' investment was supposed to put Liverpool in a position to compete - for many years to come - with the world's biggest and richest clubs.

Gillett and Hicks paid £174.1m for the club, plus an extra £44.8m to cover the clubs debts. This was coupled with the promise of extra investment to fund the construction of a new 61,000 capacity stadium.

When the duo took over work was supposed to start on that stadium within 60 days. A little over three and a half years later, the small matter of 44 months, the first brick is yet to be laid.

More importantly, the finances are in a state of turmoil.

The Americans now owe £237m to the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) and the club has been up for sale since April. Certainly, Gillett and Hicks have been hit by the financial slow-down experienced the world over, but they have shown no sense of how a football club should be run. Modern football clubs cannot be profit making exercises.

For most of August it looked liked new owners would, finally, come in. But one-by-one the potential bids failed to materialise and so Liverpool fans are stuck with Gillett and Hicks, much to their disgust.

The debt owed to RBS is due for repayment or negotiation in October and this has understandably caused some concern around the future prospects of the club.

Hicks has reportedly been trying to refinance his debt by borrowing against the fixed assets of the club, a move which would anger Liverpool supporters and jeopardise the future of the club even more.

Fortunately, managing director Christian Purslow - the man charged with finding a buyer for the club - has categorically stated that there is no way Hicks could use the club's assets to refinance his debts.

But as Bruce rightly says, instability at the top has a way of filtering through to the rest of the organisation. And this isn't purely from a psychological point of view.

As much as players and staff try to stay professional and focus on preparing for the next game of football, they are bound to get distracted by what is going on in the boardroom.

More importantly, there is the impact that the troubles at the top have on the day-to-day operations of the club, and where Liverpool FC stands in the footballing world.

Liverpool fans are quite rightly proud of the clubs rich history and over the last decade have come to expect top-four finishes in the Premier League as the minimum to be aimed for. And certainly for the most part these expectations have been met.

However, times are changing. Manchester City have new, billionaire owners with cash to spare and Tottenham's resurgence has seen them overtake Liverpool. 

Liverpool, in their current state, just cannot compete. Roy Hodgson's hands are tied behind his back.

Without the new stadium, they cannot generate the kind of ticket revenue that Arsenal and Manchester United make. 

Without Champions League football they cannot attract the big names players, let alone pay the transfer fees their abilities demand.

And that's the catch-22. How do you get back into the Champions League, which has been the source of Liverpool's revenue for the last few years, without having the money to buy the best players?

Quick answer: you can't.

Look at the players that joined Liverpool over the summer. Sure, Joe Cole is a good player, but he was free and his wages are not a one off payment. Plus, he has fallen out of favour with England and has struggled to make an impact with Chelsea for a couple of seasons.

The other additions were Paul Konchesky, Raul Meireles, Christian Poulsen, Milan Jovanovic, Danny Wilson and Jonjo Shelvey.

Wilson and Shelvey are projects for the future, but the others were all signed with the purpose of making an immediate impact. 

How many of these would come close to making the first-team squads of any of the other top-six teams?

Very few, if any.

And that is my point. Right now, with Liverpool's ownership as it stands, Liverpool cannot count themselves as being in the same group as those other clubs in that top-six.

They cannot compete with Chelsea, Manchester United, Arsenal, Manchester City or Tottenham when it comes to players. 

And this is reflected not just in squad depth, which has been the case for a number of years, but also in the first elevens.

Leaving aside the obvious few of Pepe Reina, Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres, there are players in the Liverpool team capable of single-handedly winning football games. Certainly they cannot boast the riches that Spurs boss Harry Redknapp has at his disposal, pay the transfer fees that Manchester City are capable of, or attract the big names that want to play at Old Trafford.

The best Liverpool can hope for this season is for things not to get any worse. Even if the club gets taken over and money is invested, by the time the transfer window rolls around in January then Liverpool will be out of the race for anything substantial.

A good F.A. Cup run, and maybe a decent showing in the Europa League is really the most Liverpool fans should be expecting of Hodgson and his team - plus a bit of effort on the pitch.

To expect anymore than that at best over-optimistic, at worse delusional.

As much as it pains me to say it, while Liverpool remain a big club off the pitch, they are no longer a big club on it.


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