Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Liverpool Revise Stadium Plan

Liverpool's American owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett Jr insist their plan to raise at least £500 million to re-finance the takeover of the club and move from Anfield remains on track despite last night's announcement that the new 70,000- seater stadium was being scaled back.

The club's chief executive Rick Parry issued a statement yesterday revealing that the futuristic £350m project at Stanley Park, first made public in the summer, had been replaced by a less "dramatic" design.

He explained two schemes were now being considered but emphasised that the capacity would stay at 70,000 and plans for a single-tier Kop were not being scrapped.

The announcement followed weekend reports that Hicks and Gillett were encountering major problems in attracting banks to finance their scheme.

The Americans, who bought the club from David Moores last January in a £174 million deal, want to re-finance the £298m they borrowed from Royal Bank of Scotland to pay for the deal and give them working capital for players and the stadium.

That two-year loan expires in 2009 and Hicks and Gillett want to roll the deal into a long-term package to help them to pay for the new stadium.

Last month Liverpool were thought to be close to agreeing a deal with RBS and American bank Wachovia, but reports at the weekend suggested Wachovia had walked away.

Last night sources close to the American owners described the reports as "false" and, while they admitted the re-financing was taking longer than they expected, said they were confident it would be in place by January at the latest.

But Liverpool fans will be within their rights to question the owners' confidence given how long the re-financing has been dragging on for. Back in September Goldman Sachs pulled out of a deal with Liverpool after Hicks and Gillett refused to pump in £100m of their own money.

Last night's announcement that the stadium's plans were changing again will only add to the uncertainty around the club, even if manager Rafa Benitez has been given the Americans' backing despite Sunday's home defeat by fierce rivals Manchester United.

"The new stadium will be a significant improvement on the original plans," Parry insisted in a statement released on the club's website.

"It will be a massive improvement on where we were 12 months ago, if not quite as dramatic as the plans unveiled in the summer.

"The single-tier Kop remains fundamental to the design and we are not expecting any delays, it should be on schedule for 2011."

Gillett Regrets Benitez Row

Liverpool co-owner George Gilett has expressed regret at the damage done from the row with manager Rafa Benitez over transfer policy.

With arch-rivals Manchester United not only inflicting another demoralising Anfield defeat on Liverpool at the weekend, but also preparing to announce record turnover and profits, these are trying times for the Merseyside Reds.

The club's owners, the two Aumerican business tycoons Tom Hicks and George Gillett Jr, watched the United match before holding "clear-the-air" talks with Benítez on Sunday evening.

The club issued a statement saying those talks were "positive, amicable and constructive," and indeed it seems they went as well as could be expected.

However, most observers believe that the long-term job security of Benitez has been compromised by the public sniping, which the Americans ordered the Spaniard to stop, telling him instead to focus on getting the best out of the current squad.

On Sunday night there was a vote of confidence in Benitez from Gillett, who was speaking at a Liverpool Former Players’ Association dinner. Gillett expressed regret at the damage done.

“This [the row with Benitez] wasn’t supposed to happen, but it has happened and now the focus has to be on finding a common platform to continue our co-operation,” Gillett said.

“Rafa is the one we want as a manager further on and we have faith in him. I’ve been married over 40 years and have first-hand knowledge about how to solve an argument.”

On the prickly question of satisfying Benítez’s desire for transfer funds to spend in January, Gillett would not be drawn.

“The window opens soon and we might use the option that gives us, or we might not,” he said.