Thursday, May 15, 2008

Benitez Left In Limbo After Gillett's Oversight Extends Liverpool Turmoil

Emphasising his dismay at a season without silverware, Steven Gerrard yesterday passed up the opportunity to say he sees himself finishing his career at Anfield. However, the Liverpool captain will be saddened to learn that his manager's hopes of a speedy resolution to the club's boardroom strife appear to have been dashed.

Aware he will have to sell before buying new players this summer, Rafael Benitez expressed his wish last week for a quick end to the struggle for ownership which is limiting the funds at his disposal. But Dubai International Capital (DIC), the Arab consortium seeking a buy-out at Anfield, is now resigned to the fact that Tom Hicks may still be at the helm, come August.

There had been hopes that the expiry of pre-emption rights this month would allow Hicks' co-owner George Gillett to sell his shares to DIC. But an administrative oversight on Gillett's part appears to have prevented that, so DIC is now dependent on Hicks – or his bankers – reaching the conclusion that he has no option but to sell to them.

There is a belief in the DIC camp that Hicks' bankers might ultimately force his hand, though when that might happen is unclear. DIC may have to wait until October, the date Hicks has promised that construction work will begin on Liverpool's new 60,000-seat stadium and which is the acid test of his ability to deliver what he has promised for the club.

Hicks is close to borrowed time where his side's players are concerned. Another season without a trophy threatens an exodus and Liverpool's former defender Mark Lawrenson fears the loss of Gerrard if there is no sense of the club advancing any time soon.
"He [Gerrard] says he wants to stay and can't see himself leaving but would anyone blame him if he felt he was better off out of it?" Lawrenson said yesterday. "That might not seem too much of a problem just now. But if Jose Mourinho takes over at Inter Milan and tells the chairman to get Gerrard for him at all costs, it might just become one."

Gerrard, who needs no reminding that Manchester United now stand only one title away from Liverpool's record of 18, considers it imperative that the club invest seriously this summer.

"Other teams are going to strengthen, so it's important we do the same," he said yesterday. "There is a lot of money in the League. To keep doing well in the League and Europe we need to strengthen the squad." Gerrard appeared less than bullish about his side's chances of mounting a title challenge next season.

"Obviously I have to be careful that I don't send expectations through the roof again, but I am desperate for [a title]. We need new players, and the manager needs help from the board to make these signings happen. I do expect us to be involved next season."

On reports that a player who was so nearly tempted to join Chelsea in 2005, might see out his career at Anfield, he said: "I'm happy. I am enjoying my football. Obviously I am not happy ending the season without a trophy."

Stadium investment will need to begin any time now, with the hiring of surveyors and contractors and if construction work does not get under way in the autumn Hicks will find himself under huge pressure from Liverpool fans.

He remains upbeat about his prospects and has promised that work on the new stadium in Stanley Park will will start in September, with construction to begin in October and the stadium due to be open for matches in 2011. But Hicks' confidence flies in the face of the credit crunch, which has left Tottenham to consider modifying plans to redevelop White Hart Lane.

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