Wednesday, January 16, 2008

More Trouble At Liverpool - Reports

The future of Liverpool and their American owners has once again been cast in doubt amid fresh reports of financial trouble.

The Independent reports that Tom Hicks and George Gillett are at loggerheads with the rest of the club's board.

The cause of the dispute is the way in which the pair plan to refinance the loan with which they secured ownership of Liverpool last year. The loan from the Royal Bank of Scotland is due to be repaid at the end of next month and, rather than inject their own money, Hicks and Gillett are intent on securing a second loan of around £350m to pay off the first.

'The businessmen want to put the new debt directly on to Liverpool's books, guaranteed, crucially, against club assets, not their own,' reports newspaper.

The club's board are understandably aghast at this proposal, not least because it directly contravenes the American's pledge not to plunge the club in 'Glazer-style' debt. 'Now, it seems, that is exactly what they were planning. Neither has spent any of their own cash yet. Unless they guarantee the new loans with their own money - which they may be unwilling or unable to provide - the impasse will continue,' says the newspaper.

With neither party willing to budge, a sale becomes increasingly likely. The newspaper cites a 'major football financier' claiming that 'Hicks and Gillett had agreed a deal in principle to sell the club for £350m, and that a process of due diligence was under way.'

Benitez Focuses On Victory

Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez refused to be drawn over his future with the club, after watching the Reds beat Luton Town 5-0 in an FA Cup third round replay at Anfield.

Comments from co-owner Tom Hicks about an approach to Jurgen Klinsmann hit the headlines earlier on in the week, but Benitez focused solely on his side's victory over the Hatters.

Benitez told Sky Sports: "We weren't really thinking about it because we know it's important to progress in the FA Cup.

"I was not thinking too much about this, I was thinking about the game. I'm really happy because we won 5-0 and progressed in the competition.

"We knew it would be difficult to score the first goal, but afterwards it would be an open game.

"We had a lot of chances and they worked really hard with a lot of players behind the ball. We were trying to do our job and they were trying to do theirs."

Tom Hicks Is 'Undermining' Rafa Benitez, Says Alan Hansen

Liverpool co-owner Tom Hicks’ admission that he held talks with Jurgen Klinsmann can only “undermine” manager Rafael Benitez.

That is the verdict of former Liverpool star Alan Hansen, who is at a loss as to why Hicks went public on the situation.

In his column on the BBC Sport website, Hansen said: “I haven’t got a clue why he has come out and said this.

“Maybe the story was going to come out and he thought he’d be better off making a statement first.

“Whichever way you look at it though, these events cannot do anything but undermine manager Rafael Benitez.

“His position is not untenable, but for one of the owners to come out and publicly say he had talks with the man who was heavily linked with Benitez’s job - well, it puts even more pressure on the Spaniard.

“Insurance policy or whatever Hicks wants to call it, the fact is he met Klinsmann and offered him the job if Benitez went, which is remarkable.”

Liverpool Anger As Hicks Reveals Secret Approach To Klinsmann

Tom Hicks's admission that Jürgen Klinsmann was approached to succeed Rafael Benítez has spread internal division at Liverpool into the boardroom, with the other co-chairman, George Gillett, and the chief executive, Rick Parry, enraged by the public revelations which have undermined the Spanish manager and exposed the Americans' ownership to ridicule.

Hicks had intended to draw a line under the uncertainty about Benítez's future - at least until the end of the season - by saying that although he had spoken to Klinsmann last November he now backed Liverpool's current manager after the club qualified for the Champions League knockout stages. Instead the Texan has fuelled the infighting at Anfield as well as damaging Benítez's long-term prospects at the club.

Gillett is understood to be livid with his business partner at the embarrassment the Klinsmann revelations have caused and the fury it has provoked against their reign among the Liverpool support. It is not the meeting with the former Germany national team coach which has irked Gillett, however, because he himself was present at Hicks's Californian retreat when the Liverpool owners tried to secure their "insurance policy" against Benítez's rumoured departure. Klinsmann has since accepted an offer to coach Bayern Munich from July 1 and Gillett had intended the clandestine meeting to remain private.

The falling-out comes at a sensitive time for the Liverpool co-chairmen, given that they have six weeks to secure a £350m loan that would refinance their purchase of the club and enable work on a revised stadium project to commence. Failure to finalise a deal with the Royal Bank of Scotland and the US investment bank Wachovia, which rests on personal guarantees from the American pair, would heighten problems for Gillett and Hicks and increase the prospect of Dubai International Capital launching a fresh takeover bid. Sources close to the owners, however, are adamant the loan will be in place within the next few weeks.

Benítez could sue Hicks for constructive dismissal after this week's comments but he would have to resign from a job he cherishes before taking legal action and he is not considering that option at present. He would also risk losing a £6m pay-off should he walk away from Anfield.

Liverpool's former manager Kenny Dalglish yesterday insisted Benítez did not deserve to be treated so poorly for his public outburst against the Americans' transfer policy last November and said instability at the club had begun to affect the playing staff. "I think it's a disappointing phase when Liverpool, who have never washed the dirty linen in public, have contributed over the past two or three months to a lot of headlines which really you had never seen before," he said.

Steven Gerrard: We Must Start Making The Right Headlines Again

Steven Gerrard admits Liverpool must ensure they command the headlines for the right reasons after helping the Anfield outfit into the fourth round of the FA Cup last night.

The midfielder netted a hat-trick as Coca-Cola League One outfit Luton Town were overwhelmed 5-0 in their third round replay.

Ryan Babel and Sami Hyypia were also on target to secure Liverpool a home fourth round tie against Swansea City or non-league side Havant and Waterlooville on Saturday week.

Last night’s game came after the admission from the club’s co-owner Tom Hicks that Jurgen Klinsmann had been approached in November with a view to taking over from manager Rafael Benitez.

But Gerrard believes the players are focused on winning games to help ease the uncertainty at Anfield.

“A lot was said in the media about the club so it was important that the headlines were about the football and a good win,” said Gerrard, who now has 15 goals for the season.

“We’re aware of it (the off-field situation), every time we pick up a paper or switch on the TV, so it’s important we stay focused on winning football matches.

“It’s not particularly about the manager, it’s about the team, about progressing into the fourth round, so we’re happy we’ve done that.

“It’s important we keep winning football matches and making sure the only headlines are about football and not what’s happening off the pitch.”

Benitez would not be drawn on the revelations of the past few days, instead choosing to focus on the backing offered to him by the Anfield crowd last night.

“The supporters were amazing as always,” he said. “I was really pleased with them, and I don’t really need to say anything else because they are fantastic.”

Of questions on his future, Benitez added: “I know you must ask about this, but I prefer to enjoy the day; we have won 5-0 and progressed in the FA Cup and had a good day.

“I would like to talk about the performance on the pitch and that means the team is winning games. I am really pleased to be here.”

Gerrard handed over the captain’s armband last night to Jamie Carragher, who was celebrating his 500th appearance for Liverpool.

The two teams formed a guard of honour to welcome the centre-back on to the pitch before the game, with the defender’s son James the Liverpool mascot for the evening.

And Benitez said: “There were celebrations tonight for Carra’s 500th game, but the players were concentrating on doing a professional job and did very well.

“The FA Cup has always been important for us. We will try to progress and win the competition if we can.”

It took Liverpool until the stroke of half-time to break down a stubborn Luton rearguard with Babel’s opener, and Benitez said: “We knew that we needed to score and early goal and open the game up.

“We couldn’t do that and Luton defended well and we had a lot of opportunities, but as soon as we scored the first goal the game opened up and it was easier for us.

“The supporters enjoyed the game. We scored five goals, Carra celebrated his 500th game and Gerrard got a hat-trick, so it was really good.”

After criticism of his team selection in the 1-1 draw at Kenilworth Road in the original tie last week, Benitez fielded a strong line-up that included both Gerrard and Fernando Torres.

And the manager explained: “We will play against Villa on Monday so there is plenty of time to rest the players before then. You know my idea is to protect the players and keep them with fresh legs, and we can do that.”

Luton manager Kevin Blackwell admitted his patched-up side were outclassed but he was proud of the way his players performed against a team he feels could win the competition.

He said: “There is no doubt they (Liverpool) have ability in abundance and have done exceptionally well for Rafa. It was an awesome team they put out. Clearly they have done a great job for the manager.”

Blackwell announced last week he would be leaving the cash-strapped club next month, but despite news of a potential deal to safeguard the future of the Hatters, he insisted he had not thought about changing his mind.

He said: “I don’t know what is around the corner.”

LiverpooL 5 - 0 Luton Town

Under-pressure Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez saw his side ease their way into the fourth round of the FA Cup thanks to a hat-trick from Steven Gerrard.

League one Luton collapsed in tonight's replay at Anfield after going behind to a late first-half goal from Ryan Babel.

Sami Hyypia was also on the scoresheet to give Benitez some breathing space after the shock revelation that Jurgen Klinsmann had been sounded out about the possibility of becoming the club's next manager.

Benitez selected a strong side, knowing defeat was not an option after the shock admission from co-owner Tom Hicks.

Jamie Carragher was named captain on his 500th appearance for the club while Gerrard, Fernando Torres and Xabi Alonso were also in from the start.

Luton received a boost ahead of the game with the news a deal had been agreed with a consortium led by television presenter Nick Owen to buy the club.

The Kop made their feelings know about the manager from the start with chants of "Rafael Benitez" ringing around the ground.

Jermaine Pennant split the Luton defence after three minutes and found Gerrard. He raced forward but was crowded out.

Pennant then found Peter Crouch three minutes later, only for the striker to miss a good chance, heading wide from close range when it seemed easier to score.

Babel almost gave Liverpool the lead in the ninth minute after being released by Gerrard.

He beat goalkeeper Dean Brill with a curling shot from 20 yards but his superb effort came back off the post.

Then Crouch hooked the ball high over the crossbar following a cross from Gerrard and Torres followed suit in the 14th minute.

Liverpool, as expected, were running the show and Babel again came close in the 17th minute when his effort was blocked by Richard Jackson.

Luton were making a decent fist of it after shipping out a number of players in the past week.

Despite their lowly status, the third-tier club were being backed by a good number of supporters, who made themselves heard.

Babel was wasteful in the 38th minute when he sent his effort over the crossbar from the edge of the area after Crouch had played the ball back to him.

Veteran Luton defender Don Hutchison then launched himself at a shot from Gerrard on the stroke of half-time to make a clearance.

The breakthrough finally came in first-half stoppage time when Babel rifled a shot beyond Brill and into the corner after being released by Torres.

Alonso tried his luck straight from the kick off by trying to lob Brill but the goalkeeper was alert to the danger.

John Arne Riise strode forward for Liverpool in the 51st minute, only for his effort from distance to finish wide.

Gerrard made it 2-0 a minute later when he headed in from close range after Crouch flicked on a cross from Pennant.

Liverpool raised the tempo and Torres saw his shot deflected to safety by Kevin Keane in the 56th minute.

They extended their lead a minute later after Gerrard swung in a corner from the left.

Hyypia claimed the goal although Luton defender Matthew Spring seemed to get a touch at the last minute.

Gerrard scored his second of the game and made it 4-0 in the 64th minute, stroking the ball into the corner.

It came after Hutchison had only partially cleared a shot from Torres inside the area.

Gerrard completed his hat-trick in the 72nd minute with a thumping 30-yard drive that wrong-footed Brill after being set up by Riise.

Substitute Dirk Kuyt should have made it 6-0 only to head wide from close range 10 minutes later following a cross from Pennant.

Luton were happy to play out time but at least the cash-strapped club have the promise of a financial windfall and new owners.

Liverpool, meanwhile, can now look forward to a visit from either Swansea or non-league Havant and Waterlooville.