Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Liverpool Given Go-Ahead For New Stadium

Liverpool have been given the go-ahead by the city council to build their new 60,000-seater stadium in Stanley Park, adjacent to current stadium Anfield.

The Anfield site is over a century old and has become infamous in the footballing world and almost sacred to many Liverpool fans, but the club are now moving on as they aim to compete with Europe's top clubs.

The new stadium will open in August 2011, featuring an 18,500-seat single-tier stand for the Kop, 5,000 more than the Anfield Kop.

This is the third different design for the new stadium so far, and reduces the capacity by 11,000 from the last scheme in order to reduce costs, though the current design is 'future proofed', and thus additions could be made to the stadium in the future.

In January, co-owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett completed a £350 million refinancing package on the loan used to purchase the club, and £60 million was earmarked for the new stadium. However Hicks, who has since been involved in a feud with Gillett, has said that he is still working with investment bank Merril Lynch on raising the funds.

Liverpool feel the expansion is needed sooner rather than later, as rivals Manchester United have expanded Old Trafford to 76,000 seats and Arsenal built their brand new, 60,000-seat Emirates Stadium to replace the 38,000-seat Highbury. The Anfield site restricts Liverpool's development, hence the move to Stanley Park.

I Prefer To Go Forward - Lucas

Liverpool midfielder Lucas Leiva has hinted he would prefer to play a more offensive role at Anfield in the future.

The midfielder arrived from Brazilian side Gremio in the summer, and has played as a holding midfielder as part of Rafael Benitez's 4-2-3-1 formation. He also briefly displaced Xabi Alonso in the side earlier in the year.

While being impressed with his fellow midfielders and how much easier they make it for him to perform, he also hinted that his natural game lends itself to a slightly more attacking position than he currently occupies in the Reds' line-up.

"When you have players like Steve (Gerrard) and Mascherano beside you, you feel more comfortable," began Lucas.

"I like to go forward every time. The first game I didn't go forward as I was adapting.

"Now at the end of the season I have had some good games and hopefully next season will be better for everyone."

Tom Hicks Under Pressure To Show His Cash

Tom Hicks, the embattled Liverpool co-chairman, will come under increased pressure to prove that he can raise the funds to build the club's proposed new stadium in Stanley Park after the latest designs for the troubled project were approved on Wednesday.

Liverpool City Council announced that it had approved the new designs for the stadium, which were unveiled by Hicks amid great fanfare in January, but there are serious doubts within the club about whether the Texan has - or can generate - the £300 million needed to build the stadium.

Sources indicated last night that there are no plans to begin construction in the foreseeable future and that, with Hicks at loggerheads with George Gillett Jr, his co-chairman, the proposed 71,000-capacity stadium - initially built to a capacity of 60,000 with a view to expansion - could remain a pipe dream.

Gillett intends to sell his 50 per cent stake in the club to Dubai International Capital (DIC), the private equity investment arm of the Arab state. Hicks retains ambitions of buying out Gillett and assuming sole ownership of the club, having vetoed Gillett's proposed sale to DIC in March, but despite enlisting the help of Merrill Lynch, the financial management and advisory company, he has not yet raised the funds that he requires, with an unforgiving financial climate raising further doubts as to whether he will be able to do so.

Sources have described the impasse as “the major issue for the club”, saying that Hicks will come under severe pressure either to prove that he can generate the funds needed to take Liverpool forward or to sell his stake in the club to DIC and allow Gillett to do likewise.

The design approved yesterday is the third that has been submitted to Liverpool City Council, with Hicks and Gillett having been forced to scale down the grandiose original design that they unveiled in July last year.

When the new plans were revealed in January, Hicks boldly stated that Liverpool supporters “should have high expectations for the future: a premier sporting experience at their new stadium at Stanley Park and a winning club on the pitch for years to come”, but yesterday there was a more sober announcement on the club's official website, saying only that Liverpool “welcomed” the council's decision and “is committed to taking the stadium project forward and to starting on site as soon as possible” with a view to relocating in time for the 2011-12 season.

It also remains to be seen what level of funding Rafael Benítez, the manager, will be given to strengthen his squad this summer. Benítez has been active in the transfer market, making bids to sign Gareth Barry, the Aston Villa captain, Aaron Ramsey, the highly rated Cardiff City teenager, and Philipp Degen, the Borussia Dortmund full back, but sources at Anfield have indicated that the majority of new signings are likely to be financed by the sale of fringe players, such as Scott Carson, who is on loan to Villa, John Arne Riise, Jermaine Pennant and Peter Crouch.

A pre-contract agreement to sign Degen on a free transfer is in place, while Benítez is confident of success in his pursuit of Barry, having offered players such as Carson, Riise and Pennant as makeweights in any deal for the England midfield player.

Barry is regarded as a priority signing for next season, particularly as Lucas Leiva, the Brazil midfield player, is likely to join Javier Mascherano, of Argentina, in missing the start of next season to play in the Olympic Games football tournament in Beijing.

The High Cost Of Harry Kewell At Liverpool

Harry Kewell will leave Liverpool this month having cost the club £157,554 per game.

Former Liverpool manager Gerard Houllier signed Kewell from Leeds back in July 2003 for £5 million, on a contract worth £60,000 a week.

Since then the 29-year-old has made 139 appearances in five years, and just 18 over the last two, scoring a paltry 16 goals in the process.

Kewell shone for Leeds during his spell at Elland Road and seemed destined to become an Anfield favourite after moving to Liverpool.

However, a run of persistent injuries have restricted his appearances, frustrating his manager and the club's supporters.

Fans even booed the Australian international when he went off injured during the Champions League final against AC Milan three years ago.

Rafa Benitez will not stand in the way of Kewell's departure at the end of the season, with Fulham and Tottenham reportedly interested.

Kewell will be just one of a number of Liverpool players leaving this summer.

Peter Crouch is set to be the most high-profile departure, with Aston Villa his likely destination in a potential player-plus-cash deal for Gareth Barry.

John Arne Riise, Scott Carson and Jermain Pennant will also move on, with Carson, current on loan at Villa, signing a permanent deal under Martin O'Neill.

Peter Crouch Demands Talks With Rafa Benitez

Crouch is demanding showdown talks with boss Rafa Benitez after admitting he can't take another season on the bench.

Liverpool's England striker is frustrated at making just nine Premier League starts and could quit Anfield this summer.

Crouch said: "What I must do is speak to the manager. When all is said and done, I don't think I can have another season like this year where I've started nine Premier League games.

"Out of a 38-game league season, nine games is not the amount you want to be playing.

"I'll have to speak to the manager and see what his plans are. I need to see him and sort things out."

Crouch plans to confront Benitez before heading off on international duty - and he won't sign a new contract if his first-team prospects do not improve.

The giant forward is entering the final year of his current deal and wants Benitez to tell him if he is really wanted at Anfield.

"I'll continue to work hard and I've got two England games in the summer to concentrate on, but before then I do have to speak to the manager," said Crouch.

"I have to find out what he wants from me for next season and whether or not I can continue with that. In some ways I want to feel wanted. I've got a few questions I want to ask him, and I'm sure he has with me, too.

"So I'd like to speak to the manager and the club before I commit to anything and know whether or not I'll be here next year."

Rafa Benitez Insists He's Happy At Liverpool

Rafa Benitez has come out fighting after posting the worst season of his four-year Anfield reign.

This campaign will go down as the most disappointing of Benitez's time on Merseyside.

After vowing to mount a title challenge, his side have trailed in fourth and finished empty-handed for the second successive season.

Benitez can point to a third Champions League semi-final in four years and, despite admitting Liverpool could have done better, he rejects any suggestion that this campaign has been a failure.

The Spaniard did his best to lift the gloom ahead of tomorrow's final home game with Manchester City.

"Always you want to win silverware and we have not had a fantastic season, but clearly it has not been a bad one," said the Liverpool manager.

"If you analyse the season properly, to be in the top four in England and the top four in Europe is a massive achievement.

"To win the title here is more difficult than anywhere else because Chelsea and United are the best teams in Europe. To beat them, you have to be champions.

"A lot of managers will have had more disappointing seasons than us, finishing in the top four in Europe and the top four in England.

"You can ask me if this is this the most disappointing season but I can't say it is a bad season. It could have been better, but it is not a bad season."

Benitez spends every waking moment analysing Liverpool's performances and has concluded that his side must do better against their Big Four rivals.

The Reds managed just four points from four draws from their six games against Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal to finish bottom of this mini-league.

Compare that to United's 13 points and Chelsea's eight and it's not hard to see why they are the ones battling for the title.

As ever, it all comes down to money and whatever the feuding Tom Hicks and George Gillett can give Benitez, it does not compare to the vast transfer budgets of United and Chelsea.

Benitez is determined not to waste any time and has already tabled a £10million bid for Aston Villa's England midfielder Gareth Barry. "You look who was on the Chelsea bench on Wednesday - Malouda, Anelka and Shevchenko," he said. "Think about the prices of those three players.

"How much money did Chelsea spend to win the title? How much money have United spent to be top of the league?

"We cannot get to them in one season, but we have to keep improving. I will do the best I can to improve this club. Maybe it won't be good enough, but I will try."