Sunday, June 21, 2009

Liverpool Co-Owner Agrees $550m NHL Deal

Liverpool owner George Gillett has agreed to sell the NHL's Montreal Canadiens to the Molson family in a deal that could help lift the financial cloud over the Premier League club.

The deal to sell the NHL's most successful ever team is worth a reported $550m (£330m).

Gillett put the Canadiens up for sale earlier this year as he scrambles to find funds to meet obligations on debt incurred as part of his takeover of Liverpool in partnership with Tom Hicks.

The sale includes Gillett's 80% stake in the team, the Bell Centre arena, and the Gillett Entertainment Group. Brewing moguls the Molsons, who sold the controlling interest in the team to Gillett for around $275m (£165m) in 2001, already own the remaining 20% share.

''This is a very exciting time for our family and we are grateful to the many people and organisations who came forward to offer their collaboration in the development of our proposal,'' Geoff Molson said in a statement.

The sale must first be approved by the NHL's Board of Governors, and will likely not be completed for several more weeks.

The NHL's approval of the sale would, however, seemingly be only a matter of course.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman responded positively to the news of the deal, saying: ''I think to the extent that they've been able to find people who are obviously passionate about the game and structure a transaction that makes sense for everybody, that's a real plus for the franchise and the fans in Montreal.''

News of the deal comes a little over two weeks after Liverpool's accountants warned of ''significant doubt'' over the club's parent company's ability to continue as a going concern with debt repayments due on July 24.

The company formed by Gillett and Hicks suffered a loss of £42.6m ($70.5m) last year, largely on interest repayments. The pair took out a loan of £350m ($580m) when they bought the club in 2007.

While Hicks and Gillett have been seeking other investors for Liverpool, they have so far come back empty-handed, meaning funds from a sale of the Canadiens could be needed to help cover upcoming payments.

Hicks has also been seeking to sell off elements of his own sporting empire - which includes Major League Baseball's Texas Rangers and the NHL's Dallas Stars.

Hicks' situation is further complicated as the Hicks Sports Group in April defaulted on a £325m loan ($525m) relating to the Rangers and Stars.

The Canadiens, who are celebrating their centenary year, are the oldest continually run professional ice hockey team in North America. Their 24 Stanley Cup titles are the most in the NHL.

''Our family has been very proud to be associated with the Montreal Canadiens over the past eight years and particularly to be a part of their Centennial Season,'' Gillet said after confirming the deal.

''I am fully confident that the Molson brothers, who have been a great part of the heritage of the club, will ensure the preservation and development of this great sports institution.''

The Molson family first bought the team in 1978, although their involvement dates back to the 1950s.

Alonso Expects To Stay At LiverpooL

Liverpool midfielder Xabi Alonso has said that he is not planning to leave the club this summer.

The Spain international has recently been linked with a move to Real Madrid amidst rumours of a rift between himself and Reds boss Rafael Benitez.

Alonso did not rule out a move away from Liverpool but insisted that he is happy at Anfield.

"I am happy at Liverpool but in football you cannot close the doors on anything because you don't know what will happen. I do not plan to go," he told El Pais.

"With Sami Hyypia already gone, I am one of the senior players alongside Jamie Carragher and Steven Gerrard.

"There was strong interest in me from Madrid (in 2004) but Liverpool came and that is where I went. It was not a wrong decision, not for me anyway. I have played at Liverpool, a special club, and grown as a player and won titles."

The 27-year-old also denied that his relationship with Benitez has deteriorated in light of the manager's indecision over his future last year.

"Each one has his own point of view. He is the manager and I try to do the best with what he tells me," Alonso added.

"We have a good professional relationship. We speak normally, saying what he wants from me and what I can give. He makes the decisions and we try to execute them.

"Last summer there was certain indecision and I did not know what was going to happen. I finished up playing well, though. I have had two quite complete seasons."

Rafael Benitez Set To Lose Javier Mascherano

Football’s transfer tombola threatens to make Liverpool its grand loser as the game’s richest clubs tempt away Rafa Benitez’s most important players and outbid the Spanish manager for his own targets.

Benitez is close to conceding defeat in his attempts to keep Javier Mascherano after Real Madrid moved for the combative midfielder. He also fears that Fernando Torres could be lost to Chelsea in a £60m heist.

Barcelona were already courting Mascherano when Madrid entered the chase last week. Having set two high watermarks for transfer fees with the £56m purchase of Kaka from AC Milan and their £80m offer for Manchester United’s Cristiano Ronaldo, new president Florentino Perez is prepared to pay £38m for the joint transfer of Mascherano and right-back Alvaro Arbeloa. With Mascherano — who is keen to move to either of Spain’s premier clubs — valued at £30m, the sum would be a record fee for a holding midfielder.

Benitez is also concerned at the prospect of losing Torres, established as the Premier League’s most impressive striker since joining from Atletico Madrid two summers ago. Chelsea inquired about the 25-year-old earlier this year and Benitez believes the London club are now ready to offer as much as £60m. Fearing that Liverpool’s hard-up owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett, might struggle to resist, Benitez has made inquiries about Almeira centre-forward Alvaro Negredo as a replacement. Negredo is half-owned by Madrid and available for £15m.

Chelsea are in the market for a marquee signing to launch Carlo Ancelotti’s reign as manager. Billionaire owner Roman Abramovich promised to top Madrid’s offers for Kaka this month, only for the Brazilian to decide that the Spanish club had a greater status.

While Torres is loyal to Benitez and will not agitate for a move, he recently signed an improved contract which takes him to 2013 without committing to anything more than the option of an additional year at Anfield. Asked about his future while on international duty last week, he said: “I’m very happy with my contract and wouldn’t leave just to earn a little more somewhere else where I wouldn’t be that happy. To want any more would be greedy and that is not me. As long as Liverpool want me, I will stay.”

Having fought to take control of transfer policy, at the expense of Rick Parry’s position as chief executive, Benitez finds his dealings hampered by the £350m loan Liverpool’s American owners have loaded upon the club.

Benitez has to make an economic case for every proposed transfer. Restrictions have already seen him lose Gareth Barry to Manchester City. Liverpool spent all last summer failing to close a deal and then City took just days to match Aston Villa’s asking price and radically improve the England midfielder’s personal terms. Benitez has bid for Portsmouth defender Glen Johnson, but more than a third of the England right-back’s £17.5m fee would be covered by money owed by Pompey on Peter Crouch’s move in 2008. Chelsea have also had an offer accepted, leaving Johnson to choose which club to join.

Spain midfielder Xabi Alonso has given Benitez a further problem. Alonso has antagonised his manager by discussing personal terms with Madrid without official permission. The player admitted that the pound’s fall in value against the euro was a factor in considering his future. “Of course we think about it,” Alonso said. “When you see your contract down by 30% you cannot be happy.”

The pound is worth €1.18, but when Alonso signed a five-year contract in June 2007 it was worth €1.48.

Dirk Kuyt Says His Success Is Down To A Faith Healer from Holland

Dirk Kuyt has revealed the secret behind his status as the all-action King of the Kop.

Anfield boss Rafa Benitez called Kuyt "Mr. Duracell" last season, because of the Dutchman's non-stop running.

Now Kuyt has revealed: "Before every home game I have a natural healer called Henk de Gier fly in from Holland. He does a session with me and makes sure I go on the pitch in top condition.

"And Henk is not the only one who helps me. For quite a few years I have been using a haptonomist [a touch therapist]. I like to invest in my fitness and well being.

"I played more than 60 matches last season.

"The reason I was able to do that is because I let these healers fly in.

"It started after I had a bad spell at Liverpool in 2008. I even lost my place in the Dutch national team.

"Ever since Henk has treated me, I have been running like a steam train.

"Henk has a special treatment for me. He calls it 'the shaker'. He gets rid of all my physical problems and he loosens my body.

"He takes away not only injuries, but also stress and headache. He has helped me enormously." Kuyt accepts that the pressure is mounting on Benitez's men to end the 20-year wait for a league title.

He said: "The whole club is absolutely desperate to win the championship.

"If we do win the league next season, the city of Liverpool will have a month-long party in the town. It is 18-all in the titles race between us and Manchester United. The fans need us to take the lead again.

"And I have this incredible feeling that we are on the eve of another massive season with great things to come.

"In my trophy cabinet I only have one medal - for winning the Dutch cup. That has to change here and now - with Liverpool. I have signed a new contract until 2012 and have no intention of playing for anybody else before that time.

"I have had other offers from clubs in Europe.

"But this is not the time to leave a team that I have helped to build - we must finish the job."

Chelsea Join Chase For Liverpool’s Xabi Alonso

Liverpool midfielder Xabi Alonso is reportedly attracting the interest of Carlo Ancelotti and Chelsea, according to the Sunday Mirror.

The unsettled Spanish midfielder has long been linked with a move away from Anfield, with Real Madrid in particular thought to be interested in acquiring the 27-year-old, and Chelsea now appear to have entered the hunt for his signature.

The recent speculation has recently led Alonso to insist he is happy at the club but, tellingly, he refused to commit his future to the Merseysiders, which the British tabloid claims has aroused the Blues’ interest.

The paper also claims that not only does manager Ancelotti admire Alonso greatly, but that he is keen to bring in younger midfielders to the club, and sees the Spaniard as the perfect choice.

The Blues are reportedly prepared to bid up to £18 million for Alonso, who is currently in South Africa with Spain taking part in the Confederations Cup.

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez, meanwhile, has repeatedly insisted that Alonso is not for sale.

The Spaniard has also enjoyed a fairly fierce rivalry with Chelsea during his time on Merseyside and would undoubtedly be loath to see Alonso quit Anfield for Stamford Bridge.

Carlo Ancelotti Ready To Launch Audacious Bid

Chelsea are ready to test Liverpool's resolve with a £50million bid for Fernando Torres.

Carlo Ancelotti has already targeted Torres' Spain strike partner David Villa, offering Valencia £35m. Now the Blues boss is ready to make an audacious attempt to unite Villa and Torres at club level.

Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez will do all he can to block the move. But he is worried the huge sum offered by Chelsea could tempt American owners George Gillett and Tom Hicks.

Liverpool's true financial state will be revealed over the coming weeks and Benitez is beginning to fear the worst.

At the end of the season Benitez was hopeful of landing 27-year-old Villa. Now he not only has to face up to Chelsea signing Villa but also targeting Torres.

Villa's proposed move to Real Madrid has not gone through because Chelsea's bid is £4m higher and is preferred by debt- ridden Valencia.

Now Blues owner Roman Abramovich is prepared to take advantage of Liverpool's own money worries by making the sort of offer he hopes Gillett and Hicks will not be able to refuse.

It is understood a tentative inquiry was made by a third party in April about how much it would cost to prise Torres away from Anfield.

The message from Liverpool at the time was that there was no chance of Torres being sold. Then in May the 25-year-old striker signed an improved deal to 2013.

If necessary, Ancelotti and Abramovich will settle for just landing Villa. But if there is even an outside chance of snatching Torres away from Anfield, they will take it.

We Don't Need To Spend Big To Win The Title, Insists Torres

Fernando Torres says no amount of spending by Manchester United and Chelsea during the summer will stop Liverpool's relentless quest for the Premier League title.

Before Spain met host nation South Africa in their final group game of the Confederations Cup last night, Torres revealed just how focused he is on breaking United's stranglehold on the title and emulating the great Liverpool forwards of the past.

The club's own finances are under serious scrutiny, with only a month left for joint owners George Gillett and Tom Hicks to find new ways of servicing a £350million debt, and Torres realises Liverpool's spending power may not match that of their rivals.

The evidence of that comes with Chelsea hoping to steal Portsmouth and England right-back Glen Johnson from the grasp of Rafael Benitez, and Xabi Alonso being lured to Real Madrid.

But Torres shrugged off those fears. 'We don't have the same money as United or Chelsea but that is not a problem for us,' he said.

'We will try to win trophies with money or without it, it doesn't matter to us. 'In the past two years, United have been the strongest team in Europe and we had to fight against them. This year they have lost an important player, so maybe it is our time.

'When I was a kid I was always looking up to Atletico Madrid strikers but when I came to Liverpool I saw DVDs of Robbie Fowler and Kenny Dalglish. They are legends of Liverpool. One day I would like to be close to them.'

Keeping the Spanish contingent together at Anfield remains a critical priority, however, especially with United losing Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez. 'If we can play together for a lot of years it would be fantastic,' said Torres.

'It makes us more complete as players. We have to keep all our good players.' His one major disappointment since joining Liverpool for a club record £20m in June 2007 has been lack of silverware.

'When I signed for Liverpool the main thing was to win trophies for them. It has been frustrating for me because for a club like Liverpool to go two years without a trophy is too long. But I think it's coming.'

Having already ruled out any chance of swapping Merseyside for Manchester, Torres had some more bad news both for United and Chelsea - forget buying David Villa. The Valencia striker, says Torres, has already made up his mind to stay in Spain rather than be lured by a big money move to the Premier League.

With his present club heavily in debt, Villa looks certain to move in the next few weeks but Torres says both United and Chelsea are likely to miss out on his services. While he has no doubt Ronaldo will be replaced with quality players at Old Trafford, Villa will not be one of them.

'I think he will play in Spain,' said Torres. 'It's his decision but I think Barcelona and Real Madrid are trying to sign him and he will join one of them. 'I think for his abilities and qualities he is better for the Spanish league - he scores over 25 goals every season. I'd obviously prefer it if he played in Spain if he doesn't come to Liverpool.'

Another concern, says Torres, is the tax system in Britain combined with the weak pound, but he says players like himself should be prepared to compromise and sacrifice their pockets for the experience of competing at the top level every week.

'When you are a top player, you will get a good contract,' he insists. 'You should not be scared to lose a little bit of money.'

Xabi Alonso Warns That Tax Will Drive Top Players Away

Even footballers have turned on the government. Xabi Alonso believes Gordon Brown's economic policies have weakened English football and that the Premier League's star players could be forced to the Continent to escape the weak pound and the incoming 50% tax rate.

Alonso is refusing to commit himself to Liverpool next season, with Real Madrid eager to to take him to the Bernabeu, and with Alonso estimating he is losing a third of his earnings he is edging closer to a return to Spain.

"Of course we footballers think about it; we are not stupid, we keep an eye on it," Alonso said. "When you see your contract down by 30 per cent you cannot be happy. I cannot do anything – it must be Gordon Brown or David Cameron.

“I think the weakness of the sterling is not helping the Premiership because for those competing and fighting against the European teams it is a big weak point. Hopefully over the next few months and years it will get back to what it was not so long ago."

Liverpool are determined to keep Alonso despite Real Madrid's very public interest, but having just published worrying financial results and with Rafael Benitez having to work with a restricted transfer budget, the Anfield club might be forced to sell, especially if the player wants to leave. Alonso, in South Africa with the Spain squad for the Confederations Cup, pointedly refused to answer questions about his future at Liverpool.

His Anfield colleague Fernando Torres admitted he was concerned about losing his Spain team-mates Alonso and Alvaro Arbeloa to La Liga but insisted that playing for a club with the traditions of Liverpool should count for more than a decline in your net income.

"I worry about losing my team-mates, of course," Torres said. "But when you play for a team like Liverpool you don't have to worry about that. You are a top player and you will get a good contract. You don't have to be scared to lose a little bit of money."

That depends on your definition of 'little'. Alonso signed a five-year contract with Liverpool in 2007 worth an estimated £65,000 a week. At the time there was €1.48 to the pound so he was on €96,200 per week but due to the weakness of the pound that has fallen to €76,700 a week. When the 50% tax rate comes in next April that will drop to €69,000 a week, so he could be losing €27,200 every week compared to what he was earning back in 2007. Overall, Alonso fears he could end up losing nearly £1.2 million per year.

Alonso is not the only player unhappy with the British tax system. Andrei Arshavin, of Arsenal, claimed he had an "unpleasant surprise" when he opened his first pay packet and saw how much he was paying in tax. The Russian international is now trying to renegotiate his £80,000 a week contract to ensure he has a higher net earnings.

Clubs across the country are concerned that foreign players are using the weak pound as an excuse to get a pay rise.

Arsene Wenger, the Arsenal manager, predicted back in April that "the domination of the Premier League will go" because of the government's tax policy and the fact that the United Kingdom has been hit particularly hard by the financial crisis. His prophecy seems to have been realised.

Accountants working with footballers and clubs are trying to come up with all sorts of ways of avoiding paying the top tax rate. One option being explored is paying players in interest-free loans which would attract a much lower tax rate. But ultimately, it seems the power base has shifted to the Continent.

That is particularly true of Spain, who can set up foreign players as 'company executives' who have a preferential 23 per cent tax rate for the first six years. David Beckham was on this kind of deal and Cristiano Ronaldo and Kaka will be on a similar scheme. Obviously this gives clubs like Real Madrid and Barcelona a real competitive advantage in the market.

Sam Rush, whose WMG agency look after Michael Owen and Steven Gerrard, believes English clubs will have to bear the brunt of the cost as foreign players will increasingly demand to have contracts net of tax.

"If clubs want to keep top players they are going to have to push the boundaries of their financial parameters," he said. "In Europe sums are offered net of tax. That's ultimately what's going to happen here in the UK."

Liverpool's Jermaine Pennant On Sunderland's Radar

Sunderland are planning to pounce for Liverpool's Jermaine Pennant during the close-season, according to a report in the British tabloid The Sun.

The 26-year-old's contract at Anfield is due to expire this summer, so the Mackems will be able to land him on a free-transfer.

The former England Under-21 international fell down the Reds' pecking order last season and was allowed to join Portsmouth on loan in January, however, the south coast club have decided not to make his switch permanent.

Newly-appointed Black Cats manager Steve Bruce is thought to be an admirer of the right-sided winger having signed him from Arsenal for Birmingham City in 2005.

It is claimed that Madrid rivals Atletico and Real are also interested in acquiring Pennant's services, but he is apparently reluctant to move abroad.

It is thought that Sunderland will offer him a three-year contract worth around £65,000-a-week.