Friday, June 26, 2009

Liverpool Debt Not A Problem, Say Bankers

The Royal Bank of Scotland has taken the remarkable step of writing to Liverpool supporters to explain its continued financial support for the club's unpopular owners, Tom Hicks and George Gillett.

The bailed-out bank has faced severe criticism from Liverpool supporters angered at plans to extend the Americans' £350m credit facility with the RBS and Wachovia ahead of a 24 July deadline. Fans' protests coincided with revelations that Hicks and Gillett's parent company, Kop Football (Holdings) Limited, suffered a £42.6m loss for the year ending July 2008. However, in a response that effectively confirms the banks are content to refinance again next month, the RBS insists the club is "financially healthy", able to meet its debt obligations "comfortably" and revealed it hopes to continue its relationship with Liverpool "for many years to come".

It also stressed the government does not make commercial decisions for the bank since last year's rescue package. This follows attempts by a local MP, Peter Kilfoyle, to pressure the government into blocking the refinancing deal due to the absence of the proposed new stadium on Stanley Park and the repercussions for the regeneration of the area.

"The club does not suffer the burden of debt implied by a lot of the recent press reports and, in our view and that of the executive management of the club, it is financially healthy and able to service comfortably its debt obligations from cash flow generated by its playing and commercial activities," the RBS explained. "It is in our commercial interest to support the club in the manner described above so that it can continue to perform successfully on and off the pitch."

The debt on the club, according to the RBS, is lower than the debt on the parent company to ensure that Hicks and Gillett are legally responsible for the majority of the loans on Liverpool. Representatives of the Spirit of Shankly supporters group, however, claim a similar situation did not prevent Southampton falling into financial peril. The RBS states Liverpool are legally responsible for loans used to repay the debt Hicks and Gillett inherited following their takeover which, in February 2007, stood at £44.8m. "We took great care when making our original loan in early 2007 and when refinancing it last January to distinguish between obligations of the club and obligations of its parent company, the latter being secured by personal guarantees and collateral from the owners and a pledge of the shares they own in the club," added the bank.

Gillett and Hicks will be asked to increase their personal guarantees under the next refinancing deal, with the former agreeing a £333m deal for his stake in the Montreal Canadiens ice hockey franchise last weekend.

James McKenna, a spokesman for Spirit of Shankly, said: "We have been explaining our stance to the RBS about why they shouldn't refinance with Gillett and Hicks and we are very surprised with their response. We were expecting them to talk behind closed doors but the response gives fans a greater insight into how the debt is structured. Maybe if Gillett and Hicks had been more open the situation might be different, but it appears the only reason the RBS are happy is because of the interest repayments they are getting from Liverpool Football Club. The letter also claims the RBS attaches great value in being associated with Liverpool, but there are not many in Liverpool who want to be associated with Hicks and Gillett."

Andrea Dossena May Leave Liverpool To Keep World Cup Hopes Alive

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez may be witness to a busier transfer window than he had bargained for as the representative of Andrea Dossena has revealed that his client could express a wish to leave the club in order to cement his place in the Italian national side for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

Dossena would therefore join Alvaro Arbeloa, who has been linked with a switch to Real Madrid, who have returned to their 'Galactico' style of spending.

Roberto La Florio is reported to have informed the press, “It would be easier for Marcello Lippi to follow him if he was playing in Serie A which is why I said we would consider a move from Anfield.

“But Andrea is tied to the Reds for the next three years and it is up to them to decide.

“Fabio Aurelio is out injured now so we need to take a decision pretty soon,” he concluded.

Should Dossena secure his departure, Benitez will need to suitably reinforce his left-flank, as well as perhaps replacing Arbeloa, who could be keen to join Real as he would be subject to a decrease in playing time due to the arrival of England international Glen Johnson.

Liverpool Flop Andriy Voronin Desperate To Establish Premier League Credentials

Liverpool forward Andriy Voronin, purchased by Rafael Benitez in 2007 on a free transfer from Bayer Leverkusen but failed to make a sustained impact in the Spaniard's first XI so was consequently farmed out on loan to Hertha Berlin, is eager to "conquer" the Premier League upon his return to Anfield.

He explained to the Daily Mail, "It wasn't a bad season in Germany but now I am coming back to conquer England. I'm a person who likes to face new challenges. It's time to prove to myself and to those people who think I can score a lot of goals only in Bundesliga, that it's not so.

"Liverpool is one of the world's strongest clubs. To play for it is a great honour for any footballer," he said.

"I know it's not going to be easy but I feel ready for a real fight to get into the first choice team," he declared.

Voronin has two years left on his Liverpool contract. During his one-year loan spell back in the Bundesliga he struck 11 times from 20 league appearances, contributing a host of assists, too.

Liverpool's Jermaine Pennant Could Move Abroad

Liverpool winger Jermaine Pennant is set to consider his options this summer as his contract expires.

The former Arsenal youngster spent the second half of the season on loan at Portsmouth, and his agent revealed there is interest from home and abroad.

Pennant's agent, Sky Andrew, told Sky Sports News, "Now he is thinking about what his next move is going to be, whether in England or abroad."

Rumours in January linked Pennant with a move to Real Madrid and Andrew confirmed there was a chance of Pennant joining the Spanish giants.

"We have the episode in January where there was a fee agreed with [Real] Madrid for him to go there but that didn't happen," he said.

Madrid seem to be looking to a higher calibre of player this summer after the record breaking signings of Kaka and Cristiano Ronaldo, however, Pennant will doubtless have attracted several other clubs to chase him.

Carlsberg Clause Halts Liverpool's Search For New Shirt Sponsor

The Reds want to cash-in on a new, big-money deal, but they'll have to wait a while before they can ditch their current benefactors.

Liverpool's 17-year partnership with their major sponsor, Carlsberg, is one of the longest in the game, so much so that the beer giant's logo has become an iconic emblem for the Anfield club.

However, The Daily Express reports that the Reds, who are battling financial problems under the ownership of Tom Hicks and George Gillett, are now aiming to increase revenue by landing a more profitable shirt deal.

The Merseyside outfit currently collects around £10 million per year - plus performance-based extras - from the Danish brewery, a figure which pales in comparison to their main rivals.

Manchester United, for example, will rake in a mammoth £80m per season from their new sponsor, Aon, while Chelsea have a £50m deal with Samsung.

Unfortunately for Liverpool, though, Carlsberg holds an exclusivity agreement which prevents the club from even considering other options until July.

Only after that agreement expires will the scouse side's commercial director, Ian Ayre (pictured), be free to enter talks with other companies in view of attaining a more rewarding deal.

Liverpool's current contract with Carlsberg, which has been pushing to win the naming rights to the club's planned Stanley Park stadium, runs until 2010.

Robert Kraft: Lack Of A Salary Cap Stopped Me From Buying Liverpool

The man who owns the New England Patriots gridiron franchise has revealed that he thinks investing in English football just doesn't make sense in the absence of a salary cap.

Liverpool came very close to being owned by another American businessman a few years ago, but Robert Kraft, a man who has overseen the resurgence of the New England Patriots in the NFL over the last decade, didn't buy the club because he felt that there were too many flaws with the way football was run in England to make it worthwhile.

In particular he has identified the lack of a salary cap in the Premier League as a major factor in his decision not to buy the club. Kraft feels it makes the league a somewhat boring proposition in sporting terms, with teams unable to break the stifling grip of the top four clubs, something he perceives as basically unfair for the dedicated fans of remaining outfits.

"I wanted to do it," The Times reports him as saying. "I met with David Moores [the former Liverpool owner], who is a fine gentlemen, and we came very close to buying it very close. But in the end, my instinct was that, without a salary cap, I wouldn't do it.

"I'd like to see a salary cap come to the English Premier League. If it did, I'd buy a team in a minute. We think we know how to run a sports franchise, and if were playing by the same rules, then it's not just about who has the most [money].

"I loved the fans. Just like Patriot fans, they are loyal, passionate, which has zero book value on your balance sheet but is worth a lot. I wasn't sure how we'd build a stadium, but we built one in Foxboro [Massachusetts] in 18 months so we know how to do it. But the more important issue was the salary cap. If the salary cap was there, then we would have done it.

"Green Bay, Kansas City or Arizona who went to the Super Bowl last year have to believe that they can win. In the Premier League you can see that there will always be a few teams that are dominant, and I don't know that it's fair to the passionate fans in the other cities."

As it turned out, Kraft's fellow countrymen George Gillett and Tom Hicks ended up buying the Reds, to the chagrin of a significant section of the Anfield support, who feel that the debts the duo have run up since their purchase represent a severe weakening of the club.

Nevertheless, Kraft revealed that he could be tempted by another club, if they became available.

"I would be interested in other teams in the Premier League, but Liverpool was a unique franchise, with a great following," he added.

"The coach of my Major League Soccer team is Stevie Nicol, who played up there. We sort of have stuff sent to us all the time, but I think, deep down, until there's some sort of salary cap structure, I'm not sure it's a great business deal.

"I don't like to go into a team because of real estate. If you buy a team in a sports league, winning is the bottom line. You win, everything else comes. I want to be in a position to compete equally to win."

Liverpool FC Star Jamie Carragher Joins Campaign To Save Bootle Stadium From Demolition

Liverpool’s Jamie Carragher sent a clear message to Sefton council over the future of Bootle Stadium which is due to be demolished - "Re-open it."

Bootle-born Carragher last night joined more than 200 angry Bootle residents at a mass protest on the Maguire Avenue site and said he would be "devastated" if the campaign to re-open it failed.

He told the Bootle Times: "We need to make sure that the council reverses the decision and re-open the stadium for the people of Bootle. You can clearly see the strength of feeling at this turnout and it's only a Wednesday night.

"I would be devastated if it wasn't re-opened because I know how important it is to the community and especially the children in the area. I know because I'm from Bootle and I used to use it.

"I played football here and I was always down here using the facilities when I was a kid. My dad had football teams down here.

"I know a lot of people are now in need of the facilities and they have to look elsewhere: My wife's uncle (Peter Hart) has been affected by the closure and he can't use it. There is nothing here now and this was the only sports centre in this area for the kids.

"My boxing trainer (Tommy Ferrigan) from when I was growing up wanted to start a boxing club here and he can't do that either. These are the reasons why it needs to be re-opened."

He added: "If it was re-opened it would be giving the kids around here something good to do and get involved in because it offered so much - there were so many activities you could do like use the gym and play badminton. It was fantastic.

"Its closure means there is less chance that today’s kids to go on and do what I did.

"And at a time when every council is talking about child obesity being an issue and we're making sure that they eat healthily then that is all the more reason to re-open it.

"The stadium should be saved. It would be a waste if it goes. We need to keep it open. It's very important for the people of Bootle."

The site, off Southport Road, offered a variety of activities such as squash, basketball and trampolining and also provided facilities for sports teams using the playing fields opposite the building.

Last week, the Bootle Stadium Community Group Ltd had a £1.9m lottery bid for funding rejected.

The group’s chiefs think the bid failed because their plans were too detailed.

Calling on the council for help will be a tricky task in light of last week's revelations that Sefton plans to cut back its budget by £10m by April next year as the recession bites.

The council decided the stadium should be bulldozed in April this year following safety concerns, but the decision to close it was taken in 2006 by the Lib Dems and the Tories.

Leader of Sefton Council cllr Tony Robertson (Lib Dem) said the closure was prompted by budget cuts and because they could only fund five leisure facilities across the borough. They were: Bootle Leisure Centre, Maghull, Crosby, Formby, and Southport.

But Labour leader Peter Dowd said the site should not have closed: "We opposed this from the start and the Lib Dems and Tories decided to close it along with five other facilities in Bootle, including a youth club. But the council only needed £70,000 to keep the stadium running over the course of a year. It was only a small amount of money and they decide to close it."

Despite money being a council drawback cllr Lord Ronnie Fearn admitted yesterday the demolition will cost £200,000.

But treasurer of the Bootle Stadium Community Group, Charlie Dagnall, 63, is still hopeful the mass gathering can sway the minds of the borough's cabinet chiefs. He said: "All the people here show the level of support we have and many couldn't make it down here. We hope they get the money because we all need it.

"Having Jamie here increases the profile of the cause."

Carragher’s sentiments were echoed by many people who once ran sports clubs at the stadium.

Caroline Armstrong, an organiser of a trampoline group, said: "The kids came from everywhere for the trampolining and now they can't. I would love for it to be open again."

Colette Nielsen of Crosby Stuart girls, said: "If this building is demolished then there are no facilities for our girls."

Bernard Delorenzo of the Trojans baseball team said: "We played here for 20 years because it has a diamond for us to use. American baseball is not a regular sport in England and this was the only place we could play at. We played teams from all over the country and now we can't because it's closed. It needs re-opening."

Cab driver John Seddon, 34, said: "The cab drivers used to play badminton here but we now can't. Everywhere is fully booked up and we can't get in anywhere."

Joan Kielty, 68, of the over 50s club said: "The facilities here were great but now we go elsewhere and it's just not the same."

Nikki Brady, secretary of Bootle Stadium Community Group Ltd, said: "The police have told us that crime in the area has increased since the closure of the stadium. That's a great reason to re-open it."

Frankie Meadow, 50, has spent 25 years in youth football and explained the facilities elsewhere are poor: "What we have now is not very good for the 24 teams we have. We need changing rooms and a toilet for the girls. The stadium is ideal and it should re-open."

Would-be stadium boxing trainer Tommy Ferrigan, 56, said: "There is nothing wrong with the building. The brickwork is great. Why knock such a good building down when it had everything? It had youth clubs and a function room. It should be kept open."