Thursday, October 01, 2009

Banks Press Tom Hicks And George Gillett On Liverpool Debt

Tom Hicks and George Gillett Jr., the owners of Liverpool, have been issued with an ultimatum by the club’s bankers to attract investors to reduce the club’s debt or to sell up.

A statement released on behalf of Hicks and Gillett yesterday provided official confirmation for the first time that a search for new funds is under way, with Rothschild and Bank of America Merrill Lynch, the investment banks, leading the search.

City sources believe the announcement is an indication of the pressure that the Americans, who bought Liverpool in February 2007, are under to reduce the club’s exposure to debt. An equity raise — a quest to find minority shareholders to inject finance into the club in return for a stake — is a clear signal that the days of Hicks and Gillett as dual owners are numbered, although speculation that a Saudi Arabian prince is on the verge of concluding a deal to secure a half-share have been dismissed.

“The owners have jointly retained Bank of America Merrill Lynch and Rothschild to evaluate the possibility of new investors injecting equity into Liverpool Football Club,” a spokesperson for Hicks and Gillett confirmed. “However, the process is at an early stage, there is no agreement with any party and reports to the contrary are wholly inaccurate.”

Hicks and Gillett secured a deal in July to refinance their debts with Royal Bank of Scotland and Wachovia, but the agreement was struck only on the condition that they provided £60 million in equity to reduce Liverpool’s outstanding liabilities from £310 million to £250 million, after fears expressed by the club’s accountant, KPMG, of their ability to continue as a going concern given such large-scale exposure to debt.

However, rather than cementing their position as owners, the deal was designed to allow Hicks and Gillett more time to sell the club. It is understood both banks are reluctant to extend the loans again unless the club reduce their debt before next summer.

Claims that Prince Faisal bin Fahd bin Abdullah al-Saud, of Saudi Arabia, is about to strike a deal in which he would assume a 50 per cent stake in Liverpool were dismissed, with senior club officials having been taken by surprise by reports that an agreement was in place and that due diligence is under way, neither of which is true.

Gillett, in particular, though, is stepping up his efforts to recruit investors who would allow him to retain a partial stake in the club at the least. His meeting with Prince Faisal at Anfield last Saturday was accompanied by a raft of publicity.

In statements emanating from the Middle East, a spokesman on behalf of Prince Faisal has since claimed that a significant investment deal was imminent, but, as reported in The Times on Monday, this is not the case, with the only accord being one that will further Gillett’s interests in Nascar, the North American motor-racing sport.

Saudi Prince’s Company Blames Hicks For Stalling Deal

Speculation continues about the possibility of Prince Faisal bin Fahd bin Abdullah al-Saud, a member of the ruling family of Saudi Arabia, buying into Liverpool, after the English Premier League club admitted that it had appointed advisors to look at new investment opportunities.

Fahd bin Abdullah's F6 company has signed an agreement with Liverpool and co-owner George Gillett's Nascar franchise, Richard Petty MOtorsports, that will see two Liverpool-backed youth academies and a number of motor racing tracks built in Saudi Arabia. The prince also spoke publically about his desire to become a part-owner of the club, but a senior figure at F6 has now suggested that moves to that end have been frustrated by Gillett's relationship with Hicks.

"Right now George has a lot of ongoing issues with his existing partner, and he is working through those with the banks and Premier League," said F6 director Barry Didato last night. "Prince Faisal has said we're keeping a very open-door policy to it, but that the existing partnership should not look to him being a solution to Liverpool's balance sheet and there are some balance sheet issues yet to be resolved."

The news comes just one day after newspaper reports linked an Indian billionaire with a takeover bid for the club.

A spokesperson for Liverpool said simply: "The owners have jointly retained Bank of America Merrill Lynch and Rothschild to evaluate the possibility of new investors injecting equity into LFC. However, the process is at an early stage, there is no agreement with any party and reports to the contrary are wholly inaccurate."

Tommy Smith: Bill Shankly Was The Greatest Boss Of All

I got a call yesterday from someone reminding me it was the 28th anniversary of Bill Shankly’s death.

It’s hard to believe so many years have passed since that time.

Of course, it is 50 years ago this December that Shanks first took over as manager of Liverpool. And the rest, as they say, is history.

The game has changed so much, with money now so important, that Shanks would never have imagined it. He would not have liked it either, of that I’m sure.

These days, you get players who are happy to sit on the bench because they are earning so much But in his day, players hated being left out - and Bill hated it if they weren’t deeply unhappy and desperate to get off it and into the team as soon as possible.

One thing he would have enjoyed, though, was seeing Liverpool bombard Hull City at Anfield and hit six.

Liverpool played the way Shanks wanted his teams to play - pummelling the opposition with big hearts and good football until they all but submitted, which Hull did after what Torres and company put them through.

He may not have been the most successful manager ever - though he did win pretty much everything. But for me, Shanks will always be the greatest boss of all.

Liverpool Are Better Suited To The Premier League This Season, Says Tony Barrett

The Times North West football writer says club must get back to basics if they are to address the problems that have dogged them this season.

What went wrong in Florence on Tuesday night?

Most Liverpool fans would have been concerned when they saw the team-sheet. Without Javier Mascherano, Liverpool were deprived of a very important part of the way Rafael Benitez likes to play in Europe. Mascherano sits in front of the back four and stops the opposition from playing in that part of the field. That has been one of the main reasons behind Liverpool's success in Europe.

Without Mascherano the feeling was that Steven Gerrard would drop back into midfield and that Dirk Kuyt would play off Fernando Torres.

But the decision to play Fabiano Aurelio in midfield alongside Leiva Lucas was perhaps where it all started to go wrong. Although Aurelio is a very capable midfielder, Liverpool lacked pace and a real physical presence in the centre of the field which meant Fiorentina were able to play through them far too easily.

Why do Liverpool look so frail defensively this season? Is it just that Jamie Carragher is a year older and Martin Skrtel is in a poor run of form?

It is a combination of factors. Liverpool are attacking more than they ever have done under Benitez and have scored more goals at the start of this season than any Liverpool team have done since 1995-96.

The signing of Glen Johnson has been a big part of that but the way they are playing now is a whole new departure for Benitez. It means they are committing a full back very high up the pitch and that in turn is putting a lot of extra pressure on the other members of the back four.

Carragher didn't have the best of games against West Ham United, that was well documented, but since then he has come back into the kind of form we expect from him. Skrtel is a big worry for Liverpool, he is well short of his best at the moment and all that is being exacerbated by the introduction of Emiliano Insua, who is a young left back still making his way in the game.

The problem for Insua is that he is part of a defence that is changing quite a lot at the moment and is far less solid that it has been in recent years. All those things are combining to give this feeling that Liverpool aren't as strong defensively as they have been in the past.

Daniel Agger made his return for the reserves on Tuesday night. Will he come into the equation?

He played 68 minutes for the reserves and by all accounts did very well. Agger will bring much-needed extra competition for places in the heart of the Liverpool defence.

Although Benitez signed Sotiris Kyrgiakos at the end of the transfer window, he is clearly fourth choice and is not putting any real pressure on Carragher and Skrtel. They know they are first picks and any manager needs to know that he has someone who can do a job if his current pairing continues to underperform.

I am not sure Agger will bring the kind of solidity Liverpool need, because he is very much a footballing centre back. Liverpool need to get back to the no-nonsense style of defending that has served them so well in the past.

What kind of impact will last night's defeat have on the club's preparation for the game with Chelsea?

Liverpool need to wake up to some of the problems that have plagued them since the start of the season. It is only when you get a serious setback, like the one they suffered in Florence, which you start to re-evaluate.

Liverpool need to get back to the basics that have been the bedrock of their success under Benitez. They are not defending well as a team. Mascherano will come back into the side on Sunday, so that will give the defence more protection, but it is not just the personnel it is the mentality of the team.

Benitez kept talking about mentality after the game on Tuesday night, there were a lot of individual performances out there but there was a lack of collective responsibility, especially defensively. That will be what is worked on most on the training pitches and if Liverpool can learn from their mistakes then we may well see the kind of Liverpool we have seen in the past.

Is the ongoing instability off the field playing a part in any of this?

The players are well used to what is happening off the field but it isn't helpful. George Gillett Jr. has made quite a few headlines in the past few days but his interests may not necessarily be in keeping with the best interests of the team.

He is looking to bring in investment and do whatever deals he can for his own sake, so maybe he has a different agenda from the club and that is something that will disappoint the supporters.

The lack of a big transfer budget was a problem in the summer. If you look at what he spent it was what he got in through sales. Liverpool were at a point where if they had been able to [spend more money] that may well have paid dividends this season. They were unable to do so because of financial constraints and it probably wouldn't have been prudent to do so.

But if Liverpool had been able to do that then Benitez would have strengthened a few areas of his squad which are looking quite thin at the moment.

Do you expect Liverpool's long wait for the league title to go on?

Liverpool never start well under Benitez, but I have a feeling that what was true in the past is not so true now. Under Benitez Liverpool have always been stronger in Europe, but looking at this side now it is much more suited to the Premier League.

We have seen already that they are more able to beat the lesser teams. They may well struggle against the better sides but, although I am not suggesting they are going to win the title, I wouldn't rule them out.

Has Benitez finally switched his priority to the Premier League and away from Europe?

I am not sure he would see it that way. The Champions League final is in Madrid this season and being a son of Madrid and a former Real Madrid player he would like nothing more than to go back there and lift the European Cup with Liverpool.

Benitez is just trying to address the weaknesses that stopped Liverpool winning the league last season. The loss of Xabi Alonso and even Alvaro Arbeloa has affected the balance of the side but it remains to be seen if Liverpool can address that as the season goes on.

Xabi Misses Liverpool, The Stadium, Everything

Xabi Alonso is delighted to be at Real Madrid however his brother Mikel, formerly of Bolton, and now in La Liga with Tenerife, believes he is missing his old club Liverpool.

The two siblings faced each other over the weekend, during which the eldest brother took home the bragging rights after a 3-0 Real Madrid win. Alonso junior suggests Xabi will always hold Liverpool, Anfield and the Premier League in high regard.

Mikel Alonso told “We talked a lot about it.”

“He made the decision, but you know there were a lot of times it was between Liverpool and Real Madrid because they are very big clubs, but I think my brother is happy now and that's important,”

“He had a lot of success at Liverpool, he had some very beautiful and good years there and I think Liverpool supporters are going to miss him, because he plays a good game and I think he's a very important player for any team that wants to be the best.”

Mikel refused to be drawn on the reasons why his brother left Anfield.

He says: “I think everything becomes important when you make a decision.”

“Maybe because he had already spent four years there and maybe sometimes you need a change.”

“I think I'm not the best person to talk about this stuff, but you know I think he's happy and this is the most important thing.”

“He has a big respect and great memory of Liverpool the stadium, the supporters, everything,”

“He misses that - he does miss that, but life goes ahead and sometimes changes come...”

He concluded: “I think he's very happy now.”

“I think he thinks the years in Liverpool were very happy years and he grew as a football player and now he's in another team and has new objectives and goals and now he is happy again.”

Agger Returns As Reserves Beat City

Daniel Agger made a successful comeback as he helped Liverpool Reserves beat Manchester City 2-0 at the City of Manchester Stadium on Tuesday night.

The Reds No.5 enjoyed a 68 minute run-out and put in an impressive performance at the back for John McMahon's team.

David Ngog played the full 90 minutes and netted the opening goal with a fine finish. Steven Irwin celebrated his 20th birthday with a brilliant second goal as the Reds second string deserved the win.

It was an eventful night as Victor Palsson was sent-off for two bookable offences.

Swiss international Philipp Degen also played 45 minutes but had to leave the field at half-time after feeling unwell.

City welcomed back midfielder Michael Johnson after injury but it was a good night for Liverpool and the return of Agger is a massive boost for Rafa Benitez.

"It was a good win for us and Daniel did really well and it was great to see him back," McMahon told

"He was committed, he made some good challenges and he helped the young lads around him. He enjoyed himself and was pleased to be back.

"David scored again which is another plus for us and Stevie's finish was excellent.

"We could have scored a lot more goals in the end and David Amoo and Alex Kacaniklic had good chances.

"It was also great to see Zsolt Poloskei make his debut. He has been out injured for 15 months but it was great to see him on the pitch and he has worked so hard."

Liverpool team: David Martin, Philipp Degen (Chris Mavinga 45), Stephen Darby (Capt), Daniel Ayala, Daniel Agger (Emmanuel Mendy 68), Nathan Eccleston, David Amoo (Zsolt Poloskei 78), David Ngog, Victor Palsson, Alex Kacaniklic. Unused subs: Nikola Saric, Martin Hansen.

Steven Gerrard: We Got What We Deserved

Steven Gerrard has revealed his dismay after Liverpool FC's Champions League horror show in Florence which has thrown their quest to reach the knock-out stages into disarray.

Liverpool were soundly beaten 2-0 by Fiorentina in the Stadio Artemio Franchi after Stevan Jovetic's first-half double, and now face tricky back-to-back clashes with Group E leaders Lyon, who have won each of their two matches so far. Captain Gerrard accepted the criticism of Liverpool's abject performance, saying: "We just didn't turn up."

But he also remained optimistic, claiming: "We will be fine if we win our home games."

However, he knows that Liverpool are now under intense pressure of their own making. The Reds' display in Italy was made particularly surprising given that it came after six successive victories and much praise for the deluge of goals so far this campaign.

While Liverpool prepare to face French giants Lyon - at home on October 20 and away on November 4 - Fiorentina can expect to be winning their own back-to-back ties with Debrecen on those dates.

The Hungarian champions are already proving the whipping boys of the group, without a point or goal following two defeats. They lost 4-0 at home to Lyon on Tuesday night, and Fiorentina will be expected to win both their matches against a club in their first Champions League group campaign. That would give the Italians nine points, and leave Liverpool with it all to do against Lyon.

"We were disappointed to lose in Florence, we were second best all over the pitch and deserved to go in at the break losing," Gerrard said.

"The reaction was better in the second half and we created some chances, but we just could not get into the game. We did not do what we usually do away from home in Europe, there was no real tempo in our game.

"We normally play at a high tempo and pass the ball really well, and play well on the counter-attack. But all over the pitch, front to back, we just did not turn up, particularly in that first half.

"But I believe this group is still wide open, there's plenty of football to be played and we are now in the same position as Fiorentina with a win and a defeat, and they still have to face us at Anfield. If we win our next home game, and that's against the group leaders Lyon, things will be different. If we win our home games now that should still be enough, we'll be fine."

Fernando Torres And Steven Gerrard Didn't Perform, Says Benitez

Liverpool FC manager Rafa Benitez has expressed his disappointment over the Champions League displays of his top two stars, Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres.

The partnership had been given the big build-up ahead of Tuesday’s 2-0 defeat at Fiorentina in Group E.

But both were well marshalled by an organised Fiorentina side, in which defenders Alessandro Gamberini and Dario Dainelli had outstanding games, along with former Juventus midfielder Cristiano Zanetti.

Benitez admitted: "Fiorentina did a good job (against Gerrard and Torres).

"It was disappointing to see them both kept out of the game as they were. The Fiorentina defenders handled them very well; they worked really hard against them.

"But it is not just about two players; nobody in the team was producing anything.

"Sometimes when defenders are too worried about Gerrard and Torres, it gives the rest of our team the chance to make use of the space.

"They can take that responsibility, but for long periods that did not happen.

"But this is not the end of things in Europe for us, and we must re-group and show the right mentality for our next match against Chelsea on Sunday."

Benitez was clearly stunned and angered by his side’s poor display in Florence, and said: "What happened, particularly in the first half, is very hard to explain.

"We were expecting a difficult game, we knew Fiorentina would work hard and really press us when we were in possession, but we gave the ball away and we were not in the game.

"But it was the same players, the same tactics on the pitch after the interval and they were much better.

"It is not right to blame the midfielders (Lucas Leiva and Fabio Aurelio). We were not right all over the pitch.

"The problems were too many. The strikers, the wingers, the centre-backs, they were all to blame. Fiorentina were on top of us everywhere.

"The second half was different with the same players. I was very surprised by what I saw in the first half. We try to be organized, to be compact as a team.

"But it was too easy for them to get forward, to work ’between the lines’ and to cause us problems. We were always arriving late for things.

"The players were frustrated with some decisions, but that was not the cause. We were not good enough and they let their frustrations show.

"The next two games in the group against Lyon are very important. We only have four games left in this group so we need two wins for sure. We must keep going until the end, we have to be ready for the next matches."