Thursday, November 5, 2009

Liverpool backup plan as Champions League exit on the cards

Liverpool's hierarchy are piecing together a £100million rescue package to try to turn round a season that has been branded 'a disgrace' by one of their own players.

Anfield bosses hope to have the cash injection in place by January and will be eager to avoid any delays after keeper Pepe Reina turned on his own team-mates and berated their Champions League failings.

A 1-1 draw in Lyon has left Liverpool staring at a costly group stage elimination and Reina fumed: 'Disgracefully, it is not in our hands any more - we need Lyon to get something at Fiorentina.'

As Liverpool braced themselves for a shortfall of up to £18m on their latest Champions League takings, it emerged they have been working feverishly behind the scenes to ensure there is no repeat next season.

Co-owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett have been courting potential investors in recent weeks and are now ready to press ahead with a rights issue of shares that would dilute their holding but, crucially, generate extra income of around £100m.

After being vilified by fans over alleged broken promises, the Americans view surrendering some of their power as a price worth paying for being able to kick-start their much-delayed stadium project and provide transfer funds for the January window.

It is understood managing director Christian Purslow has already had negotiations with interested parties and that Hicks and Gillett, while retaining a majority stake, are prepared to reduce their holding to around 35 per cent each to secure the necessary investment.
The rights issue has echoes of David Moores' appointment as chairman 18 years ago, when he bought over 50 per cent of the club for £12m, and heaps even more pressure on manager Rafa Benitez.

While building a new ground a stone's throw away at Stanley Park remains the priority for Hicks and Gillett, they are acutely aware of their squad's shortcomings and keen to release transfer funds in the New Year.

Whether Benitez will be trusted with them evidently depends on what happens between now and then. The promise of new investment could give Hicks and Gillett the financial muscle needed to dispense with their under-fire manager, even at a cost of £20m in compensation.
It is bound to be given serious consideration if Liverpool continue to falter and risk missing out on the Champions League altogether next season. They will forfeit up to £18m if they fail to overhaul Fiorentina in the next few weeks and face being out of pocket by almost twice as much if they finish outside the Barclays Premier League's top four next May.

As an added concern, such a nightmare scenario would also cast doubt over the futures of key players such as Fernando Torres, Reina, Javier Mascherano and even Steven Gerrard. Torres, Reina and Mascherano all see the Champions League as an essential showcase for their talents, while Gerrard would be just as dismayed, even if he is unlikely to turn his back on his home club, at this late stage, after twice pulling out of moves to Chelsea.

A return of one win from eight games has surely put paid to Liverpool's title hopes, but Reina was just as perturbed by the way they have been left lagging five points behind Fiorentina in Group E, with just two games to go.

But he argued: 'We can handle the pressure. We can trust in ourselves, and we will turn this situation around - I am sure of that.' Ronnie Whelan blamed Benitez's transfer dealings for Liverpool's plight.

'I don't doubt Benitez's passion for Liverpool or his hunger to win for the fans, but his judgement in the transfer market has been awful and that's why the Kop will be watching Europa Cup games before too long,' said the former Liverpool midfielder.

Ex-Liverpool skipper Graeme Souness said: 'If Rafa had been at any other big club - Arsenal, Chelsea or Manchester United - he would not still be manager, because their supporters are not like Liverpool's. Liverpool fans are a bit more patient.'

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