There is probably no team in the EPL whose economics are more dependent on success on the pitch, and whose success on the pitch is more dependent on economics, than Liverpool. Compared to Arsenal, ManU and Chelsea, Liverpool are pikers. Their owners are the least wealthy. Their gate revenues are the smallest. Their shirt sponsorship is the least lucrative. Their investment in major overseas markets like Asia is the slightest. They rely on victory on the pitch, going deep in the FA Cup, and, especially, Champions League revenue more than any other team.
Since Liverpool signed Rafa Benitez as their manager before the 2004/2005 season, their net spending in the transfer market (purchases less sales) is £90.72 million. Aside from Chelsea, where money has no meaning, that is an outrageous sum. Over that same period, Manchester United has net spending of £4.3 million and Arsenal are at -£1.95 million. This has left Liverpool with no margin for error, no rainy day fund and no way to finance any future success without remaining in the top four and playing in the Champions League.
For those Liverpool fans who may quarrel with owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett, they may want to consider the degree to which those two have gambled everything on Liverpool’s football success. If they were just a couple of cynical businessmen, they would have sold Steven Gerrard, never bought Fernando Torres and operated the business much more cautiously. Instead like a fan without any skin in the game, they have given Benitez the freedom to spend their money as if they can simply print more of it down in the boiler-room at Anfield.
That is all well and good if Liverpool are wining. And up until this season, the victories on the pitch have kept the ship afloat. However, having already bounced out of the Champions League in group play, and looking up at the league table and seeing six teams ahead of them, Liverpool may soon be staring into the abyss. Economically, there may be no way to keep this team together, let alone acquire new players, unless they are playing in the Champions League next year.
If they are not playing in the Champions league next year, all sorts of unthinkable issues begin to pop up. Without that critical revenue stream, can they acquire new players, including desperately needed cover for Torres and a replacement for the creaking Jamie Carragher? If they are not playing in Europe, will Torres want to move to a better positioned club? Will Steven Gerrard decide that, if he ever wants to add an EPL Champions medal to his collection, he will have to do that in blue rather than red? To avoid these very dark questions, finishing in the top four is mandatory.
Unfortunately for Liverpool, the winter and spring fixtures look more challenging than the fall has been. In playing the six teams ahead of them on the table, they have gone 1-1-4 so far, even though four of those six games were at Anfield. For the balance of the season, they will have to face those six teams again including trips to the Emirates, Old Trafford, Villa Park and City of Manchester Stadium.
With a thin squad that is an injury to Gerrard or Torres away from being simply feeble, a difficult run-in to the end of the season and rumors of dressing room discontent starting to surface, this is becoming the annus horribilis for Liverpool. Unless the results begin to dramatically improve, it could be the beginning of an even worse decade.