For Liverpool, the Great Unraveling Must Now Begin
Somewhere deep in the bowels of Anfield there is a timer ticking down. That timer shows about 100 days on it now, and tomorrow it will show about 99, and sometime this July the timer will hit zero. At that point, a bell will ring and Liverpool Football Club will have to begin a massive process of undoing the horrendous financial mistakes of the Rafa Benitez era. Sometime this July a $100 million loan payment will come due, and with no Champions League money coming in for the 2010/11 season, no cache of funds sitting in the bank and no prospect of future earnings to be found, Liverpool owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett will have to start selling their big names.
Not that their big names will mind very much. Fernando Torres has already laid the groundwork for his exit claiming that Liverpool needs to sign David Villa and David Silva for him to stay. While he is at it, perhaps he should also include Leo Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and the resurrected body of George Best. They all have an equal likelihood of joining Liverpool this summer. The other big Liverpool name, Steven Gerrard, has spent this entire campaign looking like the paler, more aggravated version of his former self. In past years, Gerrard seemed to be able to will Liverpool to victory. He now looks like a man who seems to be willing himself into a different shirt.
This is the current lot of the fabled Liverpool Football Club. Mired in sixth place with more draws and losses than wins, trailing Tottenham and Man City in points and, more importantly, trailing those teams and Aston Villa in games in hand, a Champions League spot for next season looks all but impossible. For Liverpool to survive intact, Champions League revenue was absolutely critical. Without it, the modest Anfield Stadium, no matter its history, simply does not have enough seats and amenities to finance the club’s ambitions. Moreover, as a player like Torres enters his prime years as a footballer, he cannot afford to spend those years playing for a mid-level team that looks like it will struggle to get in the UEFA tournament, let alone the Champions League.
All of this trouble can be laid squarely at the foot of Benitez, who hectored, threatened and blackmailed his owners into spending money that they did not have on players who wound up being gigantically over-priced. Benitez seems to have gotten his financial advice from Bernie Madoff:
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Over that same period of time, Arsenal actually netted a positive £1.95 million from its transfer market dealings and Manchester United netted a positive £5.65 million, including its windfall for the Ronaldo sale. Outside of the Billionaire Boys Club of Chelsea and Manchester City, nobody in England comes within £60 million of the net expenditures Benitez has made.
Furthermore, many of those expenditures have been true clunkers. Alberto Aquilani (£20 million) is just beginning to find some form after spending most of the season healing from an injury that was evident before the purchase was made. Glen Johnson (£18 million) has shown the inconsistent form that made him excess baggage at Chelsea. Ryan Babel (£11.5 million) has never lived up to his promise. Alberto Riera (£8 million) has managed to bad-mouth his way off of the Anfield sinking ship. As for Robbie Keane (£20 million), the less said, the better.
While Benitez will be off this summer to try to pollute Juventes or Real Madrid with similar sludge, Hicks and Gillett are left to deal with the toxic waste site that is the current Liverpool FC. Whatever loan agreements they currently have in place pre-date the collapse of the credit markets, and it is highly unlikely they will be able to negotiate a more favorable deal. When those loan payments come due, the only asset they can use to service them is value of their current squad on the transfer market.
With better management and a more reliable strategic vision, Liverpool can rebuild over time. However, things will probably get worse before they get better. Whatever Liverpool’s results this year, their squad next year will almost certainly be less glamorous and probably be less skilled on the pitch. As dark as things may seem for Liverpool at the moment, these are probably the good times compared with what is to come.