Sport Soccer

Tuesday 27 June 2017

Celtic and Liverpool hold talks on Croker clash

DION FANNING EXCLUSIVE

Liverpool and Celtic have been in talks to play in a high-profile friendly at Croke Park this summer, the Sunday Independent has learned.

They would possibly have been part of a four-team mini-tournament held at the ground and negotiations were at an advanced stage when Liverpool withdrew because Croke Park had not been confirmed as the venue. Speculation that Real Madrid or Barcelona were one of the other teams lined up was denied last week.

Sources close to Liverpool confirmed on Friday that they had agreed to play in the friendly but had withdrawn when they were told the venue was not definitely available. However, they added that the decision to withdraw was not irreversible.

The stadium director of Croke Park, Peter McKenna, told the Sunday Independent that they had been asked about hosting the game.

"We were approached with a view to staging a Celtic/Liverpool pre-season fixture and a number of other exhibition fixtures too. We made it quite clear to the respective agents and promoters who contacted us that we were not in a position to enter into discussions," he said.

The prospect of the game has not disappeared though, with the possibility that GAA Congress in mid-April will allow Central Council to make their own decisions about how the venue is used. Currently, they can only enter negotiations with the IRFU and the FAI.

"The only organisations we have been directed to deal with are the IRFU and FAI in an arrangement where Croke Park was offered until the redevelopment of Lansdowne Road is complete," McKenna added. "Any future change to this directive is a matter for the GAA's Annual Congress in April."

While many clubs will have their pre-season games already planned by then, Liverpool are known not to finalise their schedule until April, at which point Croke Park may be available.

With the World Cup taking place in South Africa and players like Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard likely to be involved in the latter stages, the club are known to have ruled out a long-haul trip to Asia during pre-season so a game in Dublin would be ideal.

A number of promoters, not all of them Irish-based, are known to be pursuing games in GAA headquarters.

For the GAA, the possibility of having two clubs with strong Irish ties as the first British clubs to play at Croke Park would also be enticing.

Liverpool were once regular visitors to Ireland but the need to exploit marketing opportunities in Asia has seen a change of emphasis. A Liverpool XI comprised of youth players played in Dunmanway last August but a game with established stars facing a Celtic team that may even include Robbie Keane would be a sell-out.

It would be welcomed by the GAA, which is considering how to replace €36m in lost revenue from the soccer and rugby internationals, the last of which will take place at the end of March.

In the medium to long-term, they may be in a position to compete with the redeveloped Lansdowne Road as a venue for major finals in soccer and rugby, but a friendly involving two of the best supported clubs in the country would also be lucrative.

Lansdowne Road will not be available this summer as the first match planned in the new ground takes place on August 7 with Ireland playing Argentina four days later in the first soccer match.

"There is no way the first game in the Aviva will be anything other than rugby," a source close to the negotiations said last week.

The FAI would have to sanction any soccer match taking place in Ireland and while there might be concern at the competition Croke Park would provide, this is not seen as a difficulty by potential promoters of friendlies. It is a growing market in world football, although one expert believes they may have already reached saturation point.

"There are two pre-season tournaments in London, one at the Emirates and one at Wembley and this is probably too much. Dublin is a much smaller market."

Yet the possibility of playing at Croke Park is an incentive for many clubs, not just those who have strong Irish links.

The Real Madrid delegation that visited the stadium last year during the trip to Ireland which ended with a friendly against Shamrock Rovers in Tallaght Stadium, are known to have been overwhelmed by the stadium and baffled why it wasn't available to them. That may be about to change as Croke Park has an opportunity to capitalise on the breaking down of the barriers.

Sunday Independent

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