Wednesday 16 August 2017

New stadium must form part of deal for Liverpool buyer

Ian King

ANY buyer for Liverpool must commit to building a new stadium, the new chairman said yesterday as the club was formally put up for sale.

Martin Broughton was speaking after Tom Hicks and George Gillett jnr, the Liverpool co-owners, confirmed their intention to sell the club, which is £237m in debt, by naming him chairman with immediate effect.

Broughton assured fans that there was no need to sell star players such as Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres. And he also revealed that Rafael Benitez would stay in charge while the search continues for a new owner and would be granted a transfer fund for the summer.

The 63-year-old, who has been appointed to oversee a formal sale process, said that any buyer would have to show commitment to building the new stadium.

"We want to do the right thing for Liverpool and a new stadium is doing the right thing," he said. "It will add long-term value to the club and, if we are looking for a new owner, that is something they will have to accept."

Stressing that the sale would not be rushed, Broughton -- who is also the chairman of British Airways -- insisted that the club retained the support of Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS). He said RBS had agreed to continue with its present loans, while Barclays Capital, the investment bank, had been appointed to advise on the sale process.

recognition

"RBS have been willing to give me and Barclays Capital the time we need to do a proper process," he said. "It (the bank's continued support) is also recognition that bringing me in means it (a sale) is going to happen."

Broughton insisted that Liverpool's next owners will not be allowed to saddle the club with debt in the same way as Hicks and Gillett did. He added that a heavily leveraged takeover that relied on club revenue to service interest payments was unlikely to succeed.

Such takeovers have proven hugely unpopular with supporters at Anfield, where the club has £237m of loans, and at Old Trafford, where the Glazers' debt runs to £716m.

"Whoever comes in has to be the right owner and the board will ensure that we make the right decision," he said. "We will make it very clear what the buyer needs to do from the point of view of the supporters, and Tom Hicks and George Gillett will make clear to us what they are looking for in terms of price.

"We will look at every offer that comes in for the club. We are ruling nothing out but, when you look at what we have said we want from a buyer, it is very different (from someone with a 100pc leveraged bid). That sort of bid is not going to be particularly attractive and we would need to be persuaded that it was in the best interests of the club.

"Some debt is inevitable, given the plans for a new stadium, and it would be foolish to run a club like Liverpool with no debt. You would be mismanaging the balance sheet, but there is a major difference between some debt and 100pc debt."

Broughton tried to allay supporters' fears that Hicks and Gillett were not sincere about selling the club. "They are committed to a sale at a reasonable price, although I am not going to define what a reasonable price is," he said. "I would not have come in if they weren't serious.

"Everybody wants to know straightaway who the buyer is, but I am asking for a bit of patience on the part of the fans -- give us a few months to get the process under way."

Broughton (pictured below), a lifelong Chelsea fan, said he had not met Hicks or Gillett before receiving the approach from Michael Klein, a friend and the Wall Street banker formerly with the Citigroup financial services company.

"Tom Hicks and George Gillett both knew him from old and listened to some advice from a trusted friend," Broughton said. "I'd never met them but I have known Michael for some time and I got a call out of the blue on Easter Saturday.

"Liverpool is one of those great institutions. Not only do they make football great, but they also make the Premier League great. I am excited and honoured to be taking up this position."

Broughton said he was undeterred by the possibility of being given a hard time from supporters.

"You have to be thick-skinned about this," he said. "I think the fans will be big enough to know that I've come here to do the right thing for Liverpool FC. They will also be big enough to respect the fact that I am a Chelsea fan."

Broughton insisted that he would not be involved in any talks over the future of Benitez.

"My view is that Christian Purslow (the managing director), Ian Ayre (commercial director) and Philip Nash (chief financial officer) are running the footballing side of the club," he said. "But this (the decision to find a new owner) is good news for the manager, it's good news for the players and it's good news for the fans. There is no need for a fire sale (of players), there is no need to do anything hasty."

Hicks and Gillett said in a statement: "Owning Liverpool Football Club over these past three years has been a rewarding and exciting experience for us and our families. Having grown the club this far, we have now decided together to look to sell the club to owners committed to take the club through its next level of growth and development."

Meanwhile, Torres' planned return to Spain to seek further consultation on his troublesome right knee has been delayed by the closure of British airspace because of the cloud of volcanic ash. It makes him a serious doubt for Monday's game against West Ham at Anfield.

Torres was scheduled to return to the Barcelona clinic of Ramon Cugat -- who carried out the initial operation on his damaged meniscus in January -- on Thursday, after attending the 21st Hillsborough memorial service, but found his flight grounded as a result of the plume of ash generated by Iceland's Eyjafjallajokull volcano.

rehabilitation

A further flight planned for yesterday afternoon was also cancelled, so the player continued his rehabilitation with the medical staff at Liverpool's Melwood training complex. Torres, who has not resumed full training, is unlikely to resume playing without first consulting Dr Cugat.

"We are waiting. We have some problems with the flights, so we are working with him here and after that he has to see the specialist to be sure everything is fine," Benitez said. "We have to wait and see how he progresses. He cannot be on the pitch now but he is fine."

Benitez was less candid when asked about his own, rather more long-term future, despite Broughton's comments that he expected the Spaniard to stay. The Liverpool manager has persistently been linked with a move to Juventus, with his agent, Manuel Garcia Quilon, notably contradictory on the subject.

Though Garcia Quilon initially denied speculation he had met the Italian club's president, Jean-Claude Blanc, in Milan last week, a variety of conflicting reports have emerged in recent days. Benitez would not be drawn on the matter, but he did welcome Broughton's affirmation of faith, made before chairman and manager had even spoken to one another.

"Stability is important," said the Liverpool boss. "I will not speak too much about my future or that of the club because I have to do my job, which is to prepare us for the games."

Past experience has taught the Spaniard, too, not to be drawn into false hopes over promised transfer budgets. (© The Times, London)

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