Wednesday 24 January 2018

Defiance on pitch the last refuge for a desperate club

Once a symbol of hope, Liverpool embody all the world has become, writes Dion Fanning

Dion Fanning

The raging conflicts within Liverpool Football Club would be suitably demonstrated today if their season began with victory against Arsenal and the rest of the week was spent wondering if they can find the money to fulfil their remaining 37 league fixtures.

Liverpool have accommodated these contradictions since Tom Hicks and George Gillett rolled into town over three years ago, heralding the coming apocalypse for the club and for the world.

Week by week, the destruction the Americans have brought to Liverpool becomes more shocking, the latest being the revelation that the club are paying £10m a month in interest. So far this summer they have spent £7m on players.

Last week, there was some good news, if Hicks and Gillett being punished for their actions counts as good news. The pair face a penalty of £20m if the club is still in their hands at the end of August and that is a debt they cannot burden Liverpool with.

The rest keeps mounting up, pushing Hicks and Gillett towards the exit but there are some suspicious characters waiting at the door.

The Syrian Yahya Kirdi's charm offensive continued last week when he was quoted as saying that Rafael Benitez hadn't "done anything good for Liverpool". There are players, directors and supporters at Liverpool who would agree with him, but it showed a failure to grasp the personality of the Liverpool supporters and that was something even Hicks and Gillett understood at the beginning.

But he has learned from them too. Hicks was always good at rolling out the mighty pretty pictures of the new stadium, as long as it was understood that all they would be is pictures.

Kirdi hasn't got the drawings yet but he is promising a new stadium, along with a hotel and, the clincher, a solarium to generate solar power for the people of Liverpool. His closeness to Hicks and Gillett and his suggestion that he may take a couple of months to close the deal have worried the supporters' groups whose vigilance is as key to the future of the club as any decision made in the boardroom.

If Kirdi's deal was to collapse in October, the Royal Bank of Scotland would have to consider placing the club in administration or allowing Hicks and Gillett to continue. Liverpool are being played on all sides.

There was a time when the working-class people of Liverpool looked to their football team, not as an escape from their problems, but as a demonstration of what their city could be. At times, Liverpool represented all the city could be. Now the club embodies all the world has become.

The team are now a desperate vessel for escapism. Among the squad today is the world's best striker Fernando Torres, whose retention has been the only truly positive news of the summer. Torres had reasons for staying that had little to do with his delight at Roy Hodgson's coaching methods.

Kenny Huang's bid for the club saw Torres's retention as an essential part of it but they were also keen to bring in players of a higher standard than Christian Poulsen before the transfer window closed.

They wanted urgency and they haven't got. While Huang's bid is certainly more credible than Kirdi's, Liverpool, of all clubs, must not rush as David Moores did when he panicked three years ago.

Liverpool want things to happen but for the moment they will have to hope they happen on the field. The club now looks to escape through the team. For 20 years, Liverpool have been burdened by too much hope and the expectation of men like Harry Redknapp and Alex Ferguson that Liverpool will improve could also weigh them down.

Defiance has taken hold and Liverpool will discover today if it can be harnessed as successfully as it was for most of Rafael Benitez's reign. It has always been Liverpool's last refuge and now they are in need of refuge.

Hodgson's team face an Arsenal side that are once again promising to fulfil their potential. He is eager to play down expectations but it remains to be seen how he handles the most powerful man at Liverpool now, Steven Gerrard.

Gerrard did nothing but go with the over-excited flow when he said that Joe Cole was better than Messi. The reason that this view isn't commonly shared is that Cole, 28, who has been overshadowed by Messi, 23, is better than him in training, Gerrard explained. Gerrard has never trained with Leo Messi.

He went on to tip Cole for the Player of the Year award for some reason and then exploded with some strange ferocity when he scored a couple of goals for England in a friendly on Wednesday. This giddiness shows no sign of being tempered by age or maturity and Hodgson will have to show his if he is to get some control at the club.

If Gerrard and Cole get what they want and play through the middle then Liverpool may be chasing the ball this afternoon, especially if Wenger plays Cesc Fabregas.

Then there will be danger as Liverpool's pre-season hopes plummet and begin to match their financial reality.

On Friday the Liverpool board met in London and issued a statement afterwards.

"The board will continue to act in the best interests of Liverpool and its supporters, doing all that it can to ensure that the club is ultimately sold to a buyer who has the resources and real commitment to give it a long-term, stable and secure funding position for its plans. The sale process is continuing. However, its timing and outcome remain uncertain."

Hicks and Gillett sit on the Liverpool board so perhaps it was only plausible to issue that statement following a board meeting at which they were not present.

Their presence is everywhere. They have mobilised the Liverpool fans and made them wary. There appeared to be some holes in Kenny Huang's bid but those close to it continue to utter comforting words about his investors. He is, also, not Yahya Kirdi. He is not burdened by the association with Hicks and Gillett but they are not the only sharks in the sea. They were pretty destructive nonetheless.

"There simply is not a happy ending to leveraged buy-outs," Phillip Long, an accountant with PKF, a firm that annually examines football finance, said in the Telegraph last week. "The burden of the interest outweighs any profits the club make, and that becomes unmanageable."

Rafael Benitez's flaws were seen by many as the reason the club was not being managed correctly. Only a few grasped that managing the unmanageable had become impossible. Benitez was driven mad by the pressure and he become isolated. Hodgson has brought calmness. But nothing has happened yet. It changes today.

Hodgson said on Friday he was taking the long-term "120-year view". Liverpool will celebrate that anniversary in two years' time. They should still be in existence but the long-term view is hard to take when there is a gun pointed at your head.

Liverpool can begin the season well today. The important business will be making sure they are still around to finish it.

Liverpool v Arsenal,

Sky Sports 1, 4.0

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