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Liverpool join attack on City's Etihad deal

Liverpool joined the grand coalition attacking Manchester City's £400m sponsorship deal with Etihad, with managing director Ian Ayre saying yesterday that Uefa should investigate whether it is an illegal deal under its financial fair play regulations.

Speaking in Kuala Lumpur -- where on Monday Arsene Wenger accused City of "financial doping" -- Ayre suggested that the 10-year sponsorship agreement with Etihad may be an illegal 'related-party' deal, which financial fair play specifically outlaws.

When it comes into force next year, clubs will have to record aggregate losses of no more than €45m (£39m) or face exclusion from European competition. However, clubs cannot try to offset those losses by sponsoring themselves. Since the Bin Zayed family own Manchester City and Etihad, it may be all too literally a related-party deal.

"Is Etihad, Manchester City and Sheikh Mansour a related party?" Ayre asked. "If they are, then it is up to Uefa to rule on it. When I spoke at Soccerex earlier this year, I was on a panel about financial fair play. The guys from Uefa said there would be a robust and proper process about related-party transactions."

In Boston this week, Bobby Charlton said it would be unthinkable that Manchester United would rename Old Trafford, saying the name was "too important".

In commercial terms for an airline that has never made a profit, the deal is ludicrously overpriced -- especially for a stadium that already has a generic name. Ayre argues that, although some of the £400m will be invested in redevelopment work around what will be probably still be called Eastlands, the cost of the agreement may also come into conflict with Uefa regulations that transactions must have a 'fair value'.

"It has never happened in Europe that a football club has renamed its stadium and had real value," Ayre said. "It was the City of Manchester Stadium or Eastlands for the last nine years and now it is going to be called something different -- and yet someone has attached a huge amount of value to that.

"There is no suggestion that you can rename your stadium and generate that amount of value. Mike Ashley tried it at Newcastle but nobody calls it the Sports Direct.com@St James' Park and it certainly didn't have that kind of value."


Although the Anfield club's director of football Damien Comolli has this week overseen a series of trials in China, Ayre was cautious when asked if Liverpool would sign Asian players -- something their main sponsors Standard Chartered want them to do.

"What we wouldn't do is sign a player just because he is Asian; that won't deliver anything in the long term," said Ayre, who spent many years in Hong Kong and Malaysia before coming to Anfield, first as commercial director and then managing director.

"United have got the best value in Ji-Sung Park. He is a real player who can perform at the top level and there aren't many of them about."

With Arsenal having already played in Kuala Lumpur and Chelsea due in Malaysia next week, Liverpool know there is competition in a region that has been traditionally their domain. However, Ayre doubted that the two London clubs would truly break through.

"I believe quite strongly there are two brands in English football that are truly global -- Liverpool and the team from down the M62," he said in a week when Liverpool's two games at the Bukit Jalil Stadium are likely to draw more than 100,000.

"That is not to say people will never catch us up but it will be quite a hard thing to do. It is not just about winning trophies, it is about building a year-on-year legacy rather than just going out and signing loads of people."

Sergio Aguero, targeted by City as a potential replacement for Carlos Tevez, has heightened expectations of a move to England. "I do not see myself at Atletico. I know my representatives are working and I'd prefer to play in Spain or England," he said.

Liverpool have confirmed the signing of goalkeeper Alexander Doni from Roma. The 31-year-old Brazilian is thought to have joined on a free transfer after agreeing personal terms and passing a medical.

The Anfield club also completed the signing of England midfielder Stewart Downing from Aston Villa after he passed a medical exam. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent