| 11.1°C Dublin

Reds at ground-breaking point

Jamie Carragher's testimonial committee had three basic wishes when, more than two years ago, they started preparing for his big day.

Everton would provide the opposition; local charities would receive the proceeds; and the game would be the first at Liverpool's grand new stadium on Stanley Park. On September 4 last, they fulfilled two out of three. At Anfield.

Like many before them, they were long ago resigned to the fact that option three was an illusion.

The frustrations of Carragher's committee were trivial and brief in comparison to those suffered by Liverpool supporters, and by residents of one of the most deprived local authority wards in Britain, for whom a new stadium was presented as key to regeneration and 1,000 new jobs in the late 1990s.

This week, given the right result in the high court, New England Sports Ventures (NESV) will be tasked with delivering an arena that is essential both to the revival of Liverpool FC and a community.

The contentment of Fernando Torres and promised transfer sprees deliver headlines that win immediate support for prospective new owners, but it is how quickly they construct a solution to a 40-year-old problem which will determine Liverpool's long-term fortunes.

John W Henry and his 16 fellow investors in NESV do not yet have control of Liverpool but there is already scepticism over their prospects. The club's astute former chief executive, Peter Robinson, identified the constraints at Anfield when calling for a joint stadium with Everton in the late 1960s.

It was an inability to fund a new stadium that prompted David Moores to sell to Tom Hicks and George Gillett, and the main reason the Americans lost their business model and trust at Liverpool.

"If they had not been leveraged then they would have started the stadium, and we wouldn't be saying what terrible guys these are," said Martin Broughton, the Liverpool chairman attempting to sell the club against the wishes of the American co-owners.

As regards the income-generating potential of a big, modern stadium, Liverpool have been left trailing by a growing number of their Premier League rivals for more than a decade. A commitment to build, and to inject £100m into the project, was a condition of the sale process conducted by Broughton and the chief executive Christian Purslow.

It was the track record of NESV in redeveloping the Fenway Park home of the Boston Red Sox that swayed a majority on the Liverpool board. The club had received an identical £300m offer, of which £240m was cash, from a rival suitor in Asia.

NESV will not arrive blind to the situation should they be installed as owners this week. The group have already held discussions with the Royal Bank of Scotland over financing a new stadium through, as Broughton put it, "a sensible, normal level of debt and equity".

Joe Anderson, the leader of Liverpool city council, is also prepared to meet owners he has welcomed but whose intention to consider redeveloping Anfield he opposes.

Liverpool and the Anfield area have deteriorated in tandem while the club have remained at their iconic, atmospheric but financially constrained 45,362-capacity home. Given the respective revenue streams of England's leading clubs it is no surprise that Rafael Benitez, and Gerard Houllier before him, frequently complained about the expectation to deliver a first league title since 1990 on such an uneven playing field.

In the financial year 2008-09, Liverpool earned £42m from gate and match-day income. Manchester United generated £109m and Arsenal £100m in the same period. United's good fortune in having access to acres of land to redevelop Old Trafford, and Arsenal's exhaustive fight to construct the Emirates, means they earn more from home matches per season than from TV and broadcasting. Liverpool are among those clubs for whom TV and broadcasting revenue outweighs match-day earnings.

Liverpool's commercial income has tripled in recent years under director Ian Ayre, however, helping the club achieve a record income of £185m in the year ending July 30, 2009. That, and Liverpool's mass global appeal, ensures that in two of the three main revenue streams for Premier League clubs -- commercial activities, broadcasting rights and match-day -- Liverpool fare impressively.

Once the interest payments on debts built up by Hicks and Gillett are no more -- last year they stood at almost £40m -- their spending power increases further. But they will continue to languish behind their competitors without a new stadium that can seat 60,000-plus, and now is not the time to be found wanting.

Manchester City embody the race to cement a place in the Champions League and close the drawbridge on the rest before Uefa's financial fair-play rules come into effect in 2012-13. The rules "encourage clubs to operate more responsibly by not spending more than they earn", according to UEFA, and will prevent clubs that are bankrolled by billionaires competing in Europe unless they break even over a rolling three-year period.

Debt taken on to build a new stadium does not enter the UEFA equation, so Tottenham, with planning permission for a new 56,000-seat stadium near White Hart Lane and an application in to lease the Olympic Stadium after 2012, have also managed to steal a march on Liverpool.

"The financial fair-play rules come into effect pretty damn soon so taking a rational, commercial approach to success is absolutely the right way forward," insists Broughton. "I couldn't help notice that Manchester City's wage bill for last year was exceeding its revenue.

"That is going to be very difficult under financial fair play. They might be able to sort it out before then but we were not looking for someone who was going to put us in that position. We were looking for somebody who was going to see this as a commercial business that can be commercially successful."

Simply breaking the ground would be ground-breaking for Liverpool.


Sunday Independent