Liverpool FC confirm new investors hopes but deny they would sell stars like Torres and Gerrard LIVERPOOL Managing Director Christian Purslow today confirmed the club could have new investors within the next few months – as he insisted top stars like Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard would never be sold.
Purslow revealed he is now deep into the process of whittling down potential interested parties – of which there are several.
If successful that could ultimately involve part ownership with current American joint club owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett – or even someone completely buying them out.
The Reds supremo who took over from Rick Parry last year, spoke following the resignation on Monday of director Tom Hicks Jnr, son of co-owner Tom Hicks, after an email row with a fan.
He insisted all money recouped in the January transfer window would be available to manager Rafa Benitez to invest in replacements.
Purslow’s firm declaration that players like Torres and Gerrard would be going nowhere followed weekend newspaper headlines which claimed Benitez had acknowledged the duo might one day have to be sold.
Benitez was known to be very angry with the way he was represented over Torres and club captain Steven Gerrard – and Purslow completely dismissed the notion of Liverpool ever being a “selling club”.
The former city banker and lifelong Liverpool fan told the ECHO: “Nothing could be further from the truth than reports which suggested the club would choose to sell its star footballers. Full stop.
“The idea that we would ever wish to sell our top players is completely against the interests of this club.
“In fact our key priority since the summer has been to secure our senior players on long term improved contracts, because we remain of the view that our starting eleven compares with anybody in the Premier League.
“Our plan – and what we are working on – is to try and improve the team; not to be so stupid as to reduce the quality of our squad.
“The suggestion in any way that we would sell players in order to pay down debt or pay money to our owners is preposterous. Neither is true. Neither is possible.
“Any proceeds we generate from the Sale
of players can only go into our player account for the recruitment of new players.
“It’s in the public domain that the owners have been looking to bring new investors in to the club to pay down the club’s existing debts – which are today about £237m – by way of issuing new shares which would dilute their shareholding in the club. That process is ongoing.
“The debt we have today is obviously serviced by the club in terms of interest and bank fees and if we reduce our debt then clearly those interest charges and bank fees will reduce.”
Liverpool fans, led by supporters group the Spirit of Shankly, have long since campaigned for Hicks and Gillett to leave the club and sell it to new owners.
On the prospect of new investment, Purslow said: “Inevitably when you run an investment process of this kind in the early stages many, many people have a look.
“Much of the challenge in these processes is to sort out the serious and the real interest from people who are unlikely to make an investment.
“I think it’s fair to say as we now move into the New Year that we are whittling down the interest to a smaller number – maybe a handful of serious groups who are interested in investing in Liverpool. And in the coming couple of months our job is to sort those into ultimately an investor that makes sense for everyone concerned.”
He stressed: “Provided all goes well, there is a serious possibility of new fresh investment into Liverpool Football Club within the foreseeable future.
“There are no guarantees – we are operating in an environment where, as everybody knows outside football and in football, it hasn’t been the most active investment market for the last 18 months. But largely because of the quality of Liverpool Football Club, both as a club and as a business, we haven’t had problems in attracting interest.
“However, the devil is always in the detail and in coming months our job is to get somebody over the line that makes sense for all concerned.
“That could be part ownership or it could be complete ownership.”
Purslow is continuing his efforts to get the club’s new stadium dreams back on track – and insists the success of that dream is critical to Liverpool’s continued future as a European giant – one which can finally realise its full potential. He is both confident and determined to make a new stadium a reality.
He said: “The stadium is absolutely central to the club’s strategic development because with a new stadium comes a transformation in the financial resources of Liverpool that can be ploughed back into the core of our activity - which is our playing squad.
“The good News
is that all potential investors are attracted to Liverpool by the prospect of building a new stadium and participating in the transformation in the value of the club associated with that project.
“Also positive is the fact that late last year, the bank market was essentially shut. It’s now very much open for business and a number of banks are very interested in financing our new stadium.
“However, a condition of all those banks’ interest is that in the first instance, we have brought new investment into the club.
“So I see it as a two step process – new investment in the next couple of months which reduces our existing debt to a very low level, to enable us then to push on with discussions with banks about financing the stadium.
“It’s that stadium which holds the key to us transforming our fortunes both economically and in football terms.
“It’s too early to name names but rest assured I want the fans to feel fully informed and when we home in on a small number of parties, subject to normal confidentiality provisions, I hope to be able to give people more of an update in the next month or two.”
Asked if he understood the continuing frustrations of the fans and what his message to them was, he said: “Don’t forget, I’m a fan and I desperately want to help the club move to the next level as soon as possible.
“In fact that’s why I’m here – for no other reason.
“While we are looking for new investment, the important thing is that we run the business as well as possible. The football and the business side must work seamlessly together in a co-ordinated way and ensure we are giving the football side of Liverpool everything it needs..
“As a fan I believe we must stay behind the team, keep positive and believe that with all our star players on the pitch in the second half of the campaign we might well be looking back on a very successful end of season from where we sit today. That’s my true hope and belief – we have every opportunity to do that.”
Asked about the January transfer window which has been the subject of much speculation and debate, he said: “The position is that January in general is not a high priority time for Rafa in terms of player acquisitions. That is largely because of the lack of availability of top quality players.
“We have taken the opportunity in the window to move out a couple of players (Dossena and Voronin) who weren’t playing frequently and we are looking at one or two replacement players.
“The key point is we will not sell a footballer if we can’t find a better or equal replacement.
“At the same time we are totally focused on results; wanting to have a successful second half of the season and we would not want to leave our squad short compared to where we are today.
“So I don’t rule out the possibility that we do sell another player – but only if the manger is happy he’s found a comparable player or better. And if not, we wont sell any of our players - because we don’t want to be short.”
He added: “The money brought in from player sales in January and which might yet be brought in will not be going to pay off debt.
“It cannot and it will not.
“Money we generate by selling footballers goes straight into our player account to be used to replace those players in the transfer market.
“The overall message right now as we head into 2010 is that, slowly but surely on the strategic side, we are making progress towards finding new investment which is the key to unlocking a new stadium. And that stadium is the single event that will transform the financial prospects of Liverpool.
“Meantime I hope and believe we are running our club sensibly, with a total focus on the business of Liverpool supporting our manager and the football operations.
“From my perspective if we have opportunities in January to make positive changes then great. If not we will wait until summer when there’s a much more active transfer market.”
Purlsow is now seven months into his role - during which time Anfield’s Kirkdale-born Commercial Director Ian Ayre pulled off the biggest shirt sponsorship deal in British football History
– an agreement with Standard Chartered Bank worth £80m.
Purslow reflected: “Obviously the most important aspect of any club is how we are doing on the field and I don’t think any of us had expected the first half of the season that we have had.
“That said, I’m very confident now that the vast majority of our players are fit and well, we’ll see a transformation in our results in the second half of the season.
“But in terms of the business side of Liverpool, day to day things could not have gone better.
“Commercially, I think the business is better than I expected and performing better than I expected.
“And obviously my number one priority remains the strategic issue of bringing in new investment – and that is probably about where I would have expected it to be.
“Going into the New Year I hoped that the initial process would have identified a smaller group of serious people who are interested in investing in Liverpool – and that’s where we are today.
“While there can be no guarantees, I am confident and optimistic that in the next couple of months one of them will be brought to fruition.
“The process of bringing in new investment and reducing our current debt will create a context whereby we can seriously get back on track the stadium project.
“That project remains my key priority, because it is that which holds the key to transforming the club’s financial position." THE ECHO