Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Exit leaves Benitez to beg, sell or borrow in January

After the elimination, the calculations. The timing for Liverpool of an exit from the tournament that has defined them during Rafael Benitez's tenure is dreadful, as the club prepare to step up efforts in the next six months to sell a 25 per cent share of the business in return for a £100m cash injection.

That process is under way – there are interested parties – but the "sell" to prospective investors is that Liverpool are among Europe's elite, the footballing equivalent to a FTSE blue-chip company. Europa League football doesn't do much for that particular brand image.

A run through to the latter stages of the Champions League would of course have brought huge riches, but the short-term financial consequences of Fiorentina's result in Stadio Artemio Franchi are actually quite bearable. Liverpool had budgeted only to progress as far as the last 16 in the Champions League this season, and the club calculated the lost earnings of not making it that far at around £2.6m. If Liverpool play three two-leg ties in the Europa League campaign next spring, they would expect to earn around £3m and therefore be £400,000 ahead of their budgeted European earnings for this season.

So the junior trophy does have its benefits, as Werder Bremen discovered last season, by earning more money by winning the Uefa Cup than Bayern Munich did in reaching the Champions League quarter-finals.

But last night's turn of events can only damage Benitez when it comes to the substantial investment in players he needs. With Liverpool carrying debts of £250m, and with the stalled stadium project in need of another £400m, there will be little transfer market activity around Anfield in January – loan deals to reinforce in defence and for a back-up striker are likely – and Benitez is probably looking at a zero net spend in the summer.

It also leaves him to face what always looked like the real battle once Liverpool's draw in Lyons left the Spaniard needing a "miracle": a top-four finish to restore Liverpool's credibility and their place in the continental elite. Though the conservative business model being put before prospective investors is understood to budget for a fifth place for Liverpool in the Premier League, even the baseline estimate of not making the Champions League for the first time since the 2003-04 season is put at £8m-10m by the club. And then there is the symbolic significance of, say, Manchester City, eclipsing them.

Liverpool's slide has come at a time of genuine optimism around Anfield that a solution to the fundamental source of the club's brittle financial state – the global financial crisis and its effect on Tom Hicks and George Gillett, who had to pay back a further £60m to their lenders last summer – is at hand. The new managing director Christian Purslow has also helped cease the civil war between Hicks and George Gillett and is leading the search for one or more equity holders, which the Americans signed up to as part of the refinancing of their loans last summer.

If investors do arrive, then Liverpool will be in a position to kickstart plans to get the stadium built. The vastly improved match-day revenues would mean Liverpool could then compete financially.

But the nightmare scenario is no deal being struck with new partners. Everton's unsuccessful search for a new owner has revealed that the "middle market" is not buoyant, which is why Liverpool know they must remain blue chip. It is also why the battle for fourth place, which recommences at Goodison on Sunday is the real one. Little wonder Jamie Carragher said that the significance of Liverpool's evening here was to "get confidence and get the team playing well again because we've got a big game at the weekend against Everton". Carragher might not be a financier but, not for the first time where his beloved club is concerned, he's the one who knows the score.

European returns: What Reds could win

The prize money for reaching:

Last 16 Champions League £2.7m, Europa League £270,000.

Quarter-finals Champions League £2.9m, Europa League £319,000.

Semi-finals Champions League £3.6m, Europa League £558,000.

Final Champions League £4.6m, Europa League £1.77m.

Winners Champions League £8m, Europa League £2.65m.

This list does not include television revenue

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