Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Liverpool fans have genuine cause for optimism in 2010

It seems that 2010 has started just as 2009 ended for Liverpool - engulfed in gloom and foreboding.

The FA Cup draw at Reading was deemed to be yet another disappointing result, and apparently in keeping with the trend that saw them slip down the Premier League and out of the Champions League before Christmas.

Disappointing that is, until Manchester United's tie against Leeds, which highlighted that the Cup is always a devilishly tricky competition in which to assume that superior resources will always guarantee progress.

In fact, the draw at Reading wasn't such a bad result at all. OK, Liverpool didn't play particularly well, but they emerged relatively unscathed, still in the draw for the next round where they will have a home tie should they win the replay at Anfield.

Which is a roundabout way of saying that all is not doom and gloom at the club, no matter what the more cynical commentators may suggest.

Of course, not one fan will be happy with the position Liverpool currently find themselves in, and most will be angry that their dream at the start of the season of a title-winning campaign will not come to fruition for another year.

But look beyond that temporary dip in form and fortune - and for all the big four clubs, it is always temporary, given the resources they can command - and there are distinctly encouraging signs that 2010 may not be such a bad year at Anfield after all.

The reason for my optimism is simple. Liverpool have finally got direction in their boardroom, and with it a plan to get the new stadium built that will generate the funds to underwrite future success.

Don't believe me? Well, the Chief Executive of Liverpool City council revealed only last week - by accident it seems - that the investment is almost sorted for the ground to be be built, and the work could get underway by the end of the year. And he will know, because he has to give consent for it.

The club has a new MD in Christian Purslow who has an impressive track record in finance and investment, and he also has a close, and key, relationship with the banks.

Already, Liverpool are a very different operation commercially than they were even 12 months ago, and he has put into place a blueprint that will take the club forward, with or without the American owners.

By the end of this season, debt will have been reduced significantly, and partners found to help the construction of the new stadium to get underway.

Hicks and Gillett may well be gone by then, but if they are not, then their stake in the club will certainly have been diluted and their influence on the future much less significant.

Purslow and his commercial team have been quietly working behind the scenes to bring in new investment, to get agreement with the owners and the banks over the stadium build, and my understanding is that it is almost in place, so expect an announcement soon.

And when Liverpool do start to build a new ground, then the fans who have been crying out for a rich sugar daddy to come and bail them out may just discover that they don't necessarily need that particular scenario any more.

On the surface, Manchester City's situation would seem attractive to any supporter. Who wouldn't want a wealthy benefactor to write apparently unlimited cheques?

But what happens when he gets bored, as Roman Abramovich seems to have done at Chelsea? The money dries up, and the financial problems kick in. If he decides he's had his fun and leaves completely, then what happens next?

Perhaps the best model to base a successful football club on, is that operated by Barcelona, and - to a lesser extent - Manchester United. Certainly United before the Glazers, and their massive debts.

The likes of Liverpool and United have such a massive global fan base that they can sustain their own success without the need for a sugar daddy, so long as they are run properly at boardroom level.

Christ, United have incredible debts at the moment, but are still favourites for the title, and are still one of only four clubs who, probably, can win the Champions League this season.

For Liverpool to be in the same position, they need to get their ground built, and they need the right direction at the top.

They have got the latter now, because it is obvious that Purslow is calling the shots at Anfield, and the Americans are finally falling into line behind him. And it seems he knows what he is doing.

When they get the latter - allowing them to access dramatically increased revenue streams - then they will be as financially viable as any team in the Premier League.

While that may all seem like a distant dream, it isn't. It could - and should - happen this year, and if it does, then it will give real cause for Liverpool fans to celebrate, no matter what is happening on the pitch right now.

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