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Friday, 6 April 2012

Liverpool's sorry season leaves owners considering their options

Liverpool’s owners are famously fond of statistics, but it needs little interpretation to fathom that the club’s current position in the Premier League falls well short of this season’s expectations. Don't Miss John W Henry, the principal owner, said at the start of the campaign it would be a “major disappointment” if Liverpool missed out on a Champions League spot - and the spectacular failure to do so will require answers from Dalglish and director of football Damien Comolli. Liverpool have already won the League Cup and could yet add the FA Cup this season, but FSG’s patience is being tested by an awful run of form in 2012 that has seen the Reds pick up just eight points from 12 fixtures. While the football men within the club will be asked to provide a blueprint as to how they plan to re-establish Liverpool in Europe’s elite, talk is growing that FSG are beginning to regret their decision to buy the Anfield club. They could even be ready to sell the club should they attract and receive the right offer. When FSG spent £300m to acquire Liverpool, it was convinced the club’s commercial income and Uefa’s incoming financial fair play (FFP) rules would make it relatively easy to re-establish the club as a regular top four side. Yet Henry and Liverpool chairman Tom Werner have grown increasingly frustrated by rival clubs’ attitude towards FFP, particularly Manchester City and Chelsea. The fear is that Uefa will fail to enforce the break-even rules when they come in to play in 2013-14, meaning the Reds will still be left playing catch-up in terms of spending power in the transfer market and on wages. Indeed, Henry in particular has been outspoken on the need for clubs to heed FFP, one of the main reasons FSG considered Liverpool a sensible, potentially profit-making investment. Meanwhile, the stadium issue continues to rumble on. Liverpool are well behind the likes of Manchester United and Arsenal in terms of matchday revenues and restricted by the 45,000 capacity at Anfield. The owners have considered redeveloping Anfield as they did Fenway Park, the home of the Boston Red Sox, but are now believed to be planning to build a new ground on Stanley Park. The conundrum for Liverpool comes in the financing of the project, and the club are struggling in their efforts to attract a heavily front-loaded naming rights deal to make a new 60,000 stadium economically viable. It leaves the club in limbo. FSG will not back Dalglish in the transfer market to the same extent they did last summer, meaning the Reds could again face a massive challenge to finish in the Champions League places next season. The two Manchester clubs, Tottenham, Arsenal and Chelsea all have stronger squads than Liverpool as it stands, while the league table would suggest there is little to choose between the Reds and Everton, who they meet in the FA Cup semi-final at Wembley later this month, or Alan Pardew's resurgent Newcastle side. The decision-makers in Boston may well acknowledge that expecting a top four finish this year was too much to ask, but Dalglish is under increasing pressure to deliver, with explanations of bad luck and tiredness ringing hollow with the owners. The Liverpool legend’s major failing has been in the transfer market, with his big-money signings seriously disappointing and losing value, most notably Andy Carroll, Jordan Henderson, Stewart Downing and Charlie Adam. FSG will investigate and re-plan in the summer, but they may well reach the conclusion that buying a Premier League football club was a mistake, and one not worth the hassle.

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