Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 23 July 2014

Liverpool boss: we have to quit Anfield

Too many hurdles force reds to seek a new home

Anfield

Liverpool have provided a graphic insight into their mounting frustrations with the local council bureaucracy which they believe is destroying their hopes of staying at their spiritual Anfield home.



After the club's principal owner John W Henry hinted at suspicions over the transparency of Manchester City's £400m sponsorship deal with Etihad, Liverpool managing director Ian Ayre yesterday publicly lamented the “barriers to our ambition” being created by a host of logistical planning issues relating to a refurbished Anfield.

And he admitted that a departure to a new purpose-built stadium in nearby Stanley Park — which is dependent on Liverpool securing a naming rights deal of their own — is now the most likely outcome for the club.

Of City's deal with Etihad, the Abu Dhabi airline which is investing up to £40m a year for a decade despite being loss-making for its seven years of operation, Henry tweeted to a fan: “How much was the losing bid?”

City insist that Etihad, owned by the Abu Dhabi royal family, is not being used as a vehicle to artificially inflate the club's balance sheet to enable the club's Abu Dhabi owner to comply with the imminent Uefa Financial Fair Play rules — despite Etihad paying out a world-record sum, having failed to make a profit in its seven years of existence.

Though Ayre's statement was issued in conjunction with the council, it served only to reveal the very definitive divide between the two.

He cited problems with “land/property acquisition, environmental and statutory issues”.

The cheaper option of extending Anfield entails dealing with the problem of buying and demolishing nearby properties behind the Main Stand and also paying out money in a number of other ways — under what is known as a Section 106 agreement — to make an application for the expansion of the site acceptable.

Liverpool's Section 106 agreement includes paying for a programme of community involvement of up to £700,000.

The necessary local infrastructure improvements required of Liverpool could take up to four years to complete and, since the club will generate around £1.7m per home game next season, while Manchester United, for example, bank £3.6m, they simply cannot afford to stand still.

Liverpool’s current stadium is the sixth-largest in the Premier League in terms of capacity, significantly behind United, Arsenal and Newcastle’s stadia but also smaller than Manchester City and Sunderland’s grounds.

Stand closures and a heavily reduced capacity for games would also be necessary during any rebuild.

The city council have granted Liverpool a three-month extension to decide on whether to take up the option of a 999-year lease on the Stanley Park site, though councillors are losing patience with the club's years of prevarication over the new stadium idea and will probably allow Fenway Sports Group only until late September to make a decision.

Construction costs which prevented the Stanley Park option in the Hicks/Gillett era have fallen, reducing the costs and also make a new-build stadium a more commercially viable option — below £300m.

It is Henry's desire to replicate his sympathetic restoration of Fenway Park, the home of his Boston Red Sox.

Though shirt sponsor Standard Chartered have expressed an interest in a stadium naming rights deal, it will not be on the same scale as City's.

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