Another summer transfer window and another Chelsea attempt to poach a top Liverpool player? Or just another summer transfer and another reporter clutching at straws and using the slightest hint of information to come up with a story?
Unable to keep their own striker happy, Chelsea have been reported as on the verge of making a £50m bid for Liverpool’s striker Fernando Torres.
The latest fuss began yesterday when the Daily Mail newspaper decided to revisit a story that first surfaced a couple of weeks ago in Spain, when Madrid-based tabloid Marca, claimed Chelsea had made a €50m (£40m) bid for Torres, but were turned down.
As part of the weight for its claims, the Marca story referenced an earlier Times report which had claimed Torres would have to be sold, along with Ryan Babel, if the club couldn’t find £31.5m in little over a year. At the same time as taking out the £350m finance package in January, the Times claimed, the club’s owners George Gillett and Tom Hicks had borrowed a further £31.5m to pay for the transfers of Torres and Ryan Babel. This was on top of the £350m, it said, and would have to be repaid in full, with 9% interest added, by summer 2009.
Although £31.5m does sound feasible as a total transfer cost for the pair – £20m for Torres and £11.5m for Babel – it also works out at exactly the same figure as 12 months’ 9% interest on £350m. One way or other, it seemed there had been some mix-ups on information supplied to the paper somewhere along the line.
The 9% claim for interest is believed to be much higher than the true interest rate agreed for the £350m finance, but whether that is the case or not, Rick Parry wasn’t messing about when he responded to the story via the official Liverpool FC website the next day: “The story in Friday’s Times newspaper was garbage,” said Parry. “I want to make it clear in the simplest and most straightforward terms that the purchases of Fernando and Ryan were funded in the same way as every other transfer. The scope for any other interpretation is nil.”
That same Times report included the claim that has left many Liverpool fans expecting a resolution to the ownership situation by the end of this month: “Under the terms of their takeover 14 months ago, Hicks has pre-emption rights on Gillett’s stake in Liverpool and vice versa. That option is understood to expire 90 days after he was informed of DIC’s £200 million offer to Gillett, which was made on February 27. That period would expire on May 27.” That day of course is today, and looks like being the latest deadline to pass without event.
The Marca story attracted a lot of attention in the English media and also from fans. It wasn’t long before the fee originally reported in Euros was being spoken about in pounds, £40m becoming £50m. But the Echo denied any such bid had been received, not that it would even have been entertained, and were almost certainly speaking on behalf of LFC when they did so. Tony Barrett wrote: “Meanwhile, fevered speculation today suggesting Chelsea have made a £50m bid for Torres is completely unfounded. Liverpool have received no offers for their star striker, nor would they welcome any.”
Now, just two weeks later, somebody has been trying to stir up trouble again. Matt Lawson wrote the Mail article, which said that “Chelsea will offer up to £50million in an audacious bid to sign Liverpool striker Fernando Torres” and that Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich “has given chief executive Peter Kenyon permission to offer” the money for Torres.
The claim wasn’t particularly concerning in its own right. Abramovich bankrolls loss-making Chelsea by giving them interest free loans from his own personal fortunes for their transfer and wage needs. It’s what he did when he finally managed to sign his own choice of striker, reportedly against his then manager’s wishes, when he bought Ukrainian striker Andriy Shevchenko from AC Milan. He cost him £30m, but has actually been less potent in the English game than his compatriot, and another Andriy, Liverpool’s much-maligned free-signing Voronin. Until Abramovich completely loses interest in Chelsea then he will supply more interest free loans to allow outrageous bids to be made for players he wants. In some cases their manager at the time may get a say in who the money is spent on. But just because he has the funds, it doesn’t mean he has the ability to persuade Liverpool to sell.
The club don’t want to sell Torres at any price. He was signed for around £20m, a fee that could rise to around £23m in time, on that six-year-contract last summer. But when he was signed there was still an element of uncertainty about him, concerns from some that he might not be able to adapt to the English game. The £20m fee was for a player who could find it as hard to adapt to the English game as the previously highly-rated Spanish striker Fernando Morientes did. At that price he represented a risk on Rafa’s part. Now he’s proven what he can do, in some style, he’s practically priceless. Even forgetting his worth on the field, how many Liverpool shirts will be sold around the world this summer with “Torres 9” on the back? Done properly, Torres-related merchandise can raise massive sums for Liverpool FC.
The Mail’s article had said that Chelsea were hoping to take advantage of the ownership uncertainty at Anfield. The article quoted an “insider”, presumably from Chelsea, who claimed to know how some people at Anfield are thinking: “There is a desire among certain people at Liverpool to sell at the right price. It’s just a case of whether they have the nerve to incur the wrath of the Liverpool fans,” said the insider.
Given the turmoil seen at the club in the last six months or so it’s easy to make such claims, and easy to find supporters willing to take them at face value. Gillet, and especially Hicks have been regularly under fire, and some fans quickly assumed the worst and took this story as true, assuming Tom Hicks was the “certain people” referred to in the claim and assuming that an “insider” from Chelsea would know this. The article also mentioned Rafa Benítez as having an “uncertain” future, just to help the story gather a little more weight.
Hicks is the easy target in such stories, Lawton writing that the Texan “says he is desperate to raise funds to take sole control”. That was where the story just about lost any credibility it might have had.
For those supporters whose hatred of Hicks is now confirmed and can probably never be reversed it’s easy to read such stories and assume the worst. But you don’t have to have even a small amount of support for Hicks to see the flaws in this story, especially this implied pointer to Hicks selling purely to help him fund his aims to take control.
Selling Torres for £50m will not help Hicks find the money he needs to take over the club. The club has, as far as we are currently aware, debt of £105m. The holding company, as far as we are currently aware, has debt of £245m. Hicks is already responsible, and has already provided security for, half of that £245m, which is £122.5m. Gillett is said to expect a profit of at least £25m, which means that Hicks has to find new investment equal to £147.5m to buy Gillett out. This assumes the club itself is securing the £105m debt on its own books. It also excludes the remaining £240m required for the building of the new stadium.
It’s common practice when buying and selling players, particularly with players on the continent, for fees to be spread over instalments. Additionally the terms of the Torres deal are believed to include at least another £3m to cover other milestones being reached. So a good part of the claimed £50m fee would have to go on paying Atlético the remainder of what they are owed. And Hicks owns 50% of the club, not the whole lot. At the absolute best this leaves each owner with £20m from the sale, assuming there are no restrictions on them transferring those proceeds from the club to their own individual companies.
What help would this £20m or less be in securing finance? If he was £20m short on raising the funds, he’d hardly be given the go-ahead after raising the £20m from selling one of the most important assets at the club. Especially when you consider what the reaction would be from Rafa Benítez.
It makes no sense for Hicks to sell Torres – and to do so he’d need to get agreement from George Gillett. And it makes no sense for Gillett to agree to the sale of Torres either. If he’s so desperate for cash that he urgently needs whatever is left from the sale of Torres then he’s hardly going to be sitting around refusing to sell his half of the club to Tom Hicks.
Rick Parry is not going to be pushing for the sale of Torres either, certainly not unilaterally.
And Rafa’s only reason to agree to such a deal would be to fund his transfer wishes for next season, but unless he got very lucky he’d not be able to replace Torres like-with-like without spending the same money as Torres had been sold for. It’s been hinted quite strongly this summer that for the first time since he arrived Rafa is in complete charge of who he buys and sells, but for him to sanction a Torres transfer is about as unlikely as it gets.
The Mail story ruled Rafa out anyway as one of the “certain people” at Anfield with the “desire” to sell Torres at the “right price”. It said of Benítez that “agreeing to sell could add more tension. The Liverpool manager claims a lack of resources means his side will again be fighting against the tide for the title next term.”
This was referring to a recent interview with Benítez, where he said: “It’s more difficult because after two years of Chelsea winning the league and spending big money, United needed to do the same. They started spending big money, and Arsenal were also spending big money on young players.
“We’re trying to do the same but it’s more difficult to catch up. We’ll do our best. The key is to not talk about the title.”
Lawton’s article went on: “But his objections regarding the sale of Torres may not hold sway and it would represent good business for Chelsea as well as Hicks because striker Didier Drogba is up for sale.”
Under normal circumstances most fans would laugh these stories off, but under the current circumstances it’s far too easy for supporters to go along with it. It’s important that the club step in quickly to kill such rumours as early as possible. The club’s official site has carried the quotes from the Echo given by Benítez, along with words from a spokesmen “for the club”, although these were attributed to a spokesman specifically for Hicks in a Daily Mirror report earlier in the day.
Rafa Benitez today gave short shrift to suggestions Fernando Torres could be allowed to leave the club.
The Anfield boss claimed there was no offer which would persuade the club to part company with its record signing and top scorer.
Benitez said: “The situation is very simple – we do not want to sell Fernando Torres.
“If a player does a good job for his team, like Fernando has for us, then it is sometimes easy for people to speculate that he might be wanted by other clubs.
“I am not aware of any offer being made by Chelsea but even if there was my answer would be the same – he is not for sale.
“We are trying to add to the spine of our team and that means keeping players like Fernando, Javier Mascherano, Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher.”
Earlier this morning, a club spokesman added: “The idea that Liverpool Football Club would consider selling Fernando Torres is absolute nonsense. Everyone at the club is fully focused on improving the squad ahead of the new season.”
Managerless Chelsea, predictably, are keeping quiet on the issue for now.