For the first time this year, a joint statement has been issued by Liverpool co-owners George Gillett and Tom Hicks, as they announced the commencement of work on the site of the proposed new stadium for the club.
When planning consent was granted by the council in May there was a waiting period before work of any kind could commence, and it seems that has now passed. The statement on the official club website says the council, “granted full planning permission on June 19 to Liverpool Football Club to build a 60,000 seater stadium and outline planning permission for a mixed use development on the existing Anfield stadium site.”
The 60,000 capacity was a throwback to the plans inherited by the current owners when they took the club over last year. Their decision to scrap those plans was made partly because of a desire for a unique look to the new ground, as opposed the generic-looking bowl appearance of the originals, but mainly because of the need for a larger capacity. The intention is to have the capacity as high as 73,000 by the time the stadium opens – it has room for that capacity – but to do this certain improvements must be made to the infrastructure to enable what is an otherwise residential area to handle an increase of 28,000 visitors to the area on match day. One element of the current plans is an underground car park holding around 1,000 cars, but those cars will have to arrive early and leave late as part of the planning conditions. Proposals to build a new railway station on an existing freight line have been looked at.
As the official statement points out, as well as that car park the new ground would include a club shop, “conference and banqueting facilities” and importantly a Community Partnership centre.
Lang O’Rourke were hired by the club for the project, and they now have the right to carry out “enabling works under a licence issued by the Liverpool City Council. Works started on June 23.”
The work now under way is literally to enable the full construction teams to carry out their work, including creating facilities for the entry and exit of vehicles and equipment, which will include the tons of earth that needs to be excavated. Full construction work is dependent on the end of the bird nesting season, the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 making it an offence to disturb the nests of any wild bird when in use or being built. The Act defines the season as ending on August 31st, so work should begin in September.
George Gillett’s words appeared first in the statement, he said this early work was “significant” in that it finally shows “tangible evidence” the new ground will be built: “This is a significant milestone for the club and I am delighted that the design received full planning consent and that we are now on site. We have been working very hard over the last six months to move the details of the design along but this is the first tangible evidence for fans that a New LFC Stadium will be built.
“The stadium design is unique and will be recognised across the world as the Liverpool FC Stadium. It incorporates a Kop stand that will hold 18,000 fans and we hope that the stadium will be as noisy and atmospheric on a matchday as Anfield.”
His partner Tom Hicks was quoted next, referring to the work already underway in the park as part of the wider regeneration project, work being carried out by the council. He said: “We recognise the importance of a new LFC Stadium as part of the wider regeneration of the local area. We have watched the council transform Stanley Park over the last six months and the ongoing refurbishment of houses in the Anfield / Breckfield area.
“I am pleased that now the club has received full planning permission it can join the regeneration process with the commencement of enabling works.”
The statement reaffirms that the stadium is “on programme” for its planned opening in August 2011.
Concerns about the overall funding for the stadium have still not been publicly allayed, despite the start of this work. The owners included a £60m facility in their overall £350m finance package in January purely for stadium work, and this amount will enable the construction work itself to begin in September. However the time that has passed since that package was taken out has been spent with both owners at loggerheads, with DIC fighting to take over the club.
Tom Hicks made it clear, despite early press reports suggesting otherwise, that he had no intention of selling his share of the club, and that he would block any attempts by DIC to take any more than a minority share of the club from George Gillett. Meanwhile Gillett made it clear he was unwilling to sell any of his interest to Tom Hicks, meaning that under the terms of the veto contained in the partnership agreement there was a stalemate.
DIC have hinted via fans group SOS that they don’t believe this veto is enforceable, and that Gillett could sell his stake at any time he wished. Gillett hasn’t denied this is the case, but to be fair hasn’t actually commented on the veto at all since March, when he hinted that Hicks had only “threatened” to apply the veto.
The bottom line of this stand-off is that progress on obtaining funding for the remainder of the construction project wasn’t being made by the club itself; instead Tom Hicks was looking at various ways of funding both the stadium and a buy-out of George Gillett. Gillett was looking to sell and so wasn’t looking at all at funding for the stadium, and DIC were of course likely to organise their own funding had they been able to force the owners out. Gillett spoke on Canadian radio last week of improvements in communication between his family and the Hicks family.
A meeting between the NWDA chairman Steven Broomhead and representatives of the LFC parent company Kop Holdings was expected to take place two weeks ago, but no meeting has so far been held. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the funding of the stadium, with the NWDA looking for assurances that the wider regeneration of Anfield and Breckfield, which depends on the stadium project, was not going to be held back or impacted.
Rafa denies demanding £50m from owners.
Meanwhile stories in some papers this morning that claimed Rafael Benitez had been having another outburst about transfer funds were slammed by the manager himself. Some of the claims included an old Liverpool target, Daniel Alves, as part of a £50m shopping list the manager had been demanding the owners go out and get for him. The fact Alves has already got an agreement to join Barcelona seemed to have been overlooked. Also on the alleged list were known target Gareth Barry and regularly rumoured targets David Villa and David Silva.
According to today’s Echo Rafa is once again perplexed at the reports, telling them he hadn’t spoken to any reporters, and had no idea where the stories came from.
He said: “The stories are ridiculous. Total rubbish. They have me trying to sign Daniel Alves, who already has an agreement with Barcelona, so how could I be trying to sign him? I am working hard with Rick Parry, who is in regular contact with the Americans, and there are no problems. The reports are just unbelievable.” Rafa didn’t deny the links with the two Davids, but even with the full valuations being met on the players he is trying to move out, alongside the reported £20m cash he’s been handed on top, it would take some unprecedented negotiation skills from Liverpool to see both players signed.
The paper confirms that Andrea Dossena’s move is now all done bar the signing, which will be done when the newlywed gets back from his honeymoon.
Reports also this afternoon say that Peter Crouch has been the subject of a £9m bid from Portsmouth, which Liverpool have rejected.
Crouch was valued at a rather high £15m by Rafa at the end of the season, but Portsmouth boss Harry Redknapp admitted in the press shortly after that he’d be interested in doing business at £10m. However it now looks like the Pompey manager has smaller funds at his disposal than he realised, and he’s not even started his bidding at the £10m mark he earlier said would be acceptable. “It’s known I like Crouchie, but it doesn’t look like anything is happening there. I think Liverpool want a bit too much money for him. If that’s the case then we’ll move on to the next option.” Perhaps Harry now regrets his original comments on the £10m price.
The south coast side have also been looking at Yossi Benayoun, but the former West Ham star has said he doesn’t want to leave the club. Redknapp admitted his interest, saying: “Of course I’d like to have someone like Yossi Benayoun. He’s a top player. I don’t know what the chances are of getting him out of Liverpool.”
Yossi is one of Rafa’s fringe players, and seems to have accepted that idea, knowing how much appreciation he has had when he has made an impact either from the bench or as an occasional starter. He’s heard some of that appreciation from the Kop he says: “There are three or four clubs in England willing to buy me after the season I have just had, but I want to stay at Liverpool until the end of my career. It really moves me when I go out on to the pitch at Anfield and the crowd start singing.” He actually appeared 47 times last season, and although 21 of those were as a substitute, he wasn’t on Rafa’s list of players surplus to requirements.
Press in the Midlands say that Martin O’Neill was thwarted in a last-minute bid to sign Liverpool left-back John Arne Riise. The Norwegian star signed a four-year deal with AS Roma last week, netting Liverpool £3.96m when all the instalments are finally paid, along with some extras added if certain milestones are passed.
If the reports are to be believed, O’Neill seems to have lost out due to his tactics in the Gareth Barry transfer negotiations. After Liverpool’s original £10m bid was leaked – not by Liverpool – O’Neill slammed the offer due to it including the option of including certain Liverpool players in part-exchange. Over time Gareth Barry made it clear he wanted to leave Villa for Anfield, and eventually O’Neill slapped an £18m fee on the player. Already having made it clear he no longer wished to pay the £10m fee for Scott Carson that was agreed a year ago as giving Villa first option on the keeper, O’Neill was also trying to play down the valuation Liverpool had on the other players they were making available.
By the time O’Neill let Riise know of his interest, the Norwegian had no interest in Villa any more, and went ahead with the move to Italy.
O’Neill is not longer dealing directly with Rafa in the Barry transfer, and is looking increasingly likely to be facing a choice between losing a player for far less than he would like, and trying to persuade that player and the fans that he still has a future at Villa. The player has decided to step out of the firing line and has left his current club and Liverpool to fight it out with each other. Villa expected another bid last week, but Liverpool chose not to make one.
Xabi Alonso’s move to Italy is likely to be finalised when his involvement in Euro 2008 is over, Spain now through to the semi-finals.