Football: Palace likely to sell players

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The Independent Online
CRYSTAL PALACE are likely to to be forced into drastic reductions in their playing staff following the admission yesterday that the club's debts are pounds 22m. Around pounds 2m of the debt is money still owed to Terry Venables for his ill-fated eight-month tenure as coach, which ended last month when the scale of the club's financial problems became apparent and chairman Mark Goldberg realised he could no longer afford Venables' lucrative contract.

The former England coach was paid his pounds 750,000 annual tax-free salary in advance last summer when he took over, as well as being given a Mercedes, the use of a house, an unsecured interest-free loan and a cut of revenue from player sales. Palace anticipate a further pounds 2m will be needed to complete the severance, but whether Venables will receive anything depend on whether the club can be saved.

Palaces other debts include pounds 5.5m owed to overseas clubs (including Juventus and Strasbourg) in outstanding transfer fees, pounds 1.6m owed to domestic clubs (understood to include Aston Villa, Liverpool and Torquay), a pounds 3m overdraft, pounds 3.5m in contractual obligations to players, pounds 2m to the Inland Revenue and several million pounds to an assortment of other creditors and suppliers.

David Buchler, who is overseeing the administration process that Goldberg initiated a fortnight ago, said: "There will be some very hard decisions to make. That will involve cutting costs including the player pay-roll, which is extremely high."

On top of the pounds 22m in debts, the club has trading losses (mostly wages) of around pounds 500,000 per month. Players bought by Venables, including Craig Moore (earning pounds 13,000 per week), Gordan Petric (pounds 6,000 per week) and the two Chinese, Fan Zhiyi and Sun Jihai (pounds 4,000 per week each) are amongst the highest earners at the club and may be among those likely to be considered to expensive for Palace to keep.

Buchler, speaking alongside Goldberg, who called yesterday's press conference, said: "These [trading] losses will need to be cut to allow the club to survive in the future. That will be part of my job." He added that measures being considered could include players being sold - even though the transfer deadline is just a week away - and wages being cut.

Goldberg said yesterday that the club had assets of pounds 13m, and the true extent of Palace's debt was pounds 9.2m. The assets, however, stretch little further than the playing staff (valued around pounds 4m) and a 125-year lease on the Selhurst Park ground. The ground is still owned by Ron Noades, Palace's former owner. In addition to the club's debts, Goldberg still owes Noades nearly pounds 5m of the pounds 22.8m which be paid for the club last year.

Despite Goldberg effectively losing pounds 23m in the last 12 months, he said yesterday he still wanted to invest more - a further pounds 1.5m - to tide the club over during administration.

"I believe that during the period of administration, I'll be able to make an offer to outside investors for them to take up a percentage of Crystal Palace," Goldberg said. "I've gained a lot of experience that can be of great value to Crystal Palace in moving forward and I've never been more hungry, ambitious or determined... My biggest mistake was chasing the dream of the Premiership. When I should have carried on selling players to reduce salary levels, I supported Terry Venables to attract more players."