Sam Wallace: Benitez the master conjurer cannot hide fault lines that threaten Anfield's future

If Liverpool win the league, it will be an astonishing act of management from Benitez
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The Independent Football

A week ago today, Steven Gerrard took the plunge and said, for the second consecutive summer, he wanted Gareth Barry to join Liverpool. Within 24 hours his fellow England midfielder was having a medical at Manchester City.

Then in Kazakhstan, even Gerrard could not escape the tyranny of the international news channels and their tickers of doom that delivered Liverpool's latest dismal financial results on Friday. Net losses of £86m for the club alone, interest payments of £36.5m a year and a warning from the auditors about the viability of Liverpool's parent company.

And so it goes for a week in the life of Liverpool football club. But not just any week, a week which should have been the start of a momentous summer in which Rafael Benitez made the changes to a squad that took him so close to the Premier League title last time around. This summer, of all summers, was supposed to be different.

Since Liverpool began their quest to win back the title, which started after they lost it to Arsenal in 1991, around about the time the Warsaw Pact was abandoned, they have approached each new season with optimism. Some summers, like 1993 or 1998, it has turned out to be badly misplaced. In others it has felt more realistic but rarely has there been as much reason to hope as this summer, albeit with so little evidence that the club's ownership can deliver it.

Where will the money come from? Liverpool's owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett might be able to offer Benitez £20m for transfers from one of their Caribbean-based holding companies. That hardly sounds like a club in the kind of state to do battle for the likes of Barry and Carlos Tevez, a club reliant upon the £350m refinancing deal being ratified by 24 July.

And what until then? Does Benitez simply cross his fingers and hope that the rest of world football will dawdle on the beach or lounge by the pool while Liverpool's owners get themselves organised? No, unfortunately for Anfield, the players that Benitez wants to acquire, their agents and their selling clubs – like David Silva at Valencia – will get on with it. With or without Liverpool.

As Liverpool's owners stumble on, so Benitez's achievement in making Liverpool the second strongest team in the country becomes ever more the great conjuring act. Benitez can do some odd things: that rant at Sir Alex Ferguson last season or his Soviet-style purge of the club's long-serving academy staff. But somehow, amid the financial wreckage, he has also built a team that can beat Real Madrid and Manchester United.

Buried in those accounts was another blow for Liverpool, the revelation that any move to a new stadium would be 2012 at the earliest. Like those occasional burnt-out Victorian houses in the terraced streets between Anfield and Walton Breck roads, the new Liverpool stadium is a building job, with all its attendant delays, that is starting to become a local embarrassment.

The new Anfield is the bedrock of the only plan that will give Liverpool parity with the finances of their fellow Big Four. United earn £101.5m annually from their matchday operations alone, Arsenal £94.6m and Chelsea £74.5m, the latter despite significantly lower average attendances than Liverpool. At Anfield the annual earnings from matchdays are £39.2m. You do not need to be a chartered accountant to spot the discrepancy in wealth.

Even Tottenham are ahead of Liverpool on that one, chasing the lucrative naming rights market with computer-generated images of their new White Hart Lane stadium emblazoned with "naming rights" on the roof and above the door. Liverpool have not just failed to get a new stadium off the ground, they have spent £10.3m on obsolete architects' plans that will never even see the light of day.

Hicks might dismiss the fears over Liverpool's refinancing with the usual unyielding optimism, but what, for instance, would it cost for the club to be sold? The combined debt of the parent company Kop Football Limited at the end of the financial year 2007-08 was, The Independent revealed on Saturday, £421.6m. Presumably, Hicks and Gillett would, at the very least, wish to be seen right for that amount.

That immediately places Liverpool at a premium. Especially when much richer men have spent much less on football clubs. A cost of £421m would be roughly 73 percent of the £576.9m Roman Abramovich has spent so far on Chelsea. But he bought that club in 2003 for £140m, debts and all. Manchester City were also much cheaper, they cost, with their liabilities included, around £210m to Sheikh Mansour last year.

So Liverpool is a club its owners can barely afford to own, let alone run. It has a stadium badly in need of replacing, a financial structure that cannot move forward until it is and a manager is expected to make the best of it all. If Liverpool win the Premier League next season without any radical change to this status quo it will be an astonishing act of management by Benitez.

Two seasons ago, Benitez turned up for pre-season with a goatee beard which belied his straight-laced image. If he shows up on Liverpool's summer tour next month with a henna tattoo and a straggly ponytail, just put it down to the stresses of the job. In the space of one week in June, Liverpool's hierarchy have demonstrated that winning the league involves a much greater challenge than just finishing ahead of United, Chelsea and Arsenal.

FA's attempt to get matey fails in Almaty

The Football Association was not helped by its alliance with the Kazakhstan police when based in Almaty last week. Black-shirted and unsmiling, the local constabulary even banned locals from walking on the pavement alongside the wall which ran around the perimeter of the city's Dinamo stadium where the England squad were training on Thursday.

The FA deserves credit for getting some local schoolchildren in, but for the hundreds outside standing on their car roofs to get a glimpse, or simply inconvenienced on their way home from work, it did not look so good. The plan when the 2018 World Cup bid was launched last month was simply to try to charm the world into giving England the tournament. Trouble is, everywhere the England team go, security is such a major issue.

Clubs' wrong tones

It is a long-held belief that clubs selling mobile phone ringtones of their supporters' favourite chants is the ultimate in corporate exploitation. So let's get this right. The fans devise the chants, they choose the tunes and they popularise them. Or, as the corporate men would say: design, marketing and PR all rolled into one. Then the club sells the chants back to them as ringtones for a profit. Please just say no to official club ringtones.

Rod would be wonderful for West Ham

Any visitor to Upton Park will have heard the locals sing the song 'East London is wonderful' followed by something unmentionable, something else unmentionable, 'and West Ham'. So here's hoping that the Hammers are going to sign the man who is reported to be their latest transfer target. Step forward Rennes' £5m-rated defender Rod Fanni.

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