Liverpool face the prospect of missing out on tens of millions of pounds in revenue, vital to their pursuit of Manchester United, by missing two vital deadlines for the construction of their new stadium, which is the cornerstone of the club's growth.
Club sources have confirmed that they are interested in discussing with Carlsberg the idea of naming rights for the new Stanley Park stadium which, as The Independent revealed last week, the Danish brewer wants to pursue when its sponsorship deal comes up for detailed discussion in July. But there is frustration in some quarters at Anfield that financial uncertainty over the proposed stadium, which Hicks and Gillett promised to build when they bought Liverpool in February 2007, will mean the club missing out on the estimated £10m such a deal could bring.
Two days after manager Rafael Benitez publicly warned Hicks and Gillett that they will struggle to compete for the Premier League title until the new stadium is built, it has emerged that they have six months to get financing for the stadium in place if they wish it to be submitted as a prospective 2018 World Cup venue. The FA will only consider new stadiums for which detailed financial plans and construction proposals are in place by November. Credibility is everything for the FA, ahead of the Fifa inspection visit which will take place in October 2010 and the prospect of "too many artists impressions", as one FA source put it yesterday, is seen as a factor which could fatally undermine England's bid.
Liverpool's council leader Warren Bradley, whose organisation will decide which stadiums to put forward as part of Liverpool's host city bid, yesterday warned Liverpool they have until December to resolve their stadium issues or risk missing out on hosting the World Cup. Though Anfield could be put forward, Everton could conceivably be awarded 2018 status at Liverpool's expense if their proposed new 55,000-seat stadium in Kirkby gets the go-ahead. A planning inspector is currently considering the outcome of a public inquiry into Everton's plans and communities secretary Hazel Blears is expected to rule by the autumn on whether that stadium will get the go-ahead.
Despite the new-found displays of harmony between Hicks and Gillett, neither individual has the money to kick-start plans for Anfield's 60,000-seat replacement, which were put on hold when the credit crunch bit.
"On an economic level we cannot fight with the other big teams, at least for now, in particular because of the stadium," Benitez said. "Old Trafford has 76,000 seats, Emirates has 60,000, Chelsea can count on Abramovich. Until we have a new stadium, we will not be able to compete economically. In the meantime we'll have to do things very well to be competitive." Hicks and Gillett say financing the project had been made more difficult due to the global financial crisis. Liverpool's owners must also refinance a bank loan of around £350m by July.
Bradley wants to see Liverpool and Everton ground-sharing, an idea which sports minister Gerry Sutcliffe is also believed to support.