Liverpool must repay £31.5 million to banking institutions in little more than a year or risk having to sell Fernando Torres and Ryan Babel.
The Times has learnt that Liverpool borrowed the money to sign Torres, the Spain forward who has scored 30 goals this season and has already become a firm favourite on the Kop, from Atlético Madrid last summer. The club then refinanced that debt on January 25, at the same time as they secured a £350 million refinancing package.
Liverpool entered into an 18-month loan agreement with interest of 9 per cent — £2.8 million a year — with a letter of credit to pay back the £31.5 million at the end of the period.
Should Liverpool be unable to pay back or refinance the loan, banks could force the sale of Torres and Babel, who was also included in the smaller refinancing package.
It is unusual for Barclays Premier League clubs to buy players in this way. Deals are normally funded using television income. Liverpool have to pay £30 million a year in interest payments on the £350 million loan, the terms of which end in July 2009. There was no official comment from the club last night.
The revelations came on a day when the turmoil at Anfield reached a nadir after Tom Hicks attempted to strengthen his grip on the club during an interview in which he demonised his enemies inside and outside Anfield. However, the Liverpool co-owner has only six weeks to raise the funds he needs if he is to achieve his goal of buying the club outright.
Having continued his assault on Rick Parry by calling his tenure as chief executive “a disaster”, Hicks admitted that his joint-ownership venture with George Gillett Jr had proved unworkable, but he is looking for the funds that would help him to buy Gillett’s 50 per cent stake and to “fix the entire financial structure of the club” while overseeing the construction of a new 70,000-capacity stadium in Stanley Park.
Gillett responded last night with a strongly worded statement in which he accused his co-owner of destabilising the club. “I am saddened at this latest outburst from Tom Hicks,” he said. “If Tom wanted a serious discussion on the issues to help the club move forward, he should bring his views to the board.
“Here we are, a few days away from a vital Champions League semi-final match and Tom has once again created turmoil with his public comments. Tom should stop. He knows that Rick Parry has my support and that airing his comments in this way will not change my position.
“Tom needs to understand that I will not sell my shares to him.”
Hicks was typically bullish about his prospects of raising the money — or, perhaps more realistically, finding the financial backing — but while he continues to explore his options with Merrill Lynch, his latest financial adviser, the clock is ticking.
Hicks has denied rumours in the City that he is under pressure to refinance his Hicks Sports Group, which holds his stakes in various sports franchises in the United States, but a deadline is looming to buy Gillett’s stake, which is the subject of a rival bid from Dubai International Capital (DIC), the private-equity investment arm of the Dubai Government.
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, six days after the Champions League final in Moscow.
Hicks, though, maintains that he will be in charge of Liverpool for the long term, which would be bad news for Parry. “What has happened under Rick has been a disaster,” Hicks told Sky Sports News. “We have fallen so far behind the other clubs. We have still got the top brand in the world of football, but that’s no good if you don’t know how to commercialise it. Rick needs to resign. You have to be able to work with the manager and Rick has proved he can’t do that.”
Parry, who responded with a rigorous defence of his record, will not resign and is under no pressure to do so, given that only two of the club’s six directors want him to go.
Hicks said that, if he succeeds in buying Liverpool outright, he will offer Benítez a one-year extension to his contract, which expires in 2010, but, despite his newfound alliance with the manager, he remains unpopular with supporters.