New Big Four-ce Pushing Liverpool Into European Exile
By James McLoughlin.
As the title race edges towards its thrilling climax, another battle is heating up for qualification to Europe’s top prize. With four games left to play, Tottenham Hotspur are in the driving seat to take the final Champions League qualifying spot but have Manchester City breathing down their necks. As Liverpool contemplate the prospect of no Champions League football, it seems the ‘Big Four’ is set for gatecrashers in coming seasons. But will this be a brief cameo on the continent for Tottenham or City? Or does this spell the start of a new order?
No-one in the red half of Liverpool will deny that after pushing Manchester United so closely for the Premier League crown last year that this season has been less of a blip and more of a catastrophe. But with the bottomless pockets of Sheikh Mansour’s Manchester City and the not so pauperly Tottenham Hotspur bankrolled by billionaire Joe Lewis, these new competitors could signal the start of a European exile for the heavily indebted old-timers of Europe.
With an estimated ₤35 million being missed out through their failure to qualify, it is increasingly unlikely that Liverpool will be able to buy the “Four or five top-class players” star striker Fernando Torres has stated they need to compete at the highest level again. As co-owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett stare at a mountain of debt, it appears key assets such as Torres may instead have to be offloaded to balance the books.
But given the likelihood of no Champions League football, this may not be an entirely unwelcome prospect for arguably one of the world’s best finishers who will have no shortage of suitors.
The trouble is, that should Manchester City or Tottenham steal the coveted fourth place, they will have the final piece of the jigsaw they’ve craved, the ability to lure the world’s elite. Having offered in excess of ₤100 million and ₤500,000-a-week for his services, Kaka rejected a switch to City in favour of a switch to Real Madrid for a deal worth less to his club, AC Milan, and himself.
Even though Kaka would line his pockets, at least one year outside of top flight European competition proved unthinkable and he is not alone. Similarly, should Liverpool be forced into the wilderness by the newcomers, they will undoubtedly struggle to lure top-rate players as Tottenham or City court the cream of the crop.
With top players being attracted to the bright lights of Champions League fixtures at The City of Manchester Stadium or White Hart Lane instead of the dark clouds hanging over Anfield, it remains more improbable that Liverpool’s history and golden days will be enough to recruit and hold on to premier talent.
The sole flare against the bleak landscape laid out before the Merseyside is Michel Platini’s proposals to introduce a spending cap, meaning that clubs can only spend 70% of their total income meaning Mansour’s ₤120 million spree in the summer transfer window of 2009 will be consigned to the history books and values of ₤80 – ₤100 million on one player will be reduced to more reasonable figures as clubs live within their means.
With Liverpool’s debts at an estimated ₤235 million the impact of their inability to compete financially with Tottenham and City will be lessened. However, with more revenue being generated and the increased standard of players on display at the club lucky enough to seize fourth place, it may be too little too late for Liverpool by the time these restrictions are put in place.
Turbulent times lie ahead for the Anfield outfit and should their ongoing ownership debacle continue to run up the bill and reduce the transfer kitty, they could struggle to hold on to talent such as Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard with bankers snapping at their heels.
As Tottenham and City build on their long established and nouveau riche foundations respectively, Liverpool could find it a bridge too far to cross a possible canyon between themselves and the new boys on the European scene in seasons to come.
What will missing out on Champions League football mean for Liverpool? Please leave your comments below…
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