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 By Mike Whalley

Liverpool 'healthy' despite debt increase

Managing director Ian Ayre says Liverpool are making "good progress" under Boston-based owners Fenway Sports Group despite the latest club accounts showing an increased overall debt.

Ian Ayre wants to see more players like Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher come though the club's ranks
European football returning to Anfield next season would be worth around 30 million pounds.

The Reds’ total debts -- known as net debt -- in the 12 months to May 31, 2013 rose to 114 million pounds from 87.2 million pounds.

But crucially, external debt, consisting of money owed to banks, went down to 45.1 million pounds from 65 million pounds -- a reduction of 19.9 million pounds.

That was largely due to an interest-free loan of 46.8 million pounds made to the club via Fenway during 2012-13.

It means that even though Liverpool’s overall debt has increased, more than 60 percent of that money is now owed to Fenway rather than the banks -- up from 25 percent in 2011-12 -- which Ayre said has put the club on a sounder financial footing.

Liverpool’s bank debt has been reduced by more than 200 million pounds since Fenway took control of the club from Tom Hicks and George Gillett in October 2010.

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"We could not have a better set of people owning and running the club," Ayre told the Liverpool Echo. "They want what every fan wants."

Of the Fenway loan recorded in the 2012-13 accounts, 37.8 million pounds paid off a long-term loan taken out to fund stadium projects, which include current plans to redevelop Anfield as well as costs relating to two previous proposals to build a new ground in neighbouring Stanley Park under the previous owners. The rest of the Fenway loan went towards servicing the club’s credit facility.

The reduction in bank debt has come despite the fact that Liverpool recorded a loss of 49.8 million pounds for 2012-13. That was an increase on the 40.5 million loss recorded in the previous accounts -- but a direct comparison would not be accurate, as the 2011-12 accounts only covered a 10-month period.

"What we have with this ownership group is a very true group of investors," Ayre added. "They recognise the huge investment they made to buy Liverpool and as smart investors they know that they have to continue to invest to realise the true value of their investment long term.

"They’ve been very supportive to the business, to [manager] Brendan [Rodgers]. This year we’ve not played any European football -- but we continue to get support from the ownership.

"They are very involved in the business and I think that helps."

The club signed six players on permanent deals during the period covered by the latest accounts -- Fabio Borini, Joe Allen, Oussama Assaidi, Samed Yesil, Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho.

Liverpool also extended the contracts of seven players, including Daniel Agger, Martin Skrtel, Martin Kelly, Lucas Leiva and Raheem Sterling.

Turnover for the 12 months to May 2013 was 206.1 million pounds, a rise of nine percent.

Ayre said: "These results demonstrate that the financial health of the club continues to make good progress as we continue our journey to transform the club on and off the pitch.

"Over the past four or five years, revenue has been consistently increasing from around 170 million pounds in 2009 to over 200 million pounds today, and external debt has decreased significantly to less than 50 million pounds.

"With a hugely supportive ownership group, we have taken a measured approach to bring back financial stability to this great club by ensuring it is properly structured on and off the pitch."

The accounts, released on Monday night, reflect Liverpool’s financial fortunes during Brendan Rodgers’ first season as manager.

Commercial revenues went up from 63.9 million pounds to 97.7 million pounds, thanks partly to an increase in money brought in from sponsorship, although the longer accounting period for 2012-13 -- 12 months as opposed to 10 -- must again be taken into account when comparing the figures.

Media revenue for 2012-13 was 63.8 million pounds, as opposed to 62.8 million for 2011-12.

Despite the increase in turnover, Liverpool dropped out of the top 10 in the Deloitte Money League -- an annual table compiled by the UK accountancy company, which ranks clubs by the income they generate from football operations.

The Reds dropped from ninth place to 12th as they were overtaken by Paris Saint-Germain, Juventus and Borussia Dortmund.

But they were the highest-ranked club not to be competing in the Champions League, which can be worth around 30 million pounds a season to clubs taking part.

Ayre is confident that Liverpool’s financial standing will improve should they qualify for next season’s competition -- which they are on course to do.

The club have also signed a number of new sponsorship deals since May 2013, which will be reflected in the 2013-14 accounts, likely to be published in spring 2015.

Ayre said that the club had made great strides since the final days of the Hicks-Gillett regime, when Liverpool were heading into serious financial trouble.

He said: "Given where Liverpool Football Club was only a few years ago, the progress that has been made since FSG acquired the club has brought back much-needed stability with an ambitious vision which everyone is focused on."

The managing director also praised the "astounding" work of manager Rodgers, brought in from Swansea in June 2012, whose side currently sit second in the Premier League after finishing seventh last season.

"We all had great faith in Brendan when he was appointed and I think he had a huge challenge in front of him," Ayre said.

"I mean we all did -- but no one more than Brendan, because he comes to one of the biggest football clubs in the world where expectation is high and there was a lot of work to do.

"And in his first season he would admit -- and I would admit it publicly -- that there was a lot of finding his feet and starting to impart his philosophy and his style into the team.

"I think what we have seen this year is that starting to grow and prosper. And we’ll continue to add to the team and support him in putting additional players into the group.

"Both the efforts of Brendan and the players have been astounding.

"One of the things I really like is that Brendan works with the team and sets the season out into little chunks so they have four or five game runs.

"So they focus on a short number of games - they don’t focus on the entire season. And it’s worked well for them.

"They work as a group, they are focused as a group. The results are being delivered as a group and the performances of the players has blown everyone away."

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