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Oct 20, 2009

Financial fears grow for struggling Liverpool

City insiders close to attempted takeover bids for Liverpool have told ESPN Soccernet that failure to qualify for the Champions League could result in meltdown at Anfield.

• Paper Round: Rafa must show passion
• Benitez: Reds not dead yet

The disturbing analysis emphasises the enormous importance of Liverpool's forthcoming double-header at Anfield, starting on Tuesday night against Champions League Group E leaders Lyon, followed by the visit on Sunday of Premier League champions Manchester United.

Liverpool have slipped down to eighth in the Premier League and are keen to win against Lyon to restore their credibility within their group and increase their chances of qualifying for the knockout stages of the Champions League.

A City source said: "The Champions League has become so important to all the top clubs, notably those with big debts, and that includes Manchester United and Arsenal as well as Liverpool, but at the moment, the focus is very much on Liverpool as it looks as though Manchester United and Arsenal will continue in the Champions League next season. The same cannot be guaranteed with Liverpool. The stakes really couldn't be higher for them.

"The Champions League generates £30 million for clubs like Liverpool, and that can account for virtually the amount of interest that they need to pay back to the banks each year. The bottom line for a club like Liverpool is that they need to be in the Champions League each season. It's as simple as that, and no-one at the club is going to sleep easy with the team slipping down to eighth place in the table."

Liverpool's American owners George Gillett and Tom Hicks refinanced their debts with the Royal Bank of Scotland in July for another year, but would never have envisaged their team sliding down the league so early in the season.

The repercussions for Liverpool failing to qualify for next season's Champions League are thought-provoking, to say the least. At worst the consequences are catastrophic.

Would it mean selling prize assets like Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard to pay for the shortfall in Champions League revenue??

Would it mean the end of Rafa Benitez?

Would it mean the Royal Bank of Scotland taking control of the club?

Would it leave the club wide open to a quick takeover bid?

At the moment, a possible takeover of Liverpool has been laboriously slow, with three near misses from a variety of Middle Eastern Sheikhs, Princes and investors. But there seems little doubt that the most testing and turbulent times are rapidly approaching.

The search has been relentless to bring new investment into Anfield. Liverpool's co-owner George Gillett has denied, though, that Prince Faisal bin Fahd bin Abdullah is close to purchasing a stake in the Anfield club.

The American pair of Gillett and Tom Hicks recently issued a joint statement, which read: "The owners have jointly retained Bank of America Merrill Lynch and Rothschild to evaluate the possibility of new investors injecting equity into LFC. However, the process is at an early stage, there is no agreement with any party and reports to the contrary are wholly inaccurate."

The next six days will fashion much of what happens both on and off the field at Anfield. Two games at Anfield, against Lyon in the Champions League and Manchester United in the Premier League could point to a troubled rest of the season, and even a die-hard Liverpool man such as Alan Hansen has conceded as much. The stakes couldn't be higher for the players, manager Benitez, and their dedicated supporters.

My City source concluded: "The next big critical time for Liverpool is the point at which they do or they don't qualify for next seasons Champions League, and how then will they manage to continue paying the interest on their loans."

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