Talk of building a new stadium in Liverpool has been around since the time a Texan cowboy owner and co-owner infamously stated: ‘The first spade will start going into the ground on that [stadium] project by March’ back in February 2007. Thankfully the dastardly duo were (eventually) shown the door, however the issue of a new stadium remains (the above statement never coming to fruition).
Increased revenue through an increased capacity is a must for Liverpool Football Club if they are to compete in the upper-echelons of the Premier League. The club’s new American owners, FSG concur. They made it clear upon arriving, that boosting gate receipts through an increased capacity is paramount if club is to go forward and reclaim its position as the most successful side in English football. But just how should the club achieve this?
Should Liverpool and its new owners follow the Arsenal model?
The Gunners also foresaw the need to generate extra income through ticket sales and chose to leave their historic home, Highbury, way back in 1999 when it was ruled the stadium could not be suitably renovated. They chose to build a brand new stadium, moving there in 2006. However, their brand new home also came with a brand new name – a brand; Emirates. The middle-eastern airline paid £100m in 2004 to secure naming rights on the stadium in a deal will run for 15 years. This is the route Liverpool’s new Managing Director; Ian Ayre has stated the club will go down if the Red’s choose to leave Anfield, much to the ire of many Liverpool fans.
Even though the extra revenue is now pouring in for Arsenal, building a new stadium has had some negative impact. The cost of the project has been felt, not least on the pitch. Gunner’s fans have lamented the fact that over the last few years, they’ve been unable to compete at the very top when it comes to signing new players – most available cash being swallowed up by the ground investment. With the purse-strings tightened Arsene Wenger has had to rely more and more on his youth ranks, whilst any shopping (with the odd exception) has been done in the bargain basement. It has been commendable that the Gunner’s have still managed to remain competitive, always finishing in the top four of the Premier League. However, the bottom line is they haven’t won a trophy since 2005. This barren spell is finally starting to take its toll on some of the more ‘senior’ players who have had their heads turned with the lure of more money, or trophies, being offered elsewhere (though no player will admit to the former!)
With this in mind, should Liverpool follow suit? They themselves are without a trophy since 2006 and with Manchester United finally overhauling the clubs record 18 league titles, challenging sooner rather than later is paramount. However, most Liverpool fans are looking forward to this immediate future with a degree of sense and optimism. They recognise the club is in the midst of a massive restructure, but appear to be moving in the right direction. If the club were to go ahead and vacate Anfield, youth, like at Arsenal, would certainly be the key. At the forefront of this, Liverpool could not ask for a better man to be in charge, especially when it comes to putting the club first; step forward Kenny Dalglish. The manager and club legend has already fast-tracked some of the squads youth players through to the first team with success. Youngsters like Flanagan and Robinson joining Spearing and Kelly, who have benefitted from more playing time, as well as the canny man-management skills the Scot possesses. It is also worth noting that at this present moment in time Liverpool’s youth academy is widely recognised as one of Europe’s finest: ‘the only one that can compete with La Masia’ as Barcelona manager Pep Guardiola put it. Names such as Sterling, Suso and Coady are already tipped for stardom. With such apparent strength here, would now be the perfect time for Liverpool to move to a new stadium, tighten the purse-strings, and rely on youth?
As of yet, no decision has been made on whether the extra capacity will be found through redeveloping one of football’s most historic grounds, Anfield, or by building an entirely new stadium for the club. The former is something FSG (Liverpool’s owners) already have a track record in. Upon purchasing the Boston Redsox in 2002 FSG were placed in a similar situation. They chose to redevelop the baseball outfits historic home, Fenway Park with much success – the baseball team has enjoyed consecutive home sell-outs from 2003-2011 and remained competitive throughout.
So the question remains: should Liverpool follow the Arsenal or Boston method? Doing nothing is not an option.