10 April 2008

Rafa Benitez targets Champions League Moscow millions

Tony Barrett
Liverpool Echo

LIVERPOOL will send their Champions League prize money earned under Rafa Benitez crashing through the £100m barrier should they reach this season's final in Moscow.
Having already amassed a prize pot of more than £70m over the last three years, the Anfield club will underline how lucrative the Champions League is in spectacular fashion should they manage to beat Chelsea at the semi-final stage for the third time in just four years.
The winners of this year's competition stand to earn in excess of £30m in prize money and TV revenue alone and tournament sponsors Mastercard believe the club which takes Europe's most glamorous trophy stands to pocket tens of millions of pounds more in commercial spin offs.
According to UEFA's own figures, Liverpool made £31m when they won the trophy in 2005, £13m when they lost out to Benfica in the last 16 the following season and £26m when they were the beaten finalists against AC Milan in Athens last May.
These mind boggling figures show exactly why qualifying for the Champions League has become increasingly important in recent seasons and why the current battle for fourth between Merseyside rivals Liverpool and Everton has assumed such massive significance.
In purely cash terms, it also underlines how crucial it is for Liverpool to continue to flourish in Europe – and that's without even mentioning the associated glory should Steven Gerrard go on to lift the European Cup in the Luzhniki Stadium on Wednesday, May 21.
Should he choose to do so, Benitez could argue with some justification that the huge amounts of European prize money brought in during his four-year reign at Anfield more than offsets his net spend in the transfer market.
Having spent around £134m on player recruitment and recouped around £63m in sales, the Reds boss has a net spend in the region of £70m (excluding salaries), a figure which will be overtaken once this year's Champions League prize money is added to that brought into the club since 2004/05.
Benitez is fully aware of how crucial it is for Liverpool to keep up their record of qualifying for the Champions League every season since he first became manager and he also recognises the importance of making it through to the latter stages of the competition.
He said: "In sporting terms, it is good for the club, for the team, for the players and the fans because you get to test yourself against the very best teams in Europe.
"It is something we enjoy and hopefully we will continue to do well in the Champions League.
"We have a very good record in the last few seasons and we have been to the final twice. This has really helped the club.
"The financial element is also important for the club because it allows us to grow and that is why there is so much competition to get into the top four."
Having knocked Arsenal out at Anfield on Tuesday night, Liverpool will also record a fiscal victory over their North London rivals when this season's prize money is handed out.
At a time when the Gunners are benefiting from far greater gate receipts from the recently built Emirates stadium which holds 15,000 more spectators than Anfield, this is one way that Liverpool can ensure the gap between the two clubs' annual revenue streams does not grow even greater than it already is.
In 2003, Reds chief executive Rick Parry admitted that Liverpool simply had to be in the Champions League if they were to be able to compete with the likes of Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea and that was at a time when the competition was not as lucrative as it is now.
"Being in the Champions League is worth about £15m a year – and that's a substantial amount by anyone's reckoning," said Parry at the time.
"I accept that a good run in the UEFA Cup can be valuable, but there is a gap between the two. The Champions League is our aim and is where we need to be."
The gap between the two competitions has grown in the intervening five years.
Last year's UEFA Cup winners Sevilla, for example, discovered that their exploits had earned them a windfall of just £6m, a figure which is dwarfed by the £30m-plus bounty scooped by Champions League winners AC Milan.
This time around, Sevilla were knocked out in the last 16 stage of the Champions League and still stand to net more than double the amount they received for actually winning the UEFA Cup.
The UEFA Cup remains a competition worth of winning in sporting terms but as a money spinner it lags some way behind the cash cow that is the Champions League and that is why finishing fifth in the Premier League remains little more than a consolation prize.
Back in 2003, Parry could not have been any clearer when he spelled out the potential perils of failing to qualify for the Champions League.
"If we do not make the Champions League it is going to have an impact," he said.
"We all appreciate how important it is and there is no point pretending otherwise.
"We said when we put our plans together about three years ago that it was about getting into the Champions League and staying there. It has to be continuous.
"It is not about being there once or twice and then dropping out. It is vital that we are regular participants."
Under Benitez, Liverpool have become exactly that and what's more they are not just there to make up the numbers.
A potential £100m in prize money in just four seasons proves that.

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