The Liverpool Football Club academy has pulled out of the multimillion-rand sporting development near King’s Park and is looking for a permanent home at another site in Durban.
Hoy Park Management, the company behind the development, confirmed that the academy would no longer be part of it and that the site would be used primarily as an elite soccer academy of the SA Football Association (Safa).
The 14.334ha northern precinct site at King’s Park came under the spotlight last year after the eThekwini Municipality gave Berea Rovers Club – which occupies the site – notice to vacate.
The city signed a 30-year lease agreement with Hoy Park Management to develop the area.
The development, which is being partly funded by the city and the province, was sold to Durban ratepayers as a site that would eventually have six synthetic soccer fields, a high-performance centre, the Liverpool academy and a hotel.
Yesterday Carlos Catalino, managing director of Hoy Park Management, confirmed the change in plans.
He said the precinct was being developed with Safa, and would eventually house 88 “elite” youngsters from around KwaZulu-Natal.
City manager, Sibusiso Sithole, said he did not know anything about the latest development.
“I don’t have the most recent progress report, so I can’t help you,” he said. He referred the Daily News to the city’s communications department, which had not responded to questions by the time of publication.
The development will consist of a world-class sports centre with accommodation, training, medical and recreational facilities aimed at drawing international teams for their preseason training sessions and winter breaks.
There will also be facilities for hockey and rugby.
Catalino said Liverpool was meant to be part of the development initially but needed bigger facilities.
“Initially they were going to be coming in. But they needed a bigger base and a bigger set-up which the developer could not offer them.
“There was only one field for them. They need two or three fields to operate. We have the Safa academy and we would require our fields.
“It would not be possible to have everything in the same section,” he said.
“Liverpool was going to initially come in and rent facilities and lease certain parts and hours of the day, but they are no longer going to and they are going to have their own venue.
“They will not be part of Safa, we need to keep that totally separate.”
Catalino insisted the original plan was always to have a Safa academy and that the Liverpool academy was separate.
He said that unlike the Liverpool academy model, which requires players to pay a fee to be part of the set-up, the Safa academy would be free to youngsters with potential to be professional footballers.
“What we are doing at King’s Park is developing elite players. The programmes are different, it is not the same programme.”
Chief executive of the Liverpool academy, CJ Benjamin, said it was never cast in stone that they would be part of the King’s Park precinct.
“The Liverpool academy is a private institute and we could use any field across the country for our academy because it is independent. It is not run by Safa or influenced by it… Liverpool academy is a private academy and players pay us.”
Benjamin said that since launching in January, the academy had operated from George Campbell Technical High School. She said they were looking for a permanent base in Durban.
“(Moving to the King’s Park precinct) was a tentative conversation (with the developers). There was never a single document in place. It is not the crux of the Liverpool academy that we have to be based at the precinct. We will choose a facility that is best for the Liverpool academy standards,” she said.
Benjamin said the Durban academy was one of two in the country. The other is in Johannesburg.
Ray Curtis, the newly appointed head coach of Liverpool football academy who recently moved to South Africa to take up the position, said they were looking for a football pitch suitable to develop the correct technical programme for their young players.
He said they were keen at securing one that had a “good history and family values”.
“We have to make sure it is safe for the players, the kids and the coaches. The ideal scenario is a nice, manicured pitch just like Anfield but that is not always available. We are willing to compromise as long as it is somewhere that has the potential to be developed,” he said.
“On top of that, we need decent changing rooms, showers and medical support. We are looking for reasonable standards.”
Safa referred all questions relating to the issue to its president, Danny Jordaan, who was said to be out of the country. He could not be reached by the time of publication. – Additional reporting by Kamcilla Pillay