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Liverpool Set To Sign Martin Skrtel

Liverpool were last night poised to break their transfer record for a defender with the £7 million capture of Slovakia international Martin Skrtel - a move calculated to solve the club's centre-half crisis and reverse the decline in form that has left manager Rafael Benitez fearing for his job.

With Benitez indicating his urgent need for another centre-back following injuries to Daniel Agger and Sami Hyppia, Liverpool chief executive Rick Parry spent the weekend in Russia concluding a deal to prise the highly-rated Skrtel from Zenit St Petersburg. The 23-year-old underwent a medical yesterday and the club hope the transfer will be completed today. Skrtel, who played for Zenit at Everton in the Uefa Cup in December, could be signed in time to join the squad for the visit to Middlesbrough on Saturday.

Martin Skrtel
New face: centre-back Martin Skrtel is all set to become a Liverpool player

Liverpool's American owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett Jr, meanwhile, met in New York on Sunday to discuss their stuttering plans to raise £350 million from banks to refinance their takeover and to start building the club's new ground at Stanley Park.

Despite vowing to seal a deal with the Royal Bank of Scotland and investment bank Wachovia before Christmas, Hicks and Gillett are no closer to announcing an agreement.

They have until next month to refinance loans used mainly to pay for their £220 million takeover almost a year ago. They wanted to secure the borrowings against club revenue but have met stiff resistance from board members who do not want to see Liverpool saddled with heavy debts.

Parry flew to New York last night ahead of talks today with the owners. Although the meeting was being billed as a summit on the future of Benitez, the talks are more likely to focus on Hicks and Gillett's latest plans for the club's finances.

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