Liverpool ownership mired in uncertainty


LONDON: The battle for control of Liverpool remains shrouded in confusion, leaving the 18-time English champions still trying to find a buyer to end the team's financial troubles as the new season begins.

American co-owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett Jr. have been searching for investors throughout their three-year reign, but in April they accepted the need to sell amid mounting cash constraints.

A global cast of investors and frontmen have come forward claiming to be the solution to Liverpool's woes, but the American owners have yet to find an acceptable buyer after rejecting a 500 million pound (then $993 million) bid from Dubai International Capital in 2008.

One potential saviour is a group headed by Hong Kong businessman Kenny Huang, which reportedly had has the backing of China Investment Corp. — the country's sovereign wealth fund.

Huang's public relations representatives said they wouldn't be confirming or denying the claims, although the internet edition of the Financial Times cited an unnamed CIC spokeswoman as saying it wasn't aware of a plan to buy Liverpool.

China's Titan Sports, citing a text message reportedly sent from Huang's cell phone, said the businessman denied that his commercial operations had "any involvement of mainland state-owned capital."

Adding to the chaos at Anfield are claims by former Syrian club footballer Yahya Kirdi that his consortium of investors from the Middle East and Canada is close to completing a takeover.

Kirdi said he has been negotiating with Hicks and Gillett directly since last year, before Barclays Capital bank was engaged in April to find a buyer, and his camp claims to just have one remaining issue to resolve to sign off on a takeover. Some British newspapers, however, have cast doubt on the credibility of the bid.

Such skepticism is not unfounded. Several mooted takeovers have fizzled out in similar circumstances. Last year, Prince Faisal bin Fahd bin Abdullah al-Saud of Saudi Arabia claimed to be negotiating a takeover.

A 100 million pound ($159 million) offer for 40 percent of the club by the New York-based private equity firm Rhone Group was not accepted earlier this year, with Hicks apparently unhappy with the deal. But Rhone has plans to consider a complete buyout if the current contenders end their interest.

In April, Hicks said the club was worth 800 million pounds. But the longer the process drags out — and the closer it gets to the October deadline for Hicks and Gillett to refinance their 237 million pound loan with the Royal Bank of Scotland — the harder it will be for the owners to make a significant profit on the 218.9 million pounds they paid for the club in March 2007.

Last year, Gillett sold the Montreal Canadiens, the Gillett Entertainment Group and the Bell Centre back to the Molson family for $580 million.

Hicks' baseball team, the Texas Rangers, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in May and was bought early Thursday by team president Nolan Ryan and sports attorney Chuck Greenberg at auction for $590 million. - AP

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