China-based group bullish on bid for Liverpool


BEIJING: The leader of a China-based investment group seeking to buy Liverpool says they're up against tough competition but still have an even chance of acquiring the Premier League club.

Kenny Huang said the club welcomed initial investment plans presented less than 10 days ago and told the group to proceed with a formal offer.

"Our opponents are big and strong and our experience too little," Huang said in an exclusive interview with the magazine ibasketball, for which he is a chief consultant.

Asked how confident he was of winning the bid, Huang answered: "About 50 percent."

His interview in the magazine's Aug. 12 edition builds on comments earlier this month by Marc Ganis, whose Chicago-based company Sportscorp Ltd. has helped form the investment group.

Huang's QSL Sports Limited would be controlling owner of the limited liability corporation that would own Liverpool FC.

Huang, who had earlier declined all media interviews, refused to identify the members of the investment group and did not say how much they would be willing to offer. Ganis had said the amount would not even be close to the $950 million to $1.25 billion that American co-owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett Jr are asking for the club, whose known debt last stood at 237 million pounds ($370 million).

"It's most definitely not my money. It's an investment group's money," Huang said.

Huang had been relatively unknown outside business circles before becoming the public face of a group that last year snapped up 15 percent of the Cleveland Cavaliers.

He also owns a Chinese basketball team and invested this year in the previously obscure Chinese National Basketball League. With Ganis, he represents the New York Yankees in China and has pledged to inject several million dollars a year into a new Chinese youth baseball league.

Asked what sparked his interest in the club, Huang said the Liverpool brand offered excellent value and its price had dropped considerably from two years ago. He said QSL's main advantage was in offering greater access to Asia and China, Huang said.

"This would be a great help in Liverpool entering the Asian market," he said.

Huang said the group was not aiming simply to pump the club's value before offloading it at a profit, implying a willingness to make a serious, long-term commitment.

"Many people think that what we're doing is mere speculation, but that would be a wrong way of putting it," Huang said.

In his earlier interview with The Associated Press, Ganis said the group aimed to pay off Liverpool's debts, invest heavily in the team and its players, and build the long-delayed new stadium to replace Anfield.

Barclays Capital, which is attempting to sell the club for the co-owners, has told potential bidders they will have to show they have the financing to go through with the proposals. After QSL's interest emerged, former Syrian club player Yahya Kirdi said he was fronting a consortium of investors from the Middle East and Canada that was close to completing a takeover.

Ganis said any deal would not close until well after the summer transfer window ends on Aug. 31. Huang said the investment group still had much work to do coordinating between shareholders, the club's owners, and the Royal Bank of Scotland, which holds Liverpool's debt.

QSL is co-headed by Guang Yang, executive vice president of Franklin Templeton Investments and chief investment officer of the China Life/Franklin Templeton Fund. According to Ganis, the two would be the only owners involved in the management of the club. Other investors would be passive, and each would own no more than 20 percent.

China Investment Corp. — the country's sovereign wealth fund — would not have a direct ownership stake in the club. However, Ganis said it may be part of an investment vehicle organized by Yang and his financial team that would have a passive ownership interest.

British media have said that CIC was funding the takeover, suggesting the club would come under the control of the Chinese government.

Hicks and Gillett put the 18-time English champions on sale in April due to personal financial constraints. The two bought Liverpool three years ago in a deal valued at 218.9 million pounds (then $431 million).

Liverpool has won 18 English league titles — but none since 1990 — and its record has been matched by Manchester United. Beset by infighting between Hicks and Gillett, plus player injuries, the Reds failed to qualify for this season's Champions League, losing tens of millions of pounds (dollars) in revenue.

But captain Steven Gerrard and star forward Fernando Torres decided to remain with the club under new manager Roy Hodgson, who replaced Rafa Benitez after last season. The free acquisition of Joe Cole also proved Liverpool is able to attract quality players as it tries to regain a place in the Champions League in 2011-12 by returning to the top four. - AP

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