Shares in Liverpool for stars Gerrard and Owen

BANGKOK: Thailand will offer Liverpool stars Michael Owen and Steven Gerrard a substantial shareholding in the team if it succeeds in its bid to buy a 30 percent stake, a news report said yesterday. 

The private Business Radio quoted Thailand's chief negotiator Pongsak Raktapongpaisarn as saying that striker Owen and midfielder Gerrard would be given a combined 11 percent control of a Thai company that would buy the Liverpool stake. 

The state-run Sports Authority of Thailand would hold 49 percent of the company and the rest would be offered to the public, Business Radio's owner and commentator Danai Ekmahasawadhi said. 

“We do not know whether Owen and Gerrard will have to buy the share from their pockets or be given it for free,'' Danai said on a news program. 

The report could not be independently verified. 

Pongsak, who is the country's deputy commerce minister, is currently in England for the final negotiations with the Liverpool board. 

The board is expected to decide this week whether to accept the US$115mil offer by the Thai government, Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra told reporters yesterday. 

“I expect that we will reach a final decision in the next few days,'' said Thaksin, a billionaire tycoon-turned-politician who has been the prime mover behind the unusual plan to buy a part of the English Premier League club. 

Thaksin is facing harsh criticism at home over the bid, with opponents saying it will neither bring economic benefits nor promote soccer in Thailand, even though a local academy would be set up under the terms of the proposed deal. 

Thaksin had originally indicated that he would buy the Liverpool stake with his money. But the government later said the ownership of the 30 percent stake would be with the new company to be set up under the Sports Authority of Thailand. 

But instead of using government funds, the company would fund the purchase through a special 10 billion baht (US$250mil) state lottery. Half of the money would be used to buy the Liverpool stake and the other half spent on prizes and administrative expenses. 

The deal appears to hinge on a key Thai demand for two seats on the executive board. Liverpool is willing to give only one seat. 

Asked if Thailand is certain to win the deal, Thaksin said: “We cannot say yes or no at this moment because a crucial decision is to be taken by both sides.'' 

“We are negotiating all aspects, including financial and legal aspects, but it is not appropriate for me to reveal anything more,'' Thaksin said. 

In England, some have questioned whether Thaksin, criticized for human rights abuses, should acquire a piece of the team. Over 2,200 people died – many allegedly at the hands of police – last year when Thaksin launched an assault on drugs. 

Thaksin has countered such criticism, saying that buying into the club will not only help improve soccer in Thailand, but also aid his government's campaign against illicit drugs.  

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