Arabs eye £500m Liverpool buy-out – Duncan Castles and Richard Wachman, City editor
Sunday January 13, 2008
ObserverLiverpool FC could change hands for the second time in a year as their American owners encounter difficulties in refinancing £350million of debt incurred in taking over and running the club.Beset by the steeply rising costs of a new stadium and manager Rafa Benitez’s demands for new players, Tom Hicks and George Gillett Jr have been attempting to transfer the debt, for which they are personally liable, on to the club itself. City sources believe this is an extremely difficult task to complete before the loan’s due date at the end of February.It is possible that the Americans will meet the deadline, but if not an Arab investment group, Dubai International Capital, is understood to be close to lodging an offer to buy out the American pair, probably for about £500m. Takeover discussions are thought to be due before the end of this month.
If successful, DIC, led by Liverpool supporter Sameer Al Ansari, would invest heavily in two areas: the new stadium that Liverpool need if they are to compete with Arsenal and Manchester United for matchday revenue, and an improved playing squad. Were they also to acquire a new management team Jose Mourinho, who is known to be interested in managing Liverpool, would be a prime candidate.
DIC were extremely close to buying Liverpool last February, only to lose out to Hicks and Gillett when the club’s chief executive, Rick Parry, switched his support from the Arab camp to the American. The latter paid £174.1m for a 100 per cent shareholding, also agreeing to take on the club’s then debt of £44.8m.
The purchase, however, was funded solely with borrowed money, Hicks and Gillett’s loan from the Royal Bank of Scotland swelling to £350m as it was used to fund several high-profile summer transfers, development work and architect’s plans for a 60,000-seat stadium in Stanley Park, and to roll up the interest on the debt.
The RBS loan is due for repayment next month. The Observer understands that attempts to restructure it have so far failed and the Americans have yet to inject new equity into the refinancing.
While RBS have asked Hicks and Gillett to each commit £20m of their own cash to the deal, City sources believe that at least one of the pair is not prepared to do so. Hicks and Gillett declined to comment last night.
Meanwhile, work on ‘New Anfield’ has been held up by the impasse over the acquisition loan, with no chance of funding being put in place for the £400m stadium project until the issue is resolved. A meeting in New York last week at which architects HKS and AFL presented competing stadium designs, was described by Parry merely as ‘another big step forward to finding the best possible solution. Everyone is reflecting on what they have heard and a clear decision will be taken soon’.
The global credit crunch has made it harder for Hicks and Gillett to raise new revenues elsewhere and also affected the value of their other assets. Should they fail in their efforts to repay the £350m acquisition debt on Liverpool when it comes due in just over six weeks, there would be the possibility of the next owner of the club becoming RBS.
The bank, however, are extremelyunlikely to allow the situation to develop that way. Nor are Parry and club honorary life-president David Moores, the former principal shareholder. Parry and Moores are horrified that the Hicks-Gillett deal has not thus far brought long-term financial stability to the club. As a consequence, there are increasing tensions between the Americans and other board members as the refinancing deadline approaches. Parry and Moores are understood to be open to a second takeover.
Sources in the Middle East have confirmed that DIC remain as keenly interested in buying Liverpool as they were one year ago. DIC last night refused to comment on the matter, but they appear best placed to resolve the financial problems affecting the club’s competitiveness in the Premier League. A mooted valuation of £1billion has been ridiculed, but an enterprise value of around half that figure might prove acceptable, allowing the Americans to exit with a profit of £75m each.
Guardian Unlimited © Guardian News and Media Limited 2008