Tom Hicks and George Gillett Jr., the club’s American owners, continue to deny that they are looking to sell Liverpool and that they have held negotiations with any potential buyer, but sources claimed last night that an Arab group — unrelated to Sheikh Mohammed, the ruler of Dubai — had made a firm offer for the club, having inspected the company accounts, but walked away without explanation with a deal looking imminent.
The Times has learnt that there has been interest shown in Liverpool recently by a consortium from Kuwait, although it is not clear whether this was the same group that came close to buying the Merseyside club. The previous £500 million offer from Sheikh Mohammed, now operating independently of, rather than through, the Dubai International Capital group, remains on the table.
The American tycoons are expected to issue another public denial today, amid concerns that the price could be driven down if they are seen as active sellers, but it is an open secret in the world of football finance that they are willing to sell for the right price. Even if they have not been directly involved in negotiations, others have negotiated on their behalf. Last month The Times revealed that they engaged Merrill Lynch, the investment bank, to help to find a buyer. Another swift denial was issued that day, but Gillett squirmed and declined to comment when put on the spot in an interview with a Canadian radio station last week.
Gillett conceded in the same interview that he was “embarrassed” by certain episodes since buying the club with Hicks in February 2007, such as the failure to deliver their promise of a new stadium in Stanley Park, the construction of which has been postponed indefinitely because of their inability to raise the funds.
The Americans are under additional pressure to restructure their £350 million loan with the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) and Wachovia banks, which expires on January 25. If no buyer can be found in time, they hope to be given permission to take up the option of a six-month extension, but RBS, at present under public ownership because of the credit crunch, is by no means guaranteed to renew thereafter. Amid that growing pressure, Hicks and Gillett are firmly expected to sell the club sooner rather than later.