A Liverpool board meeting scheduled for Thursday to discuss offers for the club has been postponed, providing further evidence of the complications and uncertainty surrounding the club’s future.
The Daily Telegraph can disclose that the decision to postpone was taken amid continuing doubts about the credibility of potential bidders and after the date had been publicized in the media.
A well-placed source said it would have been “premature” to meet this week, indicating that the club was yet to receive any formal offers backed by proof of funds.
Sources said the board would not meet this week and it is unclear when the five-man group – chairman Martin Broughton, owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett, managing director Christian Purslow and commercial director Ian Ayre – will now convene.
The delay raises doubts about the club’s prospects of changing hands this month, or even before the Oct 6 refinancing deadline set by Royal Bank of Scotland.
Broughton had asked as many as six potential buyers to table detailed offers, including proof of funds, by the end of this week, in the hope that two might be worth serious consideration. That deadline now looks ambitious.
For supporters desperate for clarity amid the claims and counter-claims of the last fortnight the postponement is not a positive sign.
Broughton might still emerge from the fog of speculation clutching a piece of paper securing the future of Liverpool FC in the near future, but this does not make it feel any more imminent.
At least five potential buyers are thought to have expressed an interest.
Chinese-American businessman Kenneth Huang and Syrian Yahya Kurdi have both said they are considering an offer for the club, while the Kuwaiti Al-Kharafi family and New York investors the Rhone Group are also thought to have expressed an interest.
Indian conglomerate Sahara said this week it would not bid “for the time being”, but did not rule it out.
Until any of them table offers with proof of funds, Broughton’s hopes of securing a deal before the end of the transfer window will be dashed.
The timing is significant. The deadline for formal offers falls on Friday and marks the end of the two-week window after which Huang indicated he would walk away if his offer was not accepted.
It is also just over a fortnight from the closure of the transfer window, the last opportunity for Roy Hodgson to enhance his squad.
It appears likely now that the window will close without a formal change in Liverpool’s ownership, leaving the far more significant deadline set by RBS looking like the decisive factor in regards to the fate of the club.
The bank agreed to extend its £237 million loan facility in April only after Hicks and Gillett agreed to sell and to appoint Broughton to oversee the process.
RBS is also understood to have imposed more expensive terms on the Americans, with £110 million of their debt reportedly converted to payment-in-kind loans accruing interest of up to £2.5 million a week.
This gives RBS by far the greatest leverage of any of the players in the Anfield saga, though whether the bank will choose to use it remains to be seen.
RBS is reported to have offered to “ease” the financing for any bidder, a move that emphasizes the sensitivity of its position.
If October arrives with no acceptable offer RBS could extend its financing to the Americans again, or take a more drastic step and force out Hicks and Gillett and effectively take control of the club.
That would be a hugely controversial step for the publicly-owned bank to take and would require the endorsement of senior management including chief executive Stephen Hester.
Removing the Americans might be popular on Merseyside and would certainly simplify the process, but it would not be without implications for the bank’s reputation.
For potential bidders RBS’s situation offers an opportunity. Letting the clock tick down will increase the bank’s anxiety, the fees paid by Hicks and Gillett and drive the price down .
Sahara’s statement this week suggests that may be its strategy.
Kurdi, understood to be backed by investors from Sharjah and considered a serious bidder by the Americans, who are seeking a profit from their time in charge at Anfield, indicated he would do likewise.
“I want at least two months, two months to see everything. After that if everything is OK it’s a deal. If not, 'Thank you very much’,” he told Bloomberg this week.
The Huang bid told The Daily Telegraph on Wednesday that it had still not decided whether to make an offer.
Marc Ganis, a US associate of Huang’s, said via email: “We haven’t yet decided to submit a formal proposal but are interested in looking at an investment there. I suspect that is obvious. We also have not identified the potential investors.”
Ganis’s statement is a far more sober assessment than the suggestions of a swift Chinese government-backed takeover emanating from Huang’s camp last week.
Huang, a sports business investor who cites top-level contacts in China and the US, has made no comment himself since news of his intentions emerged last week.
There has been confusion over the source of his funding and the exact make-up of his team.
His background has come under scrutiny too, though not via his company website, which has displayed the message 'Site Under Maintenance’ since his involvement.
Huang received an endorsement on Wednesday when Randy Levine, president of the New York Yankees, told the New York Times he had arranged marketing tie-ups in China.
Huang would hope to forge similar links for Liverpool, but first, like everyone else circling the club, he will have to convince Broughton he has the finances to pay for it.
If he and the other interested parties cannot, RBS may have to decide the club’s future in the autumn.