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Debtridden Liverpool up for sale

Published:Saturday | April 17, 2010 | 12:00 AM


Liverpool's American owners put the debt-ridden Premier League club up for sale yesterday, heralding the end of their three-year tenure, after mounting pressure from banks and furious fans.

Tom Hicks and George Gillett Jr. have finally conceded they no longer have the resources to strengthen the Liverpool team and build the new stadium they promised after buying the 18-time English champions.

Amid their own feuding and heated fan protests, the tycoons tried in vain for more than two years to find an investor who would be willing to pump money into the club, and reduce the debt of £237 million (US$364 million) resulting from their leveraged takeover.

Looking for investors

After failing to attract a minority investor, Hicks and Gillett yesterday tasked Barclays Bank to lead the search for a buyer, while hiring British Airways chairman Martin Broughton to assume the same role at Anfield and oversee the sale.

"There has been a long process of Hicks and Gillett looking for investors - the decision has now been made to exit," said Broughton, who is a fan of Premier League rival Chelsea. "This is not the ad hoc process that has been along so far."

Broughton said a takeover would be completed "in a matter of months".

Hicks and Gillett would be expecting at least 500 million pounds, which Dubai International Capital offered in 2008 and was rejected by the squabbling owners.

"Owning Liverpool Football Club over these past three years has been a rewarding and exciting experience for us and our families," Hicks and Gillett said in a brief joint statement. "We have now decided together to look to sell the club to owners committed to take the club through its next level of growth and development."

No fire-sale of players

During the sale process, Royal Bank of Scotland and Wachovia will not call in the Americans' loans and there will be no fire-sale of players.

"I think the club is moving forward and that's positive," said manager Rafa Benitez, who the owners infuriated by looking at replacing him with Juergen Klinsmann, and whose own future still remains in doubt.

While Hicks and Gillett did buy Fernando Torres for a club-record £20.3 million (then US$40.6 million) in 2007, the lack of funds last year to spend on players has had an impact on Liverpool's performance on the field this season.

Runners-up last season, Liverpool are languishing in sixth place this season, six points adrift of fourth place and the final English berth in next season's Champions League.

While Liverpool are in the semi-finals of the Europa League, they are in Europe's second-tier knockout competition, because they were eliminated from the group stage of the Champions League, which they won in 2005.

Liverpool have been financially hamstrung by the economics of its 45,000-capacity Anfield stadium, where there are limited luxury suites and amenities to generate extra revenue.

Preliminary building work on a 60,00-seat replacement started in the adjacent Stanley Park in June 2008, but it was halted in October due to the global economic meltdown.

"There is an overwhelming logic to any buyer to complete the new stadium," Broughton said. "We're talking about maybe 2014 before the stadium is up and running. But it increases the capacity and gets a lot more money into the club on a regular basis, and helps the long-term future funding of the club."