Liverpool's major creditor, Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), yesterday denied they were in talks with a prominent Chinese businessman over the sale of the debt-laden Premier League club. But a source close to Chinese businessman Kenny Huang reiterated that talks to buy Liverpool's £237 million (Dh1.35 billion) debt with RBS were under way as a first step towards a purchase deal for the 18-times league champions.
British media have widely reported that Huang, who already has interests in baseball and US basketball, had approached the bank as part of a scheme to eventually acquire control of the club. An RBS spokesman told Reuters: "We are not in talks with any bidder about the sale of Liverpool football club." Asked about the denial, the source insisted Huang wanted to buy the Anfield club, who were put up for sale in April by unpopular American owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett in April.
Huang, the chairman of the Hong Kong-based QSL Sports Group, has not commented on the deal but has appointed a British media relations firm to represent his interest in the five-times European champions. Liverpool's owners, who bought the club in February 2007 from former owner David Moores for £218.9 million, instructed Barclays Capital to find a buyer in April and appointed British Airways chief Martin Broughton as chairman to oversee the sale.
Barclays Capital refused comment on the new reports. The American duo have faced intense criticism and hostility from Liverpool fans, with frequent demands for their removal, after loading the club with huge debts. Huang issued a statement in March denying comments attributed to him in the British media about the future of then Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez but declining comment on his interest in purchasing the club.
Media reports have linked Syrian businessman and former international footballer Yahya Kirdi with a deal for Liverpool, who suffered a dismal campaign last season, finishing in seventh place in the Premier League and missing out on a lucrative sport in the Champions League. The source close to the reported Huang bid also said the businessman had pledged to invest heavily in Liverpool if he buys the club. "He wants to get it done quickly so investment can come this summer," said the source. "Liverpool need investment in the playing squad and infrastructure and Huang wants to build the [new] stadium.
"The club has an outstanding reputation but does not have the infrastructure to keep with it and make it grow." Huang is backed by one of the wealthiest investment funds in the Far East and is well known in China for his interests in baseball and basketball. He was the first Chinese college graduate from mainland China to work at the New York Stock Exchange, in 1988. He negotiated the purchase of a 15 per cent stake in the NBA's Cleveland Cavaliers in May 2009 and is director and co-founder of SportsCorp China, the exclusive marketing partner in China for the New York Yankees.
He was first linked with a buyout at Liverpool two years ago and reportedly believes now is the time to make his move. But though many fans would be delighted to see Hicks and Gillett leave, they would also be wary of grandiose promises. The American owners made similar claims when they assumed control at Anfield, with Gillett insisting there would be a "spade in the ground [for the new stadium] within 60 days".
That particular boast, like many others, remains unfulfilled while investment in the squad has gone backwards during the Americans' tempestuous reign. * Agencies