LIVERPOOL // A Saudi Arabian billionaire has said he is in talks to buy a 50 per cent share of Liverpool Football Club, the five-time European Cup winners, for a fee that could be as high as £350 million (Dh2.1bn). Prince Faisal bin Fahd bin Abdullah Al Saud was a guest of co-owner George Gillett for Saturday's 6-1 win over Hull City.
Negotiations between the pair concerned the setting up of several Liverpool academies in the Middle East as well as the ownership of the club. "We are looking at the present time to acquire a 50 per cent stake in the club, which is currently suffering from debts of up to £245m," Prince Faisal told the Saudi newspaper Al Riyadh. "The value of the deal, which will be finalised soon, is around £200m to £350m."
And yesterday an official statement from his office was released by Azhari Kowa, a spokesman for the prince. "He is in London now discussing the purchase," the statement from Kowa said. Prince Faisal is chairman and CEO of F6, a Saudi-based investment and marketing company. He spent around six hours at Anfield, along with a retinue of bodyguards, and is reported to have been taken into the dressing room by Gillett before leaving around 90 minutes after the end of the game.
Gillett, 70, and fellow American Tom Hicks bought Liverpool in February 2007 for £220m after the Dubai International Capital (DIC) group withdrew their bid. However, their regime has been controversial. Work is yet to begin on the new Anfield, a condition of former owner David Moores' sale to Hicks and Gillett, while coach Rafa Benitez's net transfer spend in the summer was a mere £2m. Both owners have been affected by the international recession although Gillett, who sold NHL ice hockey club Montreal Canadiens for £360m this summer, is now thought to be the wealthier.
Nevertheless, the club's financial position has appeared precarious. Liverpool had to renegotiate a £350m loan with the Royal Bank of Scotland in the summer, refinancing the borrowings the two Americans took out to buy the 18-time English champions. Gillett, a businessman from Wisconsin, and Texan Hicks have fallen out since their purchase of Liverpool, though neither has been able to buy the other out.
Hicks had embarked upon a separate quest for investment. It is thought he, valuing the club at around £500m, had been willing to offer buyers 25 per cent of the club for around £100m. Supporters at Anfield have long campaigned for the pair to sell the club, rather than find alternative backers. Gillett was the subject of demonstrations from fans before Saturday's game. Of the two co-owners, Hicks has been the stronger supporter of Benitez, while Gillett allied himself with former chief executive Rick Parry, who left the club in the summer. It is thought Gillett was willing to sell his stake to DIC in the past, but Hicks vetoed it.
In a separate development, it has been reported that Moores, Liverpool's chairman for 16 years, has decided to stop attending matches at Anfield because of his dissatisfaction with Hicks and Gillett. firstname.lastname@example.org