x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Liverpool's Saudi deal edges closer

The club have finally struck a deal with a Middle East investor. Sadly for their supporters it is, at this stage, only a contract to promote the Merseyside team in the region.

Prince Faisal, right, talks to Liverpool co-owner George Gillett in the directors' box at Anfield on Saturday.
Prince Faisal, right, talks to Liverpool co-owner George Gillett in the directors' box at Anfield on Saturday.

Liverpool Football Club have finally struck a deal with a Middle East investor. Sadly for their supporters it is, at this stage, only a contract to promote the Merseyside team in the region. But the possibility of Prince Faisal bin Fahd bin Abdullah al Saud acquiring American co-owner George Gillett's 50 per cent stake in the Anfield side appeared to gain greater credibility yesterday when it was confirmed his people are inspecting the accounts.

Earlier this week, Prince Faisal revealed to the Saudi press his intention to purchase half of Liverpool via F6 - his sports investment company. The club, eager to avoid previous mistakes, refused to comment. But with Liverpool's debts reportedly approaching the £245 million (Dh1.42bn) mark, Barry Didato, the company's director of strategic investments, relayed a warning that a potential cash influx will not be made to solely service the club's existing debt.

"The prince is looking to buy anywhere from zero to 100 per cent [of Liverpool], but he doesn't need to have a controlling interest," said Didato. "We are at the stage of due diligence and taking George's [Gillett's] lead. It is moving pretty quickly. At the moment [Prince Faisal] is only working with Gillett and I'd certainly think it would have to happen by the end of the end of this year. We want the healthiest of clubs and debt is absolutely an issue. Any investment has to be business centric."

A new dawn appears to be illuminating Liverpool's immediate horizon, but the club's fans will be wary; they have been here before. Failed episodes of Middle East-based investors publicly declaring buy-out intentions are well-documented in recent times. Turning mooted interest into financial action has been an impossible act for the Merseysiders' warring owners Gillett and Tom Hicks - who bought the club in February 2007.

Dubai Investment Company have had two moves to buy the club - one before the Americans' arrivals, one after - not come to fruition. And two months ago, a high profile British football powerbroker revealed he was in multi-million pound take-over negotiations - on behalf of a regional client - with Liverpool, and their cross-city rivals Everton. Neither materialised. Every time promises of cash windfalls from Arab investors erode, Liverpool's desired squad strengthening and stadium building prospects turn to dust. The fans, assured of imminent investment by Gillett and Hicks when they took over, have turned their wrath on the owners.

Animosity is always in the air at Anfield. Only manager Rafa Benitez, whose regular verbal sparring sessions with Liverpool's bosses, and the Spaniard's players, have escaped the fans' vilification. Gillett and Hicks bare the brunt. The innate complexity of their co-ownership agreement means both retain veto power if the other decides to sell. Ultimately, Gillett's desire to offload his half of the club to Prince Faisal must be sanctioned by Hicks - who, it has to be said, is reportedly backing his partner's wooing of Saudi bounty.

Sat in the director's box with Gillett at his side, Prince Faisal watched Fernando Torres, Liverpool's prolific striker, treat him to a suitably regal show in the 6-1 thumping of Hull. The No 9's hat-trick earned Prince Faisal's applause, while the presence of royalty infected a rampant Liverpool. The buzz at Anfield was compelling. But the long-term battle for the minds of Liverpool's wary fans will be harder fought. Suspicion is in the air after botched takeover attempts. The present owners' failure to invest as much as their Premier League title rivals has only added to fans' disillusionment and deep-rooted dissatisfaction.

After losing influential midfielder Xabi Alonso to Real Madrid in the summer, a successful Prince Faisal takeover will please the Liverpool faithful, especially if his financial clout reverses the Americans' "sell before buy" recruitment policy. emegson@thenational.ae