Dubai ups ante in battle for Liverpool
THE battle for Liverpool has escalated as Dubai International Capital increased pressure on the club’s American owners.
DIC has made a formal £400 million ($847 million) offer just as Tom Hicks indicated that he was ready to buy out George Gillett Jr, his co-chairman.
DIC, the private equity investment arm of the Dubai Government, made its bid to buy out Hicks and Gillett last Wednesday and the offer has so far not been rejected.
The bid was made by Amanda Staveley, a senior partner at PCP, a private equity firm, who once briefly dated Prince Andrew, the Duke of York.
It emerged last night that Staveley has been acting as an adviser to DIC since it renewed its bid to buy Liverpool, reporting directly to Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai, and she will be given an influential position in the Anfield boardroom, overseeing the day-to-day running of the club, if the bid is successful.
With discussions continuing behind the scenes, contrary to Hicks’s frequent claims, DIC is confident that Gillett will accept its £200 million offer for his 50 per cent stake in the club, possibly even by the end of this week. But there were claims from Dallas last night that Hicks is ready to exercise his option to buy out Gillett’s stake and to assume sole ownership of Liverpool.
It had been thought that, to do so, Hicks would have to secure an off-market placement of his shares in Hicks Sports Group, which includes his investments in the Texas Rangers baseball team and the Dallas Stars ice hockey franchise.
DIC is unconvinced by the claims from Dallas, with sources suggesting that Hicks will be forced to accept the offer sooner or later, leaving each of the two Americans with a £25 million profit on their original investment.
DIC’s £400 million offer would cover the £350 million that was borrowed as part of their refinancing deal in January, which left the club facing annual interest repayments in the region of £28 million a year.
Sources indicated at the time that, although that deal stabilised the Americans’ regime in the short term, their position looked unsustainable in the long term unless Hicks could somehow raise the funds to buy out his partner.
In a week that promises to be critical for Liverpool, Gillett, whose partnership with Hicks has disintegrated since they arrived on Merseyside 13 months ago, effectively holds the club’s future in his hands, but his intentions are unclear. Although he is understood to have voiced his unwillingness to sell to Hicks because of the antipathy that has developed between them, sources in the US have suggested that Gillett may be forced to do so, given Hicks’s considerable influence in American industry.
What is known is that Gillett’s departure would be welcomed by Rafael Benítez, the manager, who views him, rather than Hicks, as the greatest threat to his future at Anfield.
Having sought to repair his relationship with Hicks, Benítez feels far more secure in his position than he did in the autumn, when the American owners tried, and failed, to line up Jürgen Klinsmann, the former Germany coach, as his successor.
Sources at Anfield have stated, however, that “nobody really knows what Tom Hicks will do if he gets his hands on the entire club”. That is a prospect dreaded by many at Anfield – not least David Moores, the former chairman, and Rick Parry, the chief executive, who feel that they made a mistake in agreeing to sell to Hicks and Gillett, rather than DIC, a year ago.
Parry would be unlikely to survive under a Hicks regime, nor is there any guarantee that he would be retained by DIC in the long term, particularly as Staveley has been identified as a central figure in the running of the club, along with Sameer al Ansari, the group’s chief executive, who is known to be a Liverpool supporter.
Sources at Anfield talk of “chaos” and a situation where “nobody knows who is running the club”. DIC expects to be doing so shortly but, if the whispers from Dallas last night are to be believed, Hicks plans to tighten his grip, not relinquish it.