Hicks and DIC to begin talks on Liverpool deal next week

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The Independent Online

A meeting in London early next week between Tom Hicks and Amanda Staveley, chief negotiator for Dubai International Capital (DIC), will focus on how the Arab consortium can secure management control of Liverpool Football Club despite holding only George Gillett's 50 per cent of the shares, it was claimed by one of the sides in the long-running ownership wrangle yesterday.

DIC sources suggested that Hicks has removed his opposition to George Gillett selling his stake in the club in a deal which would enable him to pocket a £40m profit plus add-ons. The sources' detailed description of how they say Hicks proposed next week's meeting – the suggestion came in a direct telephone conversation with Staveley on Tuesday, they say – seemed to support the consortium's claims that Hicks has finally accepted the idea of DIC being a part owner of the club. But sources close to Hicks later denied he had agreed to any such meeting and that handing management control to DIC was not a possibility he was contemplating.

DIC sources say Hicks has been in regular contact with the consortium, despite insisting that he will not sell to them. If next week's meeting were to proceed, then one reading would be that Hicks has simply concluded that he has no power to block a Gillett sale – several sources familiar with the wrangle suggest he does not – and that he will be forced to work with DIC anyway.

There was no sense yesterday that Gillett has been persuaded to part with his shares, having failed to conclude a deal by the arbitrary deadline of midnight on Tuesday, imposed by DIC. The consortium insists that it has made its final offer to Gillett and there is confidence in the DIC camp that the American will not find a better one. DIC's belief that a deal can be concluded saw one of its representatives meet fans' groups at a Liverpool hotel after Wednesday night's league game against West Ham.

A source said Hicks and Staveley had met many times before. "What's interesting now is that the [ownership issue] is coming to a head. Sources from the DIC side have been predicting since last month that the ownership issue would be resolved, one way or the other, by the end of March. "DIC will not rest until they own 100 per cent of the club but accept that might take some time."

But a source close to Hicks suggested that he would only entertain a sale if the shareholder coming in took a minority stake and insisted that Hicks held a right of veto over Gillett's sale. A DIC purchase of 49 per cent of the club would be acceptable to Hicks, the source said.

Steven Gerrard, meanwhile, described free-scoring Fernando Torres as "frightening" as Liverpool finally started to live up to their captain's demands.

The 4-0 win over West Ham on Wednesday night sent Liverpool back into the Premier League top four and saw Torres score his second hat-trick in successive home games, with his overall total for the season now 24 goals in 33 matches. Consecutive home hat-tricks have not been achieved by a Liverpool player since 1946, and only by four players in the club's history.

"Fernando is frightening. From the opening home game of the season to Chelsea, when he scored a cracker, he has been consistent all the way," said Gerrard. "He got off to a good start then and now he has hit 18 Premier League goals, the first person to do that here since Michael Owen. So far so good and hopefully he can continue like this right to the end of the season. He has pace, power and is very direct but the most important thing for us is his work rate. He hasn't come here as a star, he is chipping in with his work as well and when you get that from a player as well you cannot ask for much more."

But the true achievement after three straight league wins was that the demanding standards set out by Gerrard in his outburst last week are at last being met by the inconsistent Anfield side. Gerrard, who took his own tally for the campaign to 18 with the fourth against the Hammers, said: "I know I called for an improvement recently and the way the performances have gone I am obviously pleased.

"We were all disappointed with the inconsistency at home but against West Ham we started to put that right. It was a good team performance, I said well done to all of them. But we have another big game on Saturday and we must keep doing this right to the end of the season.

"There is still a lot of pressure on us to get fourth place. This is now a massive month for us, it will be tough all the way now."

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