Liverpool run out of suitors amid world financial woe

Gillett tight-lipped on sale prospects as Middle Eastern buyers disappear from view
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The Independent Football

Top of the league and a top place in their Champions League group if they collect more points in Eindhoven tonight than Atletico Madrid do in Marseilles but Liverpool's co-owner has not dismissed suggestions he has employed investment bankers to find a buyer for what appears to be the most unwanted English club.

In an interview with a Canadian radio station, George Gillett avoided a direct response to a suggestions that he and co-owner Tom Hicks have enlisted the help of Merrill Lynch to find a buyer, with the loans they took out to buy the club due for rescheduling in January. "We wouldn't have any comment on that, there's too much speculation already'," Gillett said. Some financial analysts believe that with Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai, who has been trying to purchase the club for the last two years, no longer interested, a purchaser will probably only now be found if the Americans are forced into a fire sale by their banks foreclosing on them or them running out of money. The Americans may be wishing they accepted the £500m Sheikh Maktoum offered them before the credit crunch hit and may even accept £350m, the total sum of the loans, some financiers believe.

There appears to be no prospect of the mystery Middle East suitor who came to the table several months ago returning, despite the competition provided by Sheikh Maktoum having gone. Though some sources suggest a £500m deal, with the prospective buyer also taking on the club's debt, was agreed and that the deal was within minutes of being signed, that prospect seems to be in the past.

Gillett said that he was not worried about the club's revenues dropping in the financial crisis. The public's discretionary spend on sport to "take your mind off the trouble of the day" tended to hold up well, he said. "We have a list of season ticket fans which is substantially larger than the amount of tickets available," Gillett added. But Liverpool's growth is dependent on having owners who can fund a new stadium, a project which, Gillett reiterated, was off in the "intermediate" future.

Emotions do not drive decision-making for individuals like Gillett but he and the Canadian media present his "soccer" franchise "over the pond" as the antithesis of his Montreal Candiens hockey franchise. While he eulogised about the cash he has ploughed into a new training facility for the Canadiens, his distaste of the British media which he expressed after a business conference in London last month was barely concealed once again.

Rafael Benitez, spent his evening in Holland rejecting a report that delays over his new contract were down to money. "The question was about the length of the contract, and after that it was my role. The last question was about the money," he said. It seems fair to assume that Benitez wants something near a five-year deal rather than the two-year extension he was reportedly offered to begin with. Of Robbie Keane's struggle for goals, Benitez said: "The challenge is there for him. When you sign a player for a lot of money, that is it. He becomes another player in the squad and he has to fight for his position. I do not know whether his confidence has been affected, we will see tomorrow. Clearly he has to show character."

Keane is the only striker in the 18-strong party for Liverpool, who have a one-goal inferior goal difference to Atletico. Dirk Kuyt was left behind with a minor hamstring injury, although Benitez had planned to rest him along with - from the start at least - Steven Gerrard.

Liverpool (possible): Cavalieri; Arbeloa, Carragher, Agger, Dossena; Lucas, Plessis; Benayoun, Keane, Babel; Ngog

PSV Eindhoven (possible): Isaksson; Kromkamp, Marcellis, Simons, Salcido, Brechet; Mendez, Culina, Wuytens; Amrabat, Bakkal.