Liverpool step up search for buyer

Former British Airways chairman and Barclays will work together to sell club
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The Independent Online

Liverpool's owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett have taken a significant step towards making an exit from Anfield after three turbulent years, by jointly persuading Barclays Capital to pursue a new owner to buy them out.

Hicks and Gillett, who have admitted for the first time since the pursuit of investors was stepped up that they are ready to sell out entirely, may have persuaded Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) to offer them six months' breathing space beyond a 31 June deadline for the refinancing of their debts. They have appointed Barclays, and will add the British Airways chairman Martin Broughton next week as an interim non-executive chairman to oversee the sale process.

That Broughton is willing to stake his reputation working with Hicks and Gillett indicates his belief that there is a buyer out there and it is significant that Broughton and Barclays have been appointed by both Americans. The institutions which have been sought over the past few years to procure new investment to bale out the Americans – Bank of America, Merrill Lynch and Rothschild – have been appointed by one or the other of Liverpool's co-owners.

The position of Liverpool's managing director Christian Purslow, the club's bankers RBS to lead the search for new investment, is not understood to be affected by the arrival of 62-year-old Broughton, the former chairman of British American Tobacco and the Confederation of British Industry, who was chairman of the British Horseracing Board for three years from 2004-07. Contrary to reports yesterday, Barclays do not seem to have reached an agreement to take over Liverpool's £237m of debt from RBS and Wachovia.

The financial community remains sceptical as to whether Broughton will succeed where so many others have so far failed. Individually, the Americans have tried and failed for more than two years to find a buyer and Purslow has experienced frustrations in his quest to raise £100m in new equity to pay down some of the £237m debt.

The New-York based Rhône Group is the latest would-be investor to have its offer effectively declined, with the fund management company's desire for control of the club in return for a £110m investment proving to be the stumbling block. Rhône are understood to have been aware, as the days ticked down to the deadline they had set on their offer, that moves were afoot to have the debt shifted to a new lender, which would seek a total sale of the club. Broughton's appointment to lead that effort has not yet been confirmed but the Chelsea supporter appears to have been persuaded.

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