Moores ready to step down as Liverpool ponder 'exciting offer'

Club saddled with £22m losses after making £11m pay-off to end Houllier era
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The Independent Football

The Liverpool chairman, David Moores, last night indicated he may be ready to step down. The admission came at the club's annual meeting during an extraordinary exchange with his major critic, Steve Morgan, who has had four separate offers to take over the club rejected.

Moores confessed that he was deeply troubled by Liverpool's situation. "Perhaps it is time to consider my options,'' he said, his voice sounding desperately weary. "I love this club dearly but I can't compete with Mr Morgan's millions. It is becoming unbearable, it has affected my family and I haven't slept properly for a year. Everyone now needs to act in the best interests of the club.''

Although he did not name Mike Jefferies, the Merseyside-born, Los Angeles film producer, who yesterday claimed to be in talks with the club, Liverpool's chief executive, Rick Parry, said he had been presented with "a new and exciting offer which the board is bound to consider''.

In September, Jefferies, who has spent the last two years producing a so-far unreleased football film in co-operation with Newcastle United, claimed to be in talks with Hawkpoint, the organisation charged with finding new investments for Anfield. This time, however, he claimed to have the support of the Kraft family, who own the franchises for the New England Patriots American football club and the New England Revolution football club.

Liverpool desperately require investments. The club's debts may have been trimmed from £15m to £13m, but a £3.6m profit last year became a £21.9m loss. Of that, £11m resulted from paying off their former manager, Gérard Houllier and his back-room staff. This was despite the fact that Houllier had only a year remaining on his contract when he was sacked in May.

"We did all we could to minimise the costs of the termination,'' Parry told the meeting arguing that some of the £11m had been used to pay off "one or two'' players. "But you have to remember that change is expensive.''

The meeting gave considerable support to Morgan, who claims to have spent £300,000 in legal fees alone in mounting his bids but said that the board had consistently mislead shareholders over the true cost of the new stadium at Stanley Park which could rise to more than £120m.

Small shareholders vented their frustration by forcing a vote on the re-election of two directors, Les Wheatley and Noel White. The board's block vote centred on Moores' 51 per cent stake would, however, ensure their re-election in a formal ballot.

In advance of last night's annual general meeting, Jefferies claimed that his consortium L4, named after Anfield's post code, had already begun talks with Hawkpoint, the group brought in by Parry to find new funding for Liverpool.

Jefferies said: "I can confirm L4 exists with the purpose being to conduct ongoing discussions with the owners of Liverpool Football Club. There are a number of different constituent elements, both individuals and entities that we believe have a direct connection with the culture and heritage of the club - as well as the experience, resources and appetite to get the club back to where we believe it deserves to be."

Liverpool retorted that they had "absolutely no comment to make".

Jefferies, whose company Milkshake Films intends to produce three football films, tracing the rise of a South American teenager from Newcastle to Real Madrid and thence to the 2006 World Cup, is a very minor player in Los Angeles, and claims that he was "a Hollywood film producer" did not impress Liverpool when his first bid surfaced in September.

Jefferies and his business partner, Stuart Ford, claimed they could buy out the 51 per cent controlling stake owned by Moores, and began talks with Hawkpoint. These were swiftly terminated.

If the Kraft family are involved this time, Jefferies would have the financial muscle he so obviously lacked three months ago.

Liverpool's other suitors, the Thai businessman Paiboon Damrongchaitham and Morgan, who is the club's third-largest shareholder, certainly have money, although the Anfield board has been reluctant to accept it.

Nevertheless, last week Paiboon said that his offer to buy into Anfield was still on the table, although it was likely to be less than the original 30 per cent offer.

To last night's AGM, Jefferies' move will have come as a diversion since the overwhelming need is meeting a Christmas deadline to satisfy the Sports Minister, Richard Caborn, that sharing a new stadium with Everton is a viable proposition.