Torres returns as Chinese bid to take control at Anfield
Monday 02 August 2010
Fernando Torres returns to training at Liverpool today with the club poised on the brink of a controversial hostile takeover bid by a Chinese businessman, which may profoundly affect the player's thinking about his future.
Kenny Huang, who is believed to be backed by Chinese state-owned investment funds, first approached Liverpool during the World Cup to indicate that he was making his bid and to say that players such as Torres should be aware of the potential investment before deciding on their futures. Torres was briefed on the approach some time ago and will be encouraged, on his return to Melwood to await the outcome of discussions between the tycoon and Royal Bank of Scotland.
But the club's owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett may not be receptive to a bid – which envisages Huang guaranteeing the repayment of most of the £237m debt amassed by the Americans – because they would stand to make little out of the sale. Suggestions yesterday that the Syrian businessman Yahya Kirdi may be ready to make a £400m offer for the club, the same buyer who surfaced in April in a rash of publicity that came to nothing, appear nothing more than a smokescreen to fend off an imminent hostile bid.
Huang has been linked to Liverpool several times before, in 2008 when he felt the £650m asking price was too high and again this April, when he sought to play down the rumours which leaked out, though he did not deny them. A former Wall Street broker, he has set up many investment and financing projects between Chinese and American companies, partnering many large Chinese state-owned enterprises in the deals and making substantial profits on the back of the Chinese economic boom.
His business partners are understood to include Les Alexander, owner of the NBA Houston Rockets, an association which has led him to take the Chinese basketball star Yao Ming to the Rockets, and through his SportsPro Media China company he has delivered Chinese sponsors to the New York Yankees. He co-owns a percentage of the Yankees and recently bought a share of the Cleveland Cavaliers basket ball team recently.
Football would be a new development. With a valuation on Liverpool far lower than the £600-800m which owners George Gillett and Tom Hicks have placed on it, Heung's battle to take over the club so quickly that he and his backers can spend before the transfer window closes may not be straightforward. Torres may find his patience tried again.
The Americans may be left with no choice but to accept by RBS, who have the prerogative to order them to sell, three months after agreeing an extension of their£237m debt facility. That agreement, beyond an initial deadline of June to an as-yet unspecified date, came after the Americans attempted to appease RBS by appointing the British Airways chairman Martin Broughton as a temporary non-executive chairman, to oversee the sale of the club.
Since the time of the appointment of Broughton, who said in April that the sale of the club may take "a few months", there appears to have still been an underlying tension between the Americans' desire to secure a profit on the initial £220m they invested in their leveraged buyout in February 2007 and the bank's desire for new investors to reduce that debt substantially through new investment.
The New York-based Rhone Group came in with a £100m offer earlier this year but having withdrawn it when the deadline imposed by the finance house expired, their representatives claimed the Americans had been unwilling to allow the group a controlling share in the club for that price. RBS were willing to see that investor go, but the Americans are unlikely to be allowed to refuse many – if any – more injections of cash as they maintain their push for what the investment community sees as an unrealistic price for a club worth £350m at best.
A buy-out would deliver Liverpool into a new, promised land. Heung is believed to be ready to finance the stadium to unlock Liverpool's financial future.
If a sale looks likely, it will surely satisfy Torres, though his patience with the owners may wear thin if he feels that another chance of a fresh start under new owners has gone begging and he may be tempted by Chelsea or Manchester City. Liverpool are expected to bid around £2.5m this week in an attempt to bring the manager Roy Hodgson's former left back Paul Konchesky to Anfield from Fulham.
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