Hicks and Gillett given three weeks to accept £100m deal

New York hedge fund imposes deadline on offer for 40 per cent stake in Liverpool

Ian Herbert
Thursday 18 March 2010 01:00 GMT
Hicks wants to retain control
Hicks wants to retain control

Liverpool's American owners are under more financial pressure to settle their debts than has previously been thought, with the New York-based company bidding to take control of the club imposing a three-week deadline to take or leave their offer.

The Rhone Group's proposed £100m investment for a 40 per cent share would enable the Liverpool chief executive, Christian Purslow, to deliver the entire sum to the Royal Bank of Scotland, the club's bankers, to pay down £100m of debt as the bank has demanded. But the time pressures the club currently faces are also compounded by the fact that Liverpool appear to have just 20 days to deliver some of that £100m figure to the bank. The presumption has always been that the deadline is July, by which time the club's current debt facility expires and must be renegotiated.

Liverpool's predicament appears to leave Rhone Group's partners Steve Langman and Robert Agostinelli in a strong position to take over a controlling stake – despite having offered a price which values the club at a half of the £500m Tom Hicks and George Gillett rejected from Dubai International Capital two years ago. There are currently no other prospective buyers lined up for Liverpool.

One source close to the process has said the half-dozen other potential investors the Anfield club seem confident of securing will not be new prospects but those whose previous bids have come to nothing.

Liverpool indicated last night that there was no precise deadline date for repaying the £100m and that there is some degree of leeway. The ultimate sanction would be RBS taking over, although that is highly unlikely as RBS is a state-owned bank. Running a Premier League club is not high on the agenda of a bank which announced a £2.6bn operating loss for the last financial year. But the endgame for Hicks and Gillett is certainly far closer than has been appreciated.

A 20-day target from today would make the 6 April the deadline for the repayment of some of the money – the start of the new financial year and the day after Easter Monday. Purslow has been saying for several weeks that he wanted his pursuit of new finance wrapped up by "Easter".

RBS does not appear to be anxious about the precise repayment date for the £100m it has demanded, though that may in part be a result of the confidence which the Rhone Group has created. But the pressing deadlines have created additional pressure for Liverpool and another consideration is the club's tortuous struggle to qualify for next season's Champions League.

Non-qualification would create a hole in next season's budget and would make Hicks and Gillett's position at Anfield less tenable. One source with insider knowledge of Liverpool's search for new investors told Sporting Intelligence website that several investors are delaying offers while they wait to see if non-qualification drives down the price. "Qualification is not necessarily the best outcome for would-be investors," the source said.

Rhone is aware of this, though its belief that its own offer of £110m-£115m can come to fruition is also based on the strong relationship formed with Purslow over weeks of negotiations leading up to the bid which was tabled at midnight last Friday.

The mystery surrounding the prospective investors led the Spirit of Shankly supporters' group yesterday to call on Purslow to explain "who exactly are these investors." Langman and Agostinelli are certainly not the "billionaires" they have been widely described as over the past five days, but multi-millionaires who would not be paying their own money to take over the club but investing the funds put into their hands for management.

Though the clock is ticking down on the Americans, RBS is understood to believe that a deal to deliver the club into new hands will be concluded quickly – possibly within two weeks – and that Rhone Group's interest has the potential to persuade other prospective buyers who have dragged their feet to make themselves known.

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