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April 12, 2010 3:00 am
The US owners of Liverpool Football Club have appointed Barclays Capital, the investment banking arm, to help find a buyer for the 120-year-old Premiership club.
Tom Hicks and George Gillett, the US sports franchise owners who bought Liverpool in 2007 for £219m , had previously drafted in Merrill Lynch and Rothschild to attract minority investors.
The appointment of Barclays, which sponsors Premier League football, sends a clear signal that the pair are now stepping up their efforts to achieve an outright sale.
They are also in talks with Martin Broughton, the chairman of British Airways, and are expected to announce his appointment as chairman of Liverpool within the next week.
Analysts say the appointment of Mr Broughton, former president of the CBI and former chairman of the British Horseracing Board, would boost the club's corporate stature and drive the sale process.
Liverpool, which is in sixth place in the Premier League and battling to win a place in the coveted European Champions League, has built debts of about £237m under the ownership of Mr Hicks and Mr Gillett.
Nevertheless, the club could be an attractive proposition for buyers given that it has signed a lucrative £20m-a-year sponsorship deal with Standard Chartered , the Asia-focused UK bank. The club has also been granted permission to build a new, larger stadium, which would boost its ticket sales.
It is understood that Barclays will not provide finance for the club but is acting purely as an adviser on a possible sale.
Royal Bank of Scotland, the part-nationalised UK bank, and Wachovia, the US bank, Liverpool's existing creditors, will continue to fund the club, despite reports that they would be replaced by Barclays.
Mr Hicks and Mr Gillett, who each own a 50 per cent stake in Liverpool, have endured a stormy relationship , even as they have sought external investment after negotiating a £350m refinancing in January 2008 .
In March 2008, Mr Gillett was ready to accept an offer of more than £80m from Dubai International Capital, for 98 per cent of his half-stake in the club, but Mr Hicks vetoed the sale .
Less than a year later, it emerged that a Liverpool director, acting solely on the instructions of Mr Hicks, had visited the Gulf for talks with Kuwaiti investors.
While the owners have asked Barclays to review any interest expressed so far, a full sale is now seen as the most likely outcome.
At the weekend, Liverpool drew with Fulham, making it unlikely that it will finish in a position to qualify for the European Champions League.
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