Saturday 18 November 2017

Liverpool set to reject Rhone Group's £110m buy-in offer

Rory Smith

THE deadline set by the Rhone Group for Liverpool to accept a £110m offer to take a 40 per cent stake in the Anfield club expires tomorrow, with the only concrete proposal received by current owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett in their search for fresh investment likely to be effectively rejected.

Rhone became the first suitor to show their hand when the New York-based fund management firm, run by billionaires Robert Agostinelli and Steven Langman, presented their offer to Liverpool on March 13.

It is believed they informed the club they expected to discover whether their bid had been successful by April 5. There has been no further contact between the parties and it's understood that Rhone are not prepared to extend that deadline.

Though it is believed Rhone's offer met Liverpool's valuation, it is thought the level of control they hoped to acquire for their stake, as well as the nature of their investment, has proved a stumbling block. Hicks is believed to be particularly resistant to seeing his stake being decreased.

Rafael Benitez, the Liverpool manager, had met with representatives of the group to discuss their plans for the club. It is believed he had kept senior players, including Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres -- who has been unequivocal in his demands for Liverpool's owners to back Benitez in the transfer market this summer -- abreast of developments.

That Rhone's deadline -- barring an unexpected turnaround in the next 24 hours -- will pass with no progress being made. It will no doubt come as a blow to those attracted by the group's promise of a £25m infusion of funds for transfers, but it is far from the only cause for concern for a club whose immediate future remains clouded.

On the pitch, Liverpool know they must beat Birmingham at St Andrews today to stay in the hunt for fourth spot, now occupied by Manchester City, who demolished Burnley last night, while Spurs lost to Sunderland.

Off it, sadly, matters are far more complicated. The Royal Bank of Scotland, Liverpool's bankers, have informed Hicks and Gillett that they must reduce their £237m debt burden by £100m by July if they are to be granted a deal to refinance their loans.

Christian Purslow, Liverpool's managing director and the man charged with securing a cash infusion to reduce the debt, has consistently identified Easter as the time by which he "hoped" to have a deal agreed with an outside investor to enable work to begin again on the new stadium on Stanley Park. Though sources at the club insisted that date was more of a guideline than a deadline.

Sources at Anfield, though, remain confident of attracting the required investment "in good time" for the club's loans to be refinanced.

As many as "six or seven" serious investors were believed to be looking at matching or bettering Rhone's offer three weeks ago and noises emanating from the club suggest that as many as two of those are expected to materialise into firm proposals. What is not in doubt, though, is that Liverpool are reaching their end game. In the next three months, Hicks and Gillett's tenure will almost certainly reach an end, at least in its present form.

More straightforwardly, defeat at Birmingham today and against Benfica in the Europa League second leg on Thursday, and much the same may be said of Benitez.

Meanwhile, Alberto Aquilani's agent Franco Zavaglia has dismissed suggestions his season has been ended by an ankle injury.

But Zavaglia moved to play down any worries about his client, insisting: "Season over? I don't know who puts these bad things around," said Zavaglia. "We have to wait and see what it is, but Alberto will be back on the pitch soon."

Sunday Independent

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