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Liverpool's proposed debts may spark alarm

Liverpool's proposed debts may spark alarm

By David Bond
Last Updated: 1:48am BST 06/09/2007
Page 1 of 3

When Tom Hicks and George Gillett Jr bought Liverpool in a £174 million deal in February, contrasts were immediately drawn with the Glazer family's takeover almost two years earlier at Manchester United.

Here was another of English football's most revered institutions falling into the hands of American raiders. But unlike the Glazers, there was no campaign to try to stop Hicks and Gillett from acquiring Anfield. Instead, they were welcomed with open arms, as saviours of an underperforming club, who despite winning the Champions League in 2005, were desperate for new investment to help them win the Premiership.

Liverpool's proposed level of debt is cause for alarm
In the red: Liverpool 'custodians' George Gillett Jr and Tom Hicks soak up the atmosphere at Anfield

However, the differences with the Glazers may be more difficult to spot in the future. Hicks and Gillett are now seeking to borrow at least £500 million to refinance the original loan used to buy the club, and to pay for the move to a new 76,000-seat stadium at Stanley Park.

When the Glazers borrowed a similar amount to purchase United - much of it from punitive hedge funds - the level of debt was used against them by their critics.

But the initial £298 million borrowing by Hicks and Gillett, split imto £185 million to buy Liverpool and £113 million as working capital, passed without too much comment.

"We have purchased the club with no debt on the club, so I think in that regard it is different [to Manchester United]," Gillett said when asked about comparisons with the Glazers following the takeover.

The original loan from the Royal Bank of Scotland, which was personally guaranteed by the Americans, has to be repaid in Feb 2009 and currently attracts a hefty £21.5 million in annual interest.

Liverpool's owners now want to refinance those borrowings over a much longer term - secured, crucially, against the club's assets - and to roll that debt into the loans being used to pay for the stadium.

Given their ambitious business plans for the new ground and English football's booming television rights values, raising the money should have posed few difficulties. But that was before the global credit crunch started to bite, forcing banks to pull in their horns.

Liverpool, guided by their financial adviser Robert Tilliss from New York-based Inner Circle Sports, were close to approving a proposal from Goldman Sachs.

However, it is understood that in the last month Goldmans reviewed their offer, asking Hicks and Gillett to put in much more of their own money, thought to be around £100 million.

And although Goldmans have not yet been ruled out, a re-think is now under way, with Tilliss in talks with a number of other financial institutions including Wachovia, Citigroup, Morgan Stanley and RBS. In an attempt to calm any fears over the club's long-term business plans, Hicks told Inside Sport yesterday that the refinancing remained on track. But it is understood that Liverpool must provide assurances on the funding for their new stadium before plans go before Liverpool City Council on Oct 18.

Failure to do so could mean the project, which is due to start in the New Year and is supposed to be finished in 2010, is delayed.

Hicks said: "The lead on this is being handled by Inner Circle Sports. Through them we have been talking with a number of financial institutions including Goldman Sachs on the stadium financing.

"We have not reached any definitive conclusions yet but we are looking at a number of alternatives.

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