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Indian buzz around Liverpool despite disclaimer

London, Feb. 9: A report today that Mukesh Ambani is interested in buying a controlling stake in Liverpool Football Club, one of the best known in Britain and with a growing fan following in India, was denied by both sides.

Contacted in Delhi, a Reliance spokesman said: “We are not bidding for Liverpool.”

However, well-informed football writers in England consulted by The Telegraph are less hasty in dismissing the report.

Referring to the negative comment from Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance group in India, one writer said: “He’s denied it so have Liverpool but they are looking for buyers and it wouldn’t surprise me completely.”

The latest speculation about the future of Liverpool Football Club, which was founded in 1892 and is popularly known as “The Reds” – the home ground, with a 45,0000 capacity, is Anfield – has been stirred by an article in The Times, London, titled “Richest man in India, Mukesh Ambani, sets his sights on takeover deal for Liverpool.”

It says: “Liverpool emerged as a takeover target for the seventh-richest man in the world last night as the pressure mounted on Tom Hicks and George Gillett Jr to cut a deal to sell Anfield. Mukesh Ambani, the wealthiest man in India, is one of two tycoons from the sub-continent competing to buy a stake in the Merseyside club.”

According to the paper, “the Sahara Group’s chairman, Subrata Roy, and Ambani’s Reliance Industries have each tendered similar bids to pay off Liverpool’s £237 million debt in return for a 51 per cent stake in the club.”

In India, there was no immediate word on the issue from the Sahara group but The Times, insists: “Roy, whose interest appears more serious, has been linked with ownership of one of the next IPL franchises, possibly to be based in the north Indian city of Lucknow, where the Sahara Group, of which he is chairman, is based.”

The paper carries a denial from the club: “Last night Christian Purslow, the Liverpool chief executive, denied any knowledge of either bid, but The Times understands that approaches began as early as November and that some preliminary talks have taken place.”

The Times reports that there is behind-the-scenes pressure on Hicks and Gillett, who are American, to settle. “It is understood that Liverpool’s banker, the state-backed Royal Bank of Scotland, is pressing Hicks and Gillett to cut their asking price. The bank declined to comment last night, but a source close to RBS said that there has been plenty of interest in Liverpool from investors.

“However, the source added, the owners are blocking all deals on the table because they refuse to budge on price. The source said the bank’s stipulation that the pair must pay off £100 million of the debt and inject tens of millions of pounds into the club was intended to push them into an agreement with a new investor that would permanently stabilise Liverpool’s finances.”

The paper has set out how Gillett and Hicks, who are American, “took over at Anfield three years ago in a leveraged buyout costing nearly £300 million, including £70 million for a stadium that remains unbuilt. Despite promises to the contrary, they loaded the debt on to the club via a £350-million loan with RBS and have struggled to service the debt since the credit crunch began 18 months ago.”

The Times acknowledges that buyers other than the Indians are interested. “A number of other potential bidders include a Saudi Arabian consortium and a United States-based buyer, who is prepared to pay the £100 million required by the lenders in exchange for 40 per cent of the club.”

This was confirmed by a second football writer who told The Telegraph: “Quite a number of people in the Gulf and in the Middle East generally have been sniffing round Liverpool for the past 18 months. Would Liverpool be a good club to buy? Of yes, they would be a terrific buy.”

But he explained the ownership of Liverpool, with Hicks and Gillett both owning 50 per cent of the club, was complex and so buying it would be complex. “There is an agreement that neither can sell without the other’s agreement. It does not help they appear not to be talking to each other.”

The Times uses slightly different language to say much the same thing: “The Americans are unpopular with the supporters and the hostility at Anfield has increased as it has become clear that there is no money available to strengthen the team.”

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