APNewsBreak: Asian investment group says it won't enrich Hicks, Gillett in bid for Liverpool

A group of Chinese investors said Friday that any offer it makes to buy Liverpool from Tom Hicks and George Gillett Jr. won't enrich the embattled American co-owners.

Marc Ganis, whose Chicago-based company Sportscorp Ltd. has helped form the investment group, said it first contacted Liverpool chairman Martin Broughton on Monday, a day after reports of a possible bid first surfaced.

"We haven't submitted a formal proposal but we submitted the broad parameters of what a proposal would look like to see if it would be welcomed, and it was," he said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press, hours after he returned to the United States from China.

A company called QSL Sports Limited would be controlling owner of the limited liability corporation that would own Liverpool FC. QSL is co-headed by Kenneth Huang, a Hong Kong businessman, and Guang Yang, executive vice president of Franklin Templeton Investments and chief investment officer of the China Life/Franklin Templeton Fund.

In an interview arranged through Hill & Knowlton Hong Kong, Ganis said those two would be the only owners involved in the management of the club. Other investors would be passive, and each would own no more than 20 percent.

China Investment Corp. — the country's sovereign wealth fund — would not have a direct ownership stake in the club. However, Ganis said it may be part of an investment vehicle organized by Yang and his financial team that would have a passive ownership interest.

Ganis said the group had four primary goals if it makes a bid:

—Leave Liverpool debt free.

—Make a significant equity investment and construct the long-delayed new stadium to replace Anfield.

—Invest a large amount that would be available for player transfers.

—Have an Asian initiative to expand Liverpool's fan base and commercial activities with the goal of creating new economic value for the club using QSL's platform in China.

"What is not one of our goals in the enrichment of the existing owners," Ganis said, "If we submit a proposal and it is accepted, it would be focused on the future and not the past."

Barclays has told potential bidders they will have to show they have the financing to go through with the proposals. After QSL's interest emerged, former Syrian club player Yahya Kirdi claimed Wednesday that he was fronting a consortium of investors from the Middle East and Canada that was close to completing a takeover.

Liverpool has won 18 English league titles — but none since 1990 — and its record has been matched by Manchester United. Beset by infighting between Hicks and Gillett plus player injuries, it failed to qualify for this season's Champions League, losing tens of millions of dollars in revenue.

But captain Steven Gerrard and star forward Fernando Torres decided to remain with the club under new manager Roy Hodgson, who replaced Rafa Benitez after last season. Ganis said any deal would not close until well after the summer transfer window ends Aug. 31.

Hicks, whose Texas Rangers were auctioned this week in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Fort Worth, bought Liverpool with Gillett three years ago in a deal valued at $431 million. Hicks said he wants $950 million to $1.25 billion for the club, whose known debt last stood at $375 million.

Ganis said his group will not bid close to that.

"If anybody wants to, good luck," he said, without disclosing what his group is willing to bid. "We know what we would be prepared to do. If somebody else wants to look at it in a different way, it's their money. That would be their business, not ours."

His group isn't concerned about high-spending owners in the Premier League, who include Manchester City's Sheik Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan and Chelsea's Roman Abramovich. Ganis said the Financial Fair Play rules that begin for European soccer this season will help curb extreme spending on transfers.

"That creates certain constraints that many observers feel are quite responsible and will reduce the risk of irrational money being spent," he said. "But even at that, Liverpool is and always should be one of the highest-spending clubs in all of football. And our financial models presume Liverpool will be at or near the top in spending on players every year."

Ganis said that they have been impressed in many ways with the manner in which Liverpool is being operated.

"From what we have seen from afar, many of the people currently running Liverpool are doing a good job," he said. "There shouldn't be an expectation there would be a mass upheaval if we submit and are approved."

Ganis and the China-based group began forming last spring as a potential investor with another group that evaluated a potential investment in Liverpool. Ganis contacted the Royal Bank of Scotland, which holds Liverpool's debt, and was put in contact last week with Broughton and Barclays Capital, which is attempting to sell the club for the co-owners.

QSL, in conjunction with the Chinese government, owns and operated two professional sports leagues and one minor league. QSL also owns sports publications and in September will roll out an all-sports website.


AP Sports Writer Rob Harris in London contributed to this report.