Dubai interests may again emerge as the main player in the battle to buy Liverpool.
Speculation is growing in the Middle East that Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, thought to have lost interest in the Anfield club last year as the credit crunch started to bite, may be preparing another move for the club.
But if that does happen, it will only be during the summer as Liverpool’s current American co-owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett try to extend their £350m loan with the Royal Bank of Scotland and Wachovia – a prospect which, in the current financial climate, looks remote.
Sheikh Maktoum is the ruler of Dubai and founder of Dubai International Capital, who were involved in lengthy and ultimately unsuccessful negotiations to buy the club last year.
The Sheikh then took on the potential takeover on a personal level, but also opted to pull away several months ago.
But with the intense rivalry between the Arab states over ownership of Premier League clubs, the Sheikh is again believed to be reviewing the situation.
It emerged last week that a Kuwaiti group, the oil-rich Al-Kharafi family, were involved in talks – initially with Hicks – over a potential buyout, plus the £400m financing of the club’s proposed new stadium.
But the £600m asking price was considered too high and, following the amount of publicity the offer generated, it is now believed consortium leader Nasser Al-Kharafi has pulled out of negotiations.
A source close to the Middle East groups said: “The price was too high and the Kuwaitis were annoyed that their interest was leaked.
“Surely in the current climate, and with time running out on the Americans who must repay or re-finance their loan in July, nobody is going to buy Liverpool at this present time.
“The price drops with every passing day, and any prospective buyer would now wait until the summer before making a move. By then, the Americans would have to accept a much lower price – around £400m or lower.”
That applies if the Americans fail to re-negotiate their current deal, although there have been suggestions they still have hopes of achieving that.
RBS were prepared to give them a six-month extension on that loan this month. But that was an existing deal, and they are highly unlikely to take on a new agreement with the Americans.
The source said: “With the Government now with majority control of RBS, it would seem unlikely that Liverpool would be allowed a huge new loan while other businesses around the country are not.”
It has already been suggested there is a new interest from Dubai, plus half a dozen other interested parties who will to talk to Hicks and Gillett.
Talks involving Liverpool’s finance director Phillip Nash and the commercial director Ian Ayre – along with high-level Hicks negotiators from Dallas – were held talks last week in London and the Middle East with the Kuwaitis.
But the £600m price was a sticking point, as were attempts by Hicks to continue as a minority shareholder. That looks to have brought him back into conflict with Gillett, who wants both Americans to leave on the same terms.
Reports of internal friction at Anfield have therefore surfaced again, with manager Rafael Benitez and chief executive Rick Parry seemingly supporting different factions.
Last season it was Hicks who blocked the bid from DIC that was supported by Gillett – and now the co-owners appear to be at loggerheads again.
They will both be at next Sunday’s home game against Chelsea, Hicks arriving a few days earlier in the hope of breaking the impasse over Benitez’s new contract.
Sheikh Maktoum and his Dubai associates, meanwhile, are watching and waiting.