LIVERPOOL were reeling from a £1billion blow last night when the Kuwaiti consortium pulled OUT of negotiations to buy the club.
Anfield chiefs had been in talks with billionaire (above) but were stunned last night when the Arabs walked away.
It was a body blow to co-owner Tom Hicks, who had been at the forefront of bringing the Kuwaitis to the table.
He’d dispatched Liverpool finance director Phillip Nash, and his Dallas negotiating team of Roy Bailey and Casey Coffman to secure the deal in talks held in Kuwait and London with the world’s 48th richest man.
Al-Kharafi is reported to be worth as much as £11bn, but he called off talks over the price and due to Hicks’ demands.
Hicks valued the club at £600m, as much as £200m more than the Kuwaitis were prepared to pay. The new owners would also have had to stump up £400m for a new ground.The Texan also wanted to retain at least a 25 per cent share in the club.
That was a prospect rejected not only by the Kuwaitis, who insisted on full control at Anfield, but also by Kop co-owner George Gillett Jr.
Gillett Jr, who is in talks with FIVE rival bidders, made it clear he would not sell the club unless Hicks was run out of town too.
A source close to the Kuwaiti group said: “It is absolutely definite, there will be no bid from the Kharifi camp. Any interest is now over.”
The Anfield civil war is now in the midst of an explosive endgame, with the latest developments seriously undermining Hicks’ chances of staying at Liverpool.
After a period of relative calm, the co-owners are at loggerheads again, with both fully aware the clock is ticking and they must find investment before a summer refinancing deadline. Their uneasy truce was shattered when Gillett discovered Hicks had arranged private meetings with representatives of the al-Kharafi family.
Gillett, who owns 50 per cent of Liverpool, is prepared to sell 100 per cent of the club to the right bidder, but is adamant no deal will be agreed which keep Hicks at Anfield.
His message to all interested parties is simple: “I’ll go, but only if Hicks comes with me.”
Hicks is desperate to force his rival out first, and has been using his support of manager Rafa Benitez to promote his chances of survival.
On the back of the manager’s hardline stance on a new contract, Hicks is trading on what he perceives as Benitez’s popularity among Liverpool fans and Rafa’s distrust of Gillett and chief executive Rick Parry.
He’s offering himself to investors as the man who can convince Rafa to stay at the club.
But he can do nothing without Gillett’s agreement. And, thanks to the bitterness between the co-owners, the chances of a smooth Sale
of Liverpool now appears remote.
The only scenario which can be ruled out is both Hicks and Gillett keeping a joint controlling interest in the club.
Of the five bidders still interested one is believed to be based in Dubai.
An Anfield source told Sport of the World: “George is frustrated because he’s happy to sell for the good of the club, but not if it means Tom keeps a stake. A deal can be done for 100 per cent ownership with one of the five interested parties currently in negotiations — if Tom agrees to sell too. The real obstacle is Tom’s unwillingness to walk away from the club. George is fearful Liverpool will make a big mistake if they allow Tom to remain in some form of management role.
“He appreciates the fans want them both out, and is saddened by how it’s gone over the last 18 months, but he doesn’t want things to be any worse by walking away and leaving Tom at the club.
“If George gets the impression the fans would really accept a situation where he goes and Tom stays, he may change his position but at the moment he is sure that’s not the case.”
Gillett also insists he is under no immediate pressure to sell his 50 per cent shareholding and will go out of his way to thwart a bid by Hicks to retain any stake in Anfield.
Yet again, Liverpool are left in a sorry mess behind the scenes during a pivotal point in their season.
The Kop will be in a rage that a campaign which was progressing so promisingly on the field is in danger of being completely overshadowed by fighting in the boardroom.
Last year, it was Hicks’ refusal to surrender total control to Dubai International Capital which contributed to the collapse of talks.
As now, Gillett was more willing to walk away from the club on the condition Hicks left with him.
Hicks and Gillett will attend next week’s Anfield clash with Chelsea. They will sit in the directors box — just yards from each other, but miles apart in their views of the club.