A step away from Liverpool deal, says Saudi prince Faisal

RIYADH: Saudi Prince Faisal bin Fahd bin Abdullah said on Wednesday that talks over his F6 company buying a major stake in Liverpool are nearing conclusion, as club co-owner George Gillett visited Riyadh.

"Our negotiations to buy shares in Liverpool are ongoing, meetings are taking place and we might be in the final stages in the coming days," Prince Faisal said. Gillett, one of the two US owners of the legendary but heavily-indebted English team, was in Riyadh mainly to discuss a project regarding the creation of Liverpool soccer academies around the region, Prince Faisal said.

In recent weeks, both parties have admitted that potential investment from Faisal has been firmly on the agenda. Gillett and club co-owner Tom Hicks have been seeking new investment in Liverpool after refinancing some of its large debt during the summer. F6 head Barry Didato was quoted by the BBC on October 8 as saying that Faisal is considering buying a share in Liverpool that "could go from anything from nought to 100 per cent". Didato said at the time that the Saudi prince had concerns over the apparently strained relationship between Hicks and Gillett, and the level of debt Liverpool has acquired since they took over the club in February 2007.

On Wednesday Faisal and Gillett met with Prince Sultan bin Fahd, president of the Saudi Youth Welfare organisation and chairman of the Saudi League. "The purpose of the visit of the owner of Liverpool Football Club to Saudi Arabia is to understand the sports industry and to learn about the facilities and the potential of the main clubs in order to set up the Liverpool Academy in Saudi Arabia," Prince Faisal said.

The agreement between F6, a sports marketing and investment firm controlled by Faisal, would also provide opportunities for young Saudi players to train at Liverpool. The exposure to a top European standard of play would possibly help elevate the quality of football in the region, Faisal said. "This is an important step for us in developing the sport in the Gulf," Faisal said.

Gillett and Faisal signed a memorandum of understanding on setting up Liverpool-branded academies in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the region in late September, according to F6. Gillett's NASCAR team Richard Petty Motorsports also tentatively agreed a deal that would involve bringing US NASCAR-style oval-track racing to the region.