London: China is funding a bid to buy Liverpool Football Club, as Beijing seeks to extend its rapidly growing global influence into the world of British sport, reports said on Thursday.
China’s overseas investment arm China Investment Corp (CIC) is providing funds for the bid fronted by businessman Kenny Huang to acquire the top sporting brand, reported Britain’s The Times and Guardian newspapers.
The news is a dramatic twist in the saga of troubled Liverpool, whose American owners put the Premier League club up for sale in April, weighed down by more than £200 million ($318 million) of debt.
CIC’s emergence as a bidder for Liverpool sets up a takeover battle, with the Chinese pitted against a private equity group and a wealthy Kuwaiti family for control of the club, according to The Times.
The Chinese sovereign wealth fund’s bid values the club at between £300 million and £350 million, said The Times.
If the takeover attempt succeeded, CIC would end up owning the majority of the club.
The fund would expect to make money by building a bigger stadium and developing the club’s Asian fan base.
A CIC executive in Beijing, who asked not to be named, said: “I just read the report. I’m not aware of this matter.”
Speculation has been mounting about Chinese sports tycoon Huang’s interest in the club, and he was forced to issue a statement Wednesday denying reports he had made a formal bid.
“Mr. Huang would like to emphasize that he has registered interest in investing in Liverpool FC but has made no formal bid,” said a statement from his representatives, Hill & Knowlton.
Huang, the head of Hong Kong-based investment company QSL Sports Ltd, is believed to want to secure an early agreement to give manager Roy Hodgson time to bring in reinforcements before the end of the transfer window.
He is believed to have spoken to senior figures at Anfield to express his seriousness about a buy-out, in the hope that it will help persuade top stars like Fernando Torres that the club does have a better future.
On Tuesday, Liverpool chairman Martin Broughton announced “several” potential buyers had submitted bids.
Liverpool is just the latest Premier League side to be targeted by a foreign country. Clubs already in foreign hands include Aston Villa, Birmingham and Manchester United.
Liverpool was put on market by American co-owners Tom Hicks and George Gillet in April, and the club owes 237 million pounds to its principal lender Royal Bank of Scotland.
CIC was established to invest overseas some of China’s massive foreign exchange reserves — which stood at $2.447 trillion at the end of March — partly to gain better returns.