Saudi prince "wants 50% of Liverpool"

RIYADH - A Saudi prince is set to spend up to £350 million to buy a 50 percent stake in Liverpool, al-Riyadh newspaper quoted him as saying on Sunday.

"We are currently seeking to buy 50 percent of the shares in the club which is now suffering of debts worth £245 million," Prince Faisal bin Fahd bin Abdullah, who chairs a privately owned group called F6 and a Saudi-based holding company called Fama Group, was quoted as saying.

"The transaction, upon which a decision is close to be reached, will be worth 200 (million) to 350 million pounds," he said, according to the newspaper.

No-one at Liverpool, which beat Hull 6-1 on Saturday to move to third position in the English Premier League, could immediately be reached for comment.

A Fama spokesman declined to comment on the report, saying: "What I know is that the prince attended the Liverpool game against Hull and signed yesterday an agreement with Liverpool to build a sport academy in Saudi Arabia."

Liverpool is co-owned by Americans Tom Hicks and George Gillett. The two have had a stormy relationship since purchasing the club for £218.9m in 2007 and neither wants to sell his stake to the other.

F6 said in a statement on Sunday it had signed a memorandum of understanding with the George Gillett Group which paves the way for an exclusive cooperation with Liverpool that would lead to the opening of academies affiliated to the English club.

The F6 statement did not refer to any planned acquisition of a stake in Liverpool. GROWING INTEREST

Prince Faisal's statement renews a battle among Gulf Arab investors for England's most successful club with 18 English league titles and five European Cup triumphs.

Investors from Gulf Arab countries have shown growing interest in acquiring soccer clubs mainly from the English Premier League.

Last month, United Arab Emirates' investor Sulaiman al-Fahim completed a takeover of Portsmouth football club, while Abu Dhabi United Group for Development and Investment (ADUG) bought Manchester City last year.

Hicks and Gillett were in talks in January to sell the club for 500 million pounds including debt to investors from the region, including Kuwait, but talks broke down over price, one of those involved said. Before that, UAE-based Dubai International Capital vied in 2007 for a stake in Liverpool.

In August, Prince Faisal told the website of local soccer team Al-Hilal that F6 was leading talks for a group of unnamed investors to buy into two European football clubs, one of which was from Great Britain.

Last year, Forbes Magazine estimated Liverpool to be worth $1 billion, excluding debt, placing it as the fourth-most valuable football team in the world after Manchester United, Real Madrid and Arsenal.