AP Source: Barclays to search for Liverpool buyer

Liverpool’s American owners are stepping up efforts to sell the English Premier League club by tasking Barclays Bank with finding a buyer and appointing a new chairman, a person familiar with the situation said Saturday.

Tom Hicks and George Gillett Jr. are set to appoint British Airways chairman Martin Broughton next week as an interim non-executive chairman to oversee the sale process, the person told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the talks are ongoing.

For more than two years, Hicks and Gillett have been trying to attract investors to reduce the debt resulting from their 2007 takeover, which stands at 237 million pounds ($364 million).

In September, Bank of America, Merrill Lynch and Rothschild were appointed to find investors, but Hicks and Gillett haven’t received an offer acceptable to them. A 100-million pound offer for 40 percent of the club by the New York-based private equity firm Rhone Group was not accepted earlier this month, with Hicks apparently unhappy with the deal.

Hicks has been more keen than Gillett on retaining some control at Anfield, but now both are prepared to sanction an outright sale and they hope a buyer will be found by Barclays Capital, the investment arm of the bank which sponsors the Premier League.

Hicks had blocked Gillett’s moves to sell his 50 percent share to Dubai International Capital group in 2008 as the pair feuded over future plans for the club. And an outright 500 million-pound takeover bid by the DIC group was also rebuffed.

The state of the club’s finances has limited manager Rafa Benitez’s ability to operate in the transfer market. Last season the club finished second in the Premier League but is in sixth place this season, four points adrift of the final lucrative Champions League spot.

Liverpool crashed out of the Champions League at the group stage in December, leading to a shortfall in the revenue generated in the elite competition, although the team has progressed to the semifinals of the less illustrious Europa League.

News that a sale may be on the horizon came as Benitez said he would need significant funds to revamp the squad in the offseason after a disappointing campaign.

"The cost of a top-class player is about 20 million pounds. I think we need three," Benitez said. "We want to keep the spine of the team, but sometimes you have to manage and you have to sell two or three players who aren’t playing many games.

"I think we can improve but it depends if we can do the right signings and it is always easier to sign more players with more money. It’s not easy for us to compete for players."

The lack of funds at Liverpool has also led to the postponement of plans to build a new stadium to replacing the aging Anfield.

Hicks and Gillett bought Liverpool in 2007 for 174 million pounds, taking on 44.8 million pounds of liabilities.

Amid the global economic crisis, the pair have been shoring up their financial positions.

Gillett sold the Montreal Canadiens ice hockey team, the Gillett Entertainment Group and the Bell Centre back to the Molson family for $580 million last year. Hicks is trying to sell his Major League Baseball team the Texas Rangers.