English Premiership

Chinese tycoon linked to Reds

2010-05-12 12:44
Liverpool logo (File)

Shanghai - A Chinese Internet gaming tycoon, who once played against Liverpool, is in talks to buy the English Premiership club, Chinese media reported on Wednesday.

Zhu Jun, chairperson of Nasdaq-listed online game company The9 Limited, said the negotiations were "ongoing", but added that the outcome would be hard to predict, the Beijing Times reported.

Officials at Shanghai-based The9 would not confirm the talks had taken place.

"So far we have no comment on this," company spokesperson Phyllis Sai said.

Zhu, who already owns Chinese Super League club Shanghai Shenhua, has held two preliminary meetings with Barclays Capital, the investment bank hired to handle the sale, Britain's Independent newspaper reported.

They took place in Hong Kong in late April and more recently in Shanghai, it said, citing unnamed sources.

The Independent said the 44-year-old proposes to head a consortium of businessmen, perhaps including one or more other owners of Chinese Super League clubs, to make a bid.

Chairman of the debt-ridden club Martin Broughton, who is also chief of British Airways, is looking for a new buyer to replace American co-owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett, who have run Liverpool since 2007.

In accounts released this month, the 18-time English champions posted an operating loss before tax of 16 million pounds in the year ending July 31, 2009.

The debt and the 800 million-pound price tag has deterred many investors.

But Zhu is a long-time admirer of Liverpool and actually played against them in 2007.

He bought Shanghai United in 2006 and then took control of rivals Shanghai Shenhua a year later to force a merger between the two teams.

It was soon after this that he lived out a dream by donning Shenhua's number 16 shirt and playing under a pseudonym against Liverpool in Rotterdam.

Although he only played for five minutes, the game took his obsession with the club to a new level, he told the Beijing Times.

According to a profile on his firm's website, Zhu, whose English is poor, followed the same route as many other Chinese tycoons who rode the country's market reforms to riches.

He delivered home appliances in the 1980s before selling jackets and Volkswagen Santanas, according to the profile, before dropping out of university to work as a secretary.

In 1999, Zhu founded The9, whose name was inspired by his belief that video games are the world's ninth great art form after painting, sculpture, architecture, literature, music, dance, drama and film.

The fast-growing online game developer and operator specialises in multiplayer games and owns the Chinese mainland licenses for EA Sports FIFA Online 2, Soul of the Ultimate Nation and Atlantica.

On his Sina.com microblog, Zhu mused on Tuesday that a leveraged buy-out of a two billion-dollar company required less cash than buying a shoe shine stand.

"To buy a shoe shine stand with a price tag of 3,000 dollars, you must have 3,000 dollars. But if it was a big company, you don't need to raise that cash or even see that cash... You just have to know who has the money," he wrote.

It was not clear if the comment had any connection to the Liverpool talks.

If Zhu is successful in buying Liverpool, he will become the second Chinese owner of a Premier League club, following in the footsteps of Hong Kong billionaire Carson Yeung who owns Birmingham.

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