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Thailand Working to Acquire English Football Team - 2004-05-18

Thailand is moving to enter the fast-paced world of English Premier League football with the Thai sports association set to buy a 30 percent share in the Liverpool Football Club.

The deal, arranged by Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, is drawing criticism from some observers, but is being cheered by Thailand's millions of soccer fans.

The Thai cabinet approved a plan to raise money to pay for a 30 percent stake in Britain's Liverpool Football Club.

The board of the famed soccer team informed the Thai government late Monday it had approved in principle Thailand's offer to buy the stake.

The bid, worth more than $110 million, followed weeks of behind-the-scenes negotiations.

Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra told reporters he expected a final agreement will be reached by June if talks go smoothly.

?In principle it is agreed,? he added. ?But [there are] still some details to be discussed, some minor points that we have to agree.?

The Liverpool Club is looking to raise funds to boost its standing before the next football season begins in August.

At present, 51 percent of the club is owned by Chairman David Moores, while Granada Television holds 9.9 percent.

Under the deal, Thailand's state Sports Authority will set up a subsidiary company to purchase and manage the Liverpool investment. The authority will control 51 percent of the management company, while the remaining stake will be sold to the public.

A Sports Authority official says money for the deal will be raised through a special state lottery. Thai companies also will be allowed to invest in the team.

While the move has created widespread interest in Thailand, it has triggered surprise and criticism among financial analysts, especially over the use of state funds. Many analysts view the investment as potentially risky.

Bob Broadfoot, managing director of the Hong Kong-based Political and Economic Risk Consultancy thinks Thai bid raises concerns. ?I think that his action on the Liverpool Football side is likely to cause more people to question his judgment, which was not being done before,? he said.

However, Tulsathit Thaptim, managing editor of The Nation newspaper, says Mr. Thaksin's move has drawn public support. ?Thai people are very crazy about soccer and for Thailand to have a part in Liverpool Football Club is very significant,? he noted. ?It could create widespread sentiment of pride among Thai people.?

Mr. Thaksin has said that if the bid falls through he is also looking at "three or four" other British Premier League clubs as alternative investments.