Liverpool ownership enters crucial phase
Liverpool will be relieved that their Europa League campaign continues after their impressive quarter-final victory over Benfica.
But perhaps more significant than the result was the presence at Anfield of co-owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett, seen together at the stadium for the first time in almost six months.
The Americans were not just in town for the match. They have also been conducting important negotiations over the club's future.
It has even been reported that several leading business figures, including British Airways chairman Martin Broughton, have been approached about taking on the role of independent chairman to enhance the club's attraction to potential investors.
Broughton has previously chaired the British Horseracing Board, but given the problems BA are currently facing - and the fact he is a passionate, lifelong Chelsea fan - it is unclear whether he would want the role.
One City insider told me: "An appointment like this would be purely cosmetic. Broughton is a serious business heavyweight but it will not help Liverpool find new money. Their problems remain, and the owners are playing a dangerous game with time running out."
Four days ago, Hicks and Gillett rejected a £100m offer for a 40% stake in the club by the Rhone Group, to the dismay of manager Rafa Benitez, who had even gone to the trouble of meeting with the investment group's representatives himself.
The deal would have drastically reduced Liverpool's £237m debt burden, kept their principal creditor RBS happy, and made funds available for summer transfer activity.
Liverpool fans are eager for the Americans to end their time at Anfield
But most importantly, by paying down debt, the deal would have improved the club's credit rating, making it easier for managing director Christian Purslow, who has been searching for new investment into the club for months, to complete his other main objective, securing more finance for a long-awaited - and desperately-needed - new stadium.
The problem was that the Rhone Group's package would have reduced the stakes of both Hicks and Gillett to just 30% each in return for nothing. That, for them, was not good enough. In essence, the deal failed because the owners' valuation of the club is much higher than the Rhone Group's.
Interestingly, well-placed sources close to the New York-based company insist the deal is now dead and no longer on the table, while the club suggests privately that it may still be alive and simply the beginning of a process of bargaining.
Whether this particular deal can be resurrected is highly unlikely, but the fact the club's owners turned it down could mean one of two things.
Firstly, they are confident of securing a better offer. Club sources are hopeful the Rhone Group's foray could tempt others to come forward, too, and other potential investors are simply waiting to see if Liverpool manage to qualify for the riches of the Champions League next season, something which would obviously affect the club's value.
If they fail to finish in the top four, I am told the club will seriously struggle to afford the current interest repayments on its debt. Bear in mind that holding company Kop Football made a loss of £42.6m in the year to July 2008, £36.5m of which was interest payments on the £350m loan.
Alternatively, it may be that the club is under less pressure to find new investment than previously thought. Liverpool's current lending arrangement with RBS comes to an end in late June. The bank has requested that the current debt of £237m is reduced by £100m by then, hence Rhone Group's offer.
If fresh investment cannot be found, the bank has a choice. It can either extend the loan regardless and offer a fresh deal. Or it can play tough, taking matters into its own hands and finding a buyer themselves.
RBS are keen to emphasise that they have a long-term relationship with the club, want to provide support and act in Liverpool's interests. The tone is conciliatory and suggests that another refinancing deal is again possible, even without new investment.
Liverpool were in a similar position to this last year. With time apparently running out, their auditors, KPMG, warned that failure to refinance a £350m loan would threaten the club's ability to operate as a going concern.
On that occasion, a fresh package was agreed after the owners stumped up £60m of their own money.
What happens next is ultimately down to whether the bank, 70% owned by us the taxpayers and with a ghastly £6.2bn operating loss last year, is willing to accommodate Liverpool - and its debt - yet further.
UPDATE 1630 BST:
One well-placed source close to RBS has told me the matter could come to a head within the next week and has suggested that Hicks and Gillett have begun talks with a brand new US investment bank in a desperate bid to find a solution.