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Liverpool to be bought by Boston Red Sox owners

Full interview with Liverpool chairman Martin Broughton

By Dan Roan
BBC sports news correspondent

Liverpool are to be sold to the owners of the Boston Red Sox baseball team.

But the takeover by the New England Sports Ventures requires resolution of a legal dispute with the Reds' American owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett.

The Premier League hopes to "complete all the necessary processes by Friday 8 October so the sale can proceed".

Hicks and Gillett tried to sack managing director Christian Purslow and commercial director Ian Ayre in a last-ditch bid to keep control.

In an attempt to block any sale and regain control of the crisis-hit club, Liverpool's much-criticised owners tried to replace Purslow and Ayre with Hicks's son, Mack Hicks, and Lori Kay McCutcheon, a vice president at Hicks Holdings.

Dan Roan, BBC sports news

Hicks and Gillett are understood to have argued that the club's English directors were not acting in the best interests of Liverpool and that the NESV bid - as well another undisclosed offer from Asia - "dramatically undervalued the club".

Purslow, Ayre and chairman Martin Broughton are now consulting lawyers over whether they can resist the owners' attempts to replace them and force through a sale.

"I am only disappointed that the owners have tried everything to prevent the deal from happening and that we need to go through legal proceedings in order to complete the sale," said Broughton, who has met with representative from NESV over the past few weeks.

NESV is thought to be offering about £300m for the club, enough to pay back the £240m of loans and £40m of fees owed to Royal Bank of Scotland, which must be settled by 15 October else a penalty fee of £60m will be due.

The legal dispute over board membership will be a key part of whether the sale actually goes ahead, although with an 15 October deadline looming for the RBS debt to be refinanced, advantage seems to be with the prospective owners rather than incumbents.

"The legal battle is critical," said Wyn Grant, professor of football economics at Warwick University. "If the NESV deal doesn't go through RBS may ultimately intervene.

"I think RBS would be prepared to extend the loans for a short while to allow the sale to go through without putting the club into administration but if it's all held up too much they might just pull the plug on Hicks and Gillett, meaning the club would be available for purchase anyway."

Robert Peston, BBC business editor

If the 15 October date were to pass without a sale, the bank would have the option of extending the deadline once again, or calling it in and taking control of the club and forcing a sale, with BBC business editor Robert Peston suggesting the club could still enter administration before any sale is concluded.

However, the Premier League says it is happy with the business plan of the NESV and has confirmed that the club would not suffer a nine-point penalty if it were to enter administration as the club would remain fully solvent.

"The aim of the regulations is primarily to capture clubs who have gone into insolvency. This is manifestly not the case with Liverpool Football Club," a Premier League source told PA Sport.

"For example, last year West Ham's Icelandic owners went into administration but that did not lead to any Premier League action as the club itself was solvent."

The prospect of administration looms because NESV's valuation falls well short of the £600m that Hicks and Gillett are thought to be demanding.

Liverpool, who are currently undergoing their worst start to a season in 57 years, were put up for sale by Hicks and Gillett in April with debts of £351.4m.

They initially sought an asking price of about £800m, a figure they subsequently dropped to £600m.

In August, there were abortive bids from Hong Kong businessman Kenny Huang while a consortium fronted by Syrian businessman Yahya Kirdi also expressed an interest.

The owners paid £174.1m to buy the club in 2007, while also agreeing to take on the club's debt of £44.8m.

Prospective new owner NESV already boasts a portfolio that includes of companies including the Boston Red Sox, New England Sports Network, Fenway Sports Group and Rousch Fenway Racing.

It is partly owned by futures and foreign exchange trading advisor John W. Henry who has an estimated fortune of £540m.

Henry, 61, made his fortune in hedge funds, but has used it to indulge his sporting interests, most famously with the Boston Red Sox baseball team, but also in the NASCAR motorsport series.

The self-made multi-millionaire from Illinois does not have the serious money of the Premier League's wealthiest owners but he does have an excellent track record of success with his teams.

After owning a number of minor league baseball teams, and briefly controlling the Florida Marlins, Henry and his partners in New England Sports Ventures, Tom Werner and the New York Times Company, bought the Red Sox in 2002.

Within two years of Henry's acquisition their 86-year wait to win the World Series title came to an end. Three years later, they won the title again.

Professor Rogan Taylor of Liverpool University who is also a founder member of ShareLiverpoolFC added: "Henry took over a club that was in an old stadium and that only had 30,000 in it. Every other bidder for club was talking about how they would build a huge new stadium.

"But John Henry simply refurbished the existing one, spent about £100m doing it, and has made a business that I think is second only to the New York outfit."

I am only disappointed that the owners have tried everything to prevent the deal from happening and that we need to go through legal proceedings in order to complete the sale

LFC chairman Martin Broughton

Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher has backed the takeover by NESV and hopes the ownership issue can be resolved quickly.

"Everyone knows it'll be a good thing for the club," he told the Liverpool website.

"Hopefully, it will be sorted sooner rather than later and we can start looking forward on the pitch and start improving results, which is what we need to do."

Many fans have become increasingly outraged at the current owners' running of a club which is said to be currently £237.4m in debt, and their failure to carry through promises to build a new stadium.

Liverpool fans' group "The Spirit of Shankly" has met the news with "cautious optimism" but members admit they are desperate to see the back of their current owners.

"We need to rid the club of Gillett and Hicks," James McKenna, who helps run Spirit of Shankly, told BBC Sport.

"It does not matter where they come from as long as they understand Liverpool Football Club. That was the problem with Gillett and Hick, they never really got Liverpool.

"We have not been involved in discussions with the potential new owners about fans ownership but hope to be involved. The supporters are very angry and believe that any new owners should listen to our views."

Additional reporting by broadcast journalist Nabil Hassan

What Liverpool fans think of takeover

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see also
Liverpool owners dismay chairman
06 Oct 10 |  Business
Who is Liverpool's new owner?
15 Oct 10 |  US & Canada
When baseball meets football
15 Oct 10 |  Liverpool
Liverpool board split over bids
06 Oct 10 |  Liverpool
Relegation form worries Hodgson
04 Oct 10 |  Premier League
Hodgson understands fans' protest
26 Sep 10 |  Liverpool
Liverpool chief calms money fears
22 Sep 10 |  Liverpool
Hodgson sorry for Cup humiliation
23 Sep 10 |  League Cup
Hicks to target Liverpool buyout
17 Sep 10 |  Liverpool
Benitez slams Liverpool hierarchy
21 Sep 10 |  Europe
US pair agree Liverpool takeover
06 Feb 07 |  Liverpool

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