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Oct 6, 2010

Liverpool board force through sale

Liverpool's board of directors have announced the sale of the club to New England Sports Ventures (NESV) despite opposition to the deal from American co-owners George Gillett and Tom Hicks.

• Broughton: Deal done in a week
• New owners to stick with Hodgson
• Brewin: Out of the frying pan
• In profile: John W Henry

Liverpool chairman Martin Broughton accepted one of the "two excellent offers" on the table and will hand over the club to Boston Red Sox owner John W Henry subject to Premier League approval and the resolution of the board dispute.

A club statement from Broughton read: "I am delighted that we have been able to successfully conclude the sale process which has been thorough and extensive. The Board decided to accept NESV's proposal on the basis that it best met the criteria we set out originally for a suitable new owner.

"NESV's philosophy is all about winning and they have fully demonstrated that at Red Sox. We've met them in Boston, London and Liverpool over several weeks and I am immensely impressed with what they have achieved and with their vision for Liverpool Football Club.

"By removing the burden of acquisition debt, this offer allows us to focus on investment in the team. 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."

The boardroom battle between Hicks and Gillett and chairman Broughton, managing director Christian Purslow and commercial director Ian Ayre escalated to a new level on Tuesday night when the American duo attempted a coup.

Hicks and Gillett, who reportedly rejected both offers to buy their stake in the club on Tuesday night as neither deal offered a profit on their investment, tried to replace Purslow and Ayre with Hicks's son, Mack, and Lori Kay McCutcheon, the financial controller at the Texan's company Hicks Holdings, both of whom are sympathetic to their cause.

The reshuffle was rebuffed as the two club officials, backed by the chairman, out-voted the Americans three to two and on Wednesday morning Broughton announced to club had accepted the offer from NESV over a rival proposal from an unnamed Asian investor.

Hicks and Gillett are expected to explore legal channels to oppose the sale but a statement from Broughton, Purslow and Ayre pointedly expressed they would "continue to explore every possible route to achieving a sale of the club at the earliest opportunity''.

But ESPNsoccernet has also been told that the legal battle could be long and messy."Who knows how long that could take, it could take a long time," a Liverpool source revealed.

Central to the whole saga of the sale has been the October 15 deadline for the repayment or refinancing of £282 million of loans - owed principally to the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) - that have been loaded onto the club by Hicks and Gillett.

Hicks has been trying to hold on to power by attempting to shift the debt to an alternative loan company but the English-based trio on the board opposed the proposed restructuring last month.

Hicks remained steadfast in his belief there was a profit to be made from the sale of Liverpool but, with the prospect of RBS having to call in their debt and possibly take control at Anfield, the price the club is actually worth has been falling by the week.

Liverpool have cost potential new owners NESV a cut price £300 million - which will cover the RBS debt and cover the majority of Hicks and Gillett's personal investment but would not return a profit to the duo.

Liverpool fans' group Spirit of Shankly (SoS) have been protesting against Hicks and Gillett's tenure for two years but the news that the club will be passing to another set of American owners may dampen the celebrations over the sale.

But a source, well placed during the sale negotiations, told ESPNsoccernet: "The fans might be worried about American owners, but in truth 95% of this process was getting rid of the existing owners, something the fans have been campaigning for, and this is another step toward it, although it's not quite over yet.

"It is understandable that the fans are worried given what has happened, but you cannot judge the new owners on day one. You have to judge them after year one, or even year two or three."

A spokesman for SoS said the supporters' group had "cautious optimism'' regarding the proposed new owners.

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