Saturday, October 16, 2010

New Liverpool Owner John W Henry Seals Takeover

US company New England Sports Ventures, owner of the Boston Red Sox, has completed its takeover of Liverpool FC.

The move comes after former owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett removed the temporary restraining order blocking the £300m sale on Friday morning.

"I am proud and humbled," said NESV head John W Henry. "I can't tell you how happy I am. We're here to win."

Hicks and Gillett may now take legal action in England to secure damages after dropping a claim lodged in Texas.

The claim in the Dallas court was for £1bn in damages, with the American pair claiming the deal was "illegal" and an "extraordinary swindle".

"We believe that once the English court finally has a chance to hear all the facts, a very different picture will be painted," said a statement from law firm Fish & Richardson attorney Tom Melsheimer.

Still, there was an air of relief as news of NESV's completed purchase emerged - a move that will allow major creditors Royal Bank of Scotland to be paid the £237m it is owed on Friday.

A club statement revealed: "The transaction values the club at £300m and eliminates all of the acquisition debt placed on LFC by its previous owners, reducing the club's debt servicing obligations from £25m-£30m a year to £2m-£3m."

That, in turn, means Liverpool's holding company is unlikely now to be put into administration, a move which could have resulted in a nine-point penalty in the Premier League.

Henry, facing a media scrum inside the law offices of Slaughter and May in central London, added: "We're going to do a lot of listening, we have a lot to learn, and we'll walk this path together [with the fans].

"We regard our role as that of stewards for the club with a primary focus on returning the club to greatness on and off the field for the long-term.

"We are committed first and foremost to winning. We have a history of winning, and we want Liverpool supporters to know that this approach is what we intend to bring to this great club."

Chairman Martin Broughton - who revealed he would fulfill "a transitional role while John works out how to run the club" in the foreseeable future - added in a statement: "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 offer on the basis that it best met the criteria we set out originally for a new owner. NESV is buying Liverpool in order to put it on an excellent financial footing and continue to develop it internationally.

"This is a good deal which comprehensively resolves the pressing issue of the club's debt and should give staff, players and fans great confidence regarding the future of Liverpool FC."

Former owners Hicks and Gillett had earlier lifted the restraining order blocking the club's sale earlier on Friday, but not so that the current board could complete a deal with NESV.

Hicks was believed to be negotiating the sale of his shares with US hedge fund Mill Financial, who already own Gillett's shares after he defaulted on a £75m loan from the Royal Bank of Scotland in August.

But the Premier League rejected Mill's requests to undergo a fit and proper person test on Thursday, saying it could only negotiate with the Liverpool board.

The board - comprising Broughton, managing director Christian Purslow and commercial director Ian Ayre as well as Hicks and Gillett - had already accepted a bid from NESV by three votes to two for them to become the club's new owners.

Hicks and Gillett, who gave up hope of holding on to Liverpool at a court in Dallas on Friday, could now bring their legal fight to the High Court in London.

Steve Stodghill, the Texas lawyer representing Hicks and Gillett, added: "This outcome not only devalues the club but it also will result in long-term uncertainty for the fans, players and everyone who loves this sport because all legal recourses will be pursued.

"Mr. Hicks and Mr. Gillett pledged to pay the debt to RBS so that the club could avoid administration that was threatened by RBS. That offer was rejected.

"It is a tragic development that others will claim as a victory. This means it won't be resolved the way it should be resolved.

"My clients worked tirelessly to resolve these issues but RBS would not listen to any reasonable solution and the directors acted selfishly and illegally. Mr Hicks and Mr Gillett wanted to position this club for the future, but others have a different agenda.

"In truth, there is nothing positive from these events for Liverpool Football Club. That is exactly the opposite of what my clients wanted to achieve."

The Royal Bank of Scotland, however, vowed to "vigorously oppose" any attempts made to sue, saying in a statement: "RBS is pleased the sale of LFC to NESV has been completed.

"We are confident this will provide the foundation for the club and its fans to enjoy renewed success on and off the pitch.

"RBS is aware of reports that Mr. Hicks and Mr. Gillett may intend to pursue further litigation in relation... the English courts have described claims made to date as "not realistic and abusive". Any further claims against RBS will be vigorously opposed."
Hicks and Gillett have continuously sought to prevent the purchase of the club they bought in 2007 for £174m, holding the view that Liverpool is worth much more than the £300m NESV offered.

It looked as though the prospect of it going down to a final day on Friday might be avoided after the latest High Court ruling on Thursday when Mr Justice Floyd issued an anti-suit injunction that rendered Hicks and Gillett's temporary restraining order, which they put in place to try and prevent a sale taking place, ineffective.

But Hicks and Gillett eventually withdrew their restraining order on Friday morning as it became clear Mill Financial would not be able to become Liverpool's new owners.

Liverpool, who face Everton at Goodison Park on Sunday, are in the bottom three in the Premier League table after picking up only six points from their opening seven games.

Henry: Hard Work Starts Now

With the Liverpool takeover saga finally complete, new owner John Henry has vowed to tackle the task of restoring the club to the top of English football "head-on".

Henry admitted there are "real challenges" to be overcome in turning Liverpool's fortunes around, but that in the process of purchasing the club, areas of improvement have already been identified and work can be started immediately.

New England Sports Ventures, of which Henry is head, completed their protracted £300million takeover on Friday. NESV have a good track record in improving teams, with their significant investment in the Boston Red Sox baseball franchise after a 2001 buy-out bringing two World Series titles after a long drought.

Henry has had plenty of time to make an assessment of the situation at Anfield as a sale was agreed 10 days ago but has been the subject of numerous court disputes by former owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett. And now his group have taken control the project can begin.

"We're going to have to work very hard,'' he said.”There's a lot of work to be done to get this club to where it needs to be in the grand scheme of things. We really, through all the work we've done over the last two months, saw the challenges and problems which exist and we've got to work to address those. There is a great nucleus here off the field and on the field and we think we can build from that, but it's not going to be easy.

"We've got real challenges but we've got a very strong organization, financially and otherwise, we have some terrific strategic thinkers and we're going to be attacking this head-on.''

Liverpool will at least move forward as a virtually debt-free club as the takeover wiped out all the loans and costs associated with the purchase of the club three-and-a-half years ago by Hicks and Gillett. A result of those loans was the crippling interest payments of £40million a year - which are now a thing of the past. NESV said the club's debt servicing costs would drop to between £2million and £3million annually and manager Roy Hodgson already has his eye on an expanded transfer kitty.

Although the sale has been completed, there remains the threat of further legal action from Hicks and Gillett. Even though they withdrew their £1billion lawsuit, claiming an "epic swindle'', lodged in Dallas, they are plans afoot to return to the High Court in London - where their attempts to block a sale were thwarted this week.

"Mr Hicks and Mr Gillett have withdrawn without prejudice their Texas lawsuit in order to fully comply with the order of the English court,'' said Fish & Richardson attorney Tom Melsheimer. "We believe the order is overbroad and unfair, yet Mr Hicks and Mr Gillett respect the legal process. We believe that once the English court finally has a chance to hear all the facts, a very different picture will be painted.''

Hicks, who with Gillett has lost £144million in the deal, claimed Royal Bank of Scotland - the club's main creditors who forced the sale - and chairman Martin Broughton had breached his trust.

"This has been an organized conspiracy over many months,'' he told Sky Sports. "I can confirm there were funds available to pay off the bank completely but between RBS, the chairman and employees that conspired against us, they would not let us. I just want the truth to come out in the courts. It isn't over.''

Hodgson Wants NESV Backing

Liverpool boss Roy Hodgson has called on the club's new owners to back his efforts to lift the Reds out of the relegation zone.

The Anfield outfit's protracted takeover saga was finally resolved on Friday when New England Sports Ventures (NESV) saw their £300million offer go through.

NESV, who also own the Boston Red Sox and are fronted by John W Henry, claimed power from Tom Hicks and George Gillett after courtroom battles either side of the Atlantic, although the duo are refusing to go quietly.

Attention will now turn again to events on the field, where the Reds have endured a miserable start to the season, suffering humiliating home defeats at the hands of Northampton in the Carling Cup and Blackpool in the Premier League.

The reverse at the hands of the newly-promoted Seasiders saw the Kop turn their anger towards Hodgson, with chants of 'Dalglish, Dalglish' demonstrating that some supporters were keen for Reds legend Kenny Dalglish to take the helm.

But the former Fulham boss, who only replaced Rafa Benitez at the helm in the summer, has called for everyone to pull together in a bid to lift Liverpool out of the doldrums.

The first challenge for the now NESV-owned Reds is Sunday's Merseyside derby against Everton at Goodison Park, with Hodgson warning against knee-jerk reactions should results not immediately improve.

Hodgson said: "I know I can turn it around but I need the patience and support to do it.

"All clubs need stability - managers and players as well - but that is becoming a very hard thing to find.

"I've always expected new owners and put my faith in the board to choose the right ones. From what I know of NESV and the Red Sox, they know their stuff and will be good for the club.

"This is a fresh start for the club and, hopefully, that means for me too. I was proud to come here and now I am even prouder.

"I signed for three years and it's a sad day for everyone if, after a bad start, people think the best solution is to wave a magic wand and look for someone else.

"But the prospect of having new owners doesn't greatly concern me because I knew the previous ones were not popular.

"John called me this week and said he was very much looking forward to working with me and the other people here - but there was no talk of my situation."

Hodgson Reveals There Have Been No Talks Regarding His Liverpool Future

Liverpool manager Roy Hodgson has admitted new owner John W. Henry has made no indication of his Anfield future.

Speculation was rife that Hodgson may be replaced by a new manager when a takeover was completed, however since New England Sports Ventures completed a deal to purchase the club, NESV partner Henry has not spoken about any managerial change.

The former Fulham boss confirmed he had spoken to Henry on the phone regarding the sale of the club, and the American did not discuss Hodgson’s position at the club, nor did he elaborate on a possible transfer sum for January.

"There hasn't been any talk about my position at the club,” Hodgson told Sky Sports.

"He called me and his message was that he was hoping the deal would go through, he was very much looking forward to becoming the new owner and he was looking forward to working with me and the people who were here but we didn't talk about investment."

The 63-year-old revealed he is optimistic NESV can create stability for a club that has been through turbulence on and off the pitch.

He added: "All people and clubs need stability, all managers and players need stability and it is becoming a very hard thing to find.

"We live in a world where you are either on top or at the bottom and the middle line is not appreciated by the mass media.

"I am hoping the new owners coming in will stabilize the situation and give us a chance to concentrate on the football and, most importantly of all, will wipe out debts.

"That will mean in future we can invest in players in a different way to what has happened in the last transfer window when money was in short supply and we weren't even certain there would be any money to spend or even if the club would be there.

"The mere fact the club will be taken over and the debts wiped off immediately put us into a different financial position to the one we have been in."

Hodgson Hints At Major Overhaul To Come

Roy Hodgson had his hands tied in the pre-season transfer window but with a new owner and the promise of money to spend after Christmas, an overhaul of Liverpool's squad looks imminent.

Joe Cole and Milan Jovanovic, the vastly experienced Englishman's two major signings since taking over from Rafael Benitez, were both free transfers and as John W Henry completed a protracted 300 million pounds ($480.8 million) purchase of the club on Friday, Hodgson hinted at major changes ahead.

"We have a limited squad of players," Hodgson told reporters on Friday. "I don't think we're as strong in depth as many of our rivals, I'd like us to be stronger.

"I think that the 11 players that we can put out from the start don't give me enormous alternatives at the moment, especially up front and that's where the most alternatives would be. We are also short of back players at the club.

"In midfield we have quite a lot of players, many of whom play in the same position, so for me to really be happy with the squad I would want to balance it out a bit differently to how it's balanced at the moment but I'm not going to do that in two and a half months."

Sunday's Merseyside derby against Everton will swing the spotlight back to the pitch from courtrooms either side of the Atlantic and with off-field distractions now settled, Hodgson will hope his players follow Jamie Carragher's example.

The Liverpool-born defender committed the rest of his career to the club by signing a new contract during this week's turmoil and Hodgson said he was one shining light during a season in which Liverpool have collected six points in seven games in the Premier League.

"In all the bad news you have to remember there are Jamie Carraghers around," Hodgson said.

"He is part of the heart and soul of this club and a man who literally would do anything to achieve success with the club.

"He has been one of the few players who in these seven matches could hold his hand up and say "I can't do any better, I'm playing at the top of my form. You could never put a lack of result down to my performance.'"

Tom Hicks And George Gillett Will Return To Court Over Liverpool Sale

Liverpool's former owners, Tom Hicks and George Gillett, have dropped a lawsuit filed just hours earlier claiming up to $1.6bn (£1bn) in damages over the contentious sale of the club, but said they will return to fight in the British law courts.

Liverpool said the club would be insulated from the effects of any lawsuit, which would have to be aimed at the named directors of the holding company that was dissolved yesterday once the deal went through, or at Royal Bank of Scotland.

After losing their battle to hold on to Liverpool FC, the attorney Tom Melsheimer said that Hicks and Gillett were dropping the claim in order to comply with this week's high court order.

But he said "a different picture will be painted" when the English court "has a chance to hear all the facts", indicating that the duo are prepared to fight on in their belief that the club's directors and its principal lender, RBS, conspired against the pair to sell the club for less than its true market value to New England Sports Ventures.

"We believe that it is appropriate to go back to court in England and seek relief from what we think is an unfair and over-broad order that had been entered without the benefit of a full hearing of both sides," he added. Melsheimer said the ruling on Thursday had taken place without legal representation from Hicks and Gillett and they wanted their view to be put to the high court.

"We want to be present and be heard. I think the court will realise that its original order is over-broad and unfair," he said.

"The fact remains, I don't think any judge in England or anywhere has had a chance to hear both sides of the story, We know the court have no interest in being unfair," he said. Some legal experts believe they could yet have a case, while questioning the size of the claim.

"If they can prove that the club was sold for less than its worth then they have a strong case. Proving the value of the club is intrinsically difficult. It is a particular expertise and difficult to accurately quantify," Danny Davis, a partner and football finance expert at Mishcon de Reya, said. "The $1.6bn they are seeking will, however, be significantly reduced to something more in line with the actual difference in sale price and value, if proven. Having mismanaged the situation legally won't help their chances either."

The decision to withdraw the claim came about two hours after the £300m sale of the club to the owners of the Boston Red Sox was finalized in London. That came after Hicks and Gillett dropped a temporary restraining order blocking the sale that had been obtained in a Texas court.

But even as they dropped the petition on the orders of a high court judge – who said the case had little to do with Texas and ruled they had failed to disclose the fact that they had recently lost a similar action in a UK court – Hicks and Gillett launched one final assault on the chairman, Martin Broughton, and the sale process.

"It's an extraordinary swindle and it will result in exactly the wrong thing for the club and the fans," said attorneys acting for the pair. "This outcome not only devalues the club but it also will result in long-term uncertainty for the fans, players and everyone who loves this sport because all legal recourses will be pursued," Steve Stodghill, the Texas attorney representing the former owners, said.

Hicks, who failed in a last-ditch bid to transfer his share of the club to the investment fund Mill Financial and so derail the sale, said: "This was a conspiracy of the British establishment, Royal Bank of Scotland, our chairman [Martin Broughton] and our highly compensated employees."

Following the completion of the sale, Liverpool moved to reassure supporters that the club would not be liable for any further legal claims. "If Hicks and Gillett pursue the legal route it would be an action against the English directors of Kop Holdings [which has now been dissolved] and/or RBS. There is no exposure for Liverpool FC," said a spokesman.

Tom Hicks Blames Rafael Benítez After Bitter Liverpool Battle

Tom Hicks has hit out at the former Liverpool manager Rafael Benítez as he defended himself and his fellow former co-owner, George Gillett, against claims they did not provide the necessary financial support to the Spaniard during his Anfield tenure.

"We spent £300m on players, £150m net – I think it's the second or third highest in the English Premier League," he said. "You never read about that in the media. I read a very interesting article in which Alex Ferguson [the Manchester United manager] said: 'Rafa had more money to spend than the rest of us, he just bought bad players.'

"Rafa lost the club. We didn't finish at the top – that's not the fault of the owners, we spent good money. Rafa has to take accountability for his own results. When we finished second the year before, people weren't nearly as angry. Liverpool fans are just unbelievably strong supporters and they want to win. I'm not a novice, I've been in sport for almost 15 years. Whether it's hockey or baseball in the US or soccer fans in Liverpool, people want to win."

The club's chairman, Martin Broughton, and creditors Royal Bank of Scotland, also came under attack from Hicks, as he claimed in an interview with Sky Sports News that they had breached his trust.

"This has been an organized conspiracy over many months," he said. "[Independent chairman] Martin Broughton wanted a good PR event in his life and be seen as the guy that got rid of those Americans – and he sold to another group of Americans.

"I can't go into the details but I can confirm the funds were available to pay off Royal Bank of Scotland entirely but between Royal Bank of Scotland, the chairman and the employees that conspired against us, they would not let us. They were people I thought were our friends, people I thought were loyal, and I was wrong."

Hicks said he had identified a buyer he felt would be better to take Liverpool forward, but claimed his attempts to broker a deal had been undermined by people inside the club. "My family members and I have been working very hard to solve the issue," he added. "We know there are better owners out there for the Liverpool Football Club than the Boston Red Sox group.

"We knew who they were. We were just frustrated that every time we had conversations with them we had people in our own organization who somehow had those things not work out. They conspired against us."

He added: "The process was continually frustrated by chatter about financial distress coming out of RBS. The interested buyers that we knew would be the right type of buyers for the club – look what's happened to Manchester City now with their new ownership – that's the kind of buyer we were trying to find for Liverpool and those people were scared off by the distress chatter and the organized internet terrorism campaign that was directed against people involved.

"I just want the truth to come out in the courts. Our desire was to get Liverpool into the hands of an owner who would be able to build a stadium and make Liverpool the top club in the world they deserve to be."

The 64-year-old Texan admitted that the debt he and Gillett had saddled on the club was "a little too much", but he hit out at RBS for attempting to drive through a sale too quickly.

Hicks said: "Liverpool is a very healthy performing club which covers its interest fine. It has a little bit too much debt, no question. But we were going to fix that and we were frustrated by others."

He conceded that his struggle to communicate with the fans since he took over in March 2007 had conspired to the bitterness surrounding his departure. "I accept that fact that something went wrong in my ability to communicate with the fans and I'm saddened by it," he said.

"I wish more people had the accurate information. It [the debt] has been a millstone because of the fans' reaction to it. There's been so many inaccurate numbers about what our interest bill is – we've had plenty of operating income to cover our interest payments with a lot of room to spare.

"We've invested. George and I put in $270m into the club. We've spent nearly $300m gross on players. About $150m net on players and you never hear that in the media. That disappears in all the noise and anger."

Liverpool To Make Hopeful Move For £14m Rated Italian International Striker

Roy Hodgson is planning a hopeful move to sign former Man United striker Giuseppe Rossi. The Villarreal striker is on the Liverpool manager’s short list for new striking talent as the Anfield boss looks to bring in reinforcements in January.

The Italian international has been a big success in La Liga and has netted four times this season to help his side to second spot in the table. The pint sized New Jersey born striker is in fourth season at the El Madrigal and has been a big success at the Yellow Submarines but has been linked with a move away from the Spanish minnows.

A move back to the Premier League may excite the 23 year old who may feel such a move would aid his chances of a regular spot in the national team set up.

The £14m rated goalscorer narrowly missed out on Marcello Lippi’s ill fated World Cup squad but his recent good form has helped force his way back into the manager’s thinking. The chance to ply his trade alongside Fernando Torres may well interest the former Old Trafford man and now that the issue of ownership at Liverpool has cleared up somewhat, Hodgson may well find himself with funds in January to put in a decent offer for the Italian.