Liverpool's board of directors agreed today to sell the English football giants to the owner of the Boston Red Sox baseball team, despite fierce opposition from the side's current American owners.
The deal with New England Sports Ventures (NESV) is subject to approval by the Premier League and a legal battle with Tom Hicks and George Gillett, who bought the club three years ago and tried to scupper the latest bid.
"I am delighted that we have been able to successfully conclude the sale process which has been thorough and extensive," Liverpool chairman Martin Broughton said in a statement on the club's website. "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 the Red Sox."
Americans Hicks and Gillett were under pressure to sell the five-times European champions with an October 15 deadline for the repayment of their £282m ($448m) loans from the Royal Bank of Scotland and Wachovia. Liverpool were put up for sale by the unpopular duo in April, who initially sought an asking price of around £800m, a figure that they subsequently dropped to £600m.
The pair on Tuesday night attempted to remove two senior figures from the club's board of directors before a meeting to review two offers, one from NESV and the other reportedly from Asia.
Broughton hit out at the pair, saying: "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." He said the board had met NESV in Boston, London and Liverpool in recent weeks and he was "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," he added. The statement said, however, that the sale was "conditional on Premier League approval, resolution of the dispute concerning board membership and other matters". New England Sports Ventures is a group headed by John William Henry II and Tom Werner.
Broughton was appointed as independent chairman as part of the sale process in April, meaning Gillett and Hicks no longer had a majority vote and could not prevent any sale that the board viewed as being in the club's best interests. The American pair have become increasingly unpopular on Merseyside with supporters blaming the duo for Liverpool's fall from grace, as the 18-time champions languish in the Premier League relegation zone.
In a dramatic twist late last night, Liverpool released an unusual statement saying that Hicks and Gillett had tried to oust managing director Christian Purslow and commercial director Ian Ayre from the board. Hicks wanted to replace them with his son, Mack Hicks, and a close associate Lori Kay McCutcheon.
Liverpool, Champions League winners in 2005, have not topped the English league since 1990 and the disappointment of last season's seventh-place finish has intensified this season. Manager Rafa Benitez's replacement by Roy Hodgson has failed to lift the team.
The Reds exited the League Cup at home to League Two Northampton on penalties before going down 2-1 to newly-promoted Blackpool at Anfield on Sunday amid protests against Hicks and Gillett.