- Associated Press - Saturday, October 16, 2010

LONDON (AP) - Liverpool players met their new owner Saturday as attention turned from the long and bitter boardroom fight to the fortunes of the relegation-threatened team.

American John Henry, who heads New England Sports Ventures which bought Liverpool, spoke to the players as they prepared for Sunday’s match against city rival Everton. The team is looking for only its second league win of the season.

Liverpool winger Ryan Babel said on his Twitter feed that it “was a short but good meeting. He is humble and proud to be part of LFC.”

The $476 million deal with New England Sports Ventures ends the turbulent three-year ownership by Americans Tom Hicks and George Gillett Jr.

The new owners arrive without the promises of their predecessors, but they have been largely welcomed by the club’s fans, who are relieved to be rid of the massive debts the club acquired under Hicks and Gillett.

Henry has already cautioned: “One thing I’m going to try not to do is to create a lot of expectations.”

In the months after Hicks and Gillett arrived in 2007, the Reds reached the Champions League final, losing to AC Milan. In 2009, the 18-time champions missed out on their first English top flight title since 1990 by four points.

But last season Liverpool slipped to seventh in the standings, missing out on qualification for the lucrative Champions League and the team is now languishing in the relegation zone.

“It’s been a tough three years and there were a lot of expectations created,” Henry said.

Henry made no promises about a spending spree on players in the January transfer window, or a replacement for the iconic but relatively small Anfield ground.

“There’s a lot of work to be done to get this club to where it needs to be,” Henry said. “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.”

Henry did state that the $476 million transaction will wipe out the club’s crippling debts and was not funded through the type of leveraged takeover that ultimately suffocated Liverpool’s ability to invest in the squad.

“All that huge amount of money that our fans spend supporting our team, coming to games and all the other activities, is now available for what it should be available for, to invest,” Liverpool managing director Christian Purslow said.

The cost of servicing the club’s debt has been cut to around $4 million.

Liverpool manager Roy Hodgson expects to have some money to spend in the January transfer.

“In future, we can invest in players in a different way to what has happened in the last transfer window,” Hodgson said. “Then 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.”

Liverpool went to the High Court in London twice this week to win approval for the sale over the objections of Hicks and Gillett, who claimed NESV’s winning bid undervalued the 18-time English champions.

The sale finally went through after Hicks and Gillett withdrew the temporary restraining order blocking the sale they had obtained in a Texas court.

But Hicks and Gillett aren’t going without a fight, threatening to drag the club through further court battles despite dropping a $1.6 billion damages claim in Dallas.

The duo, who feuded for much of their time at Anfield, claimed the takeover was “illegal” and an “extraordinary swindle,” adding that part-nationalized Royal Bank of Scotland refused to allow them to repay Liverpool’s debts to prevent the sale.

RBS forced Hicks and Gillett to put the club up for sale in April as they failed to repay their debts.

“The process was continually frustrated by chatter about financial distress coming out of RBS,” Hicks said. “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.”

RBS said that any further claims against the bank will be “vigorously opposed.”



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