- Associated Press - Saturday, October 16, 2010

LONDON (AP) - Liverpool players met John Henry and New England Sports Ventures executives on Saturday, a day after the group won a courtroom fight for ownership of the relegation-threatened team.

Fellow Americans Tom Hicks and George Gillett Jr. gave up their legal fight to hang onto the club, which was sold against their wishes by English directors to the owners of the Boston Red Sox.

The $476 million deal with NESV ends the turbulent three-year ownership by Hicks and Gillett.

Henry, who heads NESV, and chairman Tom Werner watched Liverpool practice and addressed the players at the Melwood complex.

“We actually have been at Melwood before, we came here under the radar about four or six weeks ago, but it’s always a pleasure to be around players because, after all, they are the heart and soul of the club,” Werner said. “We look forward to spending the next few days here talking to various stakeholders and telling them about, a little bit, our track record and how we’re going to go about our business.”

Winger Ryan Babel spoke with Henry over lunch and said in a Twitter posting that it was “a short but good meeting. He is humble and proud to be part of LFC.”

Liverpool will face city rival Everton on Sunday, looking for just its second league win of the season.

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

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.

Last season Liverpool slipped to seventh in the standings, missing out on qualification for the lucrative Champions League. That leaves the team languishing in the relegation zone.

“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 said 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.

The cost of servicing the club’s debt has been cut to about $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 five-time European champions.

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

The duo claimed the sale 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 when 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.”

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