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Explainer: What does sale mean for Liverpool?

By Simon Hooper, CNN
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Why Liverpool buy makes sense
  • Agreed deal includes repayment of Liverpool's longterm debts
  • Co-owners George Gillett Jr., Tom Hicks say deal undervalues the club
  • Liverpool have slumped on the pitch amid turmoil in the boardroom
  • Proposed new owner is credited with restoring fortunes of Boston Red Sox

(CNN) -- Liverpool Football Club, one of the most famous and successful names in world sport, was on Tuesday on the brink of being sold to the owner of the Boston Red Sox baseball team following months of uncertainty over the club's future.

Why are Liverpool up for sale?

Liverpool's American co-owners, George Gillett Jr and Tom Hicks, announced plans to sell the club in April amid concerns over the club's mounting debt, much of it dating from the pair's purchase of Liverpool for $338 million in 2007. Accounts released last year by Kop Football (Holdings) Limited, the company which owns Liverpool, revealed net debt of $462 million. The report also showed that $54 million of interest payments had been required to service this debt during the financial year that ended in 2008.

Tuesday's announcement of an agreed sale comes ahead of an October deadline set by the Royal Bank of Scotland, the club's main lender, for those debts to be repaid or restructured. An independent chairman, Martin Broughton, was appointed in April to oversee the sale of the club and to neutralize the co-owners' majority control of the board. Liverpool's board and its advisers, Barclays Capital, have maintained that any sale agreement must include repayment of the club's RBS debts in full.

What's the deal?

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Liverpool's board met Monday after announcing it had received two "excellent financial offers" to repay the club's debts. On Tuesday, Broughton confirmed the board had agreed to the sale of the club to New England Sports Ventures, the U.S.-based company best known as the owner of baseball's Boston Red Sox. "I am delighted that we have been able to successfully conclude the sale process which has been thorough and extensive," said Broughton. "By removing the burden of acquisition debt, this offer allows us to focus on investment in the team."

But a statement by Liverpool's board noted: "The sale is conditional on Premier League approval, resolution of the dispute concerning Board membership and other matters." Broughton said Hicks and Gillett had "tried everything to prevent the deal from happening" and confirmed that legal proceedings were still necessary to complete the deal."

What is Hicks' and Gillett's position?

In a late effort to block the sale agreement, Hicks and Gillett moved to replace two board members sympathetic to the deal, Managing Director Christian Purslow and Commercial Director Ian Ayre, with two of their own allies; Mack Hicks, Tom Hicks' son, and Lori Kay McCutcheon. But this was blocked by Broughton and the rest of the board. Hicks and Gillett maintain they are committed to finding a buyer for Liverpool but say the offer on the table "dramatically undervalues the club."

History of Liverpool in images

They say they have invested more than $270 million in the club, while doubling revenues and turning Liverpool into one of the most profitable in the English Premier League: "To be clear, there is no change in our commitment to finding a buyer for Liverpool Football Club at a fair price that reflects the very significant investment we've made. We will, however, resist any attempt to sell the club without due process or agreement by the owners."

Will the deal go through?

As stated by the board, the deal remains "conditional on Premier League approval, resolution of the dispute concerning board membership and other matters." But the fact Broughton and the board have gone public about the proposed sale suggests confidence at the club that the long saga to secure the club's future is almost at an end.

Who are the likely new owners?

John W. Henry, the man behind New England Sports Ventures, has built an impressive second career as a sports mogul after making his fortune in hedge funds. Most notably, Henry's ownership of the iconic Boston Red Sox has coincided with the team's most successful era in more than a century and the breaking of the so-called "curse of the Bambino." After winning the World Series in 1918, the Red Sox sold star player Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees -- and had to wait until 2004 for their next championship.

The Red Sox followed this up with another World Series win in 2007, but Henry is credited with restoring the team's fortunes without selling out its heritage; while other clubs have moved to new stadiums, the Red Sox continue to play at Fenway Park, baseball's oldest ballpark, in the heart of Boston. Ironically, one of the issues which has prompted antagonism between Liverpool's co-owners and fans has been the club's failure to move forward with plans to move from its legendary Anfield home to a new stadium.

"They really revamped the entire operationi from top to bottom, " Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe newspaper told CNN. "They spend money and they're not afraid to go after players."

Has the boardroom situation affected Liverpool's performances?

Liverpool have never been further from their glory days of the 1970s and 1980s when the club was dominant in England and in Europe. Between 1973 and 1990 the club won 11 league titles and four European Cups, and many more domestic and European honors. In 2005, supporters enjoyed a flashback to former glories with an improbable win over AC Milan in the Champions League final in Turkey -- a match known by supporters as the "miracle of Istanbul" after Liverpool rallied from three goals down to win the match on penalties.

But Liverpool fans' long wait to add to their record 18 league titles has been made worse by watching archrivals Manchester United creep up to join them on that figure, with 11 titles since Liverpool were last champions. Despite optimism when Hicks and Gillett bought the club, fueled by the signing of Spanish star Fernando Torres, Liverpool haven't won a trophy since lifting the FA Cup in 2006.

The recent uncertainty and financial burden loaded on the club has coincided with a slump in form which saw Liverpool finishing seventh last season, missing out on a place in the lucrative Champions League, lose their manager, Rafa Benitez, and fail to compete in the transfer market.

This season has been even worse. Under new boss Roy Hodgson, one win and three defeats in seven league matches has left the club in the Premier League's relegation zone. On Sunday, Liverpool fans suffered the indignity of watching their side beaten at Anfield by newly-promoted Blackpool.

As CNN's Pedro Pinto writes, regardless of the resolution of Liverpool's boardroom issues and the presence of star players such as Torres and Steven Gerrard, the club faces a long climb back to the top.

Liverpool low: Can the once mighty Reds rebuild?

What do supporters make of the proposed sale?

Many Liverpool fans will welcome the severing of ties with Hicks and Gillett that any sale will bring. As one supporter from India states on the team's Facebook page: "It is excellent news after a lot of problems ... this new buyer can help us get back the glory after two decades!" Another wrote on Twitter: "Dear Mr. @John_W_Henry: We love our club so much, if you buy #LFC please take care with your heart and passions and not just capital..."

But, as CNN's Ben Wyatt writes, the replacement of one set of American owners with another American, begs the question of whether Liverpool's board is swapping the frying pan for the fire.

Will Liverpool sale be jumping from the frying pan into the fire?

The sale of the club would also appear to bring to an end efforts by supporters groups to buy the club collectively themselves. In a statement, Spirit of Shankly, the Liverpool supporters union which spearheaded those efforts, cautiously welcomed Tuesday's developments by saying that new owners could expect "one gently outstretched hand of welcome while the other hand contains a list of questions that will need honest and open answers before any welcome becomes more warm."

Supporter concerns include "how they propose to purchase the club, how their business model is different to the current owners, their measurable ambitions for the club, the investment they intend to make on the playing side, what their stadium solution is likely to be and also their attitude in relation to allowing supporters to invest and be represented within the club."

Spirit of Shankly spokesman James McKenna told CNN: "It's a step in the right direction providing it happens and the owners are the right ones."

Liverpool-born businessman Bernie Mullin, a former president of the NBA's Atlanta Hawks and the NHL's Atlanta Thrashers, told CNN that Henry had a great reputation.

"Obviously they've done a fantastic job with the Red Sox. You've got to hope they're not buying an asset at a fire-sale price to flip it, that they really understand how iconic Liverpool Football Club is."