Americans bring dream of fighting for title back to Liverpool

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The Independent Online

Appeasement and ambition shaped George Gillett Jnr and Tom Hicks' first day as the new owners of Liverpool yesterday as the Americans pledged to respect Anfield traditions while providing funds for the manager Rafael Benitez to compete in the same exalted transfer market as Manchester United and Chelsea.

Liverpool's troubled three-year search for new investment officially ended at lunchtime yesterday when the Stock Exchange received confirmation that the American sports tycoons, through their takeover vessel Kop Football Limited, had purchased a 62.2 per cent stake in the club. That total represents the 51.6 per cent shareholding of David Moores, the former chairman and now honorary life president of Liverpool, ITV's 9.99 per cent stake and the shares held by director Terry Smith. Gillett and Hicks, the now co-chairmen of Liverpool, have extended the formal offer of £5,000 a share to all remaining shareholders and aim to have complete control within 21 days.

"We expect to own 100 per cent," confirmed 68-year-old Gillett, the multimillionaire owner of the Montreal Canadiens ice hockey team.

"The reason is, it's a generous offer and the number of shares outstanding is relatively small. They are emotional issues for people at Liverpool, but in this case we are more than willing to send them back marked 'Cancelled' so long as they tender them and I think they will."

Gillett and Hicks, a friend of the US President, George W Bush, and owner of the Dallas Stars hockey team and the Texas Rangers baseball franchise, will spend £218.9m of their own money on the club in a 50-50 partnership. They will be joined on the new Anfield board by their sons Foster Gillett and Tommy Hicks Jnr, along with Moores and the current chief executive Rick Parry. Outgoing directors are to be offered honorary life vice-presidency.

The businessmen have committed £174.1m to buy Liverpool outright and £44.8m towards the club's £80m debt, with the remaining debt to be refinanced and all borrowing expected to be concentrated on the new £215m, 60,000-seater stadium on Stanley Park. "It is too early to say how we will finance the stadium," insisted George Gillett, who will release funds for construction to commence within the next 60 days in order to secure European grants.

Although the new owners confirmed they would sell naming rights to the new stadium at the right price and their American roots shone through on occasions ­ Hicks referred to his new acquisition as the " Liverpool Reds", while Gillett spoke of his sons playing as " goal-tender and defence man" in the past ­ they repeatedly stressed how they were custodians of Anfield's rich heritage.

Gillett said: "I don't think it is appropriate for me or Tom to try to convince the fans we understand the traditions as well as they do. But respect is what we genuinely feel. I had a similar situation in Montreal; a different culture in the French Canadian province of Quebec. We didn't try to convince anyone going in that we had that feeling but, after six years, the fans understand. I hope we can earn the respect of the fans."

With an openness that has never been witnessed under the Glazers at Manchester United, Hicks expanded: "Fans are passionate and you can't hide from them. I haven't slept for two nights because I am so excited. Liverpool is like the Boston Red Sox or the Montreal Canadiens; it's the best in the sport, but, there are economic drivers that make it a good investment. The new TV contract will be one of many over the next 25 years and it did make an attractive opportunity look even more attractive."

Hicks' expertise in stadium development has already led to "my people" taking a fresh look at the plans for Stanley Park, but it is the business of claiming a first League championship for 17 years that concerns most supporters.

"We want to match or exceed Chelsea in terms of winning, not spending, and there are many different ways to get there," Gillett insisted. "If we have a chance to get a great player, we get a great player. We are passionate about winning. We are here to try and build a winning tradition on what is already a winning tradition."

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