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Debt-ridden Liverpool put up for sale by US owners

MANCHESTER, England (AP) — Liverpool's American owners put the Premier League club up for sale Friday, heralding the end of their three-year tenure after mounting pressure from banks and furious fans.

Tom Hicks and George Gillett Jr. have finally conceded they no longer have the resources to strengthen the team and build the new stadium they promised after buying the 18-time English champions.

Amid their own feuding and heated protests by fans, the businessmen tried in vain for more than two years to find an investor willing to pump money into the club and reduce the debt of $364 million resulting from their leveraged takeover.

Hicks and Gillett on Friday selected Barclays Bank to lead the search for a buyer, while hiring British Airways chairman Martin Broughton to assume the same role at Anfield and oversee the sale.

"There has been a long process of Hicks and Gillett looking for investors — the decision has now been made to exit," said Broughton, who is a fan of Premier League rival Chelsea. "This is not the ad hoc process that has been along so far."

Broughton said a takeover would be completed "in a matter of months." Hicks and Gillett would be expecting at least $770 million, which Dubai International Capital offered in 2008 and was rejected by the squabbling owners.

"Owning Liverpool Football Club over these past three years has been a rewarding and exciting experience for us and our families," Hicks and Gillett said in a statement. "We have now decided together to look to sell the club to owners committed to take the club through its next level of growth and development."

Hicks and Gillett also have been shoring up their financial positions in the United States.

Gillett sold the NHL's Montreal Canadiens, the Gillett Entertainment Group and the Bell Centre back to the Molson family for $580 million last year.

According to his son Foster, who is also an Anfield director, Gillett is selling Liverpool to provide the funds to help him retain NASCAR team Richard Petty Motorsports.

"As far as we're concerned as a family, and everything that is involved in NASCAR, the more liquidity we have as a family, the better it is for (the) NASCAR (team)," Foster Gillett said from Texas Motor Speedway.

Hicks has an agreement to sell baseball's Texas Rangers to a group led by Chuck Greenberg, though the transfer has been complicated by the debt owed by the financially strapped Hicks Sports Group.

During the Liverpool sale process, Royal Bank of Scotland and Wachovia will not call in the Americans' loans and there will be no fire-sale of players.

"I think the club is moving forward and that's positive," said manager Rafa Benitez, whose own future still remains in doubt.

Under Hicks and Gillett, Benitez was able to buy Spain striker Fernando Torres for a club-record $40.6 million in 2007. The team's revenues have soared by 55 percent in three years and the owners kept debt far lower than at Manchester United, where it exceeds $1 billion.

But the lack of money to spend on players last year has had an impact on Liverpool's performance on the field this season.

Runners-up last season, Liverpool is in sixth place this season, six points adrift of fourth place and the final English berth in next season's Champions League.

While Liverpool is in the semifinals of the Europa League, it is in Europe's second-tier knockout competition because it was eliminated from the group stage of the Champions League, which it won in 2005.

Liverpool has been financially hamstrung by the economics of its 45,000-seat Anfield stadium, where there are limited luxury suites and amenities to generate extra revenue.

Preliminary building work on a 60,000-seat replacement started in the adjacent Stanley Park in June 2008, but it was halted in October due to the global economic meltdown.

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AP Sports Writer Stephen Hawkins in Fort Worth, Texas, contributed to this report.