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BoSox owner takes over Liverpool after "penalty shoot-out"

By Alan Baldwin

LONDON (Reuters) - Liverpool's long-running takeover saga ended on Friday when the owners of Major League Baseball's Boston Red Sox completed their 300 million pound ($480.8 million) purchase of the Premier League club.

New England Sports Ventures said the deal, welcomed by jubilant fans but dismissed as an "epic swindle" by ousted co-owners George Gillett and Tom Hicks, had eliminated all of the acquisition debt placed on the club by the American pair.

In what could be a major boost for embattled manager Roy Hodgson, the new owners added that the club's debt servicing obligations had been slashed from 25 to 30 million pounds a year to two to three.

However, Liverpool still face the prospect of a protracted legal battle after lawyers for Hicks and Gillett vowed to fight on "with all of their legal energies" in a claim for damages of $1.6 billion.

"But in the end, as long as you get the right result, it's worth the wait. We got the right result."

It ended with new owner John W Henry declaring himself proud and humbled with his purchase, telling the fans what they wanted to hear.

"We are here to win, we have a tradition of winning," he assured reporters. "We have the second highest spending club in Major League Baseball and we will do what is necessary."

NIGHTMARE START

Liverpool, the five-times European champions who are one of England's greatest clubs with a brand of global stature, have had a nightmare start to the season and are currently 18th in the 20-strong league with just six points from seven matches.

Speaking before the deal was confirmed, Hodgson said a cloud had been lifted.

"It's a very good day for the club," he told a packed news conference at the club's training ground. "It's a relief ... it's been a very difficult couple of weeks ... We've had to live through that bad time."

The amount the former co-owners have vowed to pursue in damages was scoffed at by some commentators.

"They're hoping for a settlement," said Robert Boland, professor of sports management at New York University.

"You never sue for a little. Every bumper tap in New York City is worth $2 million in damages. You always put the biggest number you possibly could imagine for damages on the lawsuit to start."

A statement also said that the pair had offered to pay outstanding debt to the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) but that attempt was rejected. A spokesman for the bank was not immediately available for comment.

"This outcome not only devalues the club but it also will result in long-term uncertainty for the fans, players and everyone who loves this sport because all legal recourses will be pursued," said their Texas lawyer Steve Stodghill in a statement.

(Additional reporting by Simon Evans in Miami, Ed Stoddard in Dallas, Sonia Oxley in Liverpool and Toby Davis in London; Editing by Kevin Fylan)