Thursday, May 31, 2007

LiverpooL Confirmed Playing Tournament In Holland

Liverpool Football Club officially confirmed that they will be entering the 2007 Port of Rotterdam Tournament in Holland this summer.

The Reds will play two games in August as part of their pre-season preparations on a weekend that sees teams from four of the biggest port cities in the world compete in Rotterdam, the largest port in Europe.

On Friday August 3, Liverpool will take on Shanghai Shenhua, one of the best teams from the emerging Chinese Super League. Two days later, on August 5, they play host club Feyenoord.

FC Porto will play Feyenoord after Liverpool's match on the Friday and will take on Shanghai Shenhua before Rafa's side close the tournament on the Sunday evening.

All four matches will be held at Feyenoord's De Kuip stadium to celebrate the Port of Rotterdam's 75th anniversary. "A 75 year anniversary calls for a big party together with the public in Rotterdam," claims Pieter Struijs, Director of Shipping at the Port of Rotterdam Authority. "Two days of truly international top level football seem a perfect celebration to me.

"Rotterdammers are fanatical when it comes to their football and we are happy to treat them to two clubs who have very recently won the Champions League and one of the best teams from Asia and, of course, Feyenoord. It is going to be a great event, not in the least because of the return of Dirk Kuyt to De Kuip-stadium."

The Liverpool striker, a one-time hero in Holland, can't wait to return to his homeland. "I look forward to playing in front of the Feyenoord fans again," he said. "Everyone knows about the special relationship we have. It's great to play in De Kuip again. We'll make it a couple of matches to remember."

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

LiverpooL Going After Long-Time Target

Liverpool have confirmed their interest in Portugal international Simao Sabrosa as Rafael Benitez prepares to launch his summer spending spree.

The Benfica forward has long been a target of the Anfield manager and Reds chief executive Rick Parry indicated the Champions League finalists are likely to bid for the 27-year-old this summer.

And Parry admitted a swap deal involving Djibril Cisse, who spent last season on loan at Marseille, is one option which is being considered.

'There are players we are interested in and Simao is one,' Parry revealed.

'But we have made no contact with Benfica. A swap deal with Cisse could be one possibility.'

Cisse's agent Ranko Stojic did not rule out Benfica, but said his client would favor a return to England.

Anything is possible but Djibril's priority is to move to a club in either England or Spain who are in the Champions League,' he told the Portuguese press.

'Liverpool won't be able to decide Cisse's future without the authorization of the player.'

LiverpooL Bidding For French Player Of The Year

Liverpool will reportedly make a £10 million bid for Lyon's French international Florent Malouda this week.

Manager Rafael Benitez held talks with owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett last week, and was reassured that he would be given the money to pursue his summer transfer targets.

And the Daily Mirror understands Malouda is near the top of his wish-list, which also includes Sevilla's Daniel Alves, Gabriel Milito of Real Zaragoza and Barcelona's star striker Samuel Eto'o.

French footballer of the year Malouda has indicated he wants his future sorted quickly while Lyon president Jean-Michel Aulas insists a deal, which would cost around £10-15 million, must be done by the end of June.

Malouda said: "If nothing happens from now that means the clubs who have approached me are not convinced.

"If that's the case, there is no point in leaving - I don't want to go wherever.

"If I leave it will be under the best circumstances for me and for Lyon."

One of Benitez's main complaints is the club do not move quickly enough in the transfer market, and this opportunity to swoop for Malouda will be a key indication of the American owners' willingness to live up to their word.

Benitez has said: "It is always talk, talk, talk. Nothing happens.

"There are top-class players we can sign now for a reasonable fee but we have to move quickly."

Malouda has been an integral member of the Lyon side that has won six successive Ligue 1 titles and he's also established himself in the national team.

Benitez is planning a significant overhaul of the club, which suffered defeat in the Champions League final last week, and the likes of Craig Bellamy, Sami Hyypia, Harry Kewell and John Arne Riise could join Robbie Fowler, Mark Gonzalez, Bolo Zenden, Jerzy Dudek and Scott Carson as surplus to requirements.

This clear-out would free up extra funds for six or seven new players of which Malouda is expected to be one.

However the Reds will face competition from Europe's biggest clubs with the 26-year-old winger linked with Juventus, Chelsea and Manchester United in the past.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Peter Crouch Heading To Newcastle United???

Sam Allardyce, the Newcastle United manager, is weighing up an audacious £10 million move for Peter Crouch, the Liverpool forward. Twice thwarted in his attempts to sign Crouch while in charge at Bolton Wanderers, Allardyce is hoping to strike it third time lucky this summer, although any deal would be dependent on a number of factors.

Rafael BenÍtez is willing to sell Crouch, but the Liverpool manager will first want to satisfy himself that a suitable replacement can be found, especially with Craig Bellamy nearing the exit door, Robbie Fowler released and the pursuit of one world-class striker proving difficult enough.

BenÍtez has struck a deal with Bayer Leverkusen for Andriy Voronin, the Ukraine forward, but Samuel Eto’o, the Barcelona striker, and Carlos Tévez, of West Ham United, are looking increasingly ambitious targets, while the manager is understood to have reservations about whether Darren Bent is worth the £15 million fee Charlton Athletic could command.

With Liverpool demanding £12 million for Bellamy, who is being courted by Aston Villa, West Ham and Blackburn Rovers, BenÍtez would probably want at least that much for Crouch, although Allardyce wants first to establish whether Michael Owen and Obafemi Martins wish to stay at St James’ Park.

Owen is attracting interest from Liverpool and Manchester United, so in theory a swap deal involving Crouch would make sense, but the situation is thought to be more complicated than that, especially because Newcastle supporters would probably be lukewarm to the idea. Crouch was also wanted by Glenn Roeder, Allardyce’s predecessor.

Whatever the decisions of Owen or Martins, they will not prevent Allardyce from pressing ahead with his plans to sign Mark Viduka, who is a free agent after his contract with Middlesbrough expired.

Mohamed Sissoko will hold talks with BenÍtez this week about his future. The Mali midfield player fell down the pecking order after Javier Mascherano’s arrival.

BenÍtez’s priority may be to find players who will turn Liverpool into genuine title contenders, but that has not prevented the Spaniard from planning for the future, with Andras Simon and Krisztian Nemeth, two young strikers, arriving on long-term contracts from MTK Hungaria. Simon is a year younger than Nemeth, 18, who caught the eye during last year’s Under17 European Championship finals.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Eto'o Admits Possiblities Of Playing For LiverpooL

Samuel Eto'o believes he will still be a Barcelona player next season, but admits it would be 'wonderful' to play for Liverpool.

The 26-year-old Cameroon striker has been continuously linked with a move away from the Spanish giants after falling out with coach Frank Rijkaard earlier this season, with a host of Premiership teams including Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United having expressed their interests.

However, Eto'o says that while it would be ‘wonderful' to play for Liverpool, he is adamant he will still be with the Catalan giants next season.

Eto'o told the Sunday Mirror: "I have not heard anything from Liverpool or anyone else. These things don't come through to me.

"I'm only thinking about next season and I will be here next season. But every year that passes things become a bit more difficult.

"The great thing about Liverpool is their team spirit. It is very strong, but, for me, it is their fans who win matches for Liverpool because they have so much power. They are fantastic.

"Any player would love to have those types of fans behind him. I have played at Anfield in the Champions League quarter-final so I know all about their fantastic supporters.

"It would be wonderful to have that kind of support as a Liverpool player, but I really don't know what will happen in the next two years. Every time I turn around so many things have happened and changed. So I can't think about it yet. But you never know."

He added: "If I play in the Premiership I will be the first to say. It won't be in the newspapers - I will be the one to break the news!"

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Craig Bellamy Heading For The Exit

Liverpool have warned rival clubs hoping to take advantage of Rafael Benítez's desire to reshape his squad that Craig Bellamy, one of the players for whom the manager would listen to offers, will only be sold for around £12m.

The Wales international moved to Anfield from Blackburn Rovers last summer for half that amount but, despite Bellamy struggling to adapt to Benítez's squad rotation system, Liverpool hope for a significant profit on his sale. Blackburn are keen to re-sign the forward but could now be priced out. West Ham and Aston Villa have expressed interest and could make formal bids.

Bellamy has scored nine goals in 42 appearances this season but was involved in an ugly fracas with his team-mate, John Arne Riise, on a mid-season training camp in Portugal and was an unused substitute at the European Cup final in Athens.

Benítez said in the wake of the 2-1 defeat to Milan that he would listen to bids for his players - "The number we bring in depends if we get big offers for the players or not," he said - with the Spaniard intent upon spending substantial sums.

It remains to be seen whether the manager will be given the money he desires, having issued a warning to the club's American owners, George Gillett and Tom Hicks, that they must act quickly and lavishly in the market if Liverpool are to displace Chelsea and Manchester United at the top of the Premiership.

He would like to sign the likes of Valencia's David Silva and, possibly, Sevilla's Daniel Alves having made improvement of the supply-line to his existing forwards his priority. However, should Bellamy join Robbie Fowler in leaving the club then he would also need to add to his strikers.

Benítez's demand for transfer funds prior to the team's departure from Athens was aimed at kick-starting a summer of spending at Anfield, and Hicks and Gillett remain intent upon liaising extensively with their manager in the next few weeks to discuss and secure his targets.

Asked last week whether he would be spending significant sums in the summer, Hicks told the Guardian: "It depends upon the player. What we have said to Rafa is that if there is really somebody he thinks can change the team, then let's go get 'em.

"But let's don't just spend money to say we spent money. We have really got to use his judgments. He will say we have got this talent, we have got these areas covered, we need this to help compete better in the Premiership. We need this young guy to help us continue our progress. It's that kind of conversation we will have."

Just Who Is On Rafael Benitez's Most Wanted List?

Rafael Benitez has urged Liverpool's new backers to provide the funds to take the club to the next level in the wake of their Champions League final defeat by AC Milan.


Long linked with a move to England, the young Atletico Madrid skipper is certainly attainable. He has a buy-out clause of around 30million euros (£20million) and is willing to consider offers.


His latest posturing saw Eto'o claim he will stay at Barcelona, but either he or Ronaldinho will leave this summer. Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United will also be interested but with some cunning manoeuvring Liverpool could attract the Cameroon striker.


It is almost universally accepted Villa will move to the Premiership, quite possibly joined by Eto'o and Torres. He would be better suited than the other two to play alongside Dirk Kuyt, but may prefer to remain at Valencia or perhaps replace Eto'o at the Nou Camp.


The transfer talk has so far been almost exclusively about forwards. But while Jamie Carragher and Daniel Agger have formed a solid partnership at the back, Benitez could do with adding some competition for places and quality to his defensive ranks - and Real Zaragoza's Argentinian Milito fits the bill. However, Barca are also interested.


A long-term target, Benfica captain Simao would add flair and versatility for around £15million. Able to perform as a second striker or wide on either flank, the 27-year-old would be a quality addition, with Bolo Zenden and Mark Gonzalez heading out of the door.


Benitez could have signed the flying Brazilian right-back for around £12million last summer but the Reds balked at Sevilla's asking price. A year on, he will command a fee of approximately £25million.


The Argentinian firebrand had a sensational season at West Ham in highly testing circumstances. Real Madrid apparently head the queue for his services with plenty of others interested. Liverpool would doubtlessly be included in that group, but have other priorities.


One of the Premiership's stand-out performers in the 2006-07 season for Tottenham, the Bulgarian striker is hot property but Spurs will fight tooth and nail to retain his services.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

The LiverpooL Revolution Begins

Rafael Benitez today called for a summer of revolution at Anfield to ensure he leads a stronger Liverpool back to Champions League and Premiership glory season.

In a clear message to the club’s new owners, Benitez stressed how a significant improvement – and investment – will be required for the team to challenge for top honours.

And he’s already confirmed the departure of Mark Gonzelez to Real Betis this summer, while Bolo Zenden will also leave the club.

Benitez also doesn’t expect Craig Bellamy to be at Anfield next season.

“This morning I feel tired and disappointed,” said Benitez.

“We are in the same situation as two years ago. Our supporters are clever and they know where we need to improve. They know we need to do the right things to improve things on the pitch and to strengthen the club. The new owners say they will support us but now is not the time to talk but to take decisions.

“It’s not just about new faces, it’s about the structure of the club.

“We need to spend money and we also need to work on other things. We can’t be working looking for players in August, because then you end up with the second or third choice on your list. We must start to work now.

“We have to make the improvements as soon as possible. In the cups we can beat anyone but when you are 21 points behind in the Premiership it’s clear you need more quality. If we don’t improve we will be fighting only for the top four again next season and be 21 points behind the champions again.”

Benitez was quick to praise AC Milan for claiming their seventh European Cup, although he also criticised the officials who failed to add on the full three minutes of added time.

“The referee was the only one who did not look at his watch,” he said.

The manager conceded that had little bearing on the outcome. He accepted missed chances cost his side, but Benitez has also put the pressure on the club’s hierarchy, calling for the necessary steps to be taken to keep the club competitive.

“My first idea is to support my players because they worked hard,” said Benitez.

“But then we need to think about the future. We know we need to improve and then we can move forward more than one step at a time. It’s not going to be easy to do the right things to catch Chelsea and Manchester United. We need to go at least two steps at a time to do this.

“We need to analyse how to improve the squad if we want to be contenders next season. We want to come back and fight again for the Champions League, but when you look at the other teams and see their qualities, you can see it’s difficult.

“We need to buy players, but they must be the right players. You see Manchester United has already spent £20m on Owen Hargreaves, so you can see the situation in the transfer market. We need to find the right people and right players.”

Benitez’s hopes of securing top targets have already been affected by the likely departure of his chief scout, Frank McParland, who having been without a full-time contract at Anfield is on the verge of joining Bolton.

American owners George Gillett and Tom Hicks are expected to make significant funds available, and Benitez will want a review of many areas of the club.

But he’s confirmed Gonzalez’s imminent departure. “We have an agreement with Betis,” said Benitez.

“I have also told Bolo Zenden he can talk to other clubs.”

The Spanish boss could only lament what might have been in assessing the 2-1 defeat.

“We deserved more from the game, but we conceded a goal at a bad time from a deflection,” he said.

“We needed to start well in the second half but we gave away chances on the counter attack.

“Harry Kewell couldn’t play 90 minutes, but we needed to change something in the second. Then we took a risk in substituting Mascherano, but we needed fresher legs in the second half. They had players with the quality to keep the ball and it made it difficult for us.

“You need to take your chances and that’s the key. We can improve in some areas. I was disappointed with the number of minutes played at the end, but I don’t want to make excuses. I congratulate Milan. They are a good team with a good manager.”

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Benitez To 'Restructure' LiverpooL After The Athens Finale

Liverpool manager, Rafael Benitez, will sanction a mass exodus from his squad this summer irrespective of whether they return from Athens with the club's sixth European Cup.

Benitez has overwhelmed the club's American owners, George Gillett and Tom Hicks, the need to leverage on Liverpool's second appearance in the showpiece event in three seasons as he seeks to rival Manchester United and Chelsea consistently in the Premiership, but the fundamental changes will not be restricted to extensive or expensive in-comings.

At least seven members of the Liverpool squad grooming for Wednesday night's final with Milan are likely to be delegated under Benitez's long-term plans for Anfield and the figure may well rise if Xabi Alonso finds himself on the substitutes' bench at the Olympic Stadium.

Contract negotiations are not progressing as flawlessly with the Spanish international as with Steven Gerrard, Jamie Carragher and Steve Finnan, who have all agreed new deals that will be signed upon their return to Merseyside, and the £10.7m capture from Real Sociedad will be hesitant to commit his future to Liverpool if he is omitted against the Rossoneri.

While Benitez has little craving to lose Alonso at this stage, he is prepared to allow Craig Bellamy, Sami Hyypia, Bolo Zenden, Harry Kewell and Mark Gonzalez to leave following the European Cup Final, while Robbie Fowler and Jerzy Dudek have already been informed their contracts will not be renewed. Several players sent on loan this season, among them goalkeeper Scott Carson, are also available to offers.

Australian Kewell is in contention for a surprise role against Milan, as in Istanbul in 2005, having missed all but the final week of the Premiership season through injury. His fitness record has been ill-fated at Anfield and, as one of the high earners at the club, Liverpool will be open to enquiries.

Bellamy is a target for Aston Villa, plus his former club Blackburn Rovers after one season at Anfield; Hyypia has lost his first-team place to Daniel Agger after exceptional service to the club; Zenden is out of contract and also a key injury doubt for tomorrow; while Chilean international Gonzalez has not vindicated Liverpool's extensive pursuit and has received offers to return to Spain.

"I know we can improve, and we will do that by bringing in new players with character, quality and experience," said Benitez, who arrived with his squad in Athens on Monday afternoon. "I am happy with my players, and I think we are going in the correct direction, but this final is just a stopping point on the way. Winning a European Cup is a great thing, we want to be a strong side and win trophies along the way, but the objective is not to simply win this trophy. It is to get stronger and to challenge in the Premier League next season."

Liverpool have agreed deals this summer for Lucas Leiva, a £6m midfielder from Brazilian club Gremio, Argentine left winger Sebastian Leto and the Bayer Leverkusen striker Andre Voronin, but more lauded names are anticipated at Anfield as Benitez spends a £40m transfer budget that could be swelled by sales and revenue from this season's Champions League.

A proven goalscorer is the main concern, with Samuel Eto'o, Fernando Torres and Carlos Tevez under serious consideration, while former targets such as Real Zaragoza centre-half Gabriel Milito and Seville's Daniel Alves are now within the budget allocated by the Americans.

"We will make changes," the club's co-chairman, Tom Hicks, confirmed on Monday. "I think Rafa will be a very busy man after Wednesday. The Istanbul victory was so important for the long-term heritage of the club, and if we can win a second so soon that really establishes us and makes Rafa's job easier to add some players. We've already started that process and next year we want to challenge for both the Premiership and Champions League. Actually, we want to challenge for all four competitions.

"I know what Rafa tells me and I make judgements on his judgements. He has told me the types of development he feels we need to compete week in and week out. That's the challenge. In the Premiership, you need profundity of players and motivated players."

Benitez added: "It is important not to think that, by getting to the final, we have done everything because we have the potential to be one of the biggest clubs in Europe. And by making our second Champions League final in two years, we have shown what can be accomplished.

"Now we hope to achieve even more. It will be a significant summer. The American owners have now been at the club for a few months and can see what's possible here. Every time I have spoken to them it has been positive and we will be talking again after the final."

Monday, May 21, 2007

Benitez Outlines His Priorities - Defence

When Carlo Ancelotti potrayed Liverpool FC as "a Mediterranean type of team", the response among some English headline writers was to assume the AC Milan coach was condemning his UEFA Champions League final opponents. However, in claiming Liverpool lacked "the DNA of the English", Ancelotti was not making mischief but merely offering his evaluation of the Anfield team's qualities. "Very organised and with an extraordinary capacity for concentration," he said.

Certainly, the accompanying implication that Manchester United FC were more technically gifted was never going to go down well on Merseyside but not even Liverpool supporters would disagree with where the capabilities of their side lie. A poll for the club's player of the year on the Liverpool Daily Post and Echo newspapers' website features a goalkeeper (Pepe Reina), three defenders (Jamie Carragher, Steve Finnan and Daniel Agger) and a midfielder (Xabi Alonso) in the top five.

Reina was the evident hero of the Reds' penalty shoot-out victory over Chelsea FC in the semi-finals yet as the fans' vote underlines, the whole back line has been essential to Liverpool's progress. None more so than Carragher, the homegrown bulwark – and a player whose DNA could not be more English. His inspirational efforts against FC Barcelona in the first knockout round, leading the battle as Liverpool held on to their first-leg advantage, led Steven Gerrard to declare he "wouldn't swap him for anyone".

Full-back pair of Finnan and John Arne Riise, like Carragher, survivors of the 2005 final triumph against Milan as well as Daniel Agger, are just as constant. The 22-year-old Agger has had a remarkable debut season at Anfield, bringing greater mobility to the rearguard after stepping into the shoes of Sami Hyypia. The Dane's technical ability and composure allow him to get into forward positions and he struck the early goal at Anfield that erased Chelsea's advantage in the semi-final.

If you discard the 3-2 defeat Liverpool experienced at Galatasaray SK with Group C already won, they have kept seven clean sheets and conceded just five goals in their other eleven UEFA Champions League games, a rate of one every 204 minutes. This is how Benitez likes it - his Valencia CF team achieved nine shutouts in 13 matches on the way to the UEFA Cup in 2004 – and it helps explain Ancelotti's comparison with Manchester United, who shipped 13 in 12 outings. There is a confidence in the Liverpool camp that Milan will find it much tougher to break through their defence this time and certainly the way Benitez lines up his side with a holding midfielder in Athens – most likely Javier Mascherano – will bring the supplementary security against Kaka and company that they lacked in the first half in Istanbul, prior to Dietmar Hamann's half-time introduction.

The main question for Liverpool appears to be whether they can contain Kaka. That can only be answered on the field in Athens but at least the experience gained in 2005 should thwart a repeat of the flood of goals of two years ago. "This time nothing can take us by surprise," said Carragher. "Obviously we'd prefer to get our noses in front this time. We definitely don't want to make things as difficult for ourselves." Benitez would like it that way too. Asked by a journalist how he would respond if Liverpool conceded an early goal as in Istanbul, the Spaniard replied with a smile: "I would prefer another experience." Ancelotti, for one, would not be surprised if he got his wish.

LiverpooL Duo To Sign Long-Term Deals

Liverpool will not announce new deals for England stars Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher until after their Champions League final clash with AC Milan in Athens on Wednesday night.

Reds skipper Gerrard and Carragher are believed to be poised to sign new long-year deals with the club.

But Liverpool chief executive Rick Parry told PA Sport on Monday morning: 'Nothing will happen until after the final.'

Both players have spoken about wanting to end their playing days at Anfield, despite being able to buy out their contracts under new rules introduced by FIFA.

And Carragher said: 'I never want to leave Liverpool and I hope I can get my contract sorted out as quickly as possible.

'I'm not interested in this new FIFA rule where players can buy themselves out of their contract.

'I know it's there, but I don't know anything about it as it is something I wouldn't do.

'My ambition is to wear the red shirt for as long as I can and I'd be absolutely gutted if I ever had to leave.'

Last week Gerrard was just as unequivocal on his future, saying: 'I'm coming up to 27 years old now and hopefully I can sign a long-term deal that will see me having the best days of my career at Liverpool.

'Obviously it is all about whether you are good enough to be in the starting XI, but that is what I intend to happen now for the best years of my career.

'It is all now up to Rick Parry and the American people (new owners George Gillett and Tom Hicks), and manager Rafa (Benitez), when it actually happens.

'Talks are progressing well, and I am ready to sign a new contract any time. It is just around the corner.'

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Another Argentinian For LiverpooL??

Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez wants to splash a large part of his club’s Champions League cash on West Ham’s controversial striker Carlos Tevez.

Benitez believes he holds a powerful bargaining tool – as Tevez’s former Corinthians and West Ham team-mate Javier Mascherano is already at Anfield.

While the row over who actually owns Tevez rumbles on and could still affect the Premiership relegation situation, Benitez is quietly making his move for the brilliant Argentinian.

Real Madrid and Inter Milan have also been linked with Tevez but that hasn’t put Benitez off.

He has been promised substantial backing this summer from joint American owners George Gillett and Tom Hicks while his side’s amazing run to a second Champions League final in three seasons has helped fill club coffers.

Tevez could cost £20million and Liverpool will step up their discreet moves to land him after Wednesday night’s final in Athens against AC Milan.

They are ready to wrap up a £12m move for Mascherano and want to make it an Argentine double.

Ruthless Rafa Can Be Euro Master Again

Rafael Benitez has not endeared himself to all Liverpool fans in his three years in charge at Anfield.

Some would say he is too conservative. Others would point to the 21-point gap which separated Liverpool and champions Manchester United in the Premiership and the fact that it is 17 years since the Merseyside club won the league title.

But when it comes to the Champions League not even the most critical fan, from Liverpool, United, or Chelsea or Arsenal, could argue that Benitez was not the master.

The master of ruthless selection and preparing his players to give their best in one-off performances.

You do not go to Barcelona and win in the Nou Camp as Liverpool did without the sharpest of tactical brains.

You do not overcome Chelsea's power and Mourinho's galvanising qualities, as they did in the semi-final, without an unbreakable spirit of your own.

Those are solid reasons why Liverpool travel to Athens from their pre-final training camp in La Manga with optimism that come Wednesday their fans could be boasting six stars on their club badge, one for each time they have won football's most prestigious club prize.

But Benitez also has another weapon in his quest to defeat an AC Milan who unquestionably are European football's most dynamic team following their semi-final slaying of Manchester United.

It is the memory of Istanbul.

You had to be in the Ataturk stadium two years ago to appreciate fully the wonder of Liverpool's comeback when they overturned a 3-0 half-time deficit to win on penalties.

Steven Gerrard's captain's performance received the plaudits, so did the goalkeeping heroics of Jerzy Dudek.

But as a stream of Liverpool supporters made their embarrassed way out of the stadium at half-time while others chanted 'We're going to win 4-3,' more in humour than hope, Benitez infused conviction and defiance in his side.

Easy to do, you might say, when there is nothing left to lose, but only the most astute managers can do so while also changing tactically the ebb and flow of a football match.

Undoubtedly, Benitez has that gift of being able to deliver his most composed work while under the greatest pressure. He is also ruthless, the axing of Spanish favourite Xabi Alonso from his midfield for the semi-final against Chelsea a clear message to his squad that there are no Mourinho-style 'untouchables.'

As striker Dirk Kuyt explained: "We have a lot of good players and sometimes you have to accept being on the bench. I am sure Xabi wasn't happy against Chelsea but he knew the only important thing was reaching the final. Maybe he will play in the final and I won't. It is the manager's choice and he will do what he thinks will beat Milan."

The fact is that Milan are an ageing side, but one in which experience makes up for any lack of energy.

They have that feisty old fox Genarro Gattuso in midfield, who displayed his worth by keeping Cristiano Ronaldo quiet in the semi-final, and evergreen defenders such as Alessandro Nesta.

And they have Kaka.

The Brazilian's demolition of Manchester United in the semi-final, with pace and balance and goal-scoring prowess, only cemented his position as the world's best footballer.

Stop Kaka and you stop Milan. Easy to say, not so easy to achieve.

There is good reason, however, why Liverpool stand a better chance of doing so than United.

And that brings us back to Benitez's conservatism. Liverpool's success is built on their meanness, the 25 league goals conceded this season bettered only by Chelsea, and an overriding team ethic.

No big stars, no primadonnas. Flashness is not the Benitez way.

While other clubs might boast more technically gifted players, Benitez concentrates on moulding the best team. A team for Europe.

It is why Benitez arrives at his second Champions League final while Ferguson, Mourinho and Wenger have managed just one each.

And why on Wednesday night in Athens, I expect Liverpool once more to be the toast of English football.

Cisse To Secure Permanant Move??

Djibril Cisse will wait until the end of the season before trying to finalise a permanent move to Marseille.

The striker is on loan from Liverpool and is hoping to stay at Stade Velodrome after failing to convince Rafa Benitez.

Marseille are looking to negotiate down the €12million (£8.2million) asking price, with the club keen to hang on to Cisse.

But, with l'OM battling for a UEFA Champions League spot, the France international is happy to put talks about his future on hold.

"We have always said that I would stay if we qualified for the Champions League," Cisse told But.

"But for the moment, (Marseille chairman) Pape Diouf and me don't want to talk about that.

"We are waiting for the qualification and will make an announcement afterwards.

"There will be other problems to solve, notably financial problems.

"Twelve million euros is a big sum, maybe it is too expensive.

"But we will talk about it later. That is not the point."

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Reina Is Back To Fitness But Zenden Is Doubtful

Liverpool will have their semi-final goalkeeping hero Jose Reina fit for next week’s Champions League final, manager Rafa Benitez has said.

The Spanish stopper saved two Chelsea shoot-out penalties to help the Reds into Wednesday’s clash with AC Milan but has been struggling with a shoulder problem since.

But according to fellow Spaniard Benitez, the Liverpool number one has been passed fit to face the Italians.

And in further good news for Liverpool fans, second-choice goalkeeper Jerzy Dudek - who was the penalty-saving hero himself when the Merseysiders beat Milan at the same stage two years ago – is also fit.

In what could well be the Pole’s last appearance for the Reds before leaving the club, Dudek is likely to sit on the bench.

"They are both OK and they will be OK," Benitez told Liverpool’s website.

"I’m sure that at the end of the week both Pepe and Jerzy will be fit."

But Dutch midfielder Bolo Zenden has emerged as a doubt for the clash after suffering an ankle injury in training. His misfortune may yet mean that Australian winger Harry Kewell gets a surprise starting place against the Italians.

"It will be difficult to say [Zenden] will be fit for the final now, but I won’t say no yet," Benitez added.

"He is strong and determined and [his ankle] may recover quickly. I still hope he will be okay."

Benitez also added that midfielder Mohamed Sissoko may be fit, although he still needs to prove his fitness before Wednesday, while Fabio Aurelio and Luis Garcia are both long-term injury victims.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Mark Gonzalez Axed From LiverpooL??

Mark Gonzalez admits he could be leaving Liverpool either permanently or on loan, after the Champions League Final.

The 22-year-old Chile international has struggled to come to terms with the Premiership after his arrival last summer from a loan spell at Real Sociedad caused by a year-long battle for a work permit.

It is believed Real Betis and several other Spanish clubs are interested in Gonzalez, with boss Rafael Benitez considering the winger's future.

Gonzalez said: "I have a three-year contract but you never know what might happen.

"This is football and if I have to go somewhere else then I will have to deal with that, but at the moment I'm here and I'm very focused for the final and what happens in the future will come.

"If I have to go then I will go, but I will arrive there with confidence because I have been at Liverpool and I must have been there for something.

But he added: "I would like to stay at Liverpool next season and beyond. But it has not been the best year for me and I know I can do more."

Thursday, May 17, 2007

LiverpooL Chasing After Darren Bent?

According to the London Evening Standard, Liverpool have entered the "race" to sign Darren Bent from Charlton Athletic. The paper says that the England international's club have now put a £15m fee forward as their valuation for the player, who'll be keen to leave after Charlton were relegated to the Championship.

The paper also says that Spurs and West Ham are in the running for the player, and that they believe he would prefer a move to Spurs. Of course West Ham are still effectively under threat of relegation, although that seems unlikely now despite potential legal action being considered by Sheffield United.

Charlton's attitude is that despite their relegation they will not accept a low fee for the player, meaning they want Tottenham to go away and reconsider their reported £10m bid for the striker and West Ham their reported £12m bid. In fact it's possible that the link with Liverpool has come about because Charlton want to see both clubs up their bids, in what is now going to be a typical game of summer transfer poker.

Chances are Charlton couldn't afford to keep Bent with the drop in their income, but Bent isn't obliged to leave. He can choose any of the clubs that come in for him then dig his heels in waiting for the move he wants - the way Michael Owen was meant to do two years ago when leaving Real!

Charlton were reported to have turned down a bid of £18m from West Ham in January during a spending spree to try and stave off relegation. Charlton did not want to assist one of their main rivals in the fight to avoid the drop hence their decision not to accept an offer that’s unlikely to be matched. With Liverpool supposedly added to the list of interested clubs both London sides need to decide if they believe the links, then need to make a bid closer to what would be their final offer.

It's no secret that Rafa is looking to buy new strikers, with Robbie Fowler certainly leaving and Craig Bellamy looking almost certain to go, but if Rafa has £15m to spend on Bent then he’s got £15m to spend on one of those targets from overseas that he’s more interested in.Bent scored 13 times for Charlton this season.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

LiverpooL Skipper Set To Pen New Deal

Steven Gerrard has told Liverpool's chiefs it's "in your own hands now" as he prepares to commit the rest of his career to Anfield.

The Liverpool skipper flew out with his team-mates to La Manga for a five-day training camp ahead of the Champions League final, admitting he was ready and willing to sign a new deal once it has been cleared by the club.

The 26-year-old, who has two years left on his current deal, wants to "sign for the best years of my career" and is hoping the new five-year deal, worth a reported £120,000 a week, can be concluded ahead of next week's date with AC Milan in Athens.

Gerrard said: "I'm coming up to 27-years-old now and hopefully I can sign a long-term deal that will see me having the best days of my career at Liverpool.

"Obviously it is all about whether you are good enough to be in the starting 11, but that is what I intend to happen now for the best years of my career.

"It is all now up to Rick Parry (chief executive) and the American people, and (manager) Rafa (Benitez), when it actually happens."

Gerrard, along with Jamie Carragher, Xabi Alonso, Steve Finnan and Jose Reina, have all been in talks over new contracts.

Now Gerrard says: "I will be in La Manga now for the rest of the week at our training camp, but my advisors will be holding more talks to sort out the last details.

"I have told the club I want to stay and it is all now in the club's hands."

He added: "Talks are progressing well, and I am ready to sign a new contract any time. It is just around the corner.

"You will have to ask Rick and the Americans when it is going to be done, I am not exactly sure but I am ready to sign as soon as the contract is put in front of me."

Gerrard, Carragher and co are now in Spain, for Benitez's intense preparation, which will also include training to acclimatise the players to playing late in the evening, with the final starting at 9.45pm Greek time and due to end close to midnight.

Carragher said: "When we played AC Milan in 2005, everything about the game was new to us really.

"We'd played in big games before, but that was obviously the biggest of all our careers. There's a long build-up before the final, but it's always useful when you've been through it all once before.

"If you're not careful the occasion can just pass you by, and in the first half two years ago there was a possibility of that happening. This time nothing can take us by surprise.

"Everything we went through can only help us, and even the fact we're playing a side we know a lot about can be an advantage to ourselves as well as Milan."

He added: "After what happened in Istanbul, we also know if the worst comes to the worst and we go a goal down, or even 2-0 down, no-one will think the game is over. What happened in the last game is sure to be in everyone's mind no matter what the situation.

"We know what can happen in a final, although obviously we'd prefer to get our noses in front this time. We definitely don't want to make things as difficult for ourselves."

Monday, May 14, 2007

Benitez Looking For Winning Combinations

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez admits he is fully intent on making the Reds genuine Premiership contenders next term.

Liverpool matched last season's third-place finish with a scrappy 2-2 draw at home to relegated Charlton on Sunday.

And on Tuesday they head to La Manga in southern Spain for a five-day training camp ahead of the May 23 Champions League final with AC Milan in Athens.

But Benitez knows that with the major influx of money from new owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett available this summer Liverpool must make a far better fist of their title challenge next time around.

Liverpool finished 21 points behind champions Manchester United and Benitez know that is not good enough.

"I am happy we finished third - it was the same as last season - but obviously we want to go better than that next season," he said.

"We aim to be contenders and we know we must improve, especially in our away form.

"I feel, though, that it is maybe only one or two games that make the difference. When you play against Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal you must beat them."

Liverpool have got a shocking record in league matches against the big four rivals and that has again cost them dearly.

Benitez said: "If we can achieve improved results against the best sides that will make us very much closer to the top of the table.

"That in turn gives you a different approach to games; when you are 12 points behind maybe you think things are not possible.

"I have said all along that we are a better squad but other teams also spend money on new players and we must try also to improve the team. We must be closer and we must be contenders."

LiverpooL 2 - 2 Charlton

Robbie Fowler did not quite get the farewell Anfield game he wanted but relegated Charlton certainly headed into the Championship with some pride.

They led twice at Anfield through Matt Holland and Darren Bent, and only a goal from Xabi Alonso and a late penalty from Harry Kewell denied them an unexpected chance of victory.

For Fowler, taken off two minutes from time to allow him to have a standing ovation, the chance of that penalty - which he would have taken - fell to Kewell a minute later.

But Fowler still got all the praise he deserved after a goal-studded career, but Liverpool clearly had Athens and the Champions League final on their minds.

They got their own standing ovation from their lap of honour, boss Rafael Benitez's name ringing from the Kop.

But it was Fowler's day and he came back out after the parade for a solo ovation.

Fowler was named captain for his last Liverpool appearance at Anfield before his contract runs out in the summer, while on-loan Italian 'keeper Daniele Padelli made his debut, with both Jose Reina and Jerzy Dudek injured.

Kewell was on the bench while Bolo Zenden was given another chance in midfield to make his claim for a place in the Champions League Final on May 23.

Charlton defender Ben Thatcher returned following a ban, but Talal El Karkouri missed the South Londoners' last game before relegation with a foot problem.

Centre-half Madjid Bougherra made his full debut for the Addicks, and with on-loan Scott Carson unable to play against his parent club, Darren Randolph made his debut in goal.

The match was preceded by a noisy protest outside the main stand by Liverpool fans over the club's ticket allocation and distribution system for the European final. And there were banners on the Kop making the same point.

But the chanting to honour Fowler soon took over, only to be silenced when Charlton took a shock lead.

Zheng Zhi got the ball in from the right, and Matt Holland saw a stabbed shot clip Javier Mascherano, with Padelli beaten by the six-yard effort.

Alvaro Arbeloa should have equalised on seven minutes when Bougherra slipped trying to control a Jamie Carragher through ball. The Spanish defender ran on unopposed into the box, but put his shot wide from 12 yards.

Liverpool were dreadful, and Charlton got into a dangerous position again on 15 minutes, Darren Bent setting up Darren Ambrose, but the midfielder sliced wide.

It got worse for Arbeloa when he scooped another chance over the bar after Fowler had dummied a Zenden cross from the left.

Fowler scooped the ball over on the turn after 20 minutes, and Steven Gerrard saw a dipping effort following a Zenden free-kick also just clear the bar.

Liverpool's sloppy defending continued and Bent again got himself in a good position on the right, before squaring the ball across goal and away from the advancing Padelli. But Alex Song managed to send in a weak shot from eight yards that Steve Finnan deflected wide.

Gerrard, at least, was trying to take this game seriously and he ran strongly from half-way before presenting Dirk Kuyt with a chance from 18 yards, Randolph saving to his right.

There were more ovations for departees at the break, Dudek and youth team boss Steve Heighway, while Liverpool's FA Youth Cup winners paraded their trophy.

But it was Charlton a minute after the break who should have scored again, Zheng Zhi clean through but shooting hopelessly wide.

Charlton sent on Bryan Hughes for Ambrose after 51 minutes, and playing with a freedom not seen during their desperate battle for survival.

Six minutes later Kewell got into the fray, a direct replacement for Zenden, the battle between the pair to play in Athens clearly on.

Zheng Zhi then proceeded to miss with a six-yard header from Luke Young's cross. Liverpool then sent on Xabi Alonso for Arbeloa.

And Liverpool's two substitutes were involved in the 62 minute equaliser. Kewell crossed from the left, Kuyt headed down and Alonso lazily drove the ball home from 10 yards.

But Liverpool were soon behind again, this time when Thatcher's effort was half-stopped by Padelli, Bent crashed the ball home.

Randolph saved well from Kewell, Liverpool at last finding some urgency. Mascherano shot just over ahead of Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink's 81st-minute arrival for Charlton as a substitute for Lloyd Sam.

Fowler, twice, almost scored. Once he was stopped in his tracks by Bougherra when clear, and then he hooked over a Kewell cross.

With two minutes left, Fowler was given the chance to take a standing ovation when he was replaced by Peter Crouch. Anfield rose to their hero, Benitez likewise.

Sixty seconds later Bougherra handled in the box, but with Fowler now departed and losing the chance of a fairy-tale ending to his Anfield career, it fell to Kewell to fire the penalty home off a post.
By: Paul Walker, PA Sport

Saturday, May 12, 2007

LiverpooL Penetrates China Market, the new media arm of Liverpool Football Club, has signed a deal with Premier Goals Limited as their web and mobile content partner for China. The deal paves the way for the launch of a local language website incorporating all the exclusive editorial and video content found at the Club website along with mobile services geared towards fans in China.

Stephen Michael, General Manager Limited said "Liverpool seeks to form partnerships that enable the delivery of the wealth of official content we produce to the global fan-base. This deal will allow LFC fans in China to enjoy a wide range of terrific content from the heart of Anfield, bringing them closer to the team they love and immersing them in the terrific sense of history that surrounds LFC"

Liverpool FC is the most successful club in English football history with a passionate, loyal and global fan base. Playing at the famous Anfield stadium and led by Manager Rafael Benitez, LFC competes at the highest level in football. This year sees the club playing AC Milan in the Champion's League Final in Athens. The final gives Liverpool the chance for an unprecedented 6th European Cup and sees them face the same team as in their mesmerizing 2005 Champions League win.

Henrik Barck Co-founder & CEO PremierGoals Ltd "We are proud to become a partner of a historic and great Club like Liverpool and look forward working to increase the fan base as well as building the Clubs brand further. China, the world's fastest-growing market, is also one of the most complex for foreign suppliers to enter. Apart from our unique track record, local market awareness, and in-depth knowledge of football and global experience from New Media, PremierGoals also has the right team in place to guide and lead towards success. We strongly believe our team has the perfect mix of the requisite skills."

Commenting on the Chinese market, Henrik Barck adds: "The backdrop to PremierGoals decision to promote football in China is the country's explosive growth in Internet use. According to Internet worldwide statistics, there are currently, 137 million Internet users in China. Mobile phone users are at 480 million."

Courtesy of: Chris McMullan,

Benitez Ready To Offload Scott Carson

Liverpool manager, Rafael Benitez, recently announced that he will take into consideration should there be any ‘attractive’ offers for third choice keeper Scott Carson this summer despite the England Under-21 international's remarkable appearance this season in the Premiership at Charlton Athletic.

The custodian, who is on-loan at The Valley, has proven a atypical success in an otherwise disastrous season for relegated Charlton by being named as the supporters' Player of the Year and thus, reaffirming the potential that made Benitez to pay £750,000 for a player with only two league appearances at Leeds United in January 2005.

While the 21-year-old appears an incisive buy and Liverpool have only unproven back-up for the first choice goalkeeper, Jose Reina, there is also an approval that Carson will not displace the Spaniard in the near future, that his stock is now high among Premiership rival clubs and that the player himself is longing for regular football following this season's outing.

As a result, Benitez is prepared to endorse the keeper's exodus but it will require an offer of approximately £4m before Carson, who gained interest from Arsenal earlier this season, is permitted to leave.

Friday, May 11, 2007

LiverpooL Adds A Little "Samba"

Liverpool boss Rafael Benítez has completed his first summer signing through the transfer of Brazilian midfielder Lucas Pezzini Leiva in a deal worth £8million.

The 20-year-old is expected to join up with his new teammates from Brazilian outfit, Gremio at the end of their involvement in the ongoing Copa Libertadores. The Porto Alegre side confirmed their place in the quarter-finals with a victory over Sao Paulo during the week.

Lucas Pezzini Leiva or better known as Lucas, was playing as a holding midfielder for his club and captains the Under-21 national side. In addition, he won the best player award in Campeonato Brasileiro 2006 and was recently called up to the Brazilian national team by Dunga, the Brazilian head coach.

Rafa Thinking Of Fielding Best Side

Ahead of this season’s final match on Sunday, Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez is pondering on the thoughts of bringing in his first eleven against Charlton Athletic at Anfield.

According to the Spaniard, he could utilize this match to keep his players sharp ahead of the Champions League final on May 23.

However, Malian international Momo Sissoko will almost definitely be left out of the side through injury while first choice keeper, Jose Manuel Reina has yet to assume full training following a knock sustained against Fulham last weekend.

Furthermore, Benitez mentioned that the club will do some final assessment on Reina’s situation in training and then decide if Reina should play for full 90 minutes.

Although the game will not be any significance to the Merseyside club , Benitez’s objective is to finish off the season in third place, ahead of Arsenal who is playing Portsmouth.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Liverpool fury over tickets for CL final

Liverpool recently lodged a complaint to UEFA regarding their ticket allocation for the Champions League final but was informed later that the given number of seats will remain the same.

Earlier on, the Premiership club has been awarded 17,000 seats for the clash with AC Milan at the 63,000-capacity Olympic Stadium in Athens on May 23.

As a result, a huge black market for tickets has been emerging with prices in excess of £1,000 being exhibited on some agency websites.

In addition, Liverpool has been receiving continuous criticism from their own fans for their methods of distribution, as most have made early travel arrangements only to be informed they will not qualify for a ticket.

Nevertheless, Liverpool Football Club understands and shares the disappointment of their fans in what is a very uncomfortable condition.

This season, Liverpool has been operating sort of a fancard policy whereby supporters have the opportunity to earn a point for each European game attended this season - or more accurately, ticket bought.

Specifically, those with over seven points qualified while those with less will be entered into a ballot.

Liverpool previously was allocated approximately 20,000 tickets for the final in Istanbul two years ago but it is estimated about 40,000 fans gained access.

Voronin eager to start off with a 'bang'

Upcoming Liverpool player Andriy Voronin is optimistic that he can follow the example of Manchester United's Cristiano Ronaldo and make an impact in the Premiership next season.

The Ukraine World Cup striker will begin a four-year contract at Anfield in the summer after agreeing a free transfer from German Bundesliga side Bayer Leverkusen.

The 27-year-old has spent most of his professional career in Germany since moving to Borussia Moenchengladbach from hometown club Chornomorets Odessa as an 18-year-old.

After that, Voronin was transferred to Mainz and Cologne before donning the Leverkusen jersey in 2004, where he has scored 11 goals in 27 starts this season.

In addition, the forward believes his experience in the Bundesliga and the Continental influence to Liverpool’s style of football will help him get used to life in the hustle and bustle of the Premiership.

Meanwhile, young Liverpool defender Danny O’Donnell is poised to leave the club once the transfer market reopens in the summer.

The 21-year-old spent the season on loan at Crewe Alexandra, and Liverpool have given the Coca-Cola League One team permission to speak to the player over a permanent move to Gresty Road.

However, Liverpool appears to have missed out on signing potential hotshot James McCarthy after his agent stated that the 16-year-old midfielder will remain at Hamilton Academical.

Liverpool set for place in the sun

Rafael Benitez will take his Liverpool squad to a Spanish training camp ahead of their Champions League final to get them acclimatised.

Liverpool will fly out on Tuesday afternoon, straight after they have taken part in a media open day at Anfield.

Although full details are not certain yet, they are expected to be in Benitez's homeland for five days, returning the next weekend before they then fly to Athens on the following Monday morning ahead of the May 23 clash with AC Milan.

And it is possible that both Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher will have signed new contracts before the training trip.

There have been more negotiations this week and it seems that only minor details now need to be ironed out.

Benitez said: "I hope it may be done this week, but we are talking and we are sure it will be done soon."

And Benitez brushed aside fears of potential problems from another training camp, following the incidents that occurred when he took his squad to Portugal ahead of the Champions League victory in Barcelona back in February.

Then Craig Bellamy and John Arne Riise were involved in the alleged 'golf club incident' that ended with several players being fined by the club for breaking curfew.

Benitez said: "We still have to finalise the details, but it is likely we will go away for five days to prepare after we play Charlton.

"When we did this before the Barcelona game it had a positive impact, although I know people talked about other things in the end.

"The most positive thing is we can work together in a climate and in conditions which will be more like those we will face in the final."

He added: "I know people will mention that (the Portugal incident) again, but it is not an issue. We are thinking only about doing the right things to prepare the players for the final."

Both goalkeeper Jose Reina and midfielder Mohamed Sissoko are likely to be left out of the final-day clash with relegated Charlton.

Reina has not trained since injuring his shoulder against Fulham last weekend, although a scan has shown there is no serious damage.

But Benitez is unlikely to risk the Spanish international in what is now a meaningless game, although Reina will be fit for the European final.

Jerzy Dudek could be in goal for what will be his final farewell to Anfield before his contract runs out in the summer.

Sissoko has a knee problem from the same game at Craven Cottage and is more of a problem, but he is also expected to recover to be in the squad against Milan.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Benitez has big dilemma

RAFA BENITEZ has some big decisions to make in the next week or so.

Of course, the priority is the make-up of his team for the Champions League final against AC Milan.

But the dilemma for Sunday’s home finale against Charlton is: Does he pick a ‘squad’ team, or does he play some of the stars who will face the Italians, and risk injury?

While the Reds will want to finish third, it’s not the end of the world if they don’t and relegated Charlton will have pride to play for but little else.

In fact, if the truth be known, it’s a fixture Benitez could probably do without, but the manager also has to face the difficult decision of whether he plays skipper Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher for at least part of the game.

Both players missed the defeats at Portsmouth and Fulham. They are absolutely crucial to the outcome of the Athens showdown, so the risks of them playing might outweigh the benefits. But, come May 23, it would mean that the pair had not played a competitive game for three weeks – since the win over Chelsea.

The two recent defeats were disappointing and there is still work to be done to bridge the gap between the Reds and United and Chelsea.

That will be addressed during the summer but, overall, it’s been a more consistent season and Benitez has the complete backing of fans and the owners.

Finalists aim to set records straight

When Liverpool FC and AC Milan meet in the UEFA Champions League final on 23 May, they will have the chance to enter the record books for their respective countries as well as their clubs.

Currently Spain have won Europe's premier competition on eleven occasions, but with England and Italy one victory behind, one of the finalists can ensure that their nation joins Spain as the most successful in the tournament's history. Yet that is just one of the potential landmarks that have been thrown up by this second meeting in three finals of two footballing giants.

Milan's appearance in the final is a record 25th by an Italian team, five more than their nearest rivals Spain. But with only ten wins to date, reaching the showpiece has more often than not led to heartache for the country that holds the FIFA World Cup. The same logic does not, however, apply to the most successful club sides within those nations; Real Madrid CF have triumphed in nine of their 12 finals while Milan have prevailed in six out of ten.

England fall slightly behind their continental peers when it comes to final appearances and victories, though they tend to make bigger waves when they do contest the competition's climax. English teams have participated in 13 finals, eleven less than their Italian counterparts, yet they have the same number of wins. There is no better example of rising to the big occasion than Liverpool, who have lifted the trophy five times in six visits to the final.

Both coaches also know what it takes to prosper in the UEFA Champions League having guided their current sides to the ultimate prize once before. Carlo Ancelotti's men defeated Juventus on penalties in 2003 after a goalless draw, while Rafael Benítez's charges came from three goals down to win on spot-kicks against the Rossoneri two years ago. So with records available to both clubs, countries and managers, history really will be written when Liverpool and Milan renew acquaintances in Athens.

Benítez's men on £100,000 bonus to win European Cup

Liverpool's players stand to receive substantial bonuses amounting to £100,000 per man should they claim the club's sixth European Cup when they play Milan in Athens later this month.

The Merseysiders' new owners, George Gillett and Tom Hicks, will maintain the policy drawn up by David Moores' previous regime by making around £2.5m available to be split among the playing squad should Liverpool overcome the Rossoneri in Greece and claim their second Champions League in three seasons.

That will equate to around £100,000 a man, with the management staff, and Rafael Benítez in particular, also to benefit from a hefty bonus. Similarly generous financial rewards were offered to the playing squad two years ago when Liverpool overcame the same opposition in Istanbul.

Just as then, the club are simultaneously attempting to agree improved terms to a number of their first-team players - most notably Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher - though the contracts will most likely be finalised only on the team's return from Athens.

Benitez Eyes Gift Of Gaby

REAL ZARAGOZA defender Gaby Milito has pleaded for the chance to join Liverpool after they lined up a £10million player-plus-cash deal involving Mark Gonzalez.

Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez is hoping to make it third time lucky after two previous bids for Argentine centre-half Milito were rejected.

Milito said: "This is my opportunity to join a big club in Europe. Liverpool have a Spanish coach, which is very important for me."

Reds ace's future at Anfield - Benitez

Rafa Benitez has told Xabi Alonso he still has a future at Liverpool despite being on the bench for the Chelsea Champions League clash.

The 26-year-old's omission from the starting XI for last week's semi-final second leg win at Anfield has seen more rumours surface about his future with the likes of Barcelona having shown an interest in taking the Spanish international back to his homeland this summer.

However, despite Javier Mascherano and Steven Gerrard securing the central midfield places, Benitez insists Alonso has a huge role to play at the club beyond this season.

Alonso managed to score from the spot in the penalty shoot-out win against Chelsea to help set up a Champions League final clash with AC Milan in Athens on May 23, while Momo Sissoko, who was dropped from the side altogether, has also been assured about his future.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Rafa in £12 million Argentinean swoop

Rafa Benitez is lining up a sensational £12 million raid on West Ham for striker Carlos Tevez even if the east London club avoid relegation from the Premiership.

The People newspaper claims that Tevez' business manager Kia Joorabchian met with Benetiz in a London hotel at the weekend to discuss a move for the player.

Tevez has played a key role in West Ham's recent revival but the rumours coming out of the club are that the original deal has left far too many wounds for all concerned for the player to remain at the club next season even if relegation is avoided.

That position leaves the door open for potential suitors for Tevez with Liverpool leading the chase having already done a deal for Javier Mascherano earlier in the year.

Liverpool will be mindful of the mistakes in the original deal that led to West Ham's £5.5 million fine and will be making sure any new deal is entirely in line with Premier League rules.

By Staff Writer - all3points