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."