Saturday, June 02, 2007

LiverpooL To Splash On Eto'o

Rafael Benitez, the Liverpool manager, is willing to gamble all the transfer funds made available to him by the club's new American owners on a bid for Samuel Eto'o that could reach as much as £35m. The summer scramble for the Barcelona forward's signature is likely to include Manchester United as well but Benitez wants to strike early to get his target.

Benitez's comments in the wake of the European Cup final defeat last week caused considerable disquiet at Liverpool and his thinly veiled attack on the chief executive, Rick Parry, upset the new American owners, George Gillett and Tom Hicks. They spoke to the manager eight days ago in a conference call from the United States in which Benitez emphasized his desire for the club to move quickly on summer signings.

The criticisms of the club by Benitez were not lost on the Americans, who were persuaded by Parry that they should stick by their manager despite his words. At the time it was felt that Benitez had gone too far in criticizing the club publicly. However, in the next week he is expected to test their pledges to back him with money by asking them to put together a bid for Eto'o.

Since that last conversation between the four men, Benitez has publicly endorsed his chief executive but a move for Eto'o would be a further test of Liverpool's resolve to sign the very best players in the world. Benitez said this week that he and Parry had "worked together" to sign the Hungarian teenagers Krisztian Nemeth and Andras Simon as a sign there was no problem between him and his chief executive. It was Parry, after all, who defended Benitez when the Americans took exception to his comments after the 2-1 defeat against Milan in the European Cup final.

Having seen Manchester United sign up Nani and Anderson this week from Sporting Lisbon and Porto respectively with the minimum of fuss, the pressure is back on Liverpool to see whether they can do the same for their manager. Parry is still in sole charge of transfers until Foster Gillett, son of George, gets his Home Office work permit in August.

Dealing with the various parties claiming to represent the Cameroonian will be a job for a real football operator, especially with Barcelona in no rush to sell. Eto'o has a contract at the club until 2010 and would almost certainly have come to Arsenal last summer had Thierry Henry gone in the opposite direction.

Benitez tried to buy Eto'o from Real Madrid when Michael Owen moved there in 2004 and wants every effort made to sign the player early so, if his offer is rejected, he can at least turn his attention to other targets on his list.

It is still unclear exactly how much money will be put at the Liverpool manager's disposal next season. He has already replaced Robbie Fowler with the Bayer Leverkusen striker Andrei Voronin, a Bosman free transfer. Craig Bellamy has made clear his intention to leave, with Blackburn, Aston Villa, West Ham and even another of his former clubs, Newcastle, signalling their interest. Dirk Kuyt and Peter Crouch, set to be rewarded with a new contract this summer, will stay.

The Lyon left-winger Florent Malouda will cost between £8m and £10m. With Bolo Zenden released and Mark Gonzalez close to signing for Real Betis, Benitez's second priority after Eto'o will be two wide players as competition for Harry Kewell and Jermaine Pennant. With one year left on his contract, Kewell would be permitted to leave if a reasonable offer was made - Tottenham Hotspur are interested.

Something of a novelty at English football clubs, a spending review by the American owners to scrutinize Benitez's transfer record at Liverpool, is to be carried out by an independent body, most likely an accountancy firm. The results are sure to have some bearing on the funds made available to him.

Juventus Bidding For LiverpooL's Sissoko

Juventus are reported to have tabled a bid for Liverpool midfielder Mohamed Sissoko.

Sissoko has fallen out of favour at Anfield following the arrival of Javier Mascherano from West Ham in January.

The Mali international has stated his frustration at his current situation with Rafa Benitez's men, and could be open to a new challenge.

Sissoko's future in England is therefore in doubt, despite still having three years remaining on his contract, and Barcelona are also thought to be interested.

Liverpool are unwilling to sell Sissoko to another English club, but may be tempted by Juventus' attractive offer.

The Italian giants are rumoured to be offering The Reds between €15million and €20million (£10m-£13.5m) for Sissoko.

Meanwhile, Juventus are also reported to be interested in Lyon's out-of-favour midfielder Alou Diarra, who is also a target for Everton, Bordeaux and Marseille.