Friday, July 13, 2007

Hicks Promises More As Reds Net £11.5m Babel

Liverpool's co-owner Tom Hicks believes the club's heavy-spending summer programme is not over even though the manager, Rafael Benítez, has invested about £40m overhauling his squad, with Ryan Babel last night confirmed by Ajax as the latest arrival.

The exciting 20-year-old Holland forward accepted a five-year contract after the Amsterdam club agreed to sell him in a deal worth £11.5m, about £2m less than they originally wanted. West Ham's Israeli midfielder Yossi Benayoun is expected to follow Babel into Anfield in time to fly out with the squad on Sunday to a training camp before two friendlies in Switzerland, where the record signing Fernando Torres is likely to get his first game.

Benítez, who has also signed the striker Andriy Voronin from Bayer Leverkusen since the Champions League final defeat in May, has been one of the busiest managers in the market this summer, but Hicks does not expect the spending to stop.

"I wouldn't rule Rafa out for one more [transfer]. I know the team is going to be a better team," said the American, who with his compatriot George Gillett has helped fund the eye-catching recruitment drive. "Part of the plan Rafa explained was that we needed to have more depth as it is a long season, particularly in the Premier League.

"He explained to George and me that we were able to compete better in the Champions League because of the format than we were in the nine to 10 months of the Premier League. We tried to add to that depth and I think we have."

Hicks believes Liverpool's spending sends out a strong signal to Premiership and European rivals about their intent to win trophies. Only Manchester United have flexed more muscle in the market, although Spurs are pushing them close.

"United are always going to be a top side and we just have to compete as best we can," he added. "Rafa has done a great job. We talked to him about a plan and it has gone pretty much how we agreed it would go. The first was to get existing core players on our team to sign extensions - it was critical to get those guys locked up. Then we started with the process of getting new players in."

Babel, one of the stars of Holland's European Under-21 championship win last month, is a product of the famed Ajax youth academy and broke into the senior side in the 2003-04 season. He has since scored 14 goals in 73 league games, was picked for Holland's World Cup squad last summer and is rated as one of the country's most promising talents.

He said he had been won over by Benítez's expectations for the future. "I've spoken to Rafa Benítez and that was when I knew everything would be signed," he said. "He has a clear vision of what he wants and said I'd be competing with six others for four positions in the forward line."

Liverpool Complete Babel Transfer

Liverpool have completed the signing of Ajax's Ryan Babel in an £11.5m deal.

The 20-year-old Dutch striker has agreed a five-year contract as Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez continues a major overhaul of his squad.

"I listened to them and I got a great feeling about the club," said Babel. "I have made my choice with my heart and the coach has big plans for me."

Yossi Benayoun, a reported £5m signing from West Ham, was also unveiled by Liverpool on Friday.

Babel admitted it was a tough decision to leave Ajax, where he made his debut aged 17 in 2004 and scored five goals in 27 Eredivisie matches last season.

He said: "I have met Rafael Benitez and my conversation with him was the moment I knew the deal would get done.

"He is like the ideal father-in-law. He has a lot of football know-how and he told me that I would be challenging with six other players for four positions. I have a good feeling about things.

"I met Dirk Kuyt at training, who I knew from the national team. At that moment he did not feel like a rival but I suppose that is what will happen.

"It was very important how the coach spoke to me, how I would fit in his team. After that conversation I knew it was the right decision."

Babel was a member of the Dutch team that won the European Under-21 Championship in June and he has been capped 14 times by the full Dutch team.

Liverpool manager Benitez has also signed forwards Fernando Torres and Andriy Voronin this summer.

Babel Kops £3M Deal

Ryan Babel will receive a £3million windfall from his big-money move to Liverpool.

The Dutch whizzkid will arrive at Anfield today to complete his move to Merseyside after his club Ajax finally agreed terms on the transfer that will eventually net them £12m.

But canny 20-year-old Babel will personally receive more than £3m of that money after negotiating a clause in his contract giving him 50 per cent of any fee the Dutch club received above £9m.

The agreement to take the exciting young striker to England could eventually top £18m with add-ons effectively giving him a quarter of the transfer figure.

The Dutchman, who was the star of the recent European Under-21 Championship, will also get a £2m signing on fee from Liverpool and a salary of around £60,000 a week.

That will earn him a potential £20m over the course of his five-year deal with Liverpool - a staggering amount for such a young player.

But the Merseyside club believe that he is worth it given his massive reputation in the land of total football, and the promise he has shown so far in breaking into the full Holland side in the last year.

He has been described by Marco van Basten as Holland's next superstar, and a striker who could eventually be better than Thierry Henry.

Yet Liverpool first want to use him in a wide position as they hope to give him experience in the frenetic world of the Premiership, filling in vacant spots on the left and right flanks.

The youngster is expected to be unveiled publicly this afternoon, and he could not contain his delight at the prospect of the move yesterday when he said: "It is a dream for me.

Liverpool are a serious club, and to have them make an offer for me means so much.

"I listened to what they had to say and I got a great feeling about the club. I have made a choice with my heart. Rafa Benitez has big plans for me."