Thursday, July 31, 2008

Liverpool Finally Agree £19m Deal For Gareth Barry Despite Villa's 'Staying' Statement

Gareth Barry's transfer to Liverpool finally looks like going through after the Anfield club came up with the money to secure his move from Aston Villa.

The longest-running saga of the summer has reached a confusing climax after an earlier statement that he was staying at Villa Park.

Sportsmail understands that the mix-up was due to a deadline being missed by 20 minutes, and the transfer will finally be concluded on Thursday.

Villa will receive a £17.5million fee plus right back Steve Finnan in exchange for a midfielder who will fulfil his wish to play in the Champions League this season after all.

To find the money, Liverpool needed to provide the bank with a guarantee that funds to cover the move will be raised during the remainder of the close season.

The transfer has dragged on since May when Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez made it clear that Barry was his top priority.

Villa manager Martin O'Neill was angry with him for making details of his interest public, and a war of words raged between them for much of the early summer.

Liverpool made four separate bids to sign Barry but none of them matched O'Neill's valuation of the player.

Barry's outburst against O'Neill in a Sunday newspaper then appeared to signal the end of any chance of him remaining at Villa.

He accused the manager of finding time to be a pundit at Euro 2008 but not to speak to him about his future and was disciplined and told to stay away from the club's training ground.

Then Barry was booed by Villa fans at a pre-season friendly at Walsall last week, but that mood had mellowed when he appeared as a substitute in Saturday's InterToto Cup tie with Odense.

Matters finally reached a head on Monday when O'Neill tried to force the Merseysiders into a corner by setting a deadline. That was passed at 5pm on Wednesday when Villa had still not received confirmation from Liverpool chief executive Rick Parry that funds were in place.

Villa then put out a statement on their website confirming that Barry would be staying. It read: 'This evening, Aston Villa can announce that Gareth Barry will be staying with the club following the interest from Liverpool over recent months.

'During discussions in the past few days, a final deadline to conclude this episode was set that all parties were aware of and agreed to. This deadline has now passed and so Gareth will remain with Villa.'

However, it soon transpired that the two clubs were still talking over the move. Barry had been due to play in a behind-closed-doors friendly against Notts County on Thursday - but his name was subsequently withdrawn.

And it also appears that the England midfielder has already committed himself to renting a house in Cheshire.

The transfer has dragged on but now Benitez has to act quickly by offloading players to keep Liverpool's part of the bargain with financiers.

Those destined for the exit door include Andriy Voronin, Alvaro Arbeloa, Xabi Alonso and Jermaine Pennant.

Following David Bentley's defection to Spurs, Pennant will probably be the first to leave as Blackburn manager Paul Ince spends some of the transfer money he has received.

Robbie Keane kicked off his Liverpool career against Villarreal in Spain, two days after completing his £19m move from Tottenham. The Republic of Ireland captain started up front alongside 19-year-old David Ngog, who cost £1.5m from Paris Saint-Germain.

Villarreal 0 - 0 LiverpooL

Robbie Keane missed the best chance of the night on his Liverpool debut, just 24 hours after his £20million move to Anfield.

Keane played the first half of the friendly in Castellon, Spain, where his appearance was upstaged by the heroes' reception for the members of the Euro 2008 winners.

In the end Liverpool maintained their unbeaten record in pre-season matches, aware that their chances of adding Gareth Barry to their ranks seem to be over.

Aston Villa's decision to end the negotiations over Barry earlier in the day was met with a strict 'no comment' from Liverpool but still dominated the pre-match discussions. Whether that is the end of the matter only time will tell.

The game was held up for several minutes as seven of Spain's victorious Euro 2008 side received ovations and presentations.

Four of those players were from Liverpool, Jose Reina, Alvaro Arbeloa, Xabi Alonso and Fernando Torres. Villarreal had Marcos Senna, Santi Cazorla and Joan Capdevila.

All seven were given small yellow submarine toys to mark the occasion, due to Villarreal's nickname.

Keane made his debut up front alongside another new boy, French teenager David Ngog, and both could have got their names on the scoresheet in the first period.

First, Keane was set up by fine work from Steven Gerrard - back following injury - and Yossi Benayoun. The new £20million man beat two players but lifted his shot over the bar.

Ngog, signed from Paris Saint Germain, saw a side-footed effort saved by Diego Lopez after Benayoun's pass.

Lopez had saved well from a Gerrard curler, but Villarreal had their moments.

The Spanish league runners-up forced Diego Cavalieri into good saves from Cani, ex-Arsenal man Robert Pires and Angel before Ariel Ibagaza hit a post with Joseba Llorente's follow-up deflected over by Stephen Darby.

Liverpool made nine changes at the break, including two teenagers on up front, the excellent Spanish youngster Daniel Pacheco and Hungarian striker Krisztian Nemeth, the reserves' top scorer last term.

Keane and Gerrard were among those taken off, leaving Benitez with a very youthful side including Jay Spearing and Emiliano Insua against Villarreal's experience.

Liverpool were under a lot more pressure in the second period, but Pacheco should have scored when put clear, only to drag his shot wide. Then Nemeth fired over from 20-yards.

With 20 minutes left Torres, Arbeloa and Alonso finally appeared - to a massive ovation from the home support.

Then with 10 minutes left, former Villarreal goalkeeper Reina came on for a cameo appearance, having rushed to the Madrigal stadium after being at the birth of his second child.

He too was given the hero treatment, the game now little more than an exhibition.

Rafa's Sneaky Assuncao Move Revealed

Reports from Spain claim Liverpool made a sneaky bid to steal Paulo Assuncao from Atletico Madrid.

According to El Mundo Deportivo, Rafael Benitez attempted to lure Assuncao to Anfield earlier this month after the Brazilian midfielder broke his contract with Porto to sign for Atleti.

It has been reported that Benitez approached los Colchoneres immediately after the 28-year-old's arrival and, understandably, had his advances rejected outright.

However, it is possible the Reds boss made contact with the player or his representatives directly between the time Assuncao left Estadio Dragao and the time he signed on at the Vicente Calderon.

Benitez has been in the market for a central midfielder all summer. His designs on Gareth Barry - which appear to have been dashed in the last 24 hours - are well documented, and Xabi Alonso's future on Merseyside remains uncertain.

Furthermore, Liverpool will be without both Javier Mascherano and Lucas Leiva for the start of the season, as the pair will represent Argentina and Brazil respectively at the upcoming Olympic Games.

Hence, Benitez may have earmarked Assuncao as ideal cover in the middle of the park, given his considerable experience and his relative lack of expense.

But the Spanish tactician will have to seek out other options now, and may simply choose to put faith in youngsters such as Damien Plessis, who impressed during his few senior outings last term.

Blackburn Boss Ince Eyes £6m Liverpool Winger Pennant As He Looks To Start Spending Bentley Windfall

Paul Ince will dip into the £15million which was received from for David Bentley to try to complete a deal for Jermaine Pennant.

The Rovers boss faces late competition for the £6m-rated winger from Portsmouth manager Harry Redknapp, whose chances of landing Shaun Wright-Phillips from Chelsea look slim.

Blackburn still hope to beat him to a £5m deal, knowing Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez would prefer to sell Pennant, unspectacular in two years at Anfield since a £6.7m move from Birmingham, rather than lose versatile Yossi Benayoun to £6m bidders Manchester City or West Ham.

Blackburn will owe about £6.5m of the Bentley cash to Arsenal, who have a sell-on clause for the England player they let go for £1.5m three years ago.

Blackburn are also ready to rival Fulham in the pursuit of Torino's 28-year-old Australia midfielder Vince Grella. A defensive midfielder is a priority for Ince and the combative Grella fits the bill.

Rovers have already confirmed interest in Grella's fellow Australian, Palermo midfielder Mark Bresciano.

They want to reunite the international team-mates at Ewood Park and Torino are willing to sell Grella, who has 35 caps, for around £3.5m.

Rovers have ruled out a move for £2m-rated midfielder Keith Andrews from Ince's former club, MK Dons.

Rafa Won't Comment On Barry Rejection

Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez has so far refused to make any public comment on their now confirmed failure to prise Gareth Barry away from Aston Villa.

The Reds had been chasing the Villa the skipper all summer, but in the end allegedly had a last-ditch attempt to sign the England midfielder thwarted by Villa, who yesterday formally announced that their skipper will not be going anywhere this summer.

"I would prefer to concentrate on the game and my squad," said Benitez when pressed on the Barry saga after the 0-0 friendly draw at Villarreal on Wednesday night.

"I was really pleased with the situation on the pitch tonight," he added.

"Robbie Keane did well, he had every chance to score but could not manage a goal."

After another reporter again brought up the Barry matter, Benitez refused to be drawn out.

"I think we have quality in the squad and I would prefer to concentrate on the game," he said.

"I feel the quality is improving, it is better than last season, and this match has been of benefit to the squad and for me to see several young players in action."

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Benitez Still Wants To Sign Barry

Rafael Benitez has confirmed he must sell again to bring Gareth Barry to Liverpool after completing the £20.3million signing of Robbie Keane.

The Reds manager insists that is what he aims to do, but he has no intention of selling Spain international Alvaro Arbeloa.

Liverpool are believed to have had a £7million bid from Sevilla for the 25-year-old, but Benitez has made it clear the player is going nowhere, despite speculation defender Arbeloa wants to return to Spain for personal reasons.

Benitez maintains there is no truth in the assumption Arbeloa is eager to leave and the former Deportivo La Coruna player will be part of his plans in the coming season.

But there is no question that Benitez still wants to sign former Aston Villa skipper Barry, the subject of a summer-long saga which has frayed tempers at Villa Park and Anfield.

Benitez could sell Jermaine Pennant, Andriy Voronin or Steve Finnan, but it is still more likely that he will persuade Xabi Alonso to leave if he can get a £15million-plus bid for the Spanish midfielder.

After completing the Keane deal, Benitez talked in terms of one more major departure rather than a string of smaller deals, to finance an £18million move for Barry.

Benitez said: "We knew that we could only spend money by selling players and we have been doing this (for Keane).

"We are still trying to sign the players that we need, and if we need to sell someone now, okay, we will do so.

"If we can do it (the Barry deal) before the end of the transfer window, we will continue to try. We will always continue to improve our squad."

Benitez was delighted to finally land Keane, and he declined to discuss Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy's anger over how the move was concluded.

Benitez said: "We are pleased he is here. We dealt well with Mr Levy, and my role was to bring the player here as quickly as possible.

"Robbie is one of the very best forwards in the Premier League. He is settled and more than used to the requirements. He is a good professional with a solid mentality, obviously I am pleased he is here, other managers would say the same.

"Robbie can play alongside (Fernando) Torres and (Dirk) Kuyt, and also (Steven) Gerrard. He is clever and is the right kind of player.

"He can play on the right, he can play up front. If you have clever players it makes it easier for the manager."

He added: "If you play 4-4-2, Keane can play alongside Torres. If we play 4-2-3-1 he can play as a second striker or on the right.

"He is the kind of player who is adaptable, and can be used in different positions and will give you 100%.

"Robbie is intelligent, he can play on the right and he can adapt. He is a very positive signing.

"He scored twice at Anfield last season, he knows where he has to be to score and where he must be to support team-mates. He is very clever.

"We have known he was a good player for a long time, the goals he scored against us just underlined what we already knew.

"We wanted the player, he said he was a Liverpool fan and wanted to come here. We are happy, our fans are happy."

Hammers Return For Benayoun?

Liverpool’s Yossi Benayoun is being linked with a return to former club West Ham, according to a report in the Echo.

The Israeli joined Liverpool from West Ham last year in a deal thought to be worth £5 million but has struggled to become a regular at Anfield.

Benayoun managed only 15 Premier League starts and 4 goals in his first season at Anfield which has led to speculation he may be surplus to requirements at the club.

The former West Ham man was a popular figure at Upton Park and a return would certainly be warmly welcomed by the fans who have fond memories of his time in East London.

Benayoun managed 8 goals in 63 appearances for West Ham and helped carry them to an FA Cup final with Liverpool which they eventually lost on penalties. However, the Israeli’s flair and creativity were as important as his goals and ensured he is still highly thought of by the Hammers.

The Echo reports that West Ham have contacted Liverpool to discuss the possibility of a move for Benayoun as they hope to be reunited with their former player.

Rafael Benitez has been widely quoted this week as saying he needs to sell players in order to finance more moves and it is possible Benayoun could potentially be sold as Liverpool look to strength their squad further.

Peter Crouch, John Arne Riise and Harry Kewell have already left Anfield this summer whilst Cavalieri, Degen, Dossena and Robbie Keane have all arrived. Liverpool are also still thought to be chasing Gareth Barry, although any further signings may be impossible until further funds are raised.

Rafa: We'll Scare You To Death

Rafa Benitez insists his Premier League rivals are running scared of Liverpool’s new strike force.

Benitez yesterday completed the £20.3m signing of Robbie Keane and can’t wait to unleash him alongside Spanish hotshot Fernando Torres.

Keane scored 23 goals for Tottenham last season, while Torres smashed 33 for the Reds in a blistering debut campaign.

And Benitez believes the arrival of Keane will ensure an avalanche of goals next season to leave opposition defences quaking in their boots at the sight of the team-sheet.

“I think defences will be worried for sure,” he said.

“Other managers and defenders will try to do things (to stop them).

“Robbie is one of the very best forwards in the Premier League.

“Everybody knows he is a very good player, a clever player.

“He can play on the right, as a central striker or in a deeper position.

“He scored twice at Anfield last season, he knows where he has to be to score and where he must be to support team-mates. He is very clever.

“We have known he was a good player for a long time, the goals he scored against us just underlined what we already knew.

“We wanted the player, he said he was a Liverpool fan and wanted to come here. We are happy, our fans are happy.

“It is important for Torres to have another player who can score goals.

“In addition to Torres and Keane, we have Steven Gerrard, Dirk Kuyt and Ryan Babel.

“Those players will cause problems for defenders and maybe they cannot cope with everyone.”

Keane, 28, will get an early taste of action in a Liverpool shirt in today’s friendly against Spanish side Villarreal.

Benitez claims that he has yet to decide how to deploy his new goal-scoring weapon.

But he insists Keane gives Liverpool a much better chance of getting close to Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal in the league.

But he admitted he will need to sell before he can bolster his ranks again by finally signing Aston Villa midfielder Gareth Barry.

“We knew that we could only spend money by selling players and we have been doing this (for Keane),” said Benitez.

“We are still trying to sign the players that we need. And if we need to sell someone now, OK. We will do so.

“If we can do it (the Barry deal) before the end of the transfer window, we will continue to try.”

EXCLUSIVE: Spanish Defender Arbeloa 'Definitely, Definitely' Staying At Liverpool

Alvaro Arbeloa is 'definitely, definitely' staying at Anfield despite rumours that he is unsettled on Merseyside.

Media reports have linked the Spanish right-back with a move back to La Liga after just one season in a Liverpool shirt.

Yet a senior club source said all speculation was unfounded and that the 25-year-old defender will still be with the Reds next season.

Arbeloa’s £2.5million purchase from Deportivo La Coruna last year was one of Benitez's shrewdest signings and the club official insisted he is happy and that Liverpool fans has nothing to worry about.

The source said: 'I don't know where that came from about Arbeloa, but it is nothing.

'He is definitely, definitely staying here. He is happy and will be staying.'

Internazionale In For Alonso

After reportedly have a £25million bid for Steven Gerrard rejected in May, Internazionale may have better luck prising Alonso away from Anfield.

Internazionale may be preparing to swoop for out-of-favour Liverpool midfielder Xabi Alonso, if reports today are to be believed.

After securing long-time Liverpool fan Robbie Keane's signature for £20million, Rafa Benitez will need to sell, in order to finance any future deals and the money from Alonso would aid that process.

Jose Mourinho would want to pay no more than £10million for the 26-year old number 14.

Arsenal are also rumoured to be interested in the Spanish international so Internazionale would have to act fast if they are to avoid getting embroiled into an unwanted bidding war.

On other news, Patrick Vieira looks set to stay at Inter.

Pongolle Eager For Liverpool Reunion

New Atlético Madrid striker Florent Sinama-Pongolle is eager to meet up with his former club, Liverpool, in the Champions League.

Speaking to Marca, the French forward stated that reuniting with the Reds would be a dream scenario.

"Of course I'd love that," he said.

"It's not about revenge for me because it's already well in the past.

"I started off there playing many matches, but then I picked up a knee injury and everything ended. Liverpool would be good, but also Juventus, Marseille... If we play Liverpool, that's good. Those are the matches that everyone wants to see."

The former Recreativo man added that he felt that Atleti were sufficiently grand to be counted alongside these illustrious names.

"I believe that opponents don't want to play against Atlético because we are a great club with superb players, and they know that we're hard to play against," he said.

"Our qualification round? On the 12th we will face a key game and we're keen to see the draw on Friday to find out who we'll play. We're continuing well with pre-season to be physically ready. That's key."

It is thought that Sinama is third-choice for the two striking berths at the Vicente Calderón, given that Diego Forlán and Sergio 'Kun' Agüero comprise the regular partnership.

"Forlán and I are similar players: we love playing in space and we're always ready to make a move," said the 23-year-old.

"The lineup? I think that, as the coach said yesterday, it's possible for us to play with a forward force of three, but now Kun isn't here (due to the Olympics) so we'll try to do damage in each game we play.

"How many will I score? I never set a target of a certain amount. I'm a striker - to score is my job - but I always put the team first in these matters. The more I score, the better, but if I can help my colleagues, that's better still."

Looking at the case of his teammate Maniche, who could still be exiled from the club, he said, "We met on Monday - that was the first time I've seen him and spoke to him.

"I don't know what happened and I'd rather not get embroiled in the controversy, because that's a personal matter for him.

"As for Messi, I would personally go (to the Olympics) as that's a great competition for professional sportsmen.

"There were many players such as Zinedine Zidane who lacked only an Olympic medal, and they didn't have the luck to go.

"I'm also of the Olympic age but in the end we didn't reach the competition.

"Messi, they must let him go. He's a young guy. Atleti let Kun go. That's best for the club and the player."

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Torres Is My Dream Partner - Keane

Robbie Keane is relishing the prospect of teaming up with Fernando Torres after completing his £20.3million move from Tottenham to Liverpool.

Keane, the 28-year-old Republic of Ireland captain, agreed a four-year deal at Anfield after undergoing a medical at Liverpool's Melwood training ground and could now establish a mouth-watering partnership in attack with Spain striker Torres.

The pair could become one of the deadliest strike combinations in the Barclays Premier League, and Keane is a big fan of his new team-mate.

"He has been a revelation since he came to the Premier League. He was absolutely outstanding last year and also in the Euros with Spain," Keane told the club's official website.

"It is hard to leave Tottenham with some of the players they had - like Dimitar Berbatov, who I had a great relationship with - but Torres is probably the best striker in the world right now. Hopefully we can play a lot of games together and do well."

Keane should play just off Torres in the Liverpool formation, and hopes to bridge the gap between midfield and Torres.

"I see myself as a second striker," he said.

"I can play off the shoulder, link things up and play in the hole. You are always judged on scoring goals as a striker and I have always scored a lot of goals. Hopefully I can continue that here at Liverpool."

The new Reds frontman turned down Liverpool as a 14-year-old in favour of joining Wolves, and is relieved the opportunity to join the club he supports came up again.

"The last four years have been great for me and I believe I am at my peak," he said.

"I am at a good age and if I didn't come to Liverpool now, maybe the opportunity wouldn't come again. It has worked out perfectly for me and, hopefully, for Liverpool Football Club as well."

Keane is set to be handed the number seven shirt, famously worn by Anfield legends including Kenny Dalglish and Kevin Keegan.

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez revealed: "We were talking about the number, and the big names that have had this number, so it will be inspirational for him to have it too."

Benitez expects Keane, who has also played for Coventry, Inter Milan and Leeds, to strike up a fearsome partnership with Torres.

"We were looking for a player with game intelligence and good movement who could play alongside Torres," Benitez told the club's official website.

"He can play with Torres up front and also on the right.

"He is a player who can give to us a lot of goals - normally he gets about 15 each year. We were looking for the workrate he can give to us, the game intelligence and also the goals."

No rest For Rafa After Keane Coup

Rafael Benitez will parade new £20.3million signing Robbie Keane this morning before turning his attention to trying to secure Gareth Barry's transfer.

The Liverpool boss last night completed Keane's move from Spurs on a four-year contract worth £80,000 a week to the Republic of Ireland international.

But sources at Anfield are making it clear that Benitez is as determined as ever to clinch a deal to bring Barry from Aston Villa, despite claims from Villa Park boss Martin O'Neill that his club "valued Gareth more than Liverpool do".

O'Neill, having turned down four previous bids for Barry from Liverpool, demanded last week that the Anfield club make their intentions for any further moves known to him, so he could plan his own summer transfer strategy.

Benitez, however, will not be rushed as he has to acquire more money for his transfer kitty.

He will have to sell before he can buy Barry, and that means the likes of Jermaine Pennant, Andriy Voronin and Alvaro Arbeloa may have to be moved on.

The deal could now drag on into the new season.

Arbeloa wants to return to Spain for family reasons, and he would cost around £6million, as would Voronin. Blackburn are interested in Pennant for a £4million fee.

Keane, 28, will be introduced to the media at Liverpool's Melwood training ground and then is expected to travel to Spain with the rest of the squad for tomorrow's friendly with Villarreal.

Fourteen years ago Keane turned down the chance of joining Liverpool's youth set-up, the club he supported as a boy, and instead signed for Wolves.

Ngog Takes Tips From Torres

Fernando Torres has already taken Liverpool's new French teenage striker David Ngog under his wing.

Ngog, 19, joined the club for £1.5million from Paris St Germain last week, and could well make his debut in Wednesday's friendly game against Villarreal - a match that may also see the first appearance of Robbie Keane in a Liverpool shirt.

Ngog reveals that Kop hero Torres and French legend Thierry Henry are his role-models.

Torres has already made sure the youngster is settling into life at Melwood, with an offer of advice and help.

Ngog told "I am obviously looking forward to playing and training with a striker of his quality.

"To have someone like that who I can learn from will be great for me. I have already trained with Fernando and he has told me that if there is anything I need, I only have to ask.

"He is such a big star and it's nice that he took the time, but all the players have been similar - including Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher. But Torres is one of my role models."

Another of the forward's idols is Henry, who after an initial settling-in period went on to be one of the Premier League's finest-ever imports.

Ngog said: "I know Henry made a massive impact in England, but I know it will not be easy for me to do the same.

"But I am still young. The French league is very good, they have good defenders there. But in England it is quicker, more intense; it impacts upon you more, physically.

"My qualities are that I am tall and quick, and technically good on the ball, but I still have to adapt to the physical side of the English game. Maybe I can be more aggressive.

"I have spoken to Rafa (Benitez) about how I can progress. He told me how I could learn from some of the other great players who are already here.

"I know I have to work very hard in order to get to the stage where I am playing a lot of games."

He added: "I am really looking forward to wearing the shirt for the first time. It will be a very proud moment for me, and I will try to do my best for this club.

"Liverpool were my English team - I supported PSG in France - and I love this club. I will do my best to prove myself here and to help the team win matches."

Dutch Play Down Babel Fears

Holland Olympic team coach Foppe de Haan has dismissed concerns that Ryan Babel's participation at the Olympics has put the winger at risk of further injury, instead insisting he will return to Liverpool in peak condition.

The 21-year-old was called into the Olympic squad having recovered quicker than anticipated from an ankle injury which denied him the chance to play for his country at Euro 2008.

However, Reds boss Rafael Benitez admitted he is disappointed to be denied the services of the former Ajax player for the start of the season, as well as expressing concern that such a quick return to competitive football could have a damaging effect on his recuperation.

But De Haan has moved to allay any fears that Babel is taking an unnecessary risk by playing in the Olympics.

"I am very happy with Ryan Babel," said the 65-year-old.

"He is a very good player and is important for us at the Olympics.

"His recovery is going well, sometimes he still feels a little bit of pain but it isn't much and it is getting better.

"Looking to the future for Babel, playing in this tournament should be very good for him as he will go back to his club in good shape.

"A normal pre-season lasts around six to eight weeks and part of that preparation for him is being at the Olympic Games."

Holland are currently in Hong Kong preparing to take part in the ING Cup this week, a competition that also features the United States, Ivory Coast and Cameroon Olympic teams.

Babel came through a training session unscathed on Sunday and is set to play some part in the Dutch side's first game of the tournament against Cameroon on Wednesday.

"I am hoping he can play half a game on Wednesday and then on Saturday hopefully he can play a little more," added De Haan.

"Once the Olympic Games come round I am certain he will be ready."

Babel himself believes he is well on way to a complete recovery and admitted he is relishing the chance to help his country capture a maiden Olympic gold.

"It's exciting to be in Hong Kong, as we're getting closer to the Olympics and I expect to be fully match-fit by then," he said.

Keane Completes Liverpool Switch

Liverpool have completed the signing of Robbie Keane in a deal worth £20.3million but the fall-out with Tottenham over the transfer continued following more comments from Daniel Levy.

Spurs chairman Levy has dropped his complaint against Liverpool to the Premier League but insisted he did not "regard it as a transfer deal" due to the way the deal was conducted.

He said: "I was incredibly disappointed when I first heard, not only that Liverpool had been working behind the scenes to bring Robbie to Anfield, but that Robbie himself wanted to go and he submitted a transfer request to this effect."

The initial concerns over the comments of Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez and accusations of "working behind the scenes" effectively accused Spurs' Premier League rivals of tapping-up.

The official complaint was withdrawn after an apology and a donation to the club's main charity, the Tottenham Hotspur Foundation.

Levy added: "I have already made my opinion clear on the nature of this transaction. I don't regard it as a transfer deal - that is something which happens between two clubs when they both agree to trade - this is very much an enforced sale, for which we have agreed a sum of £19million as compensation plus a potential further £1.3million in additional compensation."

Keane issued a statement on Monday night, which read: "I would like to place on record my thanks to the board, players and fans of Tottenham for the past six years, which were the best and most enjoyable of my career to date.

"I will never forget them. I would specifically like to thank chairman Daniel Levy for understanding, that, as a fan, joining Liverpool is a lifelong dream of mine and one I couldn't let pass me by.

"I hope one day the Spurs fans, who have been brilliant to me, can understand this too.

"I have only good things to say about my time at Tottenham and expect them to go from strength to strength under Juande Ramos and Daniel Levy."

Keane, the 28-year-old Republic of Ireland captain, has agreed a four-year deal at Anfield after undergoing a medical at Liverpool's Melwood training ground and could now form a mouthwatering partnership in attack with Fernando Torres.

With the possibility of midfielder Xabi Alonso now staying at the club, Benitez may have to sell Jermaine Pennant, Andriy Voronin and Alvaro Arbeloa to balance to books. It

That could mean that Gareth Barry's transfer saga from Aston Villa may drag into the new season.

Spurs assistant boss Gus Poyet told Setanta Sports 1: "It's difficult to take because Robbie was everything to Spurs and we thought he would be here for a long time. We hope to get a player to replace Robbie."


1980: Born Robert David Keane in Dublin on July 8.

1994: Chooses to join Wolves, then being managed by former England manager Graham Taylor, despite interest from top-flight clubs.

1997: Signs professional contract for Wolves in July. Scores twice on his first-team debut in 2-0 win at Norwich on the opening day of the season.

1998: Makes his international debut for the Republic of Ireland as a substitute against the Czech Republic. Wolves beaten 1-0 by Arsenal in the FA Cup semi-final with Keane left on the bench by manager Mark McGhee.

Wins rave reviews for man-of-the-match performance in his second appearance for the Republic in a friendly against Argentina. During the summer, helps his country win the European Youth Championship in Cyprus.

1999: Injury hinders second half of season and Wolves are furious after Keane is called up by the Republic for Under-20 World Championships in Nigeria.

Despite interest from Middlesbrough and Aston Villa, Keane starts the season with Wolves and scores only goal of the game in the opening match of Division One campaign at Manchester City.

With Wolves holding out for £6million in face of £5.5million offer from Aston Villa boss John Gregory, Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson famously quoted as saying he would only pay £500,000 for Keane.

August - Joins Coventry for £6million to become the most expensive teenager in the Premiership and scores twice on his debut as Derby are beaten at Highfield Road.

November - scores for the Republic in the first leg of their Euro 2000 play-off against Turkey in Dublin, but misses the second leg after picking up a booking in the 1-1 draw. The Republic are held 0-0 and go out on away goals.

2000: February - Nets a late winner in the Republic's 3-2 victory over Euro 2000 hopefuls the Czech Republic in a friendly in Dublin.

April - Scores what would turn out to be the last of his 17 goals for Coventry in the 2-1 win over Middlesbrough at Highfield Road.

June - Gains more international experience on a tour of the United States, playing against Mexico and South Africa.

July - Joins Italian giants Inter Milan for £13million in a five-year deal.

September - Bags the opening goal in the Republic's 2-2 draw against Holland in the 2002 World Cup qualifier in Amsterdam, taking his international tally to seven in 22 games.

October - Marcello Lippi is sacked after a poor start to the Serie A season and failing to qualify for the Champions League. Keane finds himself on the bench after failing to score in four starts.

November - Former club Wolves have a speculative bid to take the youngster back to Molineux on loan turned down.

December - After Reggina have a bid to take Keane on loan rejected, Inter president Massimo Moratti rejects reports that a fee has been agreed with Chelsea. However a few days later, Leeds secure Keane on loan until the end of the season, with a view to a permanent £12million switch in the summer.

2001: Makes a superb start to his Leeds career, bagging nine goals in 14 appearances before an ankle injury two games before the end of the campaign curtails his season.

September - scores as Leeds win 2-0 at Charlton in the Premiership, and follows that with a hat-trick in United's 6-0 Worthington Cup demolition of Leicester.

November - Hits the target in Ireland's World Cup qualifying play-off first leg against Iran, which the hosts win 2-0.

2002: April - Injury, together with the arrival of Robbie Fowler from Liverpool, reduces Keane's appearances in the first team, leading to rumours of a move away from Elland Road.

The Irishman insists however he wants to stay, and he ends a six-month league goal drought with a strike in a home win over Sunderland.

May - Selected for the Republic's World Cup squad. Involved in a minor training ground bust-up with team-mate Niall Quinn, during which Keane threw a punch at the then Sunderland man.

June - Snatches a last-minute equaliser in Ireland's World Cup second Group E match, against Germany.

Follows that up with a goal in the 3-0 win over Saudi Arabia and a crucial late, late penalty to force extra-time against Spain in the second round. Nets in the penalty shoot-out, but it ends in heartbreak as Ireland lose 3-2.

July 2 - Leeds agree a fee with Sunderland for the player but he decides against the move.

August 31 - Joins Tottenham for £7million.

2003: January 12 - Scores first hat-trick for Spurs in a thrilling 4-3 Premiership victory over Everton at White Hart Lane.

2004: Spurs have a tough season battling against relegation but Keane finishes the season as the club's top scorer with 16 goals - including a hat-trick against former club Wolves.

2005: April - Storms from the dugout towards the end of the game against Birmingham after all three substitutes had been used in the match. Was fined £10,000 and forced to train with the reserves after the outburst.

May - Finishes the season with 17 goals despite being frequently selected behind the likes of Jermain Defoe, Freddy Kanoute and Mido.

November - After initially being a bit-part player at the start of the 2005-06 season, Keane takes his chance when handed a start by Martin Jol.

2006: March - Signs a new four-year contact and is rewarded for his maturity by being given the vice-captaincy.

May - Finishes the campaign with 16 league goals - making him the Premier League's joint fourth top goalscorer.

December - Suffers a knee ligament injury against Middlesbrough after a slow start to the 2006-07 season.

2007: April - Following a return from injury he forms a lethal partnership with Dimitar Berbatov and is jointly awarded the FA Premier League's Player of the Month with the Bulgarian.

May 13 - Ends the season with a total of 22 goals in all competitions - the highest season tally of his career.

May 28 - Signs a new five-year contract with the club.

2008: January 2 - Steve Staunton hands Keane the captaincy of the national team following his appointment as Republic of Ireland manager.

January 19 - Scored his 100th competitive goal for Tottenham in the 2-0 win against Sunderland - only the 15th Spurs player to achieve the feat.

February - Wins his first major honour as a Spurs player as part of the side which claims an extra-time victory over Chelsea in the League Cup final.

April - Makes his 250th appearance for Spurs in the 1-1 draw with Middlesbrough.

May 11 - Finishes joint top scorer for Spurs in the 2007-08 season with Berbatov on 23 goals.

July 28 - Joins Liverpool in a deal worth £20.3million, signing a four-year contract.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Philipp Degan Injury Blow For Liverpool FC

New signing Philipp Degen is facing the prospect of missing the start of Liverpool’s season with a groin strain.

Degen could require surgery on the injury, sustained during the team’s pre-season training camp in Switzerland last week.

The right-back, who arrived on a free transfer from Borussia Dortmund in the summer, missed much of last season with a groin problem.

Degen required an operation to repair the damage but, despite efforts to regain his full fitness, failed to get off the bench for Switzerland during Euro 2008. The 25-year-old’s absence would be another blow to Rafael Benitez, who is already without Olympics-bound trio Lucas Leiva, Ryan Babel and Javier Mascherano for the opening weeks of the campaign.

And with Alvaro Arbeloa’s Anfield future uncertain, it could persuade Benitez to keep hold of Steve Finnan.

But Benitez is confident of having Robbie Keane available, with the Tottenham Hotspur striker expected to undergo a medical today.

The Reds are hopeful of pushing through a deal that could climb to £20m for the Spurs forward.

Martin O'Neill In New Gareth Barry Jibe At Liverpool FC

Martin O’Neill has urged Gareth Barry to remain with Aston Villa and claimed the Midlands club wants him more than Liverpool.

Barry received a rapturous reception from the Villa faithful following his introduction as a 15th-minute substitute in the Intertoto Cup win over Odense.

The England midfielder responded with applause of his own as he turned in his usual measured performance after replacing stricken Dutchman Wilfred Bouma at left-back.

And with Liverpool still to come up with an offer approaching the £18million Villa are demanding, O’Neill, who banned Barry from the training ground after his newspaper sideswipe at the Ulsterman, is hoping his star man will stay.

“Having not heard anything from Liverpool for some time it is clear we value him more than they do,” said O’Neill.

“The fact they have not answered us for a week sends out a real message.

“We obviously don’t want him to go, so the price we are asking is a fair and realistic one for a player who is so good. In fact I think it is really cheap.

“My own view is that he should hang around for another year and see if we can make further progress as he would want.

“Gareth is still only 28 next year – if we don’t get where he wants to go, everybody would wish him well.”

O'Neill could not have asked any more of the Villa fans, who jeered Barry during a midweek outing at nearby Walsall.

There was not the merest hint of dissent this time as the cheers began as the player waited to make his entrance.

The reception, as well as a win which takes Villa into the UEFA Cup second qualifying round, provides the perfect platform for Barry to revise his opinion, which is what O’Neill desperately hopes for.

“He has been with us for 10 years and the crowd reaction was really strong in his favour,” said O’Neill.

“I don’t think there’s any doubt about what we all want at Villa Park. We want him to stay at the club.

“I am not in the habit of encouraging players to talk to me after games but I told Gareth he had been terrific.

“You could see, with hardly any training, how brilliant he was.

“We need him at this club. He would be a terrific loss for us.”

Meanwhile John Carew believes it is a 50-50 bet that Barry remains with Aston Villa.

The striker said: “We all hope Gareth stays because he is such an amazing player and I definitely do because I really enjoy playing with him.

“The fans certainly could not have done any more.”

Carew shares the manager’s view that Barry should stay a further year to see how far the club progresses.

“Gareth is a good professional and a great player,” said Carew.

“He can handle any situation and I am happy to see him playing again.

“The reception he received did not surprise me but I know he can adapt to any situation.

“We have all been in the game for a long time, so we don’t waste too much energy thinking about whether the crowd is being positive or negative.

“He will just go out there and do his job in exactly the same way as he always does and we will just wait to see what happens.”

Ashley Young used his lightning pace to score the goal that ease Aston Villa through 3-2 on aggregate.

By the time Villa learn their opponents in the UEFA Cup second qualifying round, Barry’s future should be slightly clearer.

“I have always said Gareth is a true professional,” said Young.

“He is always going to do his job in a professional way and that is what he has done.

“What is happening is between Gareth and the club. It has nothing to do with me. But he was always going to get a good reception from the fans. He has done well for the club. It was nice to see that being recognized.”

Carragher Impressed By Impact Of Pacheco And Fellow Fresh Faces

Jamie Carragher reckons that Liverpool could soon have another Spanish star spearheading their attack.

With Torres still on holiday last week after netting the goal that secured Spain victory in the European Championship finals earlier in the month, manager Rafael Benitez handed his number nine jersey to compatriot Danny Pacheco for the 0-0 draw with Hertha Berlin at the Olympiastadion.

The 17-year-old, who was signed from Barcelona last summer following an increasing trend of Spanish youth players who can sign professional contracts in England at a younger age than in their homeland, has impressed Carragher throughout Liverpool’s pre-season campaign to date and he believes that the diminutive frontman could soon be making an impact around the first team squad for competitive matches.

Carragher said: “Danny Pacheco was as good as anyone on the trip, he’s been superb.

“He’s always looked like a great one for the future but we might not have to wait too long because the way he’s playing he looks like he could be a great one for right now.”

Also in action in Germany were fellow youngsters Stephen Darby and Jay Spearing and as someone who has come through the ranks at Anfield, Carragher knows the challenge they are facing.

He said: “I think the young lads have done superbly so far.

“We’ve all been there as a young lad when you’re probably a bit shy knocking around with the first team but they’ve all come in and haven’t been overawed by it all and I think they’ve impressed all of us.

“Jay and Stephen have both stepped up from the reserves and done really well.

“They’ve all been good and it’s nice for everyone at the club to see young players come into the team during pre-season and give a good account of themselves.

“We all know what it’s like when you come through as a young player and you just want to impress the manager on the training pitch and in matches and I think they will have done that.

“Now they have to keep on working hard and looking to get better so that they can give themselves as a good a chance as they possibly can.”

Bootle-born Carragher is also pleased that Spearing and Darby’s breakthrough to the first team squad has seen another couple of fellow Merseysiders to try and grab their chance.

He said: “I’m desperate for young players to come through, especially young Scouse lads, and I think the ones who’ve been involved so far have definitely shown what they can do.

“When you come away the pre-season training sessions are really important for the young players because you’re in the manager’s face all the time and that gives you a chance to impress him as much as you can.

“Going back to when I first came into the side I knew I had to treat training just like a match if I was going to impress the manager and that’s certainly what the likes of Darby and Spearing have been doing.”

Liverpool Transfer To Have Silva Lining

Liverpool look to take advantage of the financial situation at Valencia by swooping for Silva, according to The Sun.

Valencia are alleged to have amassed debts of up to £400million, they are also looking to finance a new stadium too, that could cost up to £250million.

Add Juan Solares' (Valencia owner) desire to sell the club, together with the possible need to sell their star players such as Silva, Villa, and Joaquin, and you may see a club in the midst of a mini-crisis.

Reports in today's The Sun focus on Rafa Benitez's attempt at exploiting Valencia's situation by swooping for star winger David Silva.

Silva was recently subject to a bid from Sevilla. A fee of £17million was rejected by club president Juan Villalonga, which infuriated owner Solares.

If Liverpool were to place a figure within this region, then they might be able to get their man.

It is expected that some of the money from the Crouch deal will fund the Silva bid.

Reds Receive Mystery Bid For Arbeloa

An unnamed Spanish club has offered Liverpool £6million for unsettled defender Alvaro Arbeloa, according to The People.

Arbeloa has been recently linked with a return to his homeland after supposedly confiding in manager Rafael Benitez that he is dissatisfied with life on Merseyside.

The Spain full-back, along with fellow EURO 2008-winners Fernando Torres, Xabi Alonso and Jose Reina, commenced pre-season training on Friday after enjoying an extended holiday.

The 25-year-old was only a bit-part player for la Furia Roja last month, and he may fear that a similar fate awaits him at club level following the arrival of Swiss right-back Philipp Degen at Anfield.

However, it would seem the Real Madrid product has been offered an avenue back to La Liga, although the identity of the prospective buyer remains shrouded in mystery.

Arbeloa’s departure would be a big blow for the Reds, as his £2.5million purchase from Deportivo La Coruna last year has proven to be one of Benitez’s shrewdest.

Humble Man Who Never Walked Alone

Good Bob Paisley was laid to rest in his parish churchyard yesterday as Liverpool supporters respected his family's request for privacy, and there were fewer than 100 gathered outside when the simple coffin, adorned with red and white roses, was carried into St Peter's, Woolton. There will be a more acclaiming memorial service in the city in the spring.

His widow Jessie, their three children and seven grand-children led the mourners, who included a number of players from Paisley's record-breaking teams as well as the four managers who succeeded him - Joe Fagan, Kenny Dalglish, Graeme Souness and Roy Evans.

Two of those, Fagan and Evans, would have been ruminating through moist eyes on the days when all the blazing red fires that were too hot for Europe were lit in the Anfield bootroom, which, legend has it, was instituted by the late Bill Shankly after he arrived to manage the dingy Second Division club at Christmas 1959 and kept on the two backroom boys from the previous regime, Fagan and Paisley.

By touching fluke this very day is published a biography, Shankly by Stephen F Kelly, which celebrates the founder of the feast. Kelly writes: "If there was any magic, it came from that small group who gathered within its four walls... all that came out of that bootroom was plain common sense."

And you can just picture it: a pot of tea on the hob, Shankly in his woolly cardie, Paisley in his slippers, Fagan and Ronnie Moran still in their tracksuits. "Young so-and-so didn't look too bright this morning," Paisley would mutter in his north-east vernacular. "Probably out too late last night," someone else would suggest. "Better have a word," Shankly would add. "Or give him a run in the reserve..."

Cosy little natters at elevenses which, in their way, girdled the globe - as pictures of yesterday's funeral will have. The Geordie adopted - and how! - by the Scousers knew he would be buried at St Peter's, which he and Jessie attended each Sunday for years. St Peter's! To the end he would tell of the finest night of his career, after Liverpool had won the first of their European Cups, soundly thrashing Borussia Mönchengladbach in Rome. The party afterwards was at the Holiday Inn, just down from St Peter's itself. It was the last of its type. It was still (just) the age of soccer's innocence then. The press was invited and the world and his wife were allowed to gatecrash so long as they were decked in red.

A number of the obits to Paisley mentioned that, however much the champagne bubbled, the beaming manager bursting out of his ill-fitting Burton's blue suit refused to take a drink, so he could "drink in the atmosphere and the achievement".

Well, true in fact but not in theory. Halfway through the do a big mitt gripped my arm fondly. "A Keating's a boy who should know," said Bob. "D'you think there's any chance of getting a bottle of Guinness round here?" I searched every nook. The St Peter's Holiday Inn did not stock Guinness. "Ah me," said Bob, "that means only me and the Pope up the road and Horace [Yates, the teetotal sports editor of the Liverpool Daily Post] over there are the only three sober men in Rome tonight."

By then the joint was dancing. Lo and behold, they struck up the Gay Gordons. Paisley joined in one set with us, grin on full beam, then went to bed, a happy man, the very happiest of men. Before he pattered off to the lift to get into those favourite slippers he had said something passingly matter-of-fact and prophetic. No football club in those days was sponsored but the spivs were talking such revolution. "Sponsors?" Bob winced as we walked to the lift. "Sign up with them and they'll be picking the team for you inside a fortnight." And so it has come to pass. RIP.

Rafinha Back On Liverpool Radar

Brazilian fullback Rafinha is once again being linked with a possible transfer to Premier League side Liverpool.

He has long been linked with a move to the Merseyside giants with Reds boss Rafa Benitez a confirmed admirer of the Schalke right back.

With Alvaro Arbeloa being linked with a move back to Spain following a mystery £6 million bid, money could well be available for the purchase of Rafinha.

The Brazilian is also in dispute with his club at the moment over the Olympics, and his future at the Bundesliga club is far for certain.

He was called up by coach Carlos Dunga for the summer’s Olympic tournament, but was told by Schalke he couldn’t go. However, Rafinha has gone against the club’s wishes and travelled regardless.

Any parting of the ways at the Veltins Arena will surely awake the interest of Liverpool amongst others.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Yeats: Skrtel's Got It All

Ron Yeats has hailed the impact of Martin Skrtel after the Slovakian overcame a difficult start to life at Anfield to enjoy a promising first season with the club.

The Reds legend - who Bill Shankly famously called his 'Colossus' - admits he had reservations about Skrtel following the defender's debut against Havant & Waterlooville in the FA Cup; but he is now a keen admirer of the 23-year-old and feels he can go on to have a big future on Merseyside.

"I go to all the home games and after watching his debut I wasn't very impressed," Yeats told LFC TV.

"When I say I wasn't impressed I mean, I thought he was a bag of nerves. But I thought he must have something about him.

"In the games that followed he showed that he was very good player. He's got a bit of pace and boy can he tackle and head the ball.

"That's what you want from a centre back. I think he's only 23 and with him Agger, Carragher and the boy Hobbs, we are well endowed with centre backs.

"And of course there's Sami Hyypia. He's my favourite player I must admit. I went twice to see him and then I recommended him because I thought he was something else.

"He doesn't have a lot of pace, he'll tell you that, but he can read the game. He's a super passer of the ball too."

Yeats feels Hyypia's experience and sheer professionalism will provide the likes of Skrtel with the perfect example to follow in terms of how to conduct themselves, both, on and off the pitch.

"Sami is a talker and a leader and I think you have to have that because football is made up of partnerships," he said.

"If you don't have that then you have no chance. Sami will talk players through where they need to be and where they shouldn't be and I think Skrtel, and the others I have mentioned, will benefit from that."

McAuley: U18S Will Improve

Liverpool Under-18s will continue their preparations for the new Academy league season when they host Plymouth Argyle in a friendly match this afternoon.

Boss Hughie McAuley feels his squad will have benefitted from the experience they gained during what was a tough 2007-08 campaign and is confident he will have a much stronger group of players at his disposal this time around.

"Today we play Plymouth and then we've got Bradford coming up too," he told LFC TV.

"So it gives us two home games to try a few things out on what is a really good pitch at the Academy. Hopefully we can push on and improve our overall game.

"It'll give us the chance to look at more players against sides we don't normally play against and set us up nicely ahead of our trip to Spain in a few weeks time.

"There's always a buzz when you come back for pre-season training because you haven't seen the boys or staff for several weeks and it's nice to get back as a full group and begin work.

"I think I learned a lot about the players last year because we had a particularly young group.

"They are now more experienced so it's good for their development and this year we are hoping that it will give the squad a bit more of a backbone. We obviously have some new players coming in too and we are looking forward to working with them, so I think we've got a decent squad of players.

"We've got the likes of Adam Pepper and Jack Metcalf who figured last season as well as some other new players.

"Then there's Michael Roberts and even Alex Kacaniklic, who's a very young under-18 player, so we've got a bit more experience but some very good first year players too."

Alonso To Sign For Fenerbahce So Liverpool Can Finally Land Villa's Barry?

Spanish International Xabi Alonso has been linked with a move to Turkish Fenerbahce as Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez tries to raise the funds to land main transfer target Gareth Barry from Aston Villa, according to The Mirror.

26-year-old Alonso had been linked with a move to Serie A giants Juventus all summer, but this fell through when La Vecchia Signora decided to sign Christian Poulsen from La Liga club Sevilla instead.

It is now believed that Liverpool have agreed a fee in the region of £12million (€15.2m) with Fenerbahce to allow Alonso to leave Anfield and give Benitez the necessary finances to finally prise England International Gareth Barry away from Villa Park.

Fenerbahce see EURO 2008 Winner Alonso as the ideal man to front their Champions League campaign this year, with Benitez already believed to have held talks with the Spaniard about his future.

Benitez To Bow Out Of Barry Race?

Liverpool are reportedly set to pull the plug on their lengthy pursuit of Aston Villa midfielder Gareth Barry, as they begin to explore other avenues.

According to News of the World, the Reds will officially end their chase for Barry to focus on wrapping up the signing of Robbie Keane from Tottenham Hotspur.

Even until recently it seemed inevitable that the England international would end up at Anfield, especially after he lambasted Villa boss Martin O’Neill in the press and declared his desire to make the switch.

But proceedings have stalled recently as both the Midlands club and their Merseyside counterparts have refused to compromise their respective positions regarding the transfer fee. Villa have not shifted from their ₤18million asking price, while Liverpool will not go any higher than ₤15million plus add-ons.

The deal was further jeopardised when Juventus dropped their interest in Xabi Alonso, whose proposed ₤16million move to Turin was supposed to fund the Reds’ bid for Barry. But the Basque playmaker appears to be staying now, despite some reports claiming that he is unsettled and will discuss his future his manager Rafael Benitez this week.

And Barry’s dreams of a North West move could be shattered if Liverpool complete the capture of Keane within the next few days. Benitez wants the Irish striker in his squad for next weekend’s friendly against Rangers, and is willing to stump up all of ₤20million for the ex-Internazionale man.

Furthermore, the former Valencia coach is closely monitoring the situation of David Silva, who is likely to leave the Mestalla this summer as the Spanish club seek to wipe away their massive debts. It is believed any offer above ₤17million would be enough to prise the 22-year-old playmaker away from los Che.

As such, Barry’s future is well and truly up in the air, and he now faces the very real possibility of having to remain at Villa Park for the upcoming campaign. O’Neill has made a peace offering to his want-away skipper, but the Villa fans may not be quite so forgiving.

Argentine Bruna Scores Against Stockport

Gerardo Bruna secured a score-draw for Liverpool as they take on League One outfit Stockport County.

Liverpool took of the 'Hatters' today, and after Stockport paraded their play-off trophy to the crowd before kick-off, they took to the pitch with a game plan to get stuck into a fairly young Liverpool side, coached by Gary Ablett.

Within 20 minutes, however, Vincent Weijl darted down the left flank and set a cross over to the far post that Ryan Flynn nodded through to the grateful Gerardo Bruna, who sent a hard shot past the Stockport keeper.

The home side could have equalised straight away but 17-year old Aussie goalkeeper, Dean Bouzanis responded well to Thompson's shot and pulled off a good save.

After the break Brouwer and Bruna linked up well and could have doubled the scoreline but County glovesman Owain fon Williams denied the move a goal.

After much diligence the Hatters drew level just after the hour mark, unmarked Michael Raynes nodded the equaliser.

Stockport County: Williams, Rose (McNulty 65), Owen, Pilkington (Green 83), Dicker (Blizzard 65), Thompson, Baker (McNeil 65), Rowe, Raynes, Turnbull, McSweeney (Vincent 77). Unused subs: Astbury, Havern.

Liverpool XI: Bouzanis (Hansen 46), Kelly, Huth, San Jose, Ayala (Eccleston 46), Spearing (Metcalf 83), Flynn, Bruna (Simon 56), Lindfield, Weijl (Kacaniklic 56), Brouwer (Amoo 77). Unused subs: Nemeth.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Dossena: No Catenaccio At Anfield

Liverpool’s new signing from Udinese, Andrea Dossena, has told the club’s fans they needn’t fear an outbreak of Italian-style catenaccio defence next season.

Italian football sets the benchmark by which defensive excellence is measured, with the catenaccio blanket-style defence perfected in the 1960s as the bedrock of the 1-0 win and forever associated with Serie A, even though things have evolved and been refined since then.

It is a highly effective tactical approach, though not necessarily conducive to the most entertaining football; and Andrea Dossena, the new left-back at Anfield following his £8 million move from Udinese this summer, is not a great catenaccio fan.

Indeed, he positively dislikes it, and told Liverpool‘s fans not to expect it at Anfield next season.

"I am not a fan of catenaccio, it's not for me," Dossena told the club‘s official LFC Magazine. "I don't like it when teams just try to pass the ball around to waste time.

"If you concede a goal in the last minute of a game, it could be that all your efforts have been wasted. I don't really like the talk about Italian football being all about the defence and attacking on the break.

"Of course, I see myself as a defender but I like to be flexible too. If there is a chance to attack I am very happy to go forward. I am not the type of player who is happy to settle for a 1-0 win.

"I believe in always playing to win and trying to score more goals."

Steven Gerrard Models Liverpool's New Champions League Kit

Steven Gerrard shows off Liverpool's new Champions League bluey-green strip which he hopes will inspire the Reds to a Rome hat-trick.

Rafa Benitez's side will be bidding to lift the European Cup for a record third time in Rome's Olympic Stadium when they begin their latest campaign next month.

Robbie Keane On Brink Of Joining Liverpool FC

Liverpool are putting the finishing touches to a deal that will make Robbie Keane one of most expensive signings in the club’s history.

Keane is expected to undergo a medical early next week to finalise his transfer from Tottenham Hotspur.

The fee could ultimately rise to £20m given the add-ons and incentives that have been negotiated.

Only Fernando Torres will have cost Liverpool more, with Rafael Benitez now confident he will be able to pair the Spaniard with Keane in attack this season.

Spurs have already accepted Keane’s future lies at Anfield, with the player having been omitted by Juane Ramos from the friendly against Spanish side Hercules on Wednesday night.

With Keane’s signature almost secured, Liverpool manager Benitez will now turn his attention to bringing a successful conclusion to the Gareth Barry transfer saga.

Liverpool have already tabled what they consider a reasonable for the Aston Villa midfielder, despite comments from Villa manager Martin O’Neill suggesting he “does not know where Liverpool stand” concerning the transfer.

Barry was jeered by Villa supporters during a friendly at Walsall earlier this week, his first appearance since declaring his desire to join Liverpool.

He was not involved in the first leg of Villa's Intertoto Cup tie at Danish side Odense last weekend, and it is thought O’Neill will not select the England international for the return game today.

And Scott Carson, a team-mate of Barry when spending last season on loan at Villa Park from Liverpool, believes an agreement should be reached to allow the player to move to Anfield.

Carson, who recently completed a permanent move to West Bromwich Albion, said: “I think if he wants to leave he should really.

“However, people have got their price and if Liverpool cannot match the price then they have got to come to some sort of agreement.”

Jamie Carragher Happy To See Daniel Agger Return

Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher believes the return of fellow centre-back Daniel Agger could be the biggest signing of the pre-season for the Reds.

With two new full-backs from the continent and a new goalkeeper already recruited plus a couple of big money signings from the Premier League seemingly on their way, much has been made of Rafael Benitez’s transfer targets this summer.

But Carragher reckons the biggest “addition” to the squad at Liverpool next season could be the return of Danish international Agger.

The lofty Dane was missing from Liverpool’s ranks for the vast majority of the 2007/08 campaign which saw the team eventually fall short of their silverware ambitions both at home and abroad.

The £5.8m signing from Brondby made a major impact following his arrival on Merseyside in January 2006 and went on to make 43 appearances in his first full season in 2006/07.

However, a metatarsal injury ended his season early last campaign and the problem niggled with the player for many months.

But with Agger’s injury woes seemingly now behind him, Carragher, the most experienced defender at Anfield, believes that the Dane’s return could be crucial as Liverpool embark on what could be a watershed season as they look to end a wait of what would be 19 years for their 19th league title and in doing so prevent Manchester United from equalling their record haul.

He said: “It’s been really tough for Daniel. He was a big miss for us last season and we’re delighted to have him back.

“He’s a great player but there are a lot of good players in a lot of different positions fighting for a place now.

“We’ve got a big squad but we need to keep everyone fit.”

With four centre-backs with international experience now in place at Anfield, Benitez has looked to strengthen the wide areas of his defence this summer by bringing in new full-backs on both the right and left sides.

Although 25-year-old right-back Philipp Degen has arrived on a free transfer from Borussia Dortmund, he brings with him the pedigree of 29 caps for Switzerland.

On the opposite flank, Andrea Dossena replaced the Roma-bound John Arne Riise, who joined the Reds from Serie A side Udinese for an undisclosed fee believed to be in the region of £7m, eclipsing Liverpool’s previous transfer record for a defender.

In the last game on Tuesday, a goalless draw with Budesliga club Hertha Berlin at the Olympiastadion, Benitez used two entirely different back fours in each half with Stephen Darby, Emiliano Insua, Carragher and Agger making way for Degen, Dossena, Sami Hyypia and Martin Skrtel at the interval.

The switch gave Carragher the ideal opportunity to see his new team-mates in action and he is pleased with their integration into the side both on and off the pitch so far this summer.

He said: “I think the two new lads at full-back (Degen and Dossena) have done very well.

“The pre-season has been a time for them to get to know everyone really, not just from a football point of view but off the pitch too.

“It’s been a period in which we’ve been integrating the new players and they’ve settled in very well,” the defender added.

The game in the German capital saw Benitez hand the coveted number nine jersey to another Spaniard, with 17-year-old Danny Pacheco deputising for compatriot Fernando Torres.

And the young Spaniard certainly did not disappoint in his performance.

Carragher said: “Danny Pachecho was as good as anyone on the trip. He’s been superb.

“He’s always looked like a great one for the future but we might not have to wait too long, because the way he’s playing he looks like he could be a great one for right now.”

As a player who is well-known for being a keen student of the game, Carragher is pleased with the way Liverpool have progressed so far this summer, and he was delighted to captain the club for which he has played his entire career in such a historic stadium, in front of a crowd of more than 50,000.

He said: “It felt more like a proper game than a friendly to see the big crowd in a great stadium where the last World Cup final was played.

“It think that we did all right and we finished the tour well. After a few days back at Melwood we’re going to be looking forward to the other games.”

“Things have progressed over the past couple of weeks from a fitness point of view – that’s always the way in pre-season. You build things up slowly and as we get fitter now towards the start of the season, the games are becoming more difficult.”

Torres Desperate For Kop Glory

After steering Spain to glory at EURO 2008, Fernando Torres hopes to guide Liverpool back to winning ways this season.

Torres capped off a remarkable 2007-08 campaign by scoring the only goal in the final as la Furia Roja downed Germany last month to claim their first title since 1964.

The silky striker established himself as an undisputed Kop favourite during his first term at Anfield, netting 33 times and forging a near-telepathic understanding with Reds captain Steven Gerrard.

But even that was not enough to secure silverware, as a mid-season slump saw the Merseyside giants bow out of Premier League contention by January, while they also fell short in cup play.

It is now 18 years since Liverpool collected their last league title, and Torres is desperate to help end that drought.

"Euro 2008 was my first major title, but I don't want it to end here," he said in The Mirror.

"I want it to be the first of many titles because I want to win trophies with Liverpool. I know how much that would mean to the club and the fans.

"They gave me terrific support during Euro 2008 and I know that they were cheering for Spain, which is something I will never forget."

Torres went on to praise Rafael Benitez, insisting the Reds boss played a huge part in his success for both club and country.

"The goals I scored for Liverpool last season gave me the confidence I needed to take into the Euros," the ex-Atletico Madrid man continued.

"I have to thank Rafa and the staff for the help they have given me. I improved as a player because of them.

"Rafa is obsessed with details and he even had a programme worked out for me before I got here last summer. He makes crazy demands on us. At the end of training, when we're all tired, he can still make us repeat routines 20 or 30 times."

Jack Hobbs Joins Leicester On Loan From Liverpool

Liverpool defender Jack Hobbs has joined Coca-Cola League One side Leicester on a season-long loan.

The 19-year-old, who has made five senior appearances for the Reds, becomes the second young defender to go out on loan after Godwin Antwi moved to Tranmere.

Hobbs told Leicester’s official website, “I am really pleased to have signed and can’t wait to get started.

“Liverpool have some world-class centre-backs so I spoke to the boss (Rafael Benitez) and he said I was free to go out on loan and gain some experience.

“Leicester showed their interest and I had no hesitation in coming here. This is a massive club with a good manager and top-class Premier League facilities.

“I now want to start playing and get to know the lads. I can assure everyone that I will be giving 100%. I want to help this club get back to the Championship at the first time of asking.”

Friday, July 25, 2008

Pacheco Yearns For Torres Union

Liverpool starlet Daniel Pacheco is relishing the prospect of lining up alongside compatriot Fernando Torres when The Reds take on Villarreal next week.

The 17-year old has impressed during his appearances for Rafa Benitez’s men in pre-season, adding credence to the growing reputation he has enjoyed in recent months.

Nothing, however, can match Torres’ meteoric rise up through world football, with El Nino scoring 33 goals in his debut season at Anfield before notching the winner for Spain in the Euro 2008 final.

Pacheco admits he one day hopes to emulate his fellow native, though the striker is prepared to exercise patience as he looks to break into Benitez’s first-team plans.

"I would love to play with Torres because he is such a great striker and it would be very special for me to be in the team with him," said Pacheco.

"He is Spanish also and he is a big hero for everyone in my country after he scored the winning goal in the Euro 2008 final.

"He is one of the best strikers around so I think I would learn a lot from him if I played in the team with him.

"I would have loved to have played in the team with Stevie as well but he had to go back to Liverpool because he had an injury.

"But I have really enjoyed playing alongside the other first team players and they have really helped me.

"I'm really happy to be playing with these players and to be involved during pre-season and until the boss tells me otherwise I will keep on playing and enjoying myself."

The youngster admitted that the transition from reserve football to first-team action caught him by surprise, but stated that he is prepared to train with vigour to continue his development.

"Everything is different to the football I have been playing in the reserve team," the Malaga-born player added.

"It is more competitive, faster, more difficult and you have to work harder but I am trying my best and now I just have to keep going.

"I don't know if I will still be in the team when the season starts though because that would be very difficult for me.

"The Spanish players have come back now and we will maybe have some new players as well so it would be tough for me to stay in the team.

"But I will continue to work hard every day and keep on going.

"I feel that I am playing quite well and that things are going well for me but, as I say, I cannot afford to stop working because that is the most important thing."

Alan Hansen: Liverpool Must Look To Their Wings To Have A Prayer

Liverpool legend Alan Hansen has warned Rafael Benitez that signing wide players is more important than bringing Gareth Barry or Robbie Keane to Anfield.

Benitez has made no secret of his attempts to sign midfielder Barry and striker Keane - but neither would add much of the width Hansen feels Liverpool need if they are to challenge Manchester United or Chelsea for the Barclays Premier League title.

Hansen, speaking at the launch of The New Football Pools, said: "They are getting closer but still need three or four players. Gareth Barry would be a great acquisition but really they need wide players, a couple of full-backs and wingers.

"The movement of United’s frontline is phenomenal and they look like they can score goals from anywhere.

"Liverpool rely too heavily on the goals of Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard. Take them out of the equation and I don’t see too many goals coming from any other areas.

"If they go with the squad they already have, their 11 best players can compete. It’s when you go deeper. Modern-day Premier League football is not about one team, it’s about two. United and Chelsea can replace quality with quality but Liverpool can’t.

"We won the championship in the 70s and 80s sometimes with great teams, sometimes with average teams. You can no longer do it with an average team, you have to be great to win the championship."

Hansen believes United and Chelsea will be the Premier League’s top two next season, although he feels Cristiano Ronaldo could decide where the title goes depending on whether he stays at Old Trafford or not.

He added: "If Frank Lampard went from Chelsea they would get by. If Ronaldo went from United it might make the difference between winning the championship or not."

However, Hansen also insists Lampard would be irreplaceable if he were to leave Chelsea for Inter Milan.

"If he does go the money is irrelevant because Chelsea will be looking at the wider picture of how they are going to be successful," he said. "They have a much better chance of being successful with Lampard in there.

"He’s a great player, playing all the time and he’s English so he has that heart and team spirit that can set teams and players apart.

"How do you replace him and with whom? They would be struggling because they wouldn’t be able to get Gerrard."

Hansen believes Sir Alex Ferguson was testing Luiz Felipe Scolari’s reaction with his comments regarding the age of the new Chelsea manager’s squad.

He added: "You’ll never win anything with kids, now you’ll never win anything with the older generation, according to Sir Alex. It’s just mind games, he’s the master of mind games and he always has been.

"He’s probably just testing Scolari out. Chelsea will be his biggest rivals, there’s no doubt about that, and he’s just trying to get set for the start of the season."

Xabi Alonso Set For Talks On Anfield Future As Alvaro Arbeloa Edges To Exit Door

Xabi Alonso will hold talks with Rafael Benitez today to clarify his future at Liverpool – as Alvaro Arbeloa edged towards the exit door.

Alonso and Arbeloa return to training at Melwood today along with fellow Euro 2008 winners Fernando Torres and Pepe Reina.

And Alonso is expected to waste no time in asking Benitez whether he remains part of the manager’s long-term plans.

Liverpool were willing to sell the midfielder for £16million to Juventus earlier this month before the Italians pulled the plug on the deal and signed Sevilla’s Christian Poulsen instead.

The Anfield outfit had planned to then use the transfer fee to finance their move for Aston Villa midfielder Gareth Barry.

But if Benitez decides Alonso remains an integral part of the squad, it could severely test his intent on pursuing Barry, with Liverpool refusing to raise their most recent offer for the England international.

Alonso has previously intimated he would have “no problem” staying at Liverpool.

One player likely to leave Anfield in the near future, however, is Arbeloa, who is understood to want a return to his homeland for personal reasons.

Liverpool should have no problems in cashing in on the defender, whose stock is at an all-time high following his part in helping Spain win the European Championships last month.

Meanwhile, 19-year-old French striker David Ngog – the cousin of former Newcastle United defender Jean-Alain Boumsong – has penned a four-year contract after yesterday completing his £1.5m move from Paris Saint-Germain.

Ngog, who is expected to challenge for a first-team place, has scored goals at every youth level for France including two against England under-19s last season.

A young forward to have already caught the eye for Liverpool during pre-season is Dani Pacheco.

The 17-year-old, prised from Barcelona last summer, has appeared in every one of Liverpool’s friendlies so far and is hopeful of playing alongside fellow Spaniard Torres.

“I would love to play with Torres because he is such a great striker and it would be very special for me to be in the team with him,” said Pacheco.

“He is Spanish also and he is a big hero for everyone in my country after he scored the winning goal in the Euro 2008 final.

“He is one of the best strikers around so I think I would learn a lot from him if I played in the team with him.

“But I have really enjoyed playing alongside the other first team players and they have really helped me.”

Meanwhile, Sebastian Leto has revealed he is close to agreeing a loan move to Olympiakos.

Leto hasn’t played a competitive game for the first team since the League Cup game against Cardiff City last October after problems concerning eligibility.

The Argentine currently holds an Italian passport to enable him to win a work permit, but Italian authorities are carrying out an investigation on the validity of a number of citizenship decisions.

Although Liverpool are confident the issues will be resolved next week, Benitez is allowing the 21-year-old to leave on a season-long loan.

“I spoke with Liverpool and our decision is to leave the club and to play somewhere else on loan for one season,” said Leto.

“I have to play football next season. My agents are in Athens.

“They speak with Olympiakos for my loan.

“I have some offers from Italy and Spain but Olympiacos is the best club for me at the moment.”

Leto, who has appeared in all four of Liverpool’s pre-season friendlies, added: “I am still waiting for the community passport. Liverpool will wait for it until July 31.

“Of course, my dream is to play football in Liverpool.

“I spoke with Rafa Benitez and he told me that he wants me but I can’t stay without the passport.

“He advised me to go somewhere else to play for one season and to return next summer.

Martin O’Neill Warns Liverpool FC To Hurry Or Lose Gareth Barry

Martin O’Neill has warned Liverpool he is ready to set a deadline for them to meet his valuation of want-away Aston Villa skipper Gareth Barry.

O’Neill insists Villa cannot continue to be at the "behest" of the Merseysiders who have failed to offer the £18million he is seeking for the England midfielder.

The former Celtic boss is aware he has to make his own plans for the new campaign and needs to know whether he will have the services of Barry.

Already O’Neill is considering using the 27-year-old in Saturday’s home Intertoto Cup clash with Odense BK.

But that would not make Barry ineligible to play Champions League football if he eventually moved to Anfield.

O’Neill, who has rejected four bids for Barry from Reds counterpart Rafael Benitez, said: "It’s been unfortunate. We don’t know where we stand at this minute.

"Liverpool have not officially come back to us in any form of writing. It is a really awkward position here at this minute.

"At some stage or other there will have to be a timescale on it because we cannot just keep going on like this.

"We have got our own plans to make - and we shouldn’t be at the behest of Liverpool Football Club.

"We have to pick up the pieces and I could go on for forever and a day talking about it. It doesn’t really matter. We have to see what develops.

"As I say, we have not heard back from them in an official capacity."

O’Neill is ready to consider Barry on Saturday even though he was the target of abuse from Villa fans during Tuesday’s friendly at Walsall.

He said: "If Gareth is in the right frame of mind then we will explore everything. He will be in contention for Saturday.

"I have never not been impressed with him in two years as to his attitude on the football pitch.

"In fairness the Intertoto gives us that chance to get into the UEFA Cup, which we set out to get into by one way or another, and Gareth was a major part of that last year."

O’Neill, who is hoping to complete the signing of Blackburn goalkeeper Brad Friedel, is aware of the need to bring in new blood with the start of the Barclays Premier League campaign only three weeks away."

Spurs' Robbie Keane On The Verge Of Sealing Liverpool Transfer

Tottenham Hotspur forward Robbie Keane is set to complete a transfer to Liverpool within the next 48 hours after it emerged that the Republic of Ireland captain had been left out of the north Londoners' 19-man squad that played a friendly at Hercules in Alicante last night.

Keane is expected to put pen to paper on a £18 million deal over the weekend, despite his employers at White Hart Lane having lodged a formal complaint with the Premier League over Liverpool's conduct in this whole affair, although Spurs themselves made no comment before the fixture kicked off regarding their captain's subsequent absence from the team line-up.

It is believed that Keane, 28, has already informed Tottenham coach Juande Ramos of his desire to join Liverpool, the club he supported as a boy and the fact that the player was removed from the Spurs squad in Spain without suffering any apparent injury, unlike his strike partner Dimitar Berbatov, who played the whole 90 minutes, only heightens the sense that the transfer is a fait accompli.

However, that is not the case concerning Gareth Barry's on-off move to Anfield. Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez may now have £20m at his disposal following the close-season sales of Scott Carson, John Arne Riise, Danny Guthrie and Peter Crouch, but that has since been earmarked for Keane's transfer, a situation that threatens to leave both Barry himself, as well as his club Aston Villa, in limbo for the foreseeable future at least.

Benitez welcomes Xabi Alonso, Jose Manuel Reina and Alvaro Arbeloa all back to pre-season training today after the Spaniards were given more time off in which to recuperate following their country's triumph at Euro 2008, but unless he can find a club willing to part with £16m for Alonso, then it looks as though Barry may have to remain at Villa Park, at least until the next transfer window reopens in January.

It does appear though that one Spain international, full-back Arbeloa, will be departing the club, with the 25 year old said to be leaving Merseyside due to unspecified personal reasons.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Gerrard: Barry Would Be Perfect For Liverpool

Gareth Barry is a “class act” and would enjoy the perfect partnership with Liverpool skipper Steven Gerrard if his transfer to Anfeld is ever finally secured.

That is the view of the Liverpool captain’s cousin, Walsall defender Anthony Gerrard, who lined up opposite Barry on a night of a tense drama at the Banks’s Stadium on Tuesday night.

Villa fans booed and jeered their want-away former skipper for almost all of his hour-long appearance in the friendly following a turbulent summer of transfer rows and wrangles between Villa and Liverpool over the midfielder.

Liverpool-born Anthony is the younger cousin of Reds’ skipper Steve and himself a huge Liverpool fan and described Barry as a “quality player” after seeing him turn in an assured performance to help Villa secure a 3-2 victory over their League One neighbours.

The central defender - Walsall’s Player of the Season last year - believes Barry would be a huge asset to his home town club and said his man-of-the-match winning performance underlined just what a true professional Barry was when put under immense pressure by a crowd of some 2,200 travelling Villa fans.

Villa supporters are angry that their former skipper - who wants to leave to pursue his Champions League dream after ten years at Villa Park - publicly criticised manager Martin O’Neill in a newspaper article. Barry took a swipe at O’Neill because he felt his boss was too busy away commentating on the European Championships to deal with the transfer issue.

Anthony Gerrard said: “After seeing that performance it would seem that whatever is going on in Gareth Barry’s football life has not affected him on the pitch and that was evident in his performance against us.

"He showed he was a class act and a class above any of the other players. He is an absolute quality player and as a Liverpool fan, I believe he would be a great addition to the team.

“Gareth Barry is a credit to himself. He was as professional as always. He wants to better himself and play in the Champions League and fair play to him for that. Everyone wants to excel in their career and hopefully, if he moves to Liverpool, he can do that.

“I know Steve would like Gareth Barry to join him. They are good friends and they got on whenever they join up together with the England squad. I have no doubt at all that they would make a good partnership on the field.”

Barry’s run-out at the Banks’s Stadium ended when he was subsituted and disappeared in a waiting car without joining his Villa team-mates and manager Martin O’Neill who was watching the proceedings from the stands.

Villa won the game thanks to a brace from Shaun Maloney and a third from Wayne Routledge - cancelling out goals from Saddlers’ Alex Nicholls and triallist Patrick Suffo.

Maloney admitted afterwards that he hoped those goals would stake his claim for a place in O’Neill’s starting line-up for the visit of Odense BK to Villa Park in the second leg of the Intertoto Cup this weekend.

He said: “Hopefully I have shown the manager I am ready if the call comes against Odense on Saturday. Fingers crossed I can play a part.The boys played pretty well in patches against Odense last weekend so I think it will be difficult breaking into the starting line-up for the second leg.

“But I have done all I can now so hopefully I will be ready if the manager calls.”