Monday, January 14, 2008

Hyypia: End The Speculation About Rafa's Reds Future

It is about time the onging speculation concerning the future of Rafael Beneitez as Liverpool manager was ended once and for all by an unequivocal statement from the club. That is the view of Sami Hyypia, the long-serving Liverpool central defender.

Sami Hyypia believes the persistent uncertainty surrounding Benitez's position at Anfield is undermining the club and should be addressed as a matter of urgency.

Last autumn's row between Benitez and club owners George Gillett and Tom Hicks sparked widespread speculation that he Spaniard's days at Anfield were now numbered.

And Hyypia for one is fed up with the incessant rumours - not least because he believes it is affecting the whole team.

Liverpool's performances and results in recent weeks have been distinctly below par, and Finnish international Hyypia has urged the club's hierarchy to resolve the situation regarding the manager so that Liverpool can get their season back on track befoire it is too late.

"We seem to be becoming like Newcastle," Hyypia told The Mirror.

"Every time we pick up a paper, there seems to be something new. But our job is to concentrate on the games.

"In the football world there are some things that happen very quickly and you can't do anything about them. The players hope that if there are arguments, they can be sorted out."

On a more positive note, Liverpool striker Dirk Kuyt is backing his Spanih team-mate, Fernando Torres, to win this season's Player of the Year award.

Torres underlined his value again on Saturday when he produced a stunning 25-yard effort that salvaged a 1-1 draw for Liverpool against Middlesbrough.

It was the 17th goal of his first season in English football.

Kuyt does admit, however, that Liverpool have become too reliant on Torres and captain Steven Gerrard to provide the goals this season. Those two have scored 18 of the Reds' 35 League goals.

"Torres is having an unbelievable season especially as he's coming from a foreign country and not speaking English very well," said Kuyt.

"He's definitely a quality player and one of the best players in the League at the moment. He's one of the best in Europe.

"He's got everything, he's really quick and he's got a good finish and great ability. He's frightening for defenders to deal with.

"Definitely Fernando and Stevie G have a chance to be footballers of the year. They've done really good things this year for Liverpool."

Atlético Open Sissoko Talks With Liverpool

Atlético de Madrid have contacted Liverpool with a view to signing Mohamed Sissoko during the window transfer window as Maniche prepares to leave.

Los Colchoneros' coach Javier Aguirre has always insisted that he would only sign players if other leave and a change of midfielders now looks to be on the cards.

Marca believe that Atlético have been met with a favourable response after enquiring about Sissoko and a deal could be negotiated this week.

Maniche is on the verge of completing a loan move to Inter and that will free up a space as Aguirre sticks to his strict policy of having a 24-man squad.

Sissoko looked set to be joining Juventus and he had said publicly that he believed the deal would go through, but La Vecchia Signora now appear to have pulled out.

Inter have also been linked with the Mali international, but that appears to be an unlikely proposition with Maniche joining.

Liverpool and Atleti have a good relationship after lengthy talks last summer about the transfer of Fernando Torres brought the clubs closer together.

Another factor in the Spanish side's decision to try and sign Sissoko is the recommendation of Jesús García Pitarch who was instrumental in signing him for Valencia from Auxerre in 2003.

Pitarch now works for Atlético and has advised the board and coach about the technical characteristics that the midfielder will bring to the side.

Rafael Benitez On Collision Course With Owners

It was a throwaway remark but it carried within it a damning indictment. "We seem to be becoming like Newcastle," said Liverpool's veteran centre-half, Sami Hyypia. "Every time you pick up a paper, there seems to be something new."

The papers Rafael Benitez would have picked up in the team hotel in Yorkshire on Saturday morning contained leaks from Bayern Munich that their newly appointed manager, Jurgen Klinsmann, had been offered his job.

The relationship between the owners of Anfield and their manager continues to corrode like the rusting bits of steel you still stumble upon in this part of Teesside.

With its horizons framed by the black Cleveland Hills and refinery chimneys, Liverpool have never enjoyed the Riverside Stadium and, as if to emphasise it, their bus was involved in an accident on its journey to a scene of regular crashes. Under Roy Evans, Liverpool were swept away in a League Cup semi-final here and four years later, in November 2002, their last credible title challenge began to come adrift at the Riverside when Gareth Southgate stuck home a loose ball. Liverpool, hitherto unbeaten, did not win again for another two months.

For Gerard Houllier it marked the beginning of the end and until Fernando Torres scored Liverpool's first goal on Teesside for six years, you might have said the same for Benitez.

Hyypia, like virtually all footballers, knows that the politicking between boardroom and dug-out is outside their orbit and perhaps their understanding. "We have to keep concentrating on the game," he remarked, something Liverpool have not been doing well lately. "That is our job. In the football world, some things happen very quickly and you can't do anything about them. If there are some arguments, the players hope they can be sorted out."

The only men who can sort it out - with a single statement confirming that Benitez will continue to manage Liverpool at least until the end of the season - were not at Middlesbrough. Had they been, George Gillett and Tom Hicks would have noted a vast banner carrying a picture of the Boro chairman, Steve Gibson, who was hailed as, "One of Us". The Americans, even if they decide not to sell out to Dubai, are unlikely to see anything similar at Anfield.

Yet there is evidence that the drip-drip of uncertainty has begun to seep into the dressing room, however much the players might fix their gaze at the pitch. The unease surrounding Benitez broke to the surface in Liverpool's last game in the North-East - the 3-0 demolition of Newcastle that exposed the full inadequacies of Sam Allardyce's regime - when Benitez accused Hicks and Gillett of not understanding the transfer system.

Since then, Liverpool have lost to Reading, Manchester United and Chelsea and stumbled to four straight draws, each more unconvincing than the last. And to underline football's perversity, Liverpool have also produced the kind of great escape in the Champions League they so rarely conjure up domestically.

Southgate is fortunate to be in the employment of a man who is reluctant to sack or panic and who has invested deeply in home-produced talent. "The game is crackers at the moment so Rafa's situation doesn't surprise me," he said.

The Middlesbrough manager had his own problems. Illness threatened to deprive him of both Mark Schwarzer and Gary O'Neil and injury did for Jonathan Woodgate, whom he would have needed against Torres. Instead, David Wheater, another young product of the Middlesbrough academy, largely shackled a striker who even at 23 is approaching greatness. Wheater had spent last season on loan at Darlington and confessed that this felt like more than just a point. To Liverpool it would have felt much, much less.

Juventus Pull Out Of Sissoko Race

Unsettled Liverpool midfielder Mohamed Sissoko’s protracted move to Italian-giants Juventus appears to have fallen through after club president Giovanni Cobolli Gigli admitted that the Turin giants were unlikely to make any signings during the January transfer window.

Sissoko, who has fallen out of favour with current Liverpool incumbent Rafa Benitez, looked likely to complete his move to the Serie A side after admitting on Thursday that a conclusion to the deal was “very close”, with his manager adding that The Reds were just waiting for the “right club and the right offer” before the 22-year old could leave Anfield.

Even Rafa Benitez admitted that he was trying to find a solution for the Mali international after the 1-1 draw against Middlesbrough.

It was widely believed that Juventus’ manager Claudio Ranieri was keen on the athletic midfielder, but it now appears that they have withdrawn their interest and are satisfied with the squad they have available at the club.

Said Cobolli-Gigli: "Juventus will not make any acquisitions in the January transfer market. It's normal to dream of big players but, in order for dreams to come true, we need to wait for the right moment.”

While the Mali international’s ambition to play for the Italian side may have collapsed, he certainly won’t b e short of suitors if he does exit Merseyside, with reported interest from former club Valencia among others.

As for Juventus, the debate is on about Ranieri's continued support for Tiago Mendes, which is supposed to be the reason for the refusal to sign Sissoko.

The player is now being linked with Inter, who are also expected to sign Maniche on Monday.

Banks Set To Back ‘New Anfield’

Tom Hicks and George Gillett have moved closer to securing a bank deal that will allow them to press ahead with their ambitious plans for a 70,000-seat new stadium for Liverpool.

The Americans, who for several months have been locked in talks with Royal Bank of Scotland and Wachovia over a £350m refinancing loan, are now optimistic an agreement can be struck by the end of the month – and possibly as early as next week. The injection from the banks is necessary to cover the £270m of loans Hicks and Gillett took out to purchase Liverpool last February and help fund their new ground.

The Americans spent nine hours in New York on Tuesday with Rick Parry, Liverpool’s chief executive, discussing two rival architectural designs for ‘New Anfield’ and will make a decision on which option to take as soon as the package from the banks comes through. The Dallas-based company HKS produced a revised version of their original plans which were scrapped last month as the project became simply too expensive to proceed with, while Manchester-based AFL came up with their own proposals as the two firms went head to head.

Both companies were asked to produce a full set of proposals with detailed costings, designs, time scales and planning information. Parry says he was impressed by what he saw, but Liverpool are not yet willing to put their own deadline on when a decision will be made. Parry maintains, however, that whichever plan gets the nod it will produce an “excellent result”.

“We had two very detailed and very informative presentations which were very thorough and extremely professional,” he said. “It has been another big step forward to finding the best possible solution.”

Despite the snags over the new ground, and continued doubt over the future of team manager Rafa Benitez, Hicks and Gillett are adamant that they do not intend to sell the club and cut their losses, despite continuing speculation to the contrary.