Saturday, January 19, 2008

I'm Staying At Pool, Insists Crouch

Peter Crouch has moved to put an end to rumours that he is on borrowed time at Liverpool.

The beanpole striker has been repeatedly linked with the likes of Portsmouth, Manchester City and Aston Villa ever since the arrival of Fernando Torres and Andriy Voronin, but despite having to get all too familiar with the feel of the Anfield pine, he insists that he has not thoughts of leaving.

Crouch said: "Everyone talks about me talking to clubs. Maybe it's because I'm not playing every game.

"But at a club like Liverpool you're not going to play every game.

"I've come to realise that this is the case at a club like this, whereas at somewhere else maybe you would play every game.

"But here we are competing for things and I certainly want to be a part of winning trophies.

"No-one's approached the club and no- one's approached me.

"There's a lot of speculation and, like I've said, that probably comes down to the fact that I'm not playing every game.

"But hopefully if I get a good run of games towards the end of the season then those rumours will go away."

Reds boss Rafa Benitez is eager to keep his squad together going into the business end of the season and has warned potential suitors that he is not looking to offload Crouch or any of his other players.

Skrtel Can't Wait To Play At Anfield

New Liverpool defender Martin Skrtel has expressed his delight at moving to Merseyside - all he wants now is to make his debut.

Martin Skrtel became Liverpool's most expensive defender ever after completing his £6.5m move from Russian champions Zenit St. Petersburg last week.

And although he wasn't a Liverpool fan growing up, the Slovak is delighted to have been offered the chance to come to Anfield.

"To be the first Slovak to play for Liverpool makes me very happy," the defender told Liverpool's official website.

"Not many Slovakian players have had the opportunity to play in the English league. I have and I will give it everything to succeed here."

The defender also revealed that Liverpool's history was a major factor in him choosing them as his next move. "I know about the great history of Liverpool FC and the tradition.

"Watching the Champions League final when Liverpool played AC Milan in Istanbul left a big impression on me. That type of game doesn't happen every day.

"I watched it on the television and I thought at half-time, 'that's it'. What happened in the second half was absolutely unbelievable," he recalled.

Skrtel is also more than pleased to have his style of play likened to Jamie Carragher's. "I knew about Jamie before I came here," he said. "He is a very good player and it's a compliment for me to be compared to him."

Liverpool have badly needed another centre-back, especially now Daniel Agger has suffered a recurrence of his foot injury, but coach Rafa Benítez hasn't opted to use Skrtel thus far. Nevertheless, the Slovak knows it's only a matter of time until he gets his chance to impress the Kop.

"I can't wait to play at Anfield," he said. "The stadium is beautiful and Liverpool have got the best supporters in England, if not the world. I can't wait to play there for the first time."

The former Zenit man is currently lacking match fitness as the Russian league finished almost two months ago, but Skrtel explained he'd been working hard at the Reds' training ground to regain peak form.

"The manager has told me he will give me time to improve my fitness and fit in and I know about how tough the competition for places is here," said Skrtel, who has been given the No37 shirt. "That is a good thing for a club to have and I will give it my very best. I will be working as hard as I can so I can get into the squad and I will also try to learn to speak English as soon as possible."

But while he feels moving to Liverpool and England was the right decision to progress, he admitted that it had been tough to tear himself away from St. Petersburg and a team he'd just helped to the Russian Premier League title. "I was at Zenit for three and a half years and I really enjoyed my time at the club," he said. "Leaving was quite sad for me because I had some good friends there but that is the life of a footballer and now I'm looking forward to a new challenge at Liverpool. I will always have good memories of my time at Zenit."

Argentina Pick Riquelme & Mascherano For Beijing

Playmaker Juan Roman Riquelme and midfielder Javier Mascherano will play for Argentina at the Beijing Olympics where the South American giants are the defending champions.

Coach Sergio Batista said Friday that Riquelme, who now plays at Boca Juniors, Liverpool's Javier Mascherano as well as Bayern Munich defender Martin Demichelis will be his over-age players.

Tournament rules allow three players over the age of 23 to be included in each squad for the Olympics which runs from August 8-24.

Riquelme is 29, Demichelis is 27 while Mascherano is 23.

Benitez: Focused On Football

Rafael Benitez believes his Liverpool players can put to the back of their minds the power battle raging at the club as they try to hang onto the coat-tails of the top three in the Barclays Premier League.

By the time Liverpool face Aston Villa on Monday at Anfield, they could be 15 points off top spot with Arsenal, Manchester United and Chelsea all playing against teams from the bottom half of the table today.

If that is not a big enough problem for Liverpool's stars, the very public disagreements about the future financing and even ownership of the club is also hanging over Anfield.

American owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett are trying to negotiate a re-financing package with British and American banks, while Dubai International Capital wait in the wings with a potential new offer for the club.

Benitez said: "I am not finding it difficult to prepare for a game, I am trying to prepare for a game properly.

"The players are good professionals, they showed that with their performance against Luton in the FA Cup in midweek, and they also showed that the FA Cup is important for us.

"I do not think they are affected too much by things off the pitch, they are focused and they know we want to be as high as possible in the Premier League. They can continue to give their best."

Liverpool are in a battle with Villa, Everton and Manchester City for fourth spot, and Benitez expects Monday's challenge from the Midlanders to be strong.

He said: "There are four teams all very close, but we do have one game in hand. However, Villa are having a good season and they will have a lot of confidence.

"I have confidence in my team. We will fight for a good position at the top of the table, but I am not just thinking about fourth spot I am thinking much higher than that, as a target that is what we must be looking for.

"I have a responsibility, and especially now. That responsibility is to do the best for my club, to work hard and prepare well for every training session and every game.

"I am doing this and trying to concentrate. I am aiming to give the fans my best all the time and for the team to do the same."

Liverpool will be without Daniel Agger for the Villa game, the Danish defender having suffered a recurrence of his metatarsal injury.

Benitez said:"We are disappointed with what has happened to Daniel Agger. We felt he was ready.

"But when he was training last weekend, he felt something when he was tackling. It was right at the end of the session, it was not serious but enough to cause us concern.

"We have talked to specialists to try to find an answer. But he is now working hard again with the medical staff.

"He had been training well for two weeks, then he just had a little bit of bad luck and he is out again. Maybe it will be two weeks before he is ready again."

Meanwhile, Peter Crouch insists he is happy to stay at Anfield and fight for his place.

The 26-year-old has been the subject of much speculation having fallen down the pecking order after the summer arrival of club-record signing Fernando Torres.

However, he told the Liverpool Echo: "Everyone talks about me talking to clubs. Maybe it's because I'm not playing every game but at a club like Liverpool you're not going to play every game.

"I've come to realise that this is the case at a club like this."

George Gillett Ponders Over Hicks Buy-Out

Liverpool co-owner George Gillett is expected to spend the next few days deciding whether to buy-out partner Tom Hicks, despite the pair saying they remained committed to the club and that it would not be sold for the second time in the space of a year.

It is thought that Dubai International Capital (DIC) are preparing another bid to acquire a share of the club, and are prepared to back Gillett as he mulls over whether to make an offer to buy out the 50 per cent shareholding of his partner at Anfield.

According to reports, DIC is willing to join forces with Gillett and it is believed that he will weigh up his options over the next few days while persuading Hicks to sell his interest in Liverpool for a substantial profit.

However, it is believed that Gillett will not table the combined offer to Hicks and that he may instead approve a controversial £350 million refinancing plan for Liverpool's new stadium - a deal that is expected to be ratified sometime next week.

A source confirmed to the Guardian that a deal has been drafted which will then be presented to the Americans before they put their signatures to the £350m loan.

"It is a very delicate situation but DIC has reignited its interest," the source told the newspaper.

"The terms of the offer, which will be made to Tom Hicks, have been agreed and DIC are hopeful they will be finally be able to invest in Liverpool."

The latest twist in the Anfield saga could also have left the relationship further soured between the co-owners if the deal goes ahead.

However, a spokesman for the Americans yesterday said: "Any suggestion that Messrs Hicks and Gillett are contemplating a sale of the club or any portion thereof to DIC or anyone else is categorically untrue."

On the football front, Liverpool and Rafael Benitez will step out on Monday for their Premiership home game with Aston Villa with their minds focused on the pitch.

Five days later they will have to deal with non-league Havant and Waterlooville in the FA Cup.