Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Alan Hansen's View

The next two or three weeks will be critical in the history of Liverpool Football Club.

Speculation over whether owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett are committed to Liverpool or will sell the club to Dubai International Capital has reached fever pitch.

But whether the owners are Hicks and Gillett or DIC, it is vital that Liverpool are able to build a new stadium and still have funds to go into the transfer market.

Otherwise they will not be able to compete with Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea.

And that is exactly what is concerning the supporters, the players, the ex-players and anyone connected with Liverpool.

Should Liverpool stall now, it would be so counter-productive for the future of the club.

It is essential that a new stadium is built in the near future. At the moment Liverpool have attendances of about 44,000 at Anfield and they cannot compete with Manchester United, who pack in about 76,000 at Old Trafford.

However, the worrying thing is, if Liverpool's new stadium is going to be financed by debt, which could mean cash flow is stifled and new players cannot be brought in.

Liverpool fans want to know that is not going to happen.

The club did really well in the 1970s and 80s because they were successful on the pitch, the punters turned up en masse, the club made money and invested in better players.

That in turn brought more success... and so the cycle went on.

Although there has not been a Liverpool manager since then who has not had any money to spend, perhaps they have not had quite enough.

You have to put total faith in your manager, if you feel he is the man to take you forward, and back him with money. And to be successful in the modern game requires lots and lots of money. It is a simple as that.

Gillett and Hicks could defend themselves by saying they have given Rafael Benitez money to spend on new players.

Fernando Torres came in at the start of the season at a cost of £23m, and Benitez laid out £45-50m in total during the close season - although some money was recouped through players leaving.

But at the moment, the fact remains that Liverpool are a bit short of where they want to be.

I have met Gillett and he is a very, very affable character. I had dinner with him in July and he was so enthusiastic about Liverpool that I was really impressed.

But after all that has gone on, with the approach to Jurgen Klinsmann to replace Benitez and doubts about the American owners' long-term commitment to Liverpool, he and Hicks need to clear the air and be seen at Anfield.

They must make it absolutely clear that they are in it for the long term, if that is the case. If they are not in it for the long term, and they receive a reasonable offer from DIC, then they should sell up.

Especially if DIC can guarantee that it can make funds available for a new stadium and also provide funds for new players.

The vast of majority of people will want what is best for Liverpool - whether that is Gillett and Hicks or DIC remains to be seen.

But it is imperative that the ownership situation is sorted out quickly, one way or another. It must not be allowed to drag on.

Juventus Still Interested In Sissoko

Juventus coach Claudio Ranieri is hoping to resurrect a move for Liverpool midfielder Mohamed Sissoko.

Juve president Giovanni Cobolli Gigli revealed last week the club would not make any signings in the January transfer window - negating Sissoko's statement that he was "very close" to securing a move to the Bianconeri.

But Ranieri still hopes to be reunited with the Mali international after working with him at Valencia, saying on radio programme Anch'io lo Sport: "Sissoko could arrive. He is another piece of the jigsaw to add to my team."

Sissoko joined Liverpool in the summer of 2005 but has struggled to hold down a starting place and Rafael Benitez has confirmed the 22-year-old can leave if the right offer comes in.

One player who could make way for Sissoko is Tiago - who Ranieri shelled out £10million for in the summer.

The Portugal midfielder has started just four games for Juve since moving from Lyon, and Ranieri admits he is at a loss as to why the 26-year-old has failed to make an impact at the Stadio Olimpico.

"Certainly, people were expecting something more from certain players - that's undeniable," added Ranieri.

"But being unable to fulfil expectations is something that can happen when you pull on the Juventus shirt.

"Tiago? He is my biggest worry, he has class and he doesn't lack anything to do well. I'm very concerned by it."

Benitez Under Pressure Now

Liverpool's 2-2 home draw with Aston Villa has put manager Rafa Benitez's future with the club in further jeopardy and William Hill now offer 11/10 that he will be gone before the end of the season.

The Spaniard watched his side blow a lead at home once again and it could have been even worse if Peter Crouch had not struck with two minutes to go for a share of the spoils.

Hills make Benitez 4/6 to keep his job at least until the end of the current campaign.

The firm now offer 1/ 2 that Liverpool will finish in the top four at the end of the season and 6/4 that they will not while they are now 50/1 chances to claim the Premier League title.

Manchester United are the current 8/15 favourites with Arsenal 5/2 and Chelsea 11/2.

Gerrard: Off-field Drama Affecting Us

Liverpool skipper Steven Gerrard made it abundantly clear after Monday's game against Aston Villa that the uncertainty at the club is affecting players.

Liverpool were held to their sixth draw in eleven home games in a game they could well have lost as Aston Villa came from behind to surge ahead 2-1.

In the end, it took a late goal from Peter Crouch to save face at Anfield, and skipper Steven Gerrard vented his frustration at the off field antics following the final whistle.

Asked if the uncertainty surrounding the future of Rafa Benitez, and indeed the club's owners, was affecting the team, he said: "Of course it is affecting us."

“It’s not just this week, it’s been going on for some time now,” he rapped.

“It’s certainly not helping the players, I’ve got to be careful about what I say on the situation.

"We know what the situation is, what is going on. Yes we try to get onto the pitch and play, and not let is affect us, but it is at the back of our minds."

“But it’s certainly not helping the team.

“We know what’s going on; as players you try to do your job on the pitch and put it to the back of your mind but sometimes it’s impossible when it’s every day.”

Most certainly words that will grab the headlines of Tuesday's newspapers!

Speaking of the game itself, he said: “Credit to Villa. They deserve their point today.

“We should have won but we should be winning every game at Anfield, particularly with the players and the squad we’ve got, we should be winning all our home games.

“It’s certainly not good enough. We’ll keep going, it’s not over until it’s over, but it’s certainly not good enough.”

LiverpooL 2 - 2 Aston Villa

Peter Crouch rescued a Barclays Premier League point for Liverpool with a late goal at Anfield on Monday.

Crouch hooked in right footed from 10 yards in the the 88th minute to avert a disastrous result for under-fire manager Rafael Benitez.

Yossi Benayoun gave the Reds a first-half lead but Marlon Harewood and a Fabio Aurelio own goal threatened to win it for Villa.

Although Crouch levelled - against his former team - Liverpool are now 14 points behind Manchester United and Arsenal.

Benitez fielded arguably his strongest side against Aston Villa - one of the club's main contenders for fourth spot - in a match which had plenty at stake.

There were six changes from the side that beat Luton in the FA Cup last week. Javier Mascherano was back in central midfield, Jose Reina returned in goal and new signing Martin Skrtel was on the bench.

Aston Villa were without the influential Gareth Barry - the England man missed out with a pelvic injury.

Olof Mellberg returned, while Scott Carson was ineligible under the terms of his loan from Liverpool. Stuart Taylor took his place.

As expected there was a high-profile display of support for Benitez from the Kop.

The fans were struggling to focus on the match itself. But they needed too, and fast.

Villa were quick on the break, attacking down the right, and with Gabriel Agbonlahor a constant threat.

Dirk Kuyt's cross presented Benayoun with a volleyed chance that flew over, and Craig Gardner charged down a Harry Kewell drive.

And Liverpool took the lead after 19 minutes. Steven Gerrard and Kuyt set up the close-range chance for Benayoun to net at the second attempt from six yards.

Villa hit back with accurate, long balls for Agbonlahor and Ashley Young - but Liverpool almost snatched a second goal in the 31st minute.

Again it was the impressive Gerrard, aided by Kuyt, who set up Fernando Torres from 15 yards - but the striker put his effort wide.

John Carew, playing deep, caused plenty of problems with his flick-ons, but Liverpool were defending well, and the ball was quickly shifted to Gerrard, who was dominating the midfield.

Watching Inter Milan coach Roberto Mancini, who will face Liverpool in the Champions League in March, will have seen plenty to concern him in Gerrard's overall play.

Curtis Davies sliced wide of his own goal soon into the second half, before Kuyt wasted a great chance to put Liverpool further ahead.

Mascherano and Gerrard surged up field, exchanging passes, before the ball was laid into Kuyt's path, invitingly, on the right. But the Dutch striker skewed his effort into the Kop.

Torres almost got clear, Taylor saving at his feet, before the Spaniard turned on the edge of the box to fire inches over.

Liverpool were now producing their best spell of the game. Strong in the tackle, supporting and attacking with pace. Alvaro Arbeloa saw one clever chip clear the bar after more impressive play by Mascherano and Gerrard.

To their credit, Villa withstood this pressure and with 24 minutes left sent on striker Harewood for Gardner. His first involvement was a run and cross to set up Carew for an effort saved by Reina.

Arbeloa was booked for a foul on Stiliyan Petrov after 68 minutes, and from the free-kick, Villa were level. Martin Laursen headed the ball back across goal for Harewood to flick into the net.

Liverpool sent on Skrtel for Arbeloa, before Mascherano was booked for a foul on Young.

Villa launched another attack and were ahead when Mellberg's effort from the right was deflected into goal by Fabio Aurelio.

But Crouch averted a disastrous result for Benitez when he hooked in right footed from 10 yards after Laursen had failed to clear.