Sunday, January 27, 2008

Torres Reveals Rafa's English Rule

Liverpool's Fernando Torres has revealed that manager Rafael Benitez does not let players communicate in any language other than English, despite a large Spanish contingent at the club.

Torres and Benitez - Spaniards themselves - communicate in English at all times, as does everyone else in the Liverpool dressing room.

It is most likely a tactic employed not only to help foreigners learn the language, but to also create an environment where nobody feels alienated.

"There are 12 Spanish speakers but we try not to talk in Spanish because if he catches us, Rafa fines us," revealed Torres.

"He always speaks in English to the Spanish, except when there's something you don't understand. At the start it was difficult. But with every day, I'm getting to know the language and the city better."

Torres signed for Liverpool from Atletico Madrid on July 4, 2007 in a deal breaking the £20 million barrier.

Tom Hicks Admits To Holding Talks With DIC Over Liverpool FC

Liverpool co-owner Tom Hicks has revealed he held talks with Dubai International Capital - but only about the company becoming a “minor investor” in the club.

DIC rejected the opportunity and Hicks insists that is the end of the matter.

Hicks, and fellow co-owner George Gillett, are now focusing on taking Liverpool forward after completing their £350 million refinancing package.

Of that, £105million will be debt tied to the club - £60million to kick-start the building of a new stadium and £45million for future transfers.

While Hicks said that there was never any intention to sell the club to DIC, he told Radio Five Live’s Sportsweek programme: “I did talk to them about a 10-15% participation but that was months ago.

“We gave them a valuation as a minority investor but they thought the price was too high. We have had no conversations since then.

“We would have used that capital towards the new stadium but we will find other ways.

“We have the capital. I have put in a lot of money and we will put in more in if need be. I am very excited about the future of the club.

“This will be the finest football stadium in the world. People should be very proud of it and I want to win the support of Liverpool fans with my actions.”

DIC 'Still Intent' On Liverpool Takeover

Dubai International Capital remain intent on a takeover of Liverpool, regardless of their disappointment with the nature of the £350million refinancing deal with which the club's American owners have secured their immediate tenure there.

Tom Hicks and George Gillett Jr. announced the new 18-month 'market-rate' loan on Friday, the former describing it as 'a strong vote of confidence in the club's financial strength'. DIC, however, regard it as an expensive holding measure that will cost the club around £28m a year in interest, yet fail to solve Liverpool's requirement for significant new capital.

Underwritten by the Royal Bank of Scotland and US bank Wachovia, the loan provides limited additional resources for a club in need of significant investment in the playing staff and a new stadium expected to cost a further £300m. As Liverpool's total debt stood at £297m before the refinancing package was agreed, it delivers a maximum of £53m of new money. Around £20m is thought to have been used up by the arrangement fee on the new loan.

While concerned club officials insisted that £245m of the debt was placed against Hicks and Gillett's holding company Kop Football Limited, it is understood that interest payments will be made entirely from club income. As such these will swallow up almost all of Liverpool's projected profits for the 2007-08 financial year.

Though the banks required Hicks and Gillett to increase their personal guarantees on the debt to £225m, it is understood that the Americans have not spent any of their own money on the club with the £20m equity each had to inject into the new deal coming in the form of personal loans, repayable by the club to them in the event of a further takeover.

The new 71,000-capacity stadium at Stanley Park will not be realised without another large tranche of debt. Though the stadium design announced on Friday has been downgraded from architects HKS' original proposal, it is still expected to cost a total of £350m. A spokesman for Hicks said that £50m of that sum has already been spent on consultancy and design. Further planning permission is required on the new structure.

DIC consider the refinancing a waste of club money that could have been spent on the team or the stadium and attempted to prevent it by offering to buy the club for £500m last week. Sources at the Arab investment group insist that Hicks and Gillett indicated their intention to sell during takeover talks, but only after the new loan had gone through.

Led by Liverpool supporter Sameer Al Ansari, DIC thought it had agreed a deal to buy Liverpool in late 2006, only for majority shareholder David Moores to sell to Hicks and Gillett. The Americans paid £174.1m for the shares, taking on outstanding debts of £44.8m and undertaking not to borrow any money against the club. On Friday, Kop Football Limited restated that debt at £60m.

Hicks also moved to reassure Rafa Benítez of his 'continuing and enthusiastic support' as manager, after earlier admitting that he had talked with Jurgen Klinsmann about replacing the Spaniard. Benitez has said little about the refinancing, though he suggested his desired £17m full transfer of Javier Mascherano would have to be partially funded by Mohamed Sissoko's proposed sale to Juventus.

Asked last night if Hicks now intended to sell Liverpool, his spokesman said: 'Tom Hicks is not a seller of Liverpool Football Club and he is certainly in it for the long term.' He declined to comment on how interest payments on the £350m would be funded, how much new money would be available to Liverpool, or whether the owners had invested any of their own cash in the club. Gillett, unhappy with some of his partner's recent actions, has yet to comment publicly on the revised plans.

Liverpool 5 - 2 Havant & Waterlooville

Yossi Benayoun scored a 15-minute hat-trick to break the hearts of a remarkable Havant and Waterlooville side who produced a sensational display at Anfield.

Twice the Hampshire non-leaguers were ahead against a shell-shocked Liverpool in this FA Cup fourth round tie.

Richard Pacquette and a Martin Skrtel own goal had Havant fans in dreamland. Lucas and Benayoun clawed Liverpool level before the break, with two more from Benayoun and a last-minute Peter Crouch effort seeing Liverpool home.

Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez took some of the glamour out of the tie by leaving Steven Gerrard, Fernando Torres and Jamie Carragher on the bench.

But the visitors still had to contend with Peter Crouch, Javier Mascherano and Jermaine Pennant, while while new boy Martin Skrtel made his full debut in central defence.

Havant boss Shaun Gale left assistant manager Charlie Oatway on the bench, while Tom Jordan - son of Portsmouth coach and former Manchester United striker Joe - started in front of a crowd which included around 6,000 fans from Hampshire.

Liverpool's fans applauded every single Havant player's name when they were announced, and the non-league club's fans sung happily along with 'You'll Never Walk Alone'.

Havant were undaunted early on - captain James Collins clattered Mascherano, Rocky Baptiste knocked over Sami Hyypia and Alfie Potter - Harry to his mates - saw a shot deflected wide.

Yossi Benayoun headed Pennant's cross wide, but Havant were intent on making their mark - and in the eighth minute they scored.

Richard Pacquette harassed Skrtel into conceding a corner, and when Mo Harkin planted it into the six-yard box, former QPR player Pacquette headed it powerfully past goalkeeper Charles Itandje.

Liverpool were stunned and while the Kop applauded loudly, the fans of the non-league club erupted.

For a while it was amusing for the home fans to see Liverpool embarrassed, but as the half wore on the Scousers started to lose patience.

John Arne Riise had two efforts blocked, Benayoun shot wide, but the anxiety grew as did Havant's confidence. Their set pieces constantly troubled Liverpool, goalkeeper Itandje was a bag of nerves and the tackles continued to thud in.

And Havant should have scored again after 23 minutes. Itandje twice fumbled as Harkin's free-kick flew wildly around the box and when the French goalkeeper fell over, Shaun Wilkinson hooked over an open goal from 10 yards.

Havant held their lead for 16 minutes of growing panic in Liverpool ranks. After 24 minutes, Ryan Babel laid the ball back to Lucas, and the Brazilian curled a fine goal into the top corner from 25 yards.

But incredibly, Havant were ahead again after half-an-hour. Steve Finnan stumbled over the ball on the right of the box and Potter, on loan from Peterborough, tore onto the ball and fired in a shot that Skrtel deflected wide of his own 'keeper.

Liverpool were a frightened shambles in defence, losing possession in midfield and seemingly incapable of passing the ball effectively.

Havant were magnificent. Organised at the back, they fought for every inch and outperformed their illustrious opponents. Carragher and Torres were soon warming up on the line.

Havant lost Phil Warner with a leg injury after 40 minutes they send on Tony Taggart, exchanging a binman for a plumber at the back.

A minute before the break Liverpool managed to claw themselves level. Pennant's pass set-up Benayoun, who created a yard of space to fire in a right-footer that gave Kevin Scriven no chance.

Havant started the second period deep in defence and they were giving Liverpool too much space.

And on 55 minutes they were punished. Mascherano surged through midfield before freeing Pennant on the right.

When his cross arrived in the box, Benayoun had time to turn and fire into the roof of the net.

Rocky Baptiste, the taxi-driving Liverpool fan, was withdrawn by Havant two minutes later, former Spurs youngster Jamie Slabber taking over.

Two minutes later Benayoun struck again to complete a hat-trick. Babel's shot came back off keeper Scriven and the Israeli was there to fire in the rebound.

After 72 minutes Dirk Kuyt replaced Benayoun and two minutes later Wilkinson went off, with Charlie Oatway taking over.

But the dream was over now for Havant.

Carragher eventually came on in place of Hyypia after 84 minutes, Gerrard following in place of Mascherano two minutes later.

There was still time for Neil Sharp to force a fine save from Itandje, but with a minute left Gerrard set-up Peter Crouch for a tap-in.

LiverpooL FC: Club Face Fresh Battle For Planning Permission

The revised stadium plan announced yesterday by Liverpool FC will require new planning applications, it was confirmed last night.

The club already has permission for HKS’s original 60,000-seater ground on Stanley Park, which was granted in November 2007.

That original stadium design envisaged 60,000 seats, with the option to later expand to 76,000 at a later date.

In January the Government decided not to “call in” those designs for further scrutiny.

However, because of changes to the stadium design – moving the underground car park, shrinking the concourses, and capacity rising to 71,000 – new permissions are needed.

It is understood the club will at first submit a variation to the existing permission, which could allow the work to start on the project within three months.

It would then submit a new application to get consent for the 71,000 seats, requiring an environmental impact study and transport plan.

Voronin Injury Means Liverpool FC Won't Sell Peter Crouch

Peter Crouch’s future at Liverpool seems secure – for now at least – due to Andriy Voronin’s injury.

The England international had been widely tipped to be heading for the Anfield exit door in the near future after slipping down Rafael Benitez’s pecking order.

Crouch has netted 35 times for Liverpool since his £7million move from Southampton two-and-a-half years ago but has started just four Premier League games all season despite Voronin not scoring in his last 11 matches and Dirk Kuyt failing to register in nine games.

However, with Voronin expected to be out for six weeks following confirmation that he needs an ankle operation to repair ligament damage, Benitez will not be prepared to let Crouch go despite the likes of Manchester City and Newcastle United believed to be monitoring his availability.

Ukrainian Voronin, a Bosman free transfer acquisition from Bayer Leverkusen last summer, will certainly miss the first leg of Liverpool’s Champions League clash with Internazionale next month.

Spanish full-back Alvaro Arbeloa is also expected to be out for the next three weeks with an abdominal injury while centre-back Daniel Agger is at least another two weeks away from a possible first team return.

Meanwhile, the Merseyside derby between Liverpool and Everton at Anfield has been put back from 3pm on Saturday, March 29 to 4pm on Sunday, March 30 to accommodate Sky TV coverage.

However, the game will revert back to Saturday (kick-off to be confirmed) in the event that Liverpool are involved in the Champions League on Tuesday, April 1.

Rafa Benitez Looking To Go All he Way In The FA Cup

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez wants to try to win the FA Cup after admitting that a Premier League title challenge may now be beyond his team.

Blue Square South team Havant & Waterlooville travel up to Anfield for today’s fourth round tie which will be the ultimate David versus Goliath clash.

However, Benitez, who yesterday received the full backing of the club’s US owners, insists that his side will not underestimate their opponents, particularly now that the FA Cup looks like Liverpool’s best chance for silverware this season.

The Spaniard, who will hand new signing Martin Skrtel his first start today, was accused of not taking football’s oldest competition seriously in his first season in England when a weakened Liverpool team crashed out in the third round but he went on to lift the trophy the following year.

With Liverpool now seemingly out of the title race, Benitez has earmarked the FA Cup as a major target.

He said: “For us it’s really important. We want to progress, we want to win this competition if possible.

“We must treat the other team with a lot of respect.

“I think it is very difficult (for Liverpool to win the Premier League this season), you must be realistic.

“I can say things for people who don’t want to lose their hope but I think it is important to know what there are two good teams (Manchester United and Arsenal) at the top of the table now with a lot of points and one behind them (Chelsea) and another one (Everton).

“So we must be realistic and try and win every game and see what the situation is every week, concentrating on all the games but one game at a time.”

Benitez added: “We have three competitions and I don’t want to say that we’re in a bad situation.

“We are in the Champions League, we are in the FA Cup and we are fifth in the table now.

“In the cup competitions you have to progress, in the league it’s simple – try to win the next game, try to be in the top four and after this try to be closer to the third position, then the second position.

“I’ve said before that if you want to score a lot of goals you need to score the first goal.

“If you want to talk about more things you need to be in the top four.

“I think the pressure (to finish in the top four) is more or less the same, every year with a top side you want to win trophies and finish as high possible in the league and progress in all the competitions.”

Liverpool’s title chances were written off earlier this week by Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson but Benitez, received some unexpected backing from his opposite number at Old Trafford.

But while the Spaniard was grateful for the support of the Scot who has won the Premier League nine times, he does not go along with his comments that Liverpool will struggle to attract top class players.

He said: “I must say thank you to Sir Alex Ferguson for his support, it’s not normal (you hear these things) so I’m really pleased.

“My personal relationship with him is good.

“In terms of the club I always want to win so to bring top class players here is our target so I think we can do it.”

Argentinian international Javier Mascherano would probably fit into that bracket and Benitez remains confident that he will sign a permanent deal with Liverpool after his loan spell at Anfield expires at the end of the season.

Speculation had mounted that the midfielder could leave the club at the end of the season if the US owners did not fund his transfer but Benitez believes that a deal will be struck with the impending sale of Momo Sissoko helping with the finances.

He said: “The contact I have with the owners has been positive and that means we are progressing with the situations of Sissoko and Mascherano have been positive.

“That’s a normal thing in this period of January.

“The player (Mascherano) wants to stay. When you talk with him it’s the same situation as me. You can feel the support of the fans.

“I think he is really happy here as he feels that support.”

Meanwhile, Benitez confirmed that Charles Itandje will play in goal and Jamie Carragher, Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres are all in the squad although the influential trio are expected to start on the bench.

Liverpool Weigh Up Swoop For Pablo Aimar

Rafa Benitez is weighing up a swoop for Argentinian playmaker Pablo Aimar.

The Liverpool boss is looking into the possibility of signing Aimar from Real Zaragoza after being alerted to his availability.

Benitez has managed Aimar previously when the pair worked together at Valencia – a time which Aimar openly admits was his most productive as a player.

Since then he has gone on to star for Zaragoza in La Liga after a £8.5m move from Valencia in July 2006.

Though a hugely popular figure among the Zaragoza fans, Aimar is believed to be ready to test himself in the Premiership and new Newcastle boss Kevin Keegan has already registered an interest in taking him to the north east.

But Benitez is monitoring the situation and could be prepared to make a move for Aimar – whom Diego Maradona once described as his "legitimate successor as the world's best player" – if the price is right.

With the transfer window set to close next Thursday, Liverpool would have to move fast if they are to secure a deal for the attacking midfielder. But with the club set to receive a fee in the region of £9m for Momo Sissoko, and Benitez having received the backing of co-owner Tom Hicks, there is nothing to stand in the way of them making an offer.

The 28-year-old has been linked with Liverpool before, shortly after Benitez quit Valencia to take over at Anfield, but no move transpired.

At the time Aimar said: "Rafa Benitez is an excellent coach who knows me very well and Liverpool would be an ideal place to go if I cannot sort out my future here.

"From what I can see, English football is the best in Europe next to Spain and I do not think I would have a problem adapting to the Premiership."