Thursday, February 07, 2008

Finnan: Chelsea The Same Under Grant

Liverpool's Steve Finnan is relishing a rest this week after retiring from the Republic of Ireland set-up. Turning his thoughts to the upcoming visit to Chelsea, he insists that the difference between the Blues since Jose Mourinho left is negligible.

Liverpool’s veteran right-back Steve Finnan is able to enjoy a rest this week. While his Republic of Ireland countrymen prepare for Dunga’s Brasil, Finnan is enjoying his first taste of international retirement.

However, the 31-year-old just can’t keep his mind off football. He insists the hard-fought 3-0 win over Sunderland at the weekend has raised spirits around Anfield.

“A good win like that can only give us confidence for the next game,” Finnan told Liverpool’s official website. “It's just about trying to get in and stay in that top four.”

“It gives everyone a lift and the fans a lift, especially at Anfield.”

A stiffer test looms this weekend at Stamford Bridge against resurgent Chelsea. Finnan, though, is optimistic about his team’s chances, whilst pondering the difference between the Chelseas of Jose Mourinho and Avram Grant.

“We've done alright there a few times and not got the results that we should have,” he admitted.

“But now is a good time to change that. Playing a team like Chelsea can bring the best out of us.

“There was a lot of rivalry when Mourinho was there, with both managers and both sets of players, because we'd met each other so many times in the league and Europe. We knocked them out of Europe twice, so there's a competitive edge to that game.

“[Mourinho] was good for English football and a lot of people might miss him. Obviously there's a lot of people outside Chelsea who didn't like him but he was good for football.”

If there’s any new threats under the Grant regime, Finnan is oblivious.

“They've done well under [Grant], though it's pretty much the same players,” said Finnan.

“Maybe our staff here have seen something different. Maybe they'll play a different formation, but we know what to expect: they've got good players and it will be a difficult game.”

As faltering Liverpool’s title challenge becomes the stuff of fiction, Finnan knows that fourth place is the minimum requirement. As he attempts to shake off a knock that is keeping him from training, he refused to name a main rival for that crucial Champions League spot.

“I wouldn't say one team in particular. Those around us – Everton, Man City and Villa – all pose a threat. They've all done well and are capable of putting runs together. It's just down to ourselves.

“Hopefully I'll be training in a couple of days – it’s just something I aggravated the other day.”

Gerrard - Long Way To Go

Steven Gerrard admitted that England still have a long way to go after the Fabio Capello era started with a victory.

The Liverpool midfielder skippered the national side as they defeated Switzerland 2-1 at Wembley, with Jermaine Jenas and Shaun Wright-Phillips on target.

England were nervous for much of the opening period and Gerrard knows it will take time before the players can put Capello's ideas into practice.

He told Sky Sports News: "There's still a long way to go and there still's a lot of improvement before we get to where we want to be.

"I think we kept the ball a lot better in the second half and we were a lot more patient.

"Once the players get used to the new manager and the way he wants us to play, I'm sure we'll improve. It's all about adapting to his ideas.

"We've only worked together for a couple of days. We've worked really hard in training to take in as much information as possible, but this team has still got a lot of improving to do.

"We'll get there if we work hard and listen to what he wants us to do."

Gerrard was proud to lead his country out, and would be more than happy to keep the armband when Capello names a permanent skipper for the World Cup qualification campaign in September.

He added: "For a manager of Fabio Capello's stature to give me the captaincy was a big boost.

"I've said many times before I don't want to blow my own trumpet or put my name forward. John Terry is still our captain and until that changes I'm happy to be the stand-in captain.

"I'm sure if you asked any player in that dressing room if they wanted to lead their country out on nights like this, they'd say 'yes, of course'."

Torres Forced Off With Injury

Liverpool striker Fernando Torres lasted just 23 minutes of Spain's international friendly against France on Wednesday before being replaced after suffering what appeared to be a right hamstring injury.

It was not immediately obvious when Torres sustained the problem, but Spain coach Luis Aragones was quick to replace the frontman with Daniel Guiza when it became obvious he was struggling.

Liverpool, who are away to Chelsea in the Barclays Premier League this weekend, will be keeping their fingers crossed that the injury to Torres - their top scorer with 18 goals in all competitions - is not serious.

Liverpool May Be Responsible For £350m Debt

Despite an appeal from chief executive Rick Parry for everyone associated with Liverpool to stop washing dirty linen in public, there is still great unease within the club over exactly where the liability for the new £350 million refinancing resides.

Exactly one year on from their £220 million takeover of the club, a spokesman for American owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett Jr. insisted yesterday that there was no intention to load all the debts on to Liverpool's balance sheet.

While they have admitted the £30 million-a-year interest payments will be serviced by the club, they maintain Liverpool will be liable only for £105 million of the new loans with Royal Bank of Scotland and Wachovia.

The Americans insist a further £245 million of new borrowings taken out by parent company, Kop Football, are secured by their personal guarantees and cash.

But there is uncertainty within Anfield about the implications of an inter-company loan set up to ensure the interest payments can be paid by club income. Some sources believe it makes Liverpool legally responsible for the full £350 million.

If that is the case, then the move would seem to run contrary to a commitment given by Hicks and Gillett in their official offer document to shareholders last year.

At that time they said: "The payment of interest on, repayment of or security for any liability (contingent or otherwise) due under the facilities [loans] will not depend to any significant extent on the business of Liverpool."

If they were to go back on that commitment, the move could attract the interest of City regulator, the Takeover Panel, and embarrass Rothschilds, the bankers used by the Americans to do the deal.

With Liverpool's future still unclear and Dubai International Capital still trying to launch a takeover bid, Parry yesterday called for the club to pull together.

"This is not the Liverpool we all know and love," he said. "It has never been our style to wash our dirty linen in public. The sooner we can put all of this behind us and get back to the Liverpool way the better."

Almost £60m Pledged By Liverpool FC Fans To Buy-out Club

Nearly £60m has been pledged towards a fans’ buy-out of Liverpool FC during the first four days of canvassing for supporter opinion.

A total of 11,892 fans have indicated they will buy shares in the club on Share Liverpool FC’s website – the group which has outlined proposals for 100,000 fans to buy the club by purchasing a single £5,000 share each.

This amounts to £59.46m towards the £500m total needed for the proposed buy-out.

The first statistics show just under 50,000 people visited the site from 149 countries, between February 1 and 4.

Organisers say the website crashed within minutes of opening last Thursday, due to the sheer weight of numbers trying to reach the site, and re-opened the next afternoon.

Analysis by Google reveals that during the weekend the site received 11,892 “count me in” responses, 5,394 responses praising the idea but saying they want more information, and 7,930 responders saying they could not afford the step.

The four biggest countries of origin were the UK, with 25,177 hits, Norway, with 6,138, the USA with 3,071 and Ireland with 2,053.

Only 128 fans ticked the “you’ve got no chance” option on the site.

Many Anfield fans are furious a £350m loans package secured by US owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett will saddle the club with interest payments of up to £30m a year – fuelling the desire for a supporter controlled club.

Rogan Taylor, Share Liverpool FC’s spokesperson, said: “These are pretty impressive numbers for just a few days with live on line and we’re very encouraged.

“We undoubtedly lost a big spike when the site crashed on Thursday, but I think these numbers reveal that most fans were patient and came back when it returned.

“The stats also reveal we have a lot of work to do to present more detailed information, and also to address the affordability issue many fans flagged up.

“We will be underlining that group membership will be possible – even a group of pub regulars could get together – and we hope soon to be able to announce a loan scheme which would enable fans to spread the cost over a number of years.”

“What they will be buying is something that lasts forever – a share in Liverpool Football Club which cannot be disturbed.

“The member shareholder will be able to pass it on, down through his or her family generations; to sons and daughters, and grandchildren. You will sit in that new stadium and think: ‘This belongs to us . . . and so does the club that plays here!’”