Thursday, February 14, 2008

LiverpooL Are Tracking Bilbao Ace

Liverpool, Manchester United and Newcastle are reported to be battling it out for Athletic Bilbao defender Fernando Amorebieta.

Reports in Spain claim the Premier League trios are keeping tabs on the highly-rated centre-back.

All three clubs are believed to have watched the 22-year-old this season as they consider making a move for his signature in the summer.

Amorebieta, who has a contract with Bilbao until 2011, says he is flattered by the interest but insists he is no rush to leave San Mames.

"I'm very happy here and also that people are noticing me," said Amorebieta.

"It's nice to know people are interested in you."

Fans Are Now The Last Consideration

It must have been a busy time for the RSPCA last week. All those camels with broken backs, courtesy of the barrel-load of straws dropped on them by Richard Scudamore, the Premier League chief executive.

Ever since the creation of the Premier League, we’ve been waiting for the ‘big one’, the final assault on our game which will push the fans over the edge, and put all that’s gone before it into context as merely the preamble to the megalomaniac global expansion plans of our leading clubs.

The end of Saturday afternoon as the focal point of our week; soaring ticket prices; ever-changing football shirts with prices kept artificially high; average football players earning more in a week than most people do in a year.

All these things have served to drive a wedge between the average fan and their football club, weakening the bonds which define football as our national game, and alienating a whole generation of supporters – the average age of a Premier League fan last year was 43.

Not content with this, Scudamore now unveils the ultimate estrangement: taking a game away from us altogether, to be played on the other side of the world, accessible to us only through the omnipresent television cameras. This breathtaking audacity is justified not by the language of sport, but by the language of business: global markets, competitive positions and exporting English football.

Scudamore has attempted to explain this naked pursuit of financial gain through altruistic ambition: the additional money is needed to invest in the development of young English footballers, and to help the game at grass-roots level.

This of course has been the experience to date every time the TV deals have increased in size; there’s a positive bow wave of young English talent coming through now, displacing average African, Eastern European and, yes, Spanish players isn’t there?

Yet the most incredulous illustration of Scudamore’s gall is to be found in the sophistry he employs to defend the fatal damage to the fairness of the competition by the introduction of an additional game determined by lottery.

According to Scudamore, “every team will have an equal chance of being treated unfairly” under this system. Older readers will remember Stanley Unwin making a living out of such gobbledegook. What’s more, apparently “nobody ever said the league was supposed to be entirely fair”.

This truly appalling view of competition, tantamount to rigging the fixture list, surely calls into question Scudamore’s suitability to be chief executive of even the most brutal Sunday League, never mind our most feted.

Of course, where there’s hubris about, Professor Wenger is never far away. He’s declared his ‘in principle’ support for the idea, on the basis that “90% of (fans) who love the club never have access to the games”.

Yes Arsene, these are probably the people of Islington who can’t afford the ticket prices at the Emirates. And the real fans who deserve your consideration are not the hordes in Hong Kong or wherever who buy a shirt and would attend a novelty match in their own back yard; but those who traipse round the country every weekend in all weathers, at inconvenient times determined by the TV companies, spending sizeable proportions of their income supporting the team they grew up with.

In short, the 800 or so Havant & Waterlooville fans who turn up for the average home game, not the other 5,200 who made the trip to Anfield.

The depressing reality is that this abomination will happen, and will expand until the rest of the world realises there’s a reason why even people from Middlesbrough don’t turn out to watch Middlesbrough play. Sydney? There’ll be no-one watching in Kirkby.

Liverpool Linked With Nigerian Star, More DIC Takeover Claims, & Bizarre Torres Exit Stories

Liverpool are being linked with a summer swoop for Nigerian striker Osaze Odemwingie.

The forward has impressed many in the recent African Cup of Nations in Ghana,

According to reports on, the Locomotiv Moscow striker could be making an £8 million pound move from Russia to Liverpool in the summer.

The site even goes so far as to claim scout Marc Guinness has been tasked with monitoring the player.

Andriy Voronin is the player tipped to leave if Odemwingie comes in.

Meanwhile, John Arne Riise is being linked with a £6million move to Aston Villa.

Riise, who is having an indifferent season, is one of a number of players being tipped to leave in the summer.

The rumour mill has been alive with claims Xabi Alonso will return to Spain while it is also suggested Premier League and Spanish big guns may bid up to £40million for Fernando Torres if Liverpool don’t qualify for the Champions League.

Other, perhaps slightly less random rumours, include Sami Hyppia to Celtic, Harry Kewell to a MLS side and Peter Crouch to Portsmouth.

In addition, Tom Hicks insists he isn’t selling, but that hasn’t stopped the rumours linking Dubai’s DIC with a fresh takeover.

Reports now say DIC are believed to be targetting George Gillett's 50% stake in the club and once they secure a deal will then turn their attentions to the remaining shares held by fellow American Hicks.

The reports also suggest the deal would spell the end for Rafa Benitez. The story began life yesterday in The Sun, whose sister paper, The News of the World, was described as “one of the two newspapers everyone on Merseyside knows you can’t trust” after it attempted to strike up a fresh feud between Benitez and the owners.

Sources are quoted as saying: "The Dubai investors are not convinced Benitez is the right man for Liverpool.

"They have been far from impressed by his very public rows with the current owners and even less impressed with the way Liverpool are struggling for consistency in the Premier League. Like all foreign owners, they crave Champions League football, for financial and emotional reasons.

“If Liverpool failed to qualify for next season's tournament, they would regard it as catastrophic."

Mascherano Desperate For Silverware

Liverpool midfielder Javier Mascherano is determined to taste success this season after double disappointment last year.

The Argentina international suffered an unwanted double last season, losing in both the Champions League final and Copa America final within the space of a couple of months.

Mascherano is keen to make up for those disappointments, and is hoping to help Liverpool to success in the FA Cup and Champions League this term.

"When you lose any final, it's painful," Mascherano said.

"But suffering defeat in such a massive game as the Champions League or Copa America last year was really hard to take.

"Even when I was back in South America I always watched the European Cup games and loved it.

"It's the most important title you can win in club football and we were so close to doing it.

"This time, winning one would be really nice.

"Hopefully, it will happen this season in the Champions League or FA Cup because I don't want another silver medal - I prefer gold!

"I just love playing in these big cup games with Liverpool. I went from not playing at West Ham to being involved in some huge occasions.

"It doesn't get any better than this. Hopefully, there are a few more great days and nights around the corner."

Mascherano is currently on loan at Anfield, but a permanent deal is in the pipeline at Anfield.

The all-action midfielder is hoping the move can be finalised as soon as possible so that he can concentrate on his game.

"The sooner things get sorted out with Liverpool the better," added Mascherano.

"I want to be settled and kill myself on the pitch so the team wins lots of games."

DIC Agree Liverpool Deal - Reports

DIC are reportedly on the verge of completing their takeover of Liverpool.

According to The Daily Mirror, the Dubai International Capital group - the investment arm of the Dubai government - have reached an 'outline agreement' with current owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett to buy the club for around £460million.

The Mirror claims that 'sources in New York' have confirmed that a deal is in place, and could be completed by the middle of March.

DIC failed in their initial bid to buy Liverpool when Hicks and Gillett took over in 2007, but are now prepared to effectively double the Americans' money for the club.

Hicks and Gillett recently completed a £350million refinancing deal on the money they borrowed to buy the club, which left Liverpool saddled with around £105million of debt.

While Rafa Benitez has, to put it mildly, had his disagreements with Hicks and Gillett, the takeover might not be the best news for him after all.

Reports earlier this week suggested that DIC were not convinced that Benitez was the right man to take Liverpool forward, having been less than impressed with his public rows with the current owners.

Rafa Handed Quadruple Fitness Boost

Rafa Benitez has been handed a quadruple fitness boost ahead of the forthcoming Cup double-header – but has yet to decide whether to risk his returning stars in the first clash against Barnsley on Saturday.

Fernando Torres was involved in part of yesterday's training session alongside fellow absentees Sami Hyypia, Alvaro Arbeloa and Fabio Aurelio.

All four could be available for the FA Cup fifth round, but with Inter Milan arriving at Anfield just three days later, Benitez has some tricky decisions ahead.

"I need to consider both games but I know it's important to progress in the FA Cup, so I will try to use a strong team," the boss told

"Sami Hyypia is improving. He did the warm up and could be available, but we will have to analyse the situation. Torres also did the warm up, as well as Fabio Aurelio and Alvaro Arbeloa, and they are really close.

"Now it is about whether we will take the risk or not.

"For Inter, Torres will be okay. We will have to check before Barnsley."

Liverpool Manager Mulling Legal Action

Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez could be about to take legal action against a British newspaper for reporting that he blamed the club's owners for its failure to challenge for the Premier League title.

Sunday paper The News Of The World reported last week that Benitez blamed the efforts of Tom Hicks and George Gillett Jr. to speak to Juergen Klinsmann about becoming the club's new coach for Liverpool's poor performances.

But Benitez denies the accusation and the paper's apparent assertion that he had spoken with its reporter before it ran the story on Feb. 10 under the headline "It's Your Fault: Rafa In New Blast At Owners."

The Spanish coach has appointed lawyer Richard Green, who on Wednesday sent a letter to the paper and its reporter to inform them of the intended proceedings.

Benitez said that the paper misrepresented an interview he did the previous day with Spanish daily El Mundo.

Benitez said the question from El Mundo, translated into English, was: "The owners were lacking faith in your work a couple of months ago when the team was six points behind the leaders with a game in hand. Has this issue influenced the progress of the team?"

His reply was allegedly: "As a coach, you could say yes. It would be the perfect excuse, but I don't want to use it."

Benitez had already spoken about his anger toward the paper and the story before Sunday's 0-0 league draw at Chelsea, which left his club 19 points behind leader Arsenal.

"Everybody in Liverpool knows that there are two newspapers that you cannot trust," Benitez said. "This is one of them.

"He (the reporter) talks of it being an exclusive, but the journalist is lying. I was talking with the Spanish press. He was manipulating everything."

Liverpool's Guthrie Wants Bolton Stay

Liverpool-owned midfielder Danny Guthrie has indicated that he would welcome the chance to extend his on-loan stay at Bolton beyond the end of the season.

20-year-old Guthrie was snapped up by Liverpool after being released by Manchester United and impressed with his performances for the club's Academy side.

His opportunities for the Liverpool first team, however, have been few and far between.

After a moderate start to his spell at The Reebok, the youngster has settled well and admits that the chance of playing in high profile games like Thursday's Uefa Cup tie with Athletico Madrid has persuaded him that a permanent move to Gary Megson's club may be in his best interests.

"A lot can happen between now and the end of the season, but I could see myself staying here," he told the Manchester Evening News.

"However, it's up to people above me to decide what happens.

"I'm sure Liverpool have been monitoring my progress but I haven't spoken to anyone.

"In terms of me staying, it is what the two clubs want to do and then it comes down to me.

"I came to Bolton to play regularly but it's a bonus to play against the likes of Athletico Madrid," stated Guthrie.

He added that he had settled well in his new surroundings and was enjoying getting first team football.

"I'm loving it now. When I first came I wasn't getting too much of a look-in. But I'm involved on a regular basis now."

Bolton play Athletico Madrid in the Uefa Cup on Thursday at the Reebok Stadium.