Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Reds Owners Living In 'Dreamland'

Liverpool's American owners have been accused of living in "dreamland" by the government-run Dubai investment fund interested in buying the Anfield club.

Dubai Investment Capital confirmed on Tuesday it had been in talks with US duo Tom Hicks and George Gillett about purchasing a stake in the Reds.

DIC chief executive Sameer al-Ansari said: "It's no secret that we have been in discussions with the current owners.

"It's not easy because (they) are in dreamland about valuations."

Ansari later clarified that one of the club's owners "had come out of dreamland", without giving further details.

Hicks said last month he was not planning to sell a stake in Liverpool, denying media speculation he was in talks with DIC over a sale.

He also revealed that Gillett could not sell his stake in the Premier League club without his approval.

However, both Hicks and Gillett have become increasingly unpopular among Reds fans, drawing criticism for their treatment of manager Rafael Benitez and their financial management of the club.

That has given fresh hope to DIC, who were considering buying Liverpool before the Americans joined forces to complete their own takeover in February 2007.

Hicks said in January he had talked to DIC "once" about a 10-15% stake, but DIC said the valuation was too high.

DIC, which manages about £6.5bn of assets, is owned by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai.

Rafa Wowed By The Power Of Babel

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez could afford a wry smile after Ryan Babel made the most of the wide open spaces at the Reebok Stadium.

The Dutch winger scored his eighth goal of the season in Sunday's 3-1 Barclays Premier League victory against Bolton.

Babel was on target with a clinical finish after a bizarre own-goal from Jussi Jaaskelainen in the 11th minute.

Steven Gerrard's effort was going wide but the Bolton goalkeeper inexplicably helped it into his own net with his face.

There was no way back for Wanderers after that and Fabio Aurelio added a spectacular third before Tamir Cohen scored a consolation for the struggling home side.

Babel could now have a more prominent role to play in the coming weeks of the season.

Benitez said: "It was a good game for him against Bolton as they were looking out for Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres.

"It meant that Ryan had more freedom and he is the kind of player who can run behind defenders."

Liverpool now entertain West Ham on Wednesday in good heart after this comfortable victory.

Benitez said: "Every win is important when you are fighting for fourth place. You need to put the other teams around you under pressure and we have done that.

"As we have a game in hand, it depends on what we do. You do not need to see the table every day.

"If we can win against West Ham then we go go into the game after that with confidence."

Benitez reiterated he is content at Anfield and claimed his focus was on winning matches and not his future plans.

"I am really happy here at Liverpool," he said. "At this moment, though, I am only thinking about our games."

Benitez had some sympathy for Jaaskelainen, but added: "It was disappointing for him but good for us.

"Sometimes these things happen and we went on to play well after a difficult opening few minutes.

"We knew if we did not pass the ball then we could get drawn into a physical game.

"We needed to play at a high tempo and keep our concentration and we did that."

Bolton may be in the last 16 of the UEFA Cup but they remain in danger of relegation.

Due to face Sporting Lisbon on Thursday, they could be without captain Kevin Nolan as he suffered a back injury yesterday and came off at half-time.

Manager Gary Megson excused Jaaskelainen for his gaffe by saying: "Jussi is a fantastic goalkeeper. He made two great saves after that but he has held his hands up.

"The first goal can be vital and it took the wind out of our sails. We got picked off rather too easily after that."

Ryan Babel Eyes Europe Ahead Of West Ham

As Liverpool prepare to face West Ham at Anfield tomorrow, Ryan Babel pledged to make a greater contribution to their tussle with Everton and Aston Villa for the fourth Champions League place after finally coming through 90 minutes in the Premier League in Sunday's 3-1 victory at Bolton.

The 21-year-old former Ajax attacker, who also scored at the Reebok Stadium, had previously completed an entire match only in cup football. "Playing the full minutes in the league was a big hurdle for me to overcome," said Babel, who made Rafael Benitez's starting XI for the fifth game running, his best sequence since signing for £11.5 million last summer.

"But I'm realistic - I knew at the start of the season that I couldn't play a whole game. The manager also knew that, which is why I've been brought into the side slowly. Now I hope to stay in the line-up and build on the Bolton match."

Babel, whose previous league goal was also against Bolton three months earlier, has now scored eight times for Liverpool. While stressing that he was "coping better", he admitted that coming through that important physical and psychological 90-minute barrier had tested him to the limits. "Even now, after 75 minutes against Bolton, I was feeling a bit tired, as though I couldn't defend properly. Maybe I was lucky because they couldn't push forward much, but bigger teams would still be attacking.

"I don't think it's a mental problem. When you compare the level in the Dutch League to the Premier League, there's a massive difference. Everyone that comes from Holland needs time to settle."

Babel had struggled to live up to former Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish's prediction that he would "terrify" opponents with his pace and strength. But happily for Benitez, his adjustment to the intensity of the English game is well-timed for the Premier League run-in. "Hopefully my goal can give me the confidence to go on from this," he said.

It helps that I've been playing more matches lately. The more you play the more you grow into the squad and the system. It's helping my game, especially for myself as a player who has needed to play a lot of minutes to settle into the team."

Lucas Neill has called on his West Ham team-mates to find the form that kept them in the Premier League last season - to threaten the other challengers for a place in the Uefa Cup.

West Ham's hopes of Europe were hit last Saturday by a 4-0 home defeat by Chelsea but they have the chance to correct that set-back with a difficult trip to Liverpool.

The West Ham captain believes his side can put the shock of the size of the Chelsea loss behind them. "We're going to hurt like crazy for a couple of days and the best thing we can do is to get back on to the pitch and try and rectify the situation," said Neill.

"Our away form is very good and we've got to put everything into the Anfield game to get a result. We've got to keep believing we can get into Europe."

Hicks Is Set To Be Kop Dog

Tom Hicks has raised the capital to buy out his Liverpool co-owner George Gillett and take a 100 per cent stake in Anfield.

The Texan billionaire has quietly been negotiating with his American partner over the past week, and is edging closer to a deal that will make him the sole owner of the Premier League club.

The Mirror can reveal that while Arab investment company DIC has been trying to persuade Gillett to sell his 50 per cent stake to them in recent weeks, Hicks has been raising money in the background to block such a move.

Now he has backing from some powerful business associates in the United States, and is ready to test the resolve of Gillett by matching any offer DIC makes for the shares.

The investment arm of the Dubai government is expected to make a formal offer this week for half a stake in Anfield, but Hicks and Gillett have a deal allowing the other to block the sale of any shares in Liverpool to a third party.

Privately, Gillett has made known reservations about his partnership with Hicks.

But there are signs he may defer to Hicks - who is the more powerful of the two in American business circles - and sell his stake. That would leave Hicks in sole charge of the club.

Gerrard: Trophies My Driving Force

Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard insists he remains focused on winning trophies for the Reds - but is adamant their league form must improve.

Gerrard last week admitted his side's failure to challenge for the Premier League title meant the season was destined to end in disappointment, regardless of whether they managed to win the Champions League.

Yet Gerrard claims the Champions League element of his comments was overplayed, as he would dearly love to get his hands on Europe's elite trophy again.

Liverpool face Inter Milan in the San Siro, with a 2-0 advantage from the first leg, for a place in the quarter-finals next week.

Gerrard, the inspiration behind the Reds' 2005 success in the competition, told the club's website: "The message I was trying to get across was that we are disappointed with where we are in the league, but that we're going to try to get into the top four and improve our league situation next season.

"Hopefully while we're going along we can get to another Champions League final. That would be a really good season.

"But the headlines got twisted into 'If we win the Champions League it won't be important' - which is nonsense. That is not what I meant at all.

"There won't be anyone happier in Liverpool than me if we do win the Champions League again.

"Istanbul was the best night of my football career and if we go on to achieve that again it will be right up there with that.

"But, because we're Liverpool Football Club, even if we do win it, we'll still worry about and try to improve our league form. We are winners and we want to try to win every competition we are in."

Liverpool remain behind Everton in the race for fourth in the Premier League, and the lucrative Champions League spot that goes with it, after the weekend's fixtures.

The Reds briefly moved above their arch-rivals by winning 3-1 at Bolton on Sunday only for Everton to regain the place by beating Portsmouth by the same score later in the day.

Liverpool are back in action when West Ham visit Anfield on Wednesday.

Gerrard added: "The important thing short-term is to get in that fourth position, then we can regroup in the summer and have another go at winning the league.

"The players here know we've underachieved in the league this year.

"We're confident that if we play to our capabilities between now and the end of the season we'll take that fourth spot.

"Confidence is high at the moment but if we don't now go and beat West Ham, the Bolton result becomes irrelevant."