Tuesday, March 25, 2008

PFA Chief Demands Ref No-go Zones

Professional Footballers' Association chief executive Gordon Taylor has called for an exclusion zone around referees to stop players' dissent.

On Sunday, Liverpool's Javier Mascherano was sent off for talking back to Steve Bennett, just days after an incident involving Ashley Cole and Mike Riley.

Taylor believes more must be done to ensure players improve their conduct towards match officials.

"I have made it clear referees should be a no-go area," he told BBC 5 Live.

"It is time managers and players did accept a responsibility because what happens at the top level happens lower down.

"It is the bad points that get highlighted and the game has to be very much aware and do all it can to eradicate it."

Taylor also feels the Football Association has to do more as part of an orchestrated campaign to underline to clubs that attitudes must change.

"We have regular meetings with referees and the FA and when there are patterns developing like this then we need to take action.

"It can be done with sanctions and an educational process."

During Chelsea's 4-4 draw with Tottenham on Wednesday, defender Cole vented his anger at referee Riley when he was penalised for a bad tackle on Alan Hutton.

Cole then turned his back on the official when he was having his name taken.

Although Cole later apologised, the incident sparked a great deal of debate about players' behaviour.

then at the weekend, Argentine midfielder Mascherano was given his marching orders for questioning referee Bennett, who had seconds earlier booked Fernando Torres for a similar outburst.

Taylor admitted: "There has been a big campaign last week against dissent and respect for referees but in spite of that the message has not got through so it has to come out louder and clearer."

Mascherano Pleads Innocence But Faces Three-game Ban

Javier Mascherano continued to plead innocence yesterday over his controversial dismissal against Manchester United as the Football Association prepared to charge the Liverpool midfielder for his show of dissent at Old Trafford.

The FA is expected to charge the Argentina international with improper conduct today following his furious reaction to being sent off by the referee, Steve Bennett, on Sunday and his refusal to leave the field of play. The charge could bring an additional two-match ban for Mascherano, who is automatically suspended from this Sunday's Merseyside derby with Everton at Anfield, and may be fast-tracked to ensure the ban continues without interruption. That would suspend the £18.6m midfielder from Liverpool's league visit to Arsenal on April 5 and the following weekend's home game against Blackburn Rovers.

Mascherano is likely to request a personal hearing if charged by the FA as he believes he was more sinned against than sinning when questioning Bennett's decision to book Fernando Torres for dissent during Liverpool's 3-0 defeat. Though he has apologised to his team-mates, the Liverpool midfielder maintains he was dealt with harshly at Old Trafford.

Speaking from Egypt, where he is on international duty with Argentina, Mascherano insisted: "I do not know why I was sent off. I asked the referee what was happening. I did not swear, I was not aggressive and I did not confront him. All I did was ask him what was happening, nothing else. So when he showed me the second yellow card and sent me off I could not believe it. I am sorry to my team-mates because that meant we went down to 10 men and that made things even more difficult for us."

Torres, meanwhile, has reported for international duty with Spain despite suffering a rib injury during the United game. Liverpool have requested that the striker undergo a scan while in Spain should his discomfort continue.

Rafa Benitez Fumes Over Manchester United's Treatment Of Fernando Torres

Liverpool will await the results of scans today on injuries sustained by top scorer Fernando Torres in the controversial 3-0 Barclays Premier League defeat at Manchester United.

The match was marred by the first-half red card for Javier Mascherano, after his protracted dissent in a confrontation with referee Steve Bennett.

Many suggested yesterday’s dismissal was a product of the Ashley Cole incident in midweek at Spurs - when the Chelsea star showed dissent, and his back, to referee Mike Riley but received only a yellow card.

Bennett was the fourth official on the touchline at White Hart Lane that night.

It has emerged, however, that the root cause of Liverpool’s anger and frustration at Old Trafford was the treatment meted out to Torres by United defenders.

Torres was taken off near the end - according to Reds boss Rafael Benitez, “to protect him”, with the game already lost.

Wes Brown scored in the first period, with Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani adding late goals for the champions.

It was a great day for Sir Alex Ferguson’s men, who are now five points clear at the top - following Arsenal’s defeat at Chelsea yesterday.

But Benitez must now pick up the pieces before Sunday’s Merseyside derby with Everton, whom Liverpool lead by two points in the race for fourth spot.

Mascherano will miss that match, serving a one-match ban.

Benitez said: “Torres had some knocks on his ribs and ankle - a lot of knocks and a lot of kicks. I was just trying to protect him. The doctors will do a scan, and we will see.

“Was I disappointed by intimidation of Torres? Maybe I should ask others for their opinion. I have my own opinion, which was very clear.

“We have seen a lot of things and we do not need to talk about problems with referees. It was very clear.”

Benitez tried to defend Mascherano, who could even find himself the subject of further investigation by the Football Association for refusing to leave the pitch quickly.

“The player knows he has made a mistake - but in this kind of game to be sent off just for ’asking’ I find a difficult decision to understand.

“I don’t know whether it was anything to do with the Ashley Cole incident.

“Javier was sent off for dissent, but to be sent off for asking the official something is a surprise.

“He knows he made a mistake, but in a big game like this it is difficult to understand.

Ferguson was delighted with the victory.

On the sending-off, he said: “The boy had already been booked, and dissent is dissent. I feel he should not have got involved.

“He ran from centre-midfield to get involved with the referee. With things that happened in the week with the Ashley Cole incident, there is now a focus on dissent.”

DIC To Seal £400m Deal For Liverpool In 'Three To Four Weeks'

The long pursuit of Liverpool by Dubai International Capital is set to end within the next "three to four weeks" with the investment group taking full control of the Premier League club, according to a source close to the proposed deal.

DIC is understood to be confident that it will finally buy the club for £400m – and is looking to involve a "third party" investor, who would take a minority stake, as part of its business plan. The company is believed to already have an agreement in place with the club's co-owner George Gillett Jnr to buy his share.

It is also confident that Tom Hicks, who owns the other 50 per cent, is now close to agreeing to sell to them even though he cut off negotiations earlier this month insisting he would not sell even a minority stake. Hicks also said he would block any attempt by Gillett to sell.

Although DIC, which is the private equity investment arm of the Dubai government, realises it is paying a high price for Liverpool – Gillett and Hicks bought the club for £219m 13 months ago – such is its determination to succeed that it wants to push ahead. "It's not a cheap deal and Hicks is holding out but there is confidence that it will now finally happen," a source said. Matters have not been helped by the strained relationship between the two Americans.

DIC, whose chief executive Sameer Al-Ansari is a life-long fan of the club and who will join the board, has ambitious plans which could include involving some of its other investment vehicles in an attempt to raise its profile. The hotel group Jumeirah could be used as part of the development of a new stadium. A wide-ranging review of the club, and its revenue streams, will be conducted.

DIC came close to buying Liverpool before the Americans' acquisition and has tried to resume negotiations, on and off, ever since. The reason for the apparent confidence now could be that several of Hicks' loans are due for refinancing within two or three months. This may be the trigger for his main lender – believed to be JP Morgan – to force him back into talks with DIC and accept its offer for Liverpool.

The full level of the Texan's debt is unclear. But DIC sources believe he has been hit badly by the state of the financial markets in the United States, which has seen the value of assets which he has borrowed heavily against drop – in some cases by between 30 and 50 per cent.

Were Hicks unable to refinance loans when, at a time of severe anxiety among financial institutions, they are due, JP Morgan could take over the assets Hicks has borrowed against or force a sale. Since bankers would tend to sell on such assets anyway the presence of a prospective buyer like DIC would be attractive to them.

Given how far apart DIC and Hicks seem to be, it would appear that any chance of the Arab consortium having a future role at Anfield would be through a complete takeover, with or without a junior partner.

Liverpool’s Torres Doubtful For Spain

Fernando Torres joined up with the Spain squad yesterday ahead of their friendly with Italy on Wednesday.

But the Liverpool striker, who was substituted on Sunday after suffering knocks to his ribs and ankle, sat out the training session in Elche and is a doubt for the game.

Boss Rafa Benitez withdrew Torres from the field late on in the 3-0 defeat at Manchester United after becoming concerned at the the tough treatment he was receiving.

Torres had a scan on his ribs yesterday.