Saturday, April 12, 2008

Canny Benítez Needs To Inject More Firepower

For a circumspect manager Rafael Benítez gets caught up in a peculiar number of extravaganzas. On virtually anyone else's CV, a result such as Tuesday's 4-2 defeat of Arsenal would tower above all other achievements. In the case of the Liverpool manager, you have to squint a little to make it out, because the view is partially obstructed by the lovely lunacy of the success, from 3-0 down, against Milan in the 2005 Champions League final, or Steven Gerrard's majestic leveller against West Ham United in the last knockings of normal time at the FA Cup final the following year.

On the coaching spectrum that runs from schemer to dreamer, Benítez, in truth, cannot be budged all that far from the conservative end of the range. It is in his personality to think more in terms of strategies than individuals. While the second leg of the Champions League quarter-final radiated enough energy to burn away all recollection of the first match, it is, none the less, a matter of record that Liverpool were insufferably dreary for most of the 1-1 draw at the Emirates Stadium.

Even so, it is insulting to suppose that Benítez is so misguided as to imagine that stuffiness alone will ever turn Liverpool into contenders for the Premier League. The Spaniard, winner of La Liga and the Uefa Cup while at Valencia, cannot need much instruction about the qualities needed at Anfield.

He appreciates that there is nothing pragmatic about being outgunned during his years in the Premier League. As an allegedly workaday line-up, the side now has slightly more edge to it than is recognised and 106 goals have been scored during 52 games in all competitions in this campaign.

Benítez took a brave course on Tuesday night since, with Peter Crouch and Fernando Torres both in attack, Liverpool were outnumbered and outplayed in midfield before Sami Hyypia, in the 30th minute, levelled the score with his header after Abou Diaby's opening goal.

It was a policy from Benítez that called for patience. His logic was that two tall forwards would ultimately unsettle an Arsenal back four composed of three shorter players and, in Philippe Senderos, a lumbering figure who toiled to convince that he can live up to expectations.

There is no question that Arsenal shone in patches with a streamlined beauty that is out of Liverpool's reach for the time being. Benítez has been frustrated here and there in his efforts to develop the squad, but he is certainly not scornful of forwards who bear a certain celebrity.

His acquisition of Fernando Morientes, who came to England too late in his career, might have been a miscalculation, but the manager was still not deterred by the £26.5m valuation of Torres. The asking price was met and the goal from him that put Liverpool 2-1 ahead of Arsenal had a sheen of cruel efficiency that oozed expense.

When Liverpool toil, it is often because the acquisitions have failed or, at least, not yet prospered. With Crouch or, to a lesser degree, Torres acting like a conventional target man, the side requires other attackers who can make disruptive runs into the channels between centre-half and full-back to tug defences out of shape.

Ryan Babel did just that, for Liverpool's critical third goal against Arsenal. The right-back Kolo Touré, his concentration collapsing after the euphoria of Emmanuel Adebayor's goal moments before, let the former Ajax winger get on his inside and then manhandled him for the penalty with which Gerrard sent his side into a 3-2 lead. Babel, who scored in stoppage-time, had been a substitute, because he has too often resembled an unthinking left-winger.

Tuesday brought a glimpse of what he might do. In Babel, Dirk Kuyt and Andriy Voronin, Benítez has faltered in his efforts to identify players of elusive mobility. Each has disappointed, although Babel is young enough to come good. When the manager goes shopping this summer, he is likely to get himself a pair of full-backs, but he will also strive to upgrade the attack.

Arsenal were devastated on Tuesday, but other opponents should also be subjected to such an onslaught. Benítez must inject the dependable firepower that is essential if Liverpool are to be something more than the heroes of torrid cup ties.

Liverpool Striker Fernando Torres Hails Kop Influence

Liverpool striker Fernando Torres believes it is the influence of the Kop which motivates him in his performance and influences him in netting all the brilliant goals which has scored so far.

The high profile front-man claims it feels great to be scoring in front of the home fans and said that his brilliant goal against Arsenal in the Champions League quarter finals was his most memorable to date.

"I don't know what makes this goal so special, but this time I scored there, in front of The Kop," said Torres.

"This stand, so high, is impressive. I think I have scored half of my goals there. I hope I will continue to score important goals there.

"It's impressive how much people respect you. They want to see you playing in each game so that makes you need to prove yourself on the pitch.

"For me it fills me with pride that in a quick period of time they created a song for me and they sing it to me during almost every game."

"It's important for a footballer that the fans consider you one of theirs."

Mascherano: Experience Saw Us Through

The Reds managed to book a semi-final date with Chelsea by the skin of their teeth, and the battling Argentine believes that maturity combined with raw willpower was what proved decisive in the end.

"We have a lot of players with experience in the Champions League and that was good for us," he told the club's official website.

"Even with our younger players, you can look them in the eye and know they have confidence and that they know what to expect. We are all together.

"Maybe that experience was a factor, but it wasn't just that. We had the determination to win, and we wanted to win."

Liverpool will meet Chelsea in the last four of the Champions League for the third time in four seasons, with the first-leg kicking off at Anfield in less than a fortnight's time.

Benitez Keens To Keep Focus

Rafael Benitez has told his Liverpool stars that they must concentrate on football and not the very public battle for control of the club.

The Liverpool boss was reacting after the uproar following co-owner Tom Hicks' demand this week that chief executive Rick Parry resign.

That one act has plunged the club into an even deeper crisis as a battle for power breaks out in the boardroom.

But Benitez is aware that Liverpool have a crunch home Premier League match at home to Blackburn on Sunday, which they could go into ahead of Everton in the race for fourth spot on goal difference only.

That will be the case if Everton win at Birmingham today.

Benitez said in an interview with "I understand why people have to ask the question (about the boardroom crisis) but, as I have told the players, we must be focused on football.

"We have an important game on Sunday and we have to concentrate on that."

Blackburn have been a thorn in Liverpool's side in recent seasons, and Benitez is expecting a physical battle.

He said: "They are a tough team to play against because physically they are aggressive, they are well organised and it has been difficult against them in the past, but maybe this time it will be different.

"But they are not just a physical side. It is one of the main things, but they also have some players with quality. We need to be aware of their physical approach and also of their quality on the pitch."

And Benitez revealed his admiration of the work Blackburn boss Mark Hughes is doing at Ewood Park.

He said: "He is doing a good job. As we were saying before, they are a difficult side to play against and they are in a good position in the table."

With Everton hot on their tail, Benitez believes Liverpool will need to win four of their final five games to be sure of claiming fourth spot.

He said: "If we want to be sure then four wins. Maybe that number could be less, though, depending on other results."

With the Champions League semi-final with Chelsea just around the corner, Benitez wants the battle for fourth placed tied up as quickly as possible.

He said: "That's what we've been telling the players. We want to win every game now if it is possible, and then see what happens with Everton.

"We want to make sure we can finish in the top four and then think about the semi-final."

Liverpool are without the suspended Javier Mascherano, while Jermaine Pennant, Daniel Agger and Harry Kewell are recovering from injuries.

Revealed: Why Tom Hicks Told Rick Parry To Resign From Liverpool FC

As Liverpool FC chief executive Rick Parry last night defiantly refused to resign after a request to stand down from co-owner Tom Hicks, the Daily Post can reveal the reasons for the sensational demand.

In a statement, not dissimilar to quotes given by manager Rafael Benitez at the height of a fall-out with the club’s American owners last year, Parry said: “It is my intention to remain focused on the job of serving Liverpool Football Club to the best of my abil- ities at this very important time of our season.”

The unprecedented stand-off comes on the same day it is learned a deal between Dubai International Capital and LFC’s owners is reportedly just a phone call away.

Comments made by Sameer Al Ansari, CEO of Dubai International Capital, to a Middle East business magazine about with-drawing DIC’s offer for LFC were said to be a plea for Hicks to sort his affairs and agree to sell.

Al Ansari has said he “would love to own the club”, but wanted to have control over Liverpool’s destiny before investing.

It is understood that the letter sent, but not yet received by Parry, called on him to “voluntarily resign” because of “commercial under-performance” and “frustrations” at the way he had handled player transfers.

One insider said: “This is just not the Liverpool way, especially after the success of the team on the pitch this week.”

The three-page letter was sent to Parry as Hicks’ 50% share in the club would not allow him to unilaterally dismiss Parry.

It has been circulated to mem-bers of the board, and he is expec-ted to refuse the request after con-sulting lawyers over his position.

A source said: “The basic con-tents of the letter are the commer-cial performance of the club since Rick Parry has been on the board.

“In particular how the club has fallen behind to the big players – [Manchester] United, Arsenal, and Chelsea. He also cites frustration in terms of how some of the player transfers have been handled.”

A report by Deloitte accoun-tants is thought to be the source of Hicks’s belief that Liverpool are failing to capitalise fully on commercial opportunities.

Deloitte's Football Money League, based on revenues gener-ated during 2006/7, places Liver-pool eighth in the list of richest clubs, with revenues of £133.9m.

Real Madrid topped the list with revenues of £236.2m, Manchester United were in second position with £212.1m, Chelsea were fourth with £190.5m, and Arsenal came in fifth by generating £177.6m.

The sensational outbreak of warfare in the Anfield boardroom follows the snubbing of Parry and former owner David Moores in the original allocation of tickets for Liverpool’s first Champions League Quarter Final with Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium.

They originally were told they did not have tickets for the match because Hicks and co-owner George Gillett had taken the allocation. Parry and Moores were later found tickets after behind-the-scenes turmoil.

Last night, claims emerged that Hicks’s son Tom Jnr has been sending texts to fans’ groups over the issue of Parry’s continued involvement at the club.

It is believed Parry’s legal team will also be investigating these allegations.

Contrary to a report in Arabian Business magazine that DIC were pulling out of bidding for the club, Sheikh Mohammed and Al Ansari were last night said to still be keen on completing a deal.

Their £500m offer for the club is understood to remain on the table. That would pay off the club’s £350m debt and leave both Hicks and Gillett with £40m apiece.

A deal could apparently be struck as soon as Hicks’s lawyers call DIC’s London-based chief negotiator, Amanda Staveley.

Although relations with Hicks broke down more than a month ago, Staveley is said to be on good terms with Gillett and in “constant discourse” with him.

The only sticking point on a deal, insiders say, is Hicks.

He has recently been in London with American investment bank Merrill Lynch seeking credit with which to buy out Gillett.

It is thought a “first refusal” agreement between the Americans, in which one must offer their slice of the club to the other before selling to a third party, comes to an end in about six weeks’ time.

After the pre-emption rights expire, Gillett would be free to sell his share to DIC.

Although DIC would likely make an offer, sources close to the Dubai consortium say they will not rest until they have secured 100% of the club.

Both Sheikh Mohammed and Al Ansari are fervent supporters of the club. Al Ansari will almost certainly attend the Moscow final of the UEFA Champions League if the team fend off Chelsea in the semi-final.

Al Ansari was quoted in Arabian Business saying: “We will continue to be interested and would love to own the club but we are not going to put ourselves in a difficult situation where we make the investment but we have no control over the destiny of the club and we cannot influence the success of the club.

“Unfortunately, the terms that have been put on the table do not allow us to do that.”

Rafael Benitez Lies Low As Liverpool Teeter

Liverpool's internal crisis deepened yesterday to such an extent that manager Rafael Benitez felt unable to face the club's scheduled weekly press conference.

The Spaniard is understood to be shocked, embarrassed and extremely unhappy that his relationship with Rick Parry has been used in the club's increasingly bitter power struggle.

Co-owner Tom Hicks wrote to Parry on Thursday to demand his resignation as chief executive and, within the letter, outlined complaints that Benitez was alleged to have made about the speed with which the club had acted on certain transfer targets. Benitez, though, had no idea that he was to be involved in this way and clearly felt that he had been put in an impossible position.

Given the press conference would have been dominated by the Hicks/Parry split, Benitez did not want to be placed in a situation where he would be pressed to come out in support of either the club's co-owner or chief executive.

Instead, he spoke to the club website. Asked about the past 24 hours, he said: "I understand why you have to ask the question but, as I have told the players, we must be focused on football. We have an important game on Sunday and we have to concentrate on that."

Parry only saw his letter from Hicks yesterday morning, having first learnt about it via family members who had been watching television reports on Thursday.

Hicks outlined in it his reasons for wanting Parry to leave. Besides the claim that Benitez has said Parry cost the club possible signings because of a lack of communication, the long-standing chief executive was criticised for failing to mirror Manchester United in maximising Liverpool's commercial potential.

Parry yesterday highlighted the "offensive" timing of the letter so soon after the club's Champions League win over Arsenal. "This week I shouldn't be the story, the story should be the team," he said "It's offensive to the manager, the players, and the fans in a week when we've had another great European triumph there's more dirty linen being washed.

"No individual is bigger than the club, certainly not me. The club will be fine. But once again it shows that there is a little bit of a lack of unity at the top. I'm just getting on with the job, there's work to do."

Parry was boosted by a public show of support from co-owner George Gillett. "Rick Parry retains our full support," said Gillett. "Any decision to remove him would need the approval of the full Liverpool board which, it should be remembered, consists of six people - myself, Foster [Gillett's son], David Moores, Rick himself, Tom Hicks and Tom junior. We have not seen the document in question and we were not party to it."

It all leaves Liverpool locked in an undignified stalemate. Hicks has stressed that he has no intention of selling his stake, while Gillett regards their relationship as "unworkable" and will not sell to his co-owner. With potential owners Dubai International Capital waiting patiently, another possible solution emerged yesterday with the suggestion a Norwegian consortium might resurrect their interest.

Headed by Petter Stordalen and Oystein Stray Spetalen, who have an estimated combined personal wealth of £450m, the Norwegians were linked with a takeover last year prior to the Americans' arrival.

Liverpool FC Rumourmill: Behrami, Modric And Cattermole To Liverpool?

Valon Behrami is being linked with a move to the Premier League.

The Swiss international midfielder has enjoyed an impressive season in Serie A but Lazio would be unable to turn down a big money deal.

Liverpool are one of the clubs he is being linked with, according to web reports.

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Dinamo Zagreb midfielder Luka Modric has made a ‘come and get me’ plea to Liverpool.

Tottenham, Chelsea and Arsenal have been credited with serious interest in the Croatia international this week, but it is Liverpool he pines for.

Modric told Vecernji list: “I don’t wish to discuss possible transfers, but if Liverpool really want me, then this is fantastic and I am truly honoured.

“I watched the Champions League quarter-finals and the way they crushed Arsenal. Only the greatest and the best can play such a match against strong Arsenal.”

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On loan Liverpool winger Paul Anderson has admitted that he would love to stay at the Liberty Stadium next season for a push on what looks set to be Championship football.

Anderson has been on a season long loan at Swansea and now wants to potentially see this extended although he will sit down with Liverpool to discuss his options at the season end.

Speaking in today's Evening Post the winger said "I honestly don't know at the moment what the future holds for me,

"I assume at the end of the season I'll go back to Liverpool, sit down with them, my agent and my dad and have a chat about what they think I've done this season.

"I haven't spoken with Liverpool that much while I've been here so I'll go back and see what they want from me.

"I think they have been at most of my games and hopefully they are pleased with what they've seen.

"I've had a bit of feedback from Gary Ablett, the reserve-team manager, who says I've done well and says there's no reason why I can't go back and push for a first-team place.

"But personally I can't see myself breaking into the Liverpool first team next season."

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And finally, Lee Cattermole of Middlesborough is again being linked with a move to Anfield in the summer.

The fee currently being talked about is £3million.