Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Parry To Play Peacemaker With Rafa

Liverpool chief executive is keen to patch things up between himself and club manager Rafael Benitez, following recent rumours the two were at odds over the Jurgen Klinsmann debacle.

The ongoing war of words behind the scenes at Anfield is gravely compromising the prestigious club's integrity, but the owners, the manager and the chief executive are deeply embroiled in a saga that does not look like ending any time soon.

The latest developments have come with co-owner Tom Hicks asking chief executive Rick Parry to resign due to what he deemed incompetence in his position.

Parry refused, and looks unlikely to walk, as he has the backing of fellow co-owner Gillett - who is currently at odds with his business partner - as well as former owner and board member David Moores.

However, Rafa Benitez's influence could yet prove pivotal. It is rumoured the Spanish tactician is disillusioned with Parry's involvement in the saga that saw the club hold a meeting with German legend Jurgen Klinsmann, presumably with a view to lining him up as Rafa's replacement.

Parry, though, is intent on maintaining good relations with Benitez, who said yesterday he would be demanding answers as soon as possible regarding many of the recent revelations in the press.

Attending a memorial status on Monday for the Hillsborough disaster, Parry was quoted as saying: "I am more than happy to sit down and talk to Rafa about this."

However, Rafa's alleged displeasure with Parry could put his job under threat once more. With the drama seemingly endless and the majority of the board in favour of Parry, should Benitez be unable to resolve his issues with the chief executive or simply lose his patience with the unstable ownership, the Champions League winning manager could leave.

There are several European clubs who may be looking for a new manager this summer, and while the Special One, Jose Mourinho has been linked with so many of them, Benitez could be an equally attractive candidate in some quarters.

Both Milan clubs have had issues with their respective coaches, while Spanish giants Real Madrid and Barcelona have had coaching issues, though the latter club look far more likely to make a change this summer. Also, Rafa's old club Valencia are in some degree of turmoil despite being in the Copa del Rey final against Getafe on Wednesday.

Liverpool star striker Fernando Torres - a Madrid native, like his manager - is hopeful and optimistic that his boss will be going nowhere.

"I think and hope Rafa is going to be at Liverpool for a long time," he declared. "He is backed by the players and fans and his record is there for all to see."

Rafael Benitez Hopes To Claim More Ammunition From Europe

Rafael BenÍtez is expected to make a decision on his future once Liverpool’s Champions League campaign and last hope of silverware this season comes to an end. The manager believes that the situation at Anfield is becoming increasingly unworkable as the civil war that has engulfed the club shows no signs of abating.

Despite the bitter boardroom ructions, Liverpool have impressed on the pitch, progressing to the semi-finals of the Champions League and assuming pole position in the fight for fourth place in the Barclays Premier League, but BenÍtez is deeply concerned that the off-field troubles could extend into the summer and wreak havoc with preseason plans.

With the “first refusal” agreement between the club’s co-owners, Tom Hicks and George Gillett Jr, which stipulates that one must offer the other the chance to purchase his 50 per cent stake before selling to a third party and vice versa, not due to expire until the end of next month, and with Rick Parry, the chief executive, refusing to bow to Hicks’s demands that he resign, BenÍtez sees no immediate end to the crossfire tearing the club apart.

While his position is by no means assured even if he does opt to stay on, BenÍtez is aware that there would be no shortage of potential suitors at the end of the season - Barcelona and Inter Milan are expected to change managers - and that a second Champions League victory in four years would do his prospects no harm.

Although BenÍtez is in a significantly stronger position than before Christmas, when it emerged that the Liverpool owners had met Jürgen Klinsmann about the possibility of the former Germany coach taking over as manager, Dubai International Capital, the Arab investment consortium, may choose to appoint its own man should it win control at Anfield. Hicks’s support for the Spaniard is viewed by some within the club as little more than a smokescreen with which to curry favour among fans.

BenÍtez believes that he has been undermined on one too many occasions after it emerged yesterday that the club had held two meetings with Klinsmann behind his back.

The first was in New York and attended by Hicks, Gillett, Parry and other members of the Liverpool board, while the second took place at Hicks’s holiday home in California during Thanksgiving weekend in November, when Parry was not present.

Although aware that Gillett and Hicks had met Klinsmann, who takes charge of Bayern Munich on July 1, BenÍtez reacted with disgust on Sunday to the news that Parry had attended one of the meetings, claiming that it further undermined his position and demanding immediate clear-the-air talks with the board.

There were suggestions that BenÍtez exchanged e-mails with Gillett and Hicks on Sunday, but while Parry said yesterday that he would be “more than happy to sit down and talk with Rafa about this”, it is unclear whether any discussions have been held between the two. Parry and BenÍtez are expected to attend a memorial service today to mark the 19th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster.

With the Liverpool players and about 3,000 supporters also likely to be in attendance to remember the 96 people killed in the tragedy, respect should be restored for a day at least, although the war of words may resume tomorrow when Sky Sports televises an interview with Hicks.

Neither Hicks nor Gillett, who will continue to stand by Parry despite his partner’s claims that he will make a “formal request” to his fellow American to terminate the chief executive’s contract, are expected to attend the memorial service.

Although Fernando Torres, the Liverpool striker, expressed confidence yesterday that BenÍtez would be at the club “for a long time”, Ladbrokes were offering even money on the manager not being in charge at the start of next season, while the bookmakers could not separate BenÍtez and Parry with odds of 5-6 on who might go first.

The irony for BenÍtez is that he joined Liverpool primarily to get away from the boardroom problems he encountered at Valencia, but as things stand, a return to Spain may prove to be the most appealing option.

Torres Has Ruud Target In His Sights

Fernando Torres has revealed that he has already reached the target he set himself for his debut season in English football.

On Sunday against Blackburn Rovers, Liverpool's 24-year-old Spanish international scored to take his season's total to 30 goals in all competitions - including 22 in the Premier League - in his Anfield campaign following his move from Atletico Madrid last summer.

With four games left in the Premier League, Torres could also set the record for the highest goals tally by a newcomer.

That is currently held be former Manchester United striker Ruud van Nistelrooy, who scored 23 Premier League goals in his debut season for the Red Devils.

"It is what I was dreaming for. I expected it to take more time. Achieving all that in the first season is amazing," Torres told Liverpool's official website.

"The team have been working very well and helped me a lot.

"Settling has been very easy and you can see it on the pitch. I have been helped with everything.

"Every player feels important thanks to the fans, from Pepe [Reina, the Liverpool keeper] to the strikers, because they sing their names and support them.

"I am proud and want to beat every record I can. I feel important in the team. The game against Chelsea gave me confidence to carry on.

"I have never scored 30 goals in a season in my career and I have made it here. It has been helped by the team's style of football."

Fernando Torres Dreaming Of Barcelona Final

Fernando Torres admits he would love to face Barcelona in the final of this season's Champions League.

While Manchester United and Barcelona meet in one semi-final, Liverpool meet Chelsea — in a repeat of their 2005 and 2007 semi-final — with only Avram Grant's men standing between the Merseysiders and a place in the final in Moscow on May 21.

While Torres, who has scored 30 goals in an outstanding debut season at Anfield, is cautious about looking too far ahead, he is already dreaming of the final.

"We want to get to the final and it would be great to face Barcelona," he said. "Here the people want to face Manchester [United], but first we've got to get past the semi-final against Chelsea, which won't be easy."

The former Atletico Madrid forward has been a revelation in his first season in the Premier League, and he insists the competition in England has been more intense than the Spanish league.

He added: "I think that the difference between the two leagues are the top teams. I think the top four in England are above the top four in Spain, especially in terms of consistency, but the rest of the teams in Spain are better, there's more quality.

"But here every set of supporters cheers for their team and at Anfield the atmosphere is exceptional. Even when you drop important points at home, they don't stop supporting you."

Reds' Kewell Cool On Juve Link

Harry Kewell's agent has rejected claims the Liverpool winger is ready to agree a summer move to Italian giants Juventus.

The Australian is out of contract at the end of the season and, with the Reds unlikely to offer him a new deal, the former Leeds man seems certain to move on.

Juve, Sunderland and Celtic have all been mentioned as possible suitors for the 29-year-old, but the player's adviser denies a deal is close to being agreed.

'I have not spoken to anyone yet regarding a possible Bosman move for Harry,' Bernie Mandic explained.

'Harry has not spoken to anyone and there have been no discussions with anyone from Juventus.

'We are basically waiting and seeing how things go for the rest of the season. There is no need to rush into anything for Harry and we will see what Liverpool say.'

Injuries have restricted Kewell to just 108 starts in five years at Anfield, however he is currently fit but out of favour under Rafa Benitez.

However, Mandic insists his client will not struggle for work if he is allowed to leave the club as a Bosman free transfer in the summer.

'If Harry does become a Bosman I think there will be no shortage of clubs interested as Harry has shown over the years what a great player he is,' he added.

Hillsborough: Liverpool FC To Play Celtic FC In Benefit Match At Anfield

The Liverpool FC and Celtic FC teams that played days after the Hillsborough tragedy will play a benefit match at Anfield on the 20th anniversary of the disaster.

Phil Hammond, chairman of the Hillsborough Family Support Group, announced the decision during today’s memorial service held in The Kop.

He said: "The money raised will be split between HFSG and Marina Dalgleish Cancer Unit Appeal and will be played on, or about, April 19 next year."

He said the fixture would feature as many of the 1989 first teams of both clubs as possible.

About 6,000 fans applauded the announcement which came at the end of an emotional service.

Former player Brian Hall gave a reading from St Paul's letter to the Romans and Gary Ablett read 1 Corinthians chapter 15 verses 51-57.

Rafa Eyes City's Johnson

Rafa Benitez is preparing to launch a ₤12 million summer bid for Manchester City midfielder Michael Johnson.

The Liverpool boss has attempted to capture the 20-year-old twice before, and this latest effort comes despite the boardroom turmoil at Anfield that sees Benitez’s post less than 100 per cent secure.

Talks are already underway with City, and Johnson is reportedly excited about the prospect of a move to Merseyside as negotiations move towards the final stages.

Benitez initially intended to lure the England Under-21 international away from Eastlands in a January swap involving Peter Crouch. But the move was halted as Johnson underwent surgery on his groin, and as Portsmouth have since expressed interest in Crouch, Benitez will try to secure Johnson’s services regardless of whether a swap deal is agreed.

Johnson has three years remaining on his contract with City, and the club will offer him an improved deal in an attempt to keep him. But he is keen to leave for Liverpool and the promise of European football, to fight for his place alongside the likes of Steven Gerrard, Xabi Alonso and Javier Mascherano.

Benayoun Urges Reds To Stay Focused

Israel international Yossi Benayoun has warned his team-mates at Liverpool not to take their eye of the prize in the quest for fourth position.

The creative midfielder insists that although the Reds are in the driving seat to finish fourth ahead of Everton, any slip-ups could easily allow their Merseyside rivals to take advantage.

"We have a good advantage because we have more points and a better goal difference," the Israeli midfielder told the club's official website.

"But there are still 12 points to be played for, so we have to make sure we do not lose concentration because if we do Everton could close the gap.

"It is obviously important for the club to finish as high up the league as possible.

"We want to play in the Champions League because it is a competition we enjoy and to do that you have to make sure you finish in the top four.

"In the last few weeks we have played really well in the league and, apart from the game against Man United, we have had some good results.

"But now we have to keep our good form going because there are no easy games in the Premier League."