Friday, May 02, 2008

Redknapp: I Want Crouch, But He Won't Come

Portsmouth boss Harry Redknapp has declared his admiration for Liverpool's want-away striker Peter Crouch, but doesn't believe he'll be able to land the player.

The 6'7 beanpole usually impresses when playing for Liverpool, but has never well and truly managed to win over manager Rafael Benitez, and finds it particularly hard to get in the team with the current system employing just one striker in Fernando Torres.

Though Benitez wishes to keep him as part of his squad, the player has voiced his concern at not playing regularly and regrettably feels he may have to leave.

Portsmouth manager Redknapp has stated his admiration for the player more than once in the past, and thus is being linked with a summer move for the player, who could join Jermain Defoe to form a potentially lethal all-English forward line.

"The problem is, we've moved on and we're not looking at players who can't get a regular game at their own clubs any more," explained Redknapp, explaining that Crouch may not be his primary target this summer.

"When I came back and we were struggling I took the three lads from Tottenham and they were fantastic for me, but they weren't getting a game there.

"Now, we've got so many good players, you're not looking for players who can't get in their own teams any more because we are a very good team."

So does that suggest Crouch is not good enough? Far from it, Redknapp continued: ''I love Crouchie, he's a terrific player, but I think there would be a lot of clubs in for him. In all honesty I don't see them letting him go, but you never know who they might bring in over the summer. Things might change."

Liverpool Doubts Over Stanley Park Stadium

Concern was growing on Merseyside last night over whether Liverpool's co-owners, Tom Hicks and George Gillett, will ever find the £300 million for the club's proposed new stadium.

With the season now effectively finished for Liverpool following Wednesday's exit from the Champions League, attention has turned to issues off the pitch and the battle for the club's future.

A fresh worry in Liverpool is that any delay on the new stadium in Stanley Park could threaten European funding for the wider economic regeneration of the Anfield area of the city. The new 71,000-seat stadium is scheduled to open for the 2011-12 season, but there is scepticism about that timetable.

City sources indicate that Hicks is no nearer securing the finance needed to actually begin the construction phase of the project. However, the next phase of the planning process is due to be approved next week and Hicks remains very confident in his ability to push the project through.

But among the fans, there is still a feeling frustration and uncertainty. "We have seen no evidence to suggest that they have any means to commence work on the stadium and every day that goes by puts the costs up," said Neil Atkinson, a spokesman for the Spirit of Shankly group.

"There is also concern about the wider impact of this inertia on the regeneration of the area. The entire local community is waiting to see what the club are going to do. Anfield needs regeneration and, until the stadium questions are answered, private investors are not going to make definite decisions.

"It's playing havoc with the area and it needs to be resolved. They are abdicating their responsibility as custodians of the area. If they can't build the stadium, they are wasting everyone's time, including their own. It's a vacuum of uncertainty."

Around £60 million of the £350 million refinancing deal that Hicks and Gillett negotiated earlier this year with the Royal Bank of Scotland and America's fourth largest bank, Wachovia, was made available for the stadium.

A further £45 million was set aside as working capital for, among other things, player acquisitions.

The remaining £245 million was split into two chunks: £60 million of club debt inherited at the time of last year's takeover and £185 million of acquisition debt, borrowed by Hicks and Gillett to complete their original buyout. It was unclear whether the interest would be taken on by the club.

Subsequent attempts by Hicks to secure substantial fresh capital are understood to have been unsuccessful and the financial uncertainty also extends to the transfer market this summer.

Manager Rafael Benitez has spoken with Hicks about the club's potential transfer budget and the American was in the dressing room at Stamford Bridge after Wednesday's 3-2 defeat against Chelsea to offer his support to the players.

Benitez also spoke in positive terms about his future at the club and talked about strengthening his squad. Chief executive Rick Parry has also held talks with Benitez about transfer targets.

However, any firm decisions will be difficult without any signs of unity between the club's two owners, and it is understood that there are still no plans for a board meeting following the recent public outbreak of civil war.

Hicks remains bullish about the future and still plans to buy out Gillett, build the stadium and offer Benitez an extended contract. Gillett, though, has made it clear that he will not sell to Hicks and admitted that their relationship has broken down.

Possible owners, Dubai International Company, remain patiently and confidently in the background. DIC have agreed a deal in principle with Gillett to buy his 50 per cent stake but have been told by Hicks that he has no interest in selling. He has pre-emption rights on Gillett's shares, though it is thought that this option may run out at the end of May. DIC, meanwhile, have reassured Benitez that his position as manager would be safe should they complete a takeover.

Xabi Scotches Transfer Talk

Liverpool playmaker Xabi Alonso has moved to end speculation linking him with a summer move back to Spain, insisting he is staying at Anfield.

Xabi has been linked with a move away, particularly this season, after newcomer Lucas Leiva had displaced him on a few occasions.

However, despite the heartbreaking defeat at the hands of Chelsea in the Champions League semi-final last night, a proud Xabi has pledged his future to the club, and is behind manager Rafael Benitez.

“My future is with Liverpool because I signed a contract," he declared. "There are many rumours but I do not pay attention to them.

“We are proud of what we have done in the Champions League and we are behind Benitez in the dressing room. I hope to play in more Champions League finals in my career.

“This defeat has hurt us a great deal but we have to show our professionalism and get on with the rest of the season.”

How Liverpool Manager Benitez Survived His Final Warning

Failure to win the Champions League was not supposed to be an option, but Rafa Benitez can start planning for next season after becoming an improbable winner in the unseemly saga of boardroom bickering at Anfield.

After alienating owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett earlier this season by agitating over transfer funds, the Liverpool manager had been left in little doubt that he needed to conquer Europe in order to beat the sack.

Even a second European Cup in four years might not have been enough to dispel the doubts, given Hicks' remarkable public admission that Jurgen Klinsmann had been approached about taking over.

Benitez appeared to be on borrowed time but nearly five months on, the sight of Hicks scurrying around trying to raise money for the latest list of transfers, underlines a dramatic shift of emphasis.

Hicks' bitter fall-out with Gillett has handed Benitez an unlikely reprieve, with the 62-year-old Texan desperate to cling to power and convinced that siding with the ever-popular Spaniard is the best way to do it.

It was never more evident than at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday, when Hicks strode into the dressing room after Liverpool's semi-final defeat, draped an arm round Benitez and drawled: "Good job, boys. You were real unlucky."

Although Dubai International Capital's take-over ambitions continue to cast a worrying shadow, Benitez can be sure the inability of Hicks and Gillett to agree on anything will extend to any suggestion of axing him.

There remains a hankering within the boardroom for a manager such as Jose Mourinho or Sven Goran Eriksson, but Benitez looks likely to stay at least another season and has pinpointed areas that need attention for another tilt at the Champions League.

With Borussia Dortmund right back Phillip Degan set to arrive at Anfield on a free transfer, Benitez is turning his sights to a right-sided midfielder and top-class strike partner for Fernando Torres.

Blackburn's David Bentley and lightning-quick Tottenham winger Aaron Lennon are leading candidates for the midfield role, while Benitez is considering Sunderland's Kenwyne Jones up front and could even join an all-star cast closing in on Valencia's David Villa.

Tottenham have indicated their willingness to meet a £16million asking price, while Real Madrid and Chelsea have also been alerted to Valencia's growing cash crisis.

The bidding may rise beyond Liverpool's means but the prospect of an all-Spain strike force of Torres and Villa appeals strongly.

He may struggle to match last summer's outlay on Torres, Ryan Babel and Yossi Benayoun, but he is ready to increase his spending power by cashing in on Peter Crouch and Xabi Alonso and listening to offers for Steve Finnan, John Arne Riise and Jermaine Pennant.

Portsmouth are in pole position for Crouch, whose failure to play any part in the return leg with Chelsea could prove the final straw, while Real Madrid and Barcelona continue to monitor Alonso's availability.

Legendary Barcelona midfielder Pepe Guardiola's likely promotion from reserve team boss to a more senior coaching role could give them the edge for Alonso, whose departure may well clear the way for Gareth Barry's £12m arrival from Aston Villa.

After Liverpool's extra-time defeat, Javier Mascherano claimed they could be primed for an overdue assault on the Barclays Premier League title, if there is no repeat of this season's faltering start.

"We have gone really well in Europe and the Premier League over the past two months," he said. "Now we must make sure that form is repeated from the beginning of next season."

Benitez Wants Quality Additions

Rafael Benitez has turned his attentions to a summer rebuilding program after Liverpool's European exit.

The Reds boss saw his side beaten 3-2 at Chelsea in the second leg of their UEFA Champions League semi-final on Wednesday, a result which saw the Blues progress by virtue of a 4-3 aggregate scoreline.

With Liverpool now set to end the season empty-handed once again, Benitez accepts that new recruits are vital during the close season.

The Spaniard appears to have been given the assurances he needs that his position as manager is safe, and as a result has already begun to draw up a list of potential transfer targets.

"Clearly now we have to start thinking about the future," he said.

"We must improve and we will add quality to the squad.

"We have two more games in the Premier League to go and obviously we will try to win them both to give our season a good ending.

"But we will be looking at the squad and preparing for next season. You can see we are closer to the top but we still need three or four new players.

"We need to keep working, our scouting department is certainly doing that. We have two more games and will try to win them and then improve the squad for next season."

The Reds have already secured their place in the qualifying round for next season's Champions League, and Benitez is confident that the English representatives will dominate the competition once again during the 2008/09 campaign.

Three clubs from the Premier League reached the semi-finals this year, but the Liverpool boss believes that the potential is there for all four spaces to be taken by teams from this country.

"It has been great to see three English clubs in the semi-finals, it shows how high the standard is in the Premier League," he said.

"And I feel that next season it is possible to see four English clubs in the semi-finals.

"The merit of the top four is outstanding. We have beaten the top sides in Spain and Italy between us, and I can see us getting stronger."

This Summer, Liverpool Mostly Need...

There's no doubt that the gap has been cut. The gulf of over 20 points to last season's champions has been halved this season, due in the most part to the addition of Fernando Torres and the benefit of a full campaign from the almost unbreachable Javier Mascherano.

But Manchester United and Chelsea will undoubtedly spend again this summer (the former on a striker and the latter on flair) and Liverpool will need to spend again simply to ensure that the gap does not grow again. If they intend to actually compete for the title, they will need to spend more.

Let’s take a look at the current Liverpool squad and speculate about the areas that need to be strengthened.

Questions continue to be asked about Jose Reina - and particularly his comfort under high balls - but this summer's goalkeeping priority will be in providing competition for the Spaniard rather than procuring a replacement. If his price continues to be prohibitive and Scott Carson returns, that problem will be solved. If not, someone other than Charles Itandje is needed to warn Reina that he is not entirely untouchable.

The only thing regular about the right-back situation at Liverpool this season has been the regularity of the switch between Steve Finnan and Alvaro Arbeloa. Rafa is clearly not convinced by either - Jamie Carragher's inclusion at right-back in the big games tells a very clear story - and neither would walk into another top four side. Possible replacements are hardly two a penny (as the high asking prices for Dani Alves and Jose Bosingwa suggest) but Schalke's Brazilian right-back Rafinha and Borussia Dortmund's Philipp Degen are names often mentioned in despatches.

Rafa's ridiculously protracted chase of Gabriel Heinze last summer suggests that he knew he needed cover on the left side of defence, with John-Arne Riise, Fabiano Aurelio and an out-of-position Alvaro Arbeloa his only options. When you consider that his rivals have Patrice Evra, Ashley Cole and Gael Clichy in that position, you can see how Liverpool's squad falls short. Riise will exit this summer and he is likely to be replaced - don't be surprised if Wayne Bridge finally leaves Chelsea for the lure of regular Champions League football.

Injury to Daniel Agger left Liverpool woefully short in the centre at the start of the season as anyone with eyes in their head could see that Sami Hyypia was not an option to play a full season. Rafa reacted - probably too late - in bringing in Martin Skrtel in January, but that does mean that it's one area of the pitch which need not worry the Reds chequebook this summer.

The fact that Rafa has preferred an enthusiastic but limited Golden Retriever on the right side of midfield in the latter half of the season gives you an indication of the lack of faith he has in either Jermaine Pennant and Yossi Benayoun, who sit firmly in the box labelled 'decent Premier League player' along with the likes of Darren Fletcher and Shaun Wright-Phillips. There are reasons these players are substitutes for Big Four sides, but the difference is that Liverpool have no better alternative to keep the average players on the bench. This is where the big money should be spent this summer, though talk of getting Roma's Mancini for just £4m should see fans rubbing their hands together with glee. Fans may be split on talk of David Bentley - a player capable of making the step up or another 7/10 player?

Harry Kewell should finally shift his arse and his massive wages out of Anfield this summer to leave Ryan Babel and Benayoun as the only real options (assuming Riise's exit), with both playing out of position. Babel could yet become the answer to that conundrum - though he would prefer to play up front - but it's fair to say that they are being linked with Gareth Barry for a reason, and it's not because they fancy he will replace either Javier Mascherano or Xabi Alonso in the middle. Mancini could also play on the left, but Barry's steadiness (and versatility) could well appeal to Rafa. One interesting little rumour nugget had Guillem Balague suggesting that Liverpool would buy an England international midfielder and it would be a 'surprise'. We could perhaps throw the name of Joe Cole into the mix at this point.

It will be a surprise if this is where the money is spent this summer as they boast quite a quartet in Mascherano, Alonso, Lucas and Stevie Gerrard, with Damien Plessis capable of filling in where necessary. The capture of Barry would obviously provide other options - particularly if Alonso exits - while someone like Cole could certainly play in the hole in the stead of Gerrard.

If Peter Crouch was pondering whether to exit Liverpool this summer, his mind should have been made up by the fact that he was still sat on the bench at the end of a Champions League semi-final in which the Reds needed goals. He will have no shortage of options if he decides to exit, but his replacement will be decided by budget. A big budget and you're looking at Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, a smaller budget and you're maybe looking at Kenwyne Jones.

No Damage To Fernando Torres

Initial concerns regarding the fitness of Liverpool striker Fernando Torres will be assuaged by the news that the 24-year-old is not undergoing treatment today after his substitution in Wednesday night's Champions League semi-final.

There was notable anxiety at Stamford Bridge among Liverpool coaching staff and fans alike on Wednesday night when Torres, who had scored in the 65th minute to put Liverpool back on equal terms with Chelsea, was replaced by Ryan Babel with 20 minutes of extra time still to play.

Rafael Benitez said afterwards that he was forced to substitute his front-man because the Spaniard had felt a strain in his hamstring. "Torres was injured and had problems with his hamstring so I needed to change it in extra-time," he explained.

However, after enquiries today, it seems that while initial worries may well have been well-founded, Torres is spending his rest day as normal, and apparently having no urgent medical treatment.

The red Merseyside contingent will be thankful that Torres has suffered no lasting damage. Admittedly, the final games of the season are of no major consequence for Liverpool - they are eight points clear of fifth placed Everton, and seven adrift of Arsenal with two fixtures remaining - yet they will want Torres to be fit to finish what has been a remarkable debut season.

Liverpool play Manchester City at home on Sunday followed by a trip to face Tottenham at White Hart Lane for their last game of the season next week. If Torres is unable to play, Liverpool will no doubt call again on Babel, who scored a consolation goal from 30 yards against Chelsea on Wednesday night.

Liverpool's European Exit May Force DIC Move

The most turbulent season in Liverpool’s recent history is approaching a distinctly low-key conclusion, on the pitch at least, but the battle in the boardroom will continue to rage over the summer, with George Gillett Jr. determined to defy Tom Hicks, his estranged co-chairman, and force through the sale of his 50 per cent stake in the club to Dubai International Capital (DIC), the Arab investment group.

DIC remains supremely confident that it will take possession of Gillett’s shares in the club in the coming weeks, but Hicks maintains that he will continue to exercise the power of veto he has — a claim that is disputed by Gillett and DIC — to prevent any such sale.

Hicks’s proposed veto is on the basis that he is still trying to find the funds or the backing that he would need to buy Liverpool outright. Hicks is under pressure to prove that he has the funds to take the club forward on his own, but sources in Texas have indicated that he is drawing up a business plan that would raise the £300 million needed for the construction of the club’s proposed new 71,000-capacity stadium in Stanley Park, which is due to open in 2011.

The end of Liverpool’s Champions League campaign, after their defeat by Chelsea in the second leg of their semi-final on Wednesday, was expected to accelerate the process, with DIC having kept its distance over the past four weeks, but now it must weigh up its next move, whether to wait or whether to exert more pressure on the owners to reach a solution. For now Rafael Benítez, the Liverpool manager, appears to be working on the assumption that Hicks will be calling the shots at Anfield for the foreseeable future.

Benítez suggested after his team’s defeat at Stamford Bridge that “just one signing could make a massive difference” to Liverpool, but once again a significant turnover of players is expected. He already has agreed a deal to sign Philipp Degen, the Switzerland right back, on a free transfer from Borussia Dortmund and has made moves to sign Fernando Amorebieta, the 23-year-old central defender, from Athletic Bilbao. Those would be relatively minor deals, but Benítez will pursue more ambitious targets, including Gareth Barry, the Aston Villa and England midfield player, and at least one winger and striker as well as the usual smattering of talented teenagers.

On the way out of the club are Harry Kewell, whose contract expires on June 30, and, if the right offer comes in, Scott Carson, John Arne Riise, Jermaine Pennant and Peter Crouch. Even Xabi Alonso, a player who has been one of the cornerstones of the Benítez regime, is likely to be sold if any of his previous suitors, such as Real Madrid, Atlético Madrid or Barcelona, meet his £15 million valuation, particularly if Barry arrives as his replacement in midfield.

Steven Gerrard, the captain, believes that reinforcements are needed if Liverpool are to challenge for the Barclays Premier League title next term, but, having been unhappy with the team’s progress earlier in the season, he been reassured by their performances in recent months.

“There is no point looking back or thinking what might have been,” the England player said. “We have to look forward because we have to go into next season looking to improve again. Hopefully, we will go into next season with a stronger squad because that could make a big difference. If we can bottle this disappointment, it could be a big motivation for us.”