Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Reina: Torres Will Get Even Better

Jose Reina has paid tribute to Fernando Torres and backed his Liverpool team-mate to go from strength to strength over the coming years.

The Spanish striker has enjoyed a superb first season in England and his winner against Manchester City on Sunday took his tally to 23 Premier League goals.

There was a warning from Rafa Benitez over the weekend that Torres could find it more difficult in his second term with Premier League defenders more accustomed to his style of play.

However, Reina has been hugely impressed by Torres and has taken the opposite view to his manager over what impact the former Atletico Madrid forward will make next season.

"You have to remember that this is Fernando's first season in England so he will improve and get even better," the goalkeeper said in the Daily Mirror.

"He always wants to learn and he will improve because he's hungry. As a player you are always learning and always looking to get better and believe me, that will be Fernando's goal next season.

"English football is different but he has adapted really well - better than anyone could have expected.

"You only need to look at the number of goals he has scored."

Rafael Benitez Warns That Life Will Get Tougher For Fernando Torres

Rafael Benitez, the Liverpool manager, has described Fernando Torres's first season in England as "amazing", however he was warned the Spaniard that he will find life tougher next season.

Torres continued his spectacular form by scoring the only goal of the game as Liverpool beat Manchester City in their final home game of the season on Sunday - to equal Sir Roger Hunt's record of scoring in eight successive home matches. The former Athletico Madrid forward has now scored 32 goals since his summer move from La Liga, and while Benitez has been thrilled by Torres's progress he has warned him not to expect an easy ride come August. .

"Fernando has been amazing, and he has reached that total without any penalties," Benitez said. "Clearly it will be more difficult for Torres next season, defenders will have watched him and will work on stopping him. But he can improve even from this. He has a strong mentality and he can cope with what defenders do. It will not be easy to score this many goals again, obviously it will be more difficult for him.

"But if he scores a good number of goals and his team-mates, five of whom have scored 10 or more this season, also improve and increase their number of goals, it will be OK for us."

Liverpool have only lost one game this term when Torres has scored - last week's Champions League semi-final exit at Chelsea.

Torres has been particularly prolific at Anfield, scoring 21 league goals - a record that has only been bettered by Ian Rush (23 in 1983-84), Robbie Fowler (22 in 1995-96) with Sam Raybould (1902-03) and Gordon Hodgson (1930-31) each also scoring 21.

Benitez added: "The winner against City was another good goal for Fernando, and he has produced an amazing number of goals without penalties. It is fantastic for the club now and in the future. He will score many more. Fernando has scored a lot of his goals at Anfield, but all of our squad enjoy playing here. It is a fantastic atmosphere and he is enjoying his time here at Anfield and in England, and hopefully it will be the same next season."

In a campaign that has seen Liverpool take so much criticism of their style, they have scored 79 goals in all competitions at Anfield this term, the club's second-highest total following the 87 they scored in 1985-86.

Lucas Adds To Rafa Benitez's Olympic Dilemma

Rafa Benitez’s Olympic headache worsened today after Lucas became the second Liverpool player to declare his intention to take part in this summer's Beijing Games.

The Reds’ Brazilian midfielder has followed in the footsteps of Argentinian team-mate Javier Mascherano by confirming that he is determined to play for his country in the Olympics.

With the tournament taking place between August 8-24, Benitez will be left short of midfield cover at the start of the new season should both players get their wish.

And the situation is made even more impractical for Liverpool by the fact that should they be selected to represent their respective countries, both Lucas and Mascherano would be required to take part in training camps for a fortnight before the Olympics begin.

That would cause severe disruption to Benitez’s pre-season planning and leave the Liverpool boss with only two senior central midfielders to choose from in Steven Gerrard and Xabi Alonso, although they will be supplemented by Gareth Barry should the Reds’ pursuit of Aston Villa’s England star prove successful.

But Lucas insists he has to answer his country’s call – even though it would result in him missing out on Premiership games and a Champions League qualifier for Liverpool.

“Hopefully I will be picked,” he said. “That would mean I would start the pre-season here with Liverpool and then later on I would go to the Olympics.

“I need to wait for the squad to be picked but hopefully I will go.

“I know that would mean me missing some games for Liverpool and that is not good, but when you talk about your country you always want to play for them.

“And for Brazil the Olympics is like the World Cup because Brazil has never won the gold medal.

“It is also important for my future as an international player because the World Cup qualifiers are coming up and obviously I would like to be in the squad for those.

“So now I need to think about the Olympics and I will speak with Rafa about this.”

Meanwhile, speculation linking Liverpool with a move for Barcelona left back Eric Abidal is wide of the mark.

Benitez is in the market for a new left back with John Arne Riise likely to depart Anfield during the summer but Abidal is not on his shortlist and has not been watched by Liverpool’s scouts.

Dubai International Capital Promises Liverpool Fans A Place On Anfield Board

Dubai International Capital (DIC) would want to appoint a Liverpool supporter to the club's board of directors if it won control at Anfield, The Times has learnt.

DIC, the private equity investment arm of the Dubai Government, has been in talks with Spirit of Shankly (SOS), the Liverpool supporters' union, for more than a month about the feasibility of such an arrangement.

Despite Tom Hicks's insistence that he will not sell his 50 per cent stake in Liverpool, DIC remains confident that it will be able to buy out the American co-owner and his estranged business partner, George Gillett Jr, who also holds a half-stake in the club.

Although talk of supporter representation on the board could be construed as an attempt to curry favour with fans opposed to the American co-owners, sources within DIC insist that it is not a PR stunt and that it is “committed” to the idea.

Neil Atkinson, the chairman of SOS, which held a benefit dinner at the Liverpool Olympia on Sunday evening, attended by more than 1,000 people, was adamant that attempts to put a supporter on the board would require “a great deal of care and consideration”, but that, in essence, such a move would be a positive one.

“We are not a pro-Dubai lobby; however, we take their commitment to supporter representation on the board at face value,” Atkinson said. “They have seemed thoroughly decent so far and we expect them to follow through. It is an opportunity we take very seriously.

“The process of working out how to elect a representative is something that will take a great deal of care and consideration and SOS would want to consult as many supporters and agencies as possible to ensure everything is done correctly and above board.”

Barry To Reject Record Pay Deal And Join Benitez

Liverpool are winning the battle to sign Gareth Barry with the player himself having made the decision to sign for Rafael Benitez's club this summer rather than agree a new contract at Aston Villa. Benitez is also close to signing the Birmingham City goalkeeper Maik Taylor as a back-up to Jose Reina.

The deal for the Aston Villa captain is set to prove the most complicated with the two clubs still at loggerheads over a fee, but Barry's wishes will, in all likelihood, force Villa into doing a deal eventually. The offer from Liverpool for Barry was valued at £10m although it was not an exclusively cash deal. In exchange for Barry, Liverpool were offering a choice of John Arne Riise, Jermaine Pennant or Scott Carson, who is currently on loan to Villa, plus an unspecified cash deal to make the value up to £10m.

Barry has two years left of his contract at Villa and would become the side's highest earner should he accept the deal on offer to him. However, he has decided after 11 years at Villa that a move to Anfield would be in his best interests even though he is likely to be asked by Benitez to fulfil a role on the left side of midfield and defence rather than in the centre – where he has established himself for England.

O'Neill dismissed the offer for Barry, which was faxed by Liverpool chief executive Rick Parry on Friday, as a "mish-mash of player exchanges concerning unnamed players". Unfortunately from Villa's perspective, the Liverpool player they would really like, Peter Crouch, who is out of contract next summer, was not among the players eventually offered to them in part-exchange.

Crouch's future is still uncertain after he was left out of the Liverpool squad to face Manchester City on Sunday even though the England striker was fit. It now appears that Crouch, Pennant, Riise – a target for Newcastle – and possibly Yossi Benayoun will all be allowed to leave in the summer. As well as signing the Borussia Dortmund full-back Philip Degen on a free transfer, Benitez will also move for Taylor.

Taylor, 36, is playing for a Birmingham team that is in the bottom three of the Premier League as they approach the last game of the season. He has been at Birmingham since 2003 where he originally went on loan from Fulham before signing. He lost his place in last season's team that came up from the Championship but won it back this season and has been a regular since.

Benitez only has the relatively untried Charles Itandje as a back-up for Reina. The signings of Barry and Taylor may not quicken the pulse of Liverpool fans but they demonstrate their manager's determination to do deals quickly and make major changes this summer.

Whether Benitez will be able to lay out on a player comparable to Fernando Torres will surely depend upon the ownership battle raging between George Gillett and Tom Hicks and Dubai International Capital who want to buy the Americans' shares. Nevertheless, with Crouch's future uncertain the Liverpool manager is facing the next season with a greater reliance on Torres than even this term.

Rafa Given £30million For Summer Shopping

It has been reported that Rafael Benitez has been given £30million plus player sales for a mini rebuilding programme.

The Daily Star Sunday said the Spaniard has already given Rick Parry his summer shopping-list and are looking to bring in players sooner rather than later in a bid to get a head-start on our rivals.

“We will not be waiting until August to sign players. I think we will do things well before. Perhaps you will see some evidence in a few weeks.” said Benitez.

“It will help me if the signings of new players are done early. It needs to be as soon as possible really, because then you know the situation and you can control the pre-season.

“Rick knows the necessity of early deals. Our conservation the other day was very positive.

“We are trying to fix the targets and progress. He knows that we want to sign the players right now.

“We aren’t working on signing new players in June or July - but to sign them in May if that is possible.” he added.