Friday, May 09, 2008

Benitez Still Has Scores To Settle

Rafael Benitez wants Liverpool to end the season on a high and add to their record of scoring more goals than any team in England this term.

The Liverpool boss also wants to ensure that goalkeeper Jose Reina retains his 'golden gloves' title as the best stopper in the Premier League.

Sunday's trip to Tottenham is seen by Benitez as a chance to destroy a few myths about his side and counter the criticism they have taken this season over style and entertainment.

Their goal scoring is a point in question.

Liverpool have scored 117 goals this season in all competitions - more than any other team in England. They are five ahead of Arsenal who also have one game to play.

Benitez also wants another clean sheet to aid Reina's cause, with the Spain international leading the race to claim the division's most shutouts.

An 18th blank at White Hart Lane will guarantee Reina, who been ever-present in the league, the title as the Premier League's best goalkeeper for the third successive season.

He will also win it if his nearest challenger David James, one clean sheet behind, is rested by Portsmouth ahead of the FA Cup Final.

Benitez, with fourth spot assured, said: "To achieve 76 points would be fantastic. You always want to win trophies but we want more than 117 goals and another clean sheet, which would make us happier.

"It can be an exciting fixture, hopefully on the last day it can be an open match with some goals and a good match.

"We would like to sign off with a win, score some goals and play well. It is never easy to play the last game away from home, the hosts always find such occasions easier.

"But we have hungry people who want to show what they can do, we want another clean sheet and we want to add to the 117 goals we have scored this season.

"We want three more points, we aim to be at our very best to end on a positive note. We will use players with commitment and passion. If they are young, okay, then we will use young players."

Benitez could include Harry Kewell for his last game for the club before he is released, while Peter Crouch - who started his career at Spurs - may also play in what could also be his last game for the club before a £15m-plus summer move.

Rafa Benitez: I Discussed Gareth Barry With Martin O'Neill 20 Days Ago

Rafa Benitez last night angrily hit back at Martin O'Neill for accusing him of being "disrespectful" and unsettling Gareth Barry.

And in another blunt message to one of his Premier League rivals, the Liverpool boss told Portsmouth's Harry Redknapp he will have to stump up £15million for Peter Crouch. Benitez was in fighting mood yesterday and revealed he rang O'Neill three weeks ago to declare his interest in Barry.

He was astonished when O'Neill claimed Liverpool were out of order for tabling a £10million bid and insists the Reds have done nothing wrong.

"I was surprised by part of his comments," said Benitez. "I had a private conversation with him 20 days ago.

"He knew everything about my idea and I knew about his idea. He said he wanted to talk with his owner.

"We needed to do an official movement and he knew that because I was talking with him."

Benitez has agreed to back off until the end of the campaign and plans more talks with Villa for Barry next week.

"He was very clear so we must wait until the end of the season and then we will try again," he said. "We will wait and respect his decision."

Benitez is also taking a tough line with Redknapp and dismissed his £8m offer for Crouch, claiming it is way below his valuation.

The Spaniard admitted for the first time that the England striker can go - together with John Arne Riise and the out-of-contract Harry Kewell - but only if the price is right.

He said: "Crouch wants to play every week. It's not easy here because Fernando Torres is on fire.

"So if we receive a very good offer - and when I say a very good offer, I mean £15m - we will consider it.

"But it won't be £8m because he's a big-name England international."

Sammy Lee Now The Frontrunner For Assistant Manager's Job At Liverpool

Rafael Benitez will appoint an assistant manager following Alex Miller’s departure from Liverpool – with Sammy Lee a front-runner to make an Anfield return.

It was announced yesterday that first-team coach Miller is ending a nine-year association with the club to become manager of Japanese side JEF United Chiba.

Benitez has operated for almost the whole season without a right-hand man since the surprise exit of long-time associate Paco Ayesteran in August last year.

While the Liverpool manager will promote members of his existing staff to fill Miller’s vacated position, he concedes a new assistant to “share the responsibility” is a priority.

And that could mean a role for Lee, who was part of Gerard Houllier’s coaching staff before leaving for Bolton Wanderers a few weeks after Benitez arrived in June 2004.

Of Miller’s exit, Benitez said: “It is very positive news for Alex. This is a very good opportunity for him to coach in Japan, and I want to wish Alex all the best in his new job.

“It means we will be promoting some of the existing coaching staff and also over the summer we will be looking to bring in a replacement.

“I am considering new staff for the new season. We are checking some names and will be in contact with them and see what we can do.

“I think it would be good to have an assistant manager to share the responsibility with me.”

Miller is expected to arrive in Japan on Saturday to start work at Chiba and will attend their league match against Kyoto Sanga.

The 58-year-old former St Mirren and Hibernian manager joined Liverpool in 1999 as chief scout but became first-team coach following the arrival of Benitez in 2004.

Miller, who enjoyed a 15-year playing career with Rangers before earning his European coaching licence, has already managed in Asia with South China AA.

Chiba are bottom of the J League standings after collecting two points from 11 games so far this season, a run which led to Croatian coach Josip Kuze being sacked on Wednesday.

And Chiba president Hirotake Miki said yesterday: “We are convinced that Mr Miller is a wonderful person who can improve our team.

“We, as the whole club, would like to work together with our new manager to focus on our games for the rest of the season.”

Rafa Benitez Tells Liverpool Owners: Move Fast In Transfer Market

Rafael Benitez has made it clear that he wants Liverpool’s owners to "work quickly" in the transfer market as he plans for a summer of upheaval at Anfield.

And the Liverpool boss also claimed that a "final solution" was close in the battle for boardroom control.

Benitez’s stance came on the day that he lost first-team coach Alex Miller to a managerial job in Japan, slapped a £15million price tag on Peter Crouch and confirmed that Harry Kewell would be released at the end of the season after rejecting a new contract on less money.

Former Liverpool assistant manager Sammy Lee, sacked earlier this season as boss of Bolton, is an early front-runner to replace Miller.

Benitez also revealed that he had held "private" talks with Aston Villa boss Martin O’Neill over Gareth Barry’s future - Liverpool having a £10million bid rejected last week - while confirming that he would discuss John Arne Riise’s future if a good enough offer was received.

But it is Benitez’s proactive stance on the club’s future that will raise eyebrows.

He said: "All I can add about the boardroom situation is that I am in contact with both of them (co-owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett) and we are trying to progress with different issues that we have.

"I do not know exactly everything about shares, but in terms of what is my responsibility, we are progressing and I am doing my job.

"Everybody knows the club needs to be well organised and everybody knows what they have to do. Who will be in charge? Maybe the final solution will be soon."

Benitez added: "We work like I did before. If I have any ideas about signing players I tell them, the owners, and also Rick Parry (chief executive), and if they say yes then we progress.

"Normally I do not ask about difficult things, normally they say yes, both of them say yes.

"I want transfer business to be done as quickly as possible. If you sign a player at the end of July you do not have much time, it is better to sign players as quickly as possible.

"How many we sign depends on the market. We have offers (in) for some players, maybe we can sell as well as buy. I am really pleased and happy with the squad, maybe we need to bring in two or three new players, but if we need to sell then we will buy new players."

Benitez was clearly determined to show he is keeping his side of the bargain struck last month with the owners about the future.

He said: "We are working hard to get closer to our targets. We need to wait but I will try to talk to the owners, I will try to talk with Rick Parry and if we have the green light we will progress with our targets."

And Benitez was also quick to underline his position over Barry, Crouch and Riise.

"Martin O’Neill is clear about the situation and we have agreed to wait until the end of the season," he added.

"He was telling everyone (about our offer), but we are willing to wait and we will try to talk again about the possibilities.

"I was talking privately with Martin before (the offer) and he knows our ideas, clearly.

"Harry has talked with his agent and we were trying to reach an agreement, but we could not get that so he will be released at the end of the season.

"Riise has one year more on his contract. He is not playing at the moment but he knows that if we receive an offer that is good for him and good for us, okay, we will talk.

"But at this moment he is our player. I am really pleased with him because he is a fantastic professional."

On Crouch, Benitez revealed an irritation with the situation, saying: "We offered Peter a new contract.

"Nobody was talking about him when we signed him from Southampton and then everyone was criticising him because he was not scoring goals.

"But I supported him. Now he wants to play every week. We know that Portsmouth are always in the media, talking, every time. But we have had no official offers, just talking.

"But if we receive an offer, £15million or more would be reasonable, I want the best for Crouch and the best for my club.

"I talked to him before and I have talked to him two days ago. He knows my position and I know his position, we are professionals we want the best for each of us.

"But now he is a different player, he is a big name. For the last month we have heard that he wants to play, he wants to leave and that there are other clubs who would like to sign him.

"We will now wait and see whether there are any offers. Then we will talk with him. Clearly we would want a big price."

Juventus Prepare £15million Bid For Liverpool's Xabi Alonso

Juventus are considering a £15million bid to prise Xabi Alonso away from Liverpool – as Rafael Benitez slapped a similar price tag on Peter Crouch.

The Anfield manager, who has urged the club’s board to “work quickly” in the transfer market, anticipates a summer of change with a number of high-profile departures.

While Benitez has no immediate plans to include Alonso in that group, Liverpool’s interest in Aston Villa skipper Gareth Barry has cast doubt over the midfielder’s long-term future.

And Juventus, having already taken Momo Sissoko from Anfield this season, are preparing to test Liverpool’s resolve by launching an official bid for the Spain international.

Barcelona are also contemplating a move for Alonso, with new coach Josep Guardiola – who will replace the departing Frank Rijkaard in the summer – a boyhood idol of the 26-year-old.

Benitez, though, said yesterday: “Xabi is our player, he has a contract. Barry can play in three different positions, so I don’t think we need to worry about this.”

The Liverpool manager also responded to criticism from Martin O’Neill over the offer for Barry, claiming to have been in talks with his Villa counterpart for almost three weeks.

“I was surprised with part of his comments,” said Benitez. “I had a private conversation with him, he knew my idea and needed to talk with his owners. In the end, we needed to make an official movement. I don’t have any problem waiting, we must respect his decision, and then talk again with him. I was talking with him 20 days ago more or less, and he knew everything. He knew my idea and I knew his idea.”

Definitely leaving Anfield in the summer is Harry Kewell, while Crouch and John Arne Riise, who both have a year remaining on their current contracts, have been told they can speak with other clubs.

Crouch’s decision to not yet take up the offer of a new deal at Anfield has already prompted interest from potential suitors, with Portsmouth ready to offer £8m. But Benitez believes Crouch is worth almost twice that figure and claims to have no problem keeping the England international at Anfield next season – despite the striker able to leave for nothing in 12 months’ time.

“Peter is a different player now to the one we bought from Southampton,” said Benitez. “He is a big name, an international player and everybody talks really well about him.

“Peter said in December that he wanted to talk about a new contract, but then his representatives said they wanted to wait, so now we will see the situation.

“If we receive a very good offer, and by that I mean £15m, we will consider it. I’m reading about £8m, but if we only receive that then I’d rather keep the player. And don’t forget he is an English player, which is really important when you consider the market.

“Peter is a player with an agent who will be working to do the best for him, and we will be working to do the best for us.

“If that means I need to keep the player, I will keep the player. We’ve offered him a new contract, we like the player and we want him to stay. But we cannot offer him a guarantee he will start every game every week. We need to resolve this situation, and that won’t be with an £8m offer.”

Benitez also underlined the situation regarding Kewell and Riise, with the latter being tracked by a clutch of clubs including Newcastle United and Villa.

“Riise has one year left on his contract and we know there are some clubs interested in him, and we will wait until the end of the season and try and do the best for him and the best for us,” said Benitez.

“I was talking with Harry’s agent, we didn’t have any agreement and we decided to release him at the end of the season.

“Everyone knows Harry is a very good player. The question is whether we could do something with him, and in the end we couldn’t so we had to forget about it and think about the future.”

As he presses ahead with his transfer plans, Benitez has been reassured by an improvement in communication with the club’s owners.

But having been frustrated in the past by perceived hesitancy in the market, the Spaniard is eager to wrap up the majority of his summer dealings as soon as possible.

“I’ve been in contact with the owners and Rick Parry, so they know our idea and the things that we want to do” said Benitez. “Now we must wait to see if they approve or not. The situation now is much better than before, because I can talk with them. I want transfer business to be done as quickly as possible. If you sign a player at the end of July you do not have much time, it is better to sign players as quickly as possible.

“But the plan is not just to buy. It’s also to sell. But because we don’t have any concrete offer on the table for any player, we will just have to wait a little bit.”

Liverpool Set Sights On Keita

Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez is reportedly planning a ₤10 million swoop for Sevilla midfielder Seydou Keita.

The Mali international moved to Andalusia last summer, and has impressed during his debut season in Spain.

The 28-year-old has already garnered significant interest from Juventus, who are also chasing his Sevilla team-mate Diego Capel.

And according to The Sun, Benitez is prepared to splash out ₤10 million – a third of his projected transfer budget – on the defensive midfielder, thus activating a release clause in his contract.

An inside source said: “Rafa has Keita very high up on his list for this summer and may well make a bid for him.”

Liverpool have already been strongly linked with Aston Villa midfielder Gareth Barry for the same amount, but Villa boss Martin O’Neill has claimed it may take near double that to prise him away from the Birmingham club.

The Reds’ sudden interest in central players has sparked speculation that Xabi Alonso – also linked with Juve – could leave in the summer, but it could also mean that Benitez simply seeks reinforcements for the two holding spots in his 4-2-3-1 formation.