Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Starlet Flattered By Reds Link

Grenoble youngster Sofiane Feghouli has admitted he is flattered to be linked with a move to Liverpool.

The 18-year-old is regarded as one of the best young players in France after helping Grenoble win promotion to Ligue 1 this season.

Scouts from a host of clubs have watched Feghouli in action this season and Grenoble are bracing themselves for a fight to keep hold of their prize asset.

Ajax are also thought to be interested in Feghouli, but the teenager believes he is too young to move abroad.

"The interest of those great clubs is flattering. But my priority is to go on to improve in France, above all at Grenoble," Feghouli told L'Equipe.

"I try to keep level-headed. For the moment, the best is to stay here. Only an offer from a big Ligue 1 club could make me think about (leaving)."

Benitez Hopes To Improve

Rafael Benitez reckons that just one win against Champions League finalists Manchester United would change Liverpool's season next time around.

Such has been Liverpool's dreadful recent record against the champions, that even co-owner Tom Hicks suggested after December's home defeat that the Reds did not look as if they believed they could beat their rivals.

It is certainly a matter of worry for fans and seeing United win their 17th league title - one short of Liverpool's record - and reach another European Cup final has heightened the concern.

Benitez accepts the problem and told the LFC magazine: "If you beat Manchester United once it results in a six-point swing either way and that can be the difference."

Liverpool finished 11 points behind the champions this season and Benitez wants his team to be hungrier next term.

He said: "Clearly, just one team can win the league, so it doesn't really matter if you are three, six, nine or 11 points behind as we are this season.

"It is not a massive difference. It may just come down to one game over the course of a season.

"The key for me is knowing there is a difference between us and the three teams above us and that we must now reduce this gap.

"It was not massive this season. We came closer than last season. Hopefully next season we will be closer again, maybe even on top of them."

Benitez has so far made just one summer signing, Philipp Degen from Borussia Dortmund on a free transfer, and said: "This club is all about winning things so we are disappointed not to have picked up any trophies this season.

"But we will be hungrier next season. Clearly, we are winners and want to win silverware every year.

"We have not done that for two seasons so we will be looking to improve again in order to try and deliver something for our supporters next time."

Despite an end-of-season run that saw them lose just two of their 19 games, one of those defeats was a painful 3-0 mauling at Old Trafford.

In Benitez's four seasons at Anfield, Liverpool have lost seven of their league clashes with United, with a 0-0 draw their only point in that time. Benitez's only victory against them was a 1-0 FA Cup fifth-round success in 2006.

Benitez will now focus his attention on summer transfer targets but he may have to sell as well.

There is strong speculation in the Italian media that Juventus are trying to sign midfielder Xabi Alonso for £12million.

Benitez still hopes to use £6million-rated goalkeeper Scott Carson as a makeweight in a deal to bring Aston Villa's Gareth Barry to Anfield, while Fulham are believed to be interested in re-signing Steve Finnan for £2million.

Benitez is also trying to land Bordeaux's veteran goalkeeper Ulrich Rame, with the unimpressive Charles Itandje moving in the opposite direction.

Liverpool's Xabi Alonso Close To Juventus Move

Xabi Alonso, the Liverpool midfielder, is set to sign for Juventus next week.

The Gazzetta dello Sport reported that Juventus director Jean-Claude Blanc met with Rafael Benitez yesterday and that the two clubs have agreed in principal to the transfer.

Juventus have reportedly offered 12 million pounds for the Spain international - four million pounds below Liverpool's valuation - but it is believed a deal will soon be concluded, with Alonso keen to play in Italy.

Alonso joined Liverpool from Real Socieded in 2004 and became a key figure for Benitez in midfield alongisde Steven Gerrard.

The 26-year-old Spaniard scored the goal which drew Liverpool level at 3-3 against AC Milan in the 2005 Champions League final and took the game into extra-time.

Liverpool won the match on penalties to cap an excellent first year in the Premier league for the Spaniard. He has made more than 150 appearances for Liverpool and represented his country 41 times.

Benitez has already been active in the transfer market having signed defender Philipp Degan from Borussia Dortmund on Tuesday.

The Liverpool manager is also believed to be chasing Ulrich Rame, Bordeaux's France international goalkeeper, and Italian left-back Andrea Dossena from Udinese.

Fernando Torres - Liverpool FC's Heavenly Body From The Gods

It’s customary at this time of year for columnists to cast their eye back over the season just finished and, with the benefit of hindsight, pick out the moments that defined it.

Either that or pick their own personal player of the year, and eulogise over the contribution made by that individual to the success or otherwise of the team in question.

Mindful of needing to improve my green credentials, and reduce the size of my carbon footprint (whatever that is), I intend to save space and trees by combining the two approaches – so here is my review of the composite player of the season.

No doubt about his head – no single incident had a greater impact on our season than John Arne Riise’s inexplicable attempt to clear a Kalou cross, that zipped into our six-yard box in injury time of a Champions League semi-final, with a header on the half-volley rather than swipe it into the stands with his right foot.

The clue as to why he chose this ridiculous course of action is in the last two words of the previous sentence – this particular artefact being the object of Indiana Jones’s latest quest.

Not that John gets the whole skull – it’s suitably adorned with Andrei Voronin’s ponytail, which will hopefully disappear next season along with its owner; and the mouth of Javier Mascherano, which got him sent off at Old Trafford and doomed us to another miserable day out at Hogwarts.

The arms are provided by Phil Neville and Frank de Bleekere. No need to introduce the former, a former Manc and a Bluenose – a rare cocktail indeed. So there was no-one better to handle the ball on the line during the closing minutes of the Goodison derby, get sent-off and present us with the winning goal.

You could argue that the appendages of Jamie Carragher deserve a mention, wrapped as they were around Joleon Lescott seconds later, to give Mark Clattenburg the opportunity to endear himself to Kopites for all time.

But my second upper limb is grafted from another official, the Belgian de Bleekere, for it was he who used the aforesaid to raise the red card in the direction of Marco Materazzi, paving the way for the defeat of Internazionale and setting up one of the great matches against Arsenal in the next round.

The torso, heart and lungs are the property of Mascherano, Carragher and Gerrard respectively. Collectively they are the spine of the side, and I wouldn’t swap them for anyone.

The backside belongs to Didier Drogba, whose performance at Anfield in April reminded me of that balsa wood furniture in old westerns: apparently tough, but falls apart at the slightest touch.

Unfortunately Rafa’s criticism of his theatrical reactions to physical contact, while hardly news, did seem to inspire him to knock us out of Europe in the second leg.

There are plenty of feet vying to be part of my composite footballer; who knows what might have happened had the seasons of Xabi Alonso, and more seriously, Daniel Agger, not been curtailed by broken metatarsals.

A strong case too, can be mounted for the size-12s that Tom Hicks inserted in his own mouth with a regularity that suggested his PR adviser was Duncan Ferguson.

But for me the honour goes to the 10 digits attached to the swift, apparently be-winged legs of the sublime Fernando Torres.

Curling the ball home at Derby County; steering it past the keeper at the end of dazzling runs against Marseilles and Chelsea; launching powerful strikes against Middlesbrough and Internazionale; turning and firing in one movement against Arsenal.

Yes this is a true heavenly body, destined for a place amongst the footballing gods.

League Title Is Within Our Grasp, Insists Confident Sammy Lee

New assistant manager Sammy Lee believes Liverpool are already "close" to a title-challenging team.

Lee rejoined the club’s coaching staff last Friday as number two to Rafael Benitez following the departure of first-team coach Alex Miller to Japan.

Benitez has also wasted no time in strengthening his playing squad for next season, with Philipp Degen yesterday officially confirmed as a free transfer arrival from Borussia Dortmund when his contract with the Bundesliga club expires on July 1.

And Lee, who rejoined the club’s coaching staff on Friday, reckons Liverpool are not far away from being genuine contenders.

He said: “This club has made great strides over recent years. People ask when are we going to win the league, and there is no doubt about it, that is the one the fans want.

“Liverpool will always aim to be number one, you do not aim for anything else at this football club.

“I do not think we are very far away from a title-challenging side. People may say differently, but I do not think so.

“It is fine lines in certain games, little things here and there. We are not far away.”

He added: “Everyone wants the title, everyone at this club, not just Sammy Lee. Everyone who supports this club knows exactly what we want and that is what we are aiming for.

“We do not aim for anything less than the top spot. We have not had it for a while, granted, but to aim for anything less would be doing this club a disservice.

“I can say that everyone here has been and is looking forward to getting that number one spot.”

Meanwhile, Liverpool winger Harry Kewell is determined to show Rafael Benitez that he was wrong to let him go.

The 29-year-old will be released by the Anfield outfit this summer after five years at the club which have largely been ruined by injuries and lack of form.

The former Leeds United player remains confident of his own abilities, however, and insists he has nothing to prove to anyone – except Benitez.

“The one person I’d like to show is my old manager,” said Kewell. “I didn’t get a chance to show him a lot of what I could do and it would be great to show him what I was capable of doing.

“I didn’t put my hand up to be injured. It’s one of those things you have to go through in your life and it’s a shame.”

Kewell has also played down reports claiming he has already agreed a deal with Portsmouth.

“Apparently my agent did it (a deal with Portsmouth) while he was on the plane coming over to Australia, so I don’t know how he’s done that,” Kewell said on a trip to his homeland.

“But I’ve never shied away from going abroad. I’ve never shied away from playing in the Premier League, I’ve never shied away from playing anywhere.

“My options are open and we’ll see what happens.”

Meanwhile, Liverpool’s Academy team have released defender Mattone Awang, winger Ben Parsonage and striker Michael Collins.

Swedish midfielder Astrit Ajdarevic, who was part of the FA Youth Cup-winning team in 2007, is still under contract as an Academy player but is currently looking for another club, while Shane O’Connor and Michael Scott will stay on at the Academy next season as third-year players.

Hamsik Rubbishes Liverpool Link

Napoli midfielder Marek Hamsik has dismissed reports linking him with Liverpool, insisting he has no intention of leaving Italy.

The Slovakia international is believed to have caught the eye of Reds boss Rafa Benitez, and it has been rumoured he is scheduled to fly to England on Sunday to discuss terms.

But the 20-year-old, who has also been targeted by Manchester United and Chelsea, has rejected such speculation and insists he is happy in Naples.

When asked about the Reds rumours by Slovak newspaper Pravda, Hamsik replied: "Really? That is absolute nonsense. I don't know anything about travelling to Liverpool on Sunday.

"It is still valid that I would prefer to stay at Napoli. At the moment I am not thinking about any other possibility."