Saturday, May 31, 2008

Liverpool To Offer ₤20m For Ribery

Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez is reportedly preparing an ambitious bid for Bayern Munich winger Franck Ribery.

The French international, widely tipped to star for Les Bleus at EURO 2008 next month, has catapulted himself to superstardom since his arrival in Bavaria last summer.

The 25-year-old journeyman is now recognised as one of the most dangerous wingers in the game, alongside the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.

His performances for Bayern have alerted some of the biggest clubs in Europe, and reports from Germany claim Liverpool will offer ₤20 million for the former Marseille man.

Benitez is keen to strengthen his attacking options over the summer, and has been monitoring a number of wide players, including La Liga stars Maxi Rodriguez and Albert Riera.

Ribery’s ability to play right across the pitch will no doubt attract the former Valencia boss, as will the Frenchman’s supreme understanding with Bayern hitman Luca Toni.

Benitez is planning to build a team around star striker Fernando Torres, and Ribery could prove a stunning addition alongside Dutch youngster Ryan Babel and Liverpool skipper Steven Gerrard in the Reds’ 4-2-3-1 formation.

However, as Bayern paid around ₤17 million for the former Galatasaray man only a year ago, Rafa and co may have to up their bid if they wish to prise one of Europe’s most exciting talents away from the Allianz Arena.

Gerrard Desperate For Barry Buy

Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard has revealed he is desperate play alongside Gareth Barry next season, as the Aston Villa midfielder draws ever closer to an Anfield switch.

The pair are famous friends off the pitch, and their combination for England’s second goal during their 2-0 win over the United States on Wednesday showed exactly what Barry can bring to the Liverpool midfield.

Villa boss Martin O’Neill is reluctant to sell his skipper, especially given his ire at the overtly public manner in which the Reds have pursued the 27-year-old.

Gerrard has given O’Neill more to grumble about by reiterating that Barry is one of Benitez’s prime summer targets.

And the Kop idol is keen to see his England colleague in a red shirt next season, insisting his playing style will perfectly suit the Merseyside giants.

“We’re good friends on and off the pitch and I'm desperate for us to sign him,” Gerrard said.

“I am sure Gareth will find it hard to leave Villa. But he is 27 and needs Champions League football. He has been there for 10 years. Yet opportunities sometimes come up to better your career.

“I spoke to Rafa Benitez at the end of the season and I know he has players he is trying to bring in this summer. One of those is Gareth Barry. He will certainly help Liverpool to become a better team.”

“I’ve enjoyed playing with him for England. He keeps it simple and is easy to read.”

Mascherano Desperate For Beijing Berth

Liverpool midfielder Javier Mascherano is determined to help Argentina defend their title at the Beijing Olympics this summer, despite his manager’s protests.

The 23-year-old could become the first Argentine to win back-to-back gold medals at the Olympics games, having been part of the Albicelestes team that triumphed in Athens in 2004.

But Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez is desperate to persuade his midfield enforcer to skip the Games, as it would mean he would miss the first four weeks of next season.

The Reds have already released Brazilian gun Lucas Leiva for Olympic duty, meaning Mascherano’s absence would leave the team thin in midfield.

But the former West Ham man is keen to achieve history in China, and insisted his commitment to his country in no way lessens his loyalty to Liverpool.

“It’s important for any athlete to defend the gold medal,” said Mascherano. “I might be the only person from my country ever to do it and I’ll go down in history.

“I owe Rafa a lot in my career and I’m very appreciative of him but I want to go to Beijing because nothing counts for me more than helping my nation.

“He knows I leave my life on the pitch every time I play for Liverpool.”

Reds Let Crouch Leave

Liverpool striker Peter Crouch is likely to be granted his wish of leaving the club, after they finally backed down on their ambitious asking price.

The 27-year-old was aghast when Reds boss Rafa Benitez announced it would take at least ₤15 million to prize the lanky target-man away from Anfield.

Aston Villa and Portsmouth had expressed interest in bringing back their former striker, but Liverpool’s lofty price tag seemed to scare off all potential suitors, much to Crouch’s chagrin.

The England international had previously intimated his desire to leave Merseyside in search of regular football, in order to stay well and truly in view of Three Lions boss Fabio Capello.

The former Southampton man has received few first-team opportunities in recent times, as Spanish import Fernando Torres has clearly established himself as Benitez’s first-choice forward since arriving last summer from Atletico Madrid.

Liverpool gradually favoured a 4-2-3-1 system throughout the season, meaning Crouch was basically reduced to filling in when Torres was injured or rested – although he did usually impress when given the chance.

But Crouch’s hopes of regular football have taken a turn for the better, as Benitez and co are prepared to knock up to ₤5 million off their asking price, according to The Sun.

Pompey had an initial ₤7 million bid rejected, but Harry Redknapp may well snare his man if he can up the number to ₤10 million.

Villa are also still in the hunt, and as Gareth Barry looks increasingly likely to leave the Midlands in favour of Merseyside, the possibility remains of a swap deal that would see Crouch return to Villa Park.

End Of The Road At Anfield For John Arne Riise

John Arne Riise has been told he will be sold this summer should Liverpool receive a suitable offer for his services.

The out of favour left back claims he is in the dark about what lies in store for him at Anfield, even though the ECHO understands Riise has already been informed that he has no future at the club.

In an interview with a Scandinavian newspaper Riise revealed he has instructed his agent to speak to the club on his behalf in a last ditch attempt to find out whether or not he has any chance of extending his Liverpool career to an eighth season.

“My agent is set to find out what is happening,” he said. “I have to get things sorted out before pre-season starts.

“Those who have played internationals are due to meet up on July 7. I can’t wait and wait for an answer. I have to get an answer now.”

With Rafa Benitez already in the market for a new left back, the promising Emiliano Insua emerging from the reserve ranks and Brazilian Fabio Aurelio now back to full fitness, the likelihood is that Riise has played his last game for Liverpool and will be sold this summer.

Several clubs are interested in signing the Norwegian, although the Reds are yet to receive a firm offer.

Udinese’s Andrea Dossena remains Benitez’s first choice to fill the left back position next season and although a fee is still to be agreed negotiations are progressing and the Italian international is believed to be keen on a move to Anfield.

Dossena’s arrival would bring Riise’s Liverpool career to an end, particularly with Benitez keen to balance the books with player sales.

Liverpool Must Go Far And Wide For New Recruits

When Liverpool's new city centre store threw open its doors for the first time yesterday it was deluged by fans with shopping lists as long as a John Arne Riise throw-in.

But there were two special guests who had very different shopping on their minds from the majority of people at the biggest official club store in Europe in the newly opened Liverpool One development.

The thoughts of former Reds stars Jason McAteer and Jan Molby were concentrated more on the forthcoming Anfield bring and buy sale as Rafa Benitez gets to work on moulding his squad for the coming Premiership season.

Both are in no doubt about the areas the Liverpool manager needs to strengthen as, like everyone else in football, they have identified the wide areas as being in need of most urgent attention.

And both are happy that Liverpool have been linked with Aston Villa’s Gareth Barry.

But Molby and McAteer are split when it comes to who they would like to see added to the players roster at Anfield for the 2008/09 season, with the Dane being keen to see Barcelona star Deco in a red shirt and the former Irish international having his eye on Ricardo Quaresma of Porto.

“Obviously, Gareth Barry is the name on everyone’s lips at the moment and I think the speculation about Xabi Alonso leaving links into that as well,” said McAteer.

“We’ve already brought Philipp Degen in who is a Swiss international so that looks like a good signing.

“Down the spine of the team we can compete with anyone and that includes Man United, Chelsea and Arsenal.

“Reina is a fantastic keeper, we’ve got some brilliant centre-halfs in Jamie Carragher, Skrtel, Agger and Hyypia, in the middle of the park we’ve already got Stevie G and Mascherano and obviously there’s Torres up front.

“I’d like to see another striker at the club but, having said that, I think Peter Crouch deserves to stay at the club.

“He is a great player and he’s handled himself really well off the pitch despite the fact that he has had a difficult year.

“Peter has hung in there and I would like to see him given more starts next season.

“The flanks are the areas where we really need to improve. Harry Kewell’s already gone and it looks like Pennant will follow him, Dirk Kuyt has done a job on the right flank for the team but I’d like to see a real top quality winger brought in.

“Quaresma can sometimes be a liability and he is supposed to be a bit of a livewire off the pitch, but in terms of ability his quality is fantastic.

“He grew up with Ronaldo at Sporting Lisbon and as youngsters he was considered the better of the two of them.

“Obviously Ronaldo has come through a lot more than Quaresma, but I think a lot of that is down to Alex Ferguson and I think Quaresma could really flourish under Rafa Benitez.

“So maybe someone like him would be a good signing.

“But I also like the look of Bayern Munich’s Philip Lahm, who can play at fullback or in midfield.

“In fact, he would probably provide a nice balance with Quaresma because he doesn’t go forward quite as much and has a more defensive mind.

“The only thing is, quality like this costs a lot of money. But there is no reason why the manager shouldn’t be given that kind of money, especially if we want to challenge.”

Like every other Liverpool fan, Molby has been picking up on all the speculation linking Liverpool with various players, but Deco is the one who most captures his imagination.

“There are lots of rumours going around, as there always are at this time of year,” he said.

“I think we have more or less identified the areas where we need to strengthen – obviously the full back areas and on the flanks – but I also think we’re desperate for another striker and that would be my prime target if I was the manager.

“Berbatov has been mentioned, but I don’t know if we’ve got that kind of money.

“The one for me would be Deco. When he became available at Barcelona the first thing I thought was that he’d be great to play in the hole behind Torres.

“I’m not sure we need another out and out striker because I think Fernando Torres is one of those rare specimens who actually plays better up front on his own.

“For me, what we really need is an old style number seven, someone who can play in that role just off the main striker like Kenny Dalglish and Peter Beardsley used to, and I just thought that when Deco became available he would have been ideal.

“I know he’s had some ups and downs but he undoubtedly has ability. That boy can really play.

“I think it is really difficult because there aren’t loads of great wingers about.

“I know a lot of people have been looking at Mancini at Roma but I don’t think he’s a Premier League player and I wouldn’t bring him here.

“I think that Rafa has reached the stage where he believes that if we are going to bring in wide men to do well in the Premier League then they might have to be British, hence the talk about Stewart Downing and David Bentley coming to Anfield.

“We’ve tried with foreign wide men and it hasn’t quite worked out.

“I think Gareth Barry is a very good player. He is an intelligent footballer who is ideally suited to the way Rafa wants to play.

“He’s not a headless chicken, he knows the game inside out. The only problem is, if we do sign him we’re going to have to sell one of our central midfield players because he won’t be bringing him to play on the left and that will probably spell the end of Xabi Alonso.

“For me, Xabi is a once in a lifetime player and it will be a shame if he has to go, but maybe it makes sense if the fee that’s been bandied about is the right one.

“If it is, then maybe the time is right to take the money and run but I would be reluctant to see him go.”

The tills started ringing at Liverpool’s brand new superstore yesterday, and it is only a matter of time before the buying and selling begins at Anfield.

But whether any of the potential targets named by Molby and McAteer feature on Rafa Benitez’s shopping list remains to be seen.