Sunday, June 08, 2008

Toon Outraged At Reds' Milner Bid

Liverpool have reportedly offered up three youngsters in an ambitious bid for Newcastle United winger James Milner, incurring the wrath of the Tyneside club.

The Evening Chronicle reports that Reds boss Rafa Benitez is hoping to trade Argentine full-back Emiliano Insua, central defender Jack Hobbs and one other in exchange for Milner.

Aston Villa boss Martin O’Neill was livid when Benitez attempted to capture Gareth Barry with a similar deal, although the Ulsterman never revealed which players his Reds counterpart had put forward.

But a Toon source claimed Insua and Hobbs, both 19, were definitely involved in the Milner offer, although the third player was such a “nonentity” that his name was not even worth remembering.

Magpies boss Kevin Keegan is reportedly insulted by his former club’s meagre advances, and will no doubt seek a significantly more attractive proposal before he considers parting with the England under-21 international.

Liverpool signed Insua from Boca Juniors in 2004 and is highly rated within the club, while Hobbs is expected to be offloaded after spending the second half of last season on loan at Scunthorpe.

Ability To Adapt The Key For FernandoTorres

It is not just the hair, blonder with each dye, that makes Fernando Torres stand out in the company of his countrymen. In a squad conspicuously short of six-footers, most look quite a way up to their centre-forward. The public already give him a status above any other Spanish footballer. As the squad left Santander for what they hope will be an absence of nearly a month, the loudest squeals from fans were for Torres, formerly El Niño. Now he has a right to be appreciated as El Adulto.

Torres does not naturally seek what Spaniards call protagonismo; he’s not a loudmouth attention-seeker and has a gentle, low-key way with autograph-hunters and those who want their photograph taken alongside him. He would not have appreciated that his team had been booed from the field in Santander at half-time the previous evening by their own public after a stultifying final preparation match - they beat the USA by a solitary late goal - but he used to hear far worse when he was the one man band, teenaged captain of Atletico Madrid. Besides, the vat of self-confidence Torres takes to the European Championship remains full.

He has just broken local records in Liverpool marking the impact of a new striker at a club that so prizes its No 9s: 24 goals in his debut Premier League season. And his national team are undefeated in 16 matches, winning all but two. Spain, like Liverpool, have their dogmas. If they are to win their first major championship since 1964, they will do it with elegance, with overwhelming possession and passing accuracy. “For us, the most important thing is to keep the ball as much as we can,” says Spain coach Luis Aragones. “We are a team that can find it hard to win the ball back.”

Aragones, 69, has been around the block, and if he seems set in his ways, it is because ways are set for him. “Idiosyncrasies exist in certain teams,” he says. “Barcelona have always played better-looking football. It so happens that Real Madrid tend to win more. The best counter-attacking team in Spain has tended to be Atletico.” And in England? “In England the pace of the game is very high,” says Aragones. “I like it, but I prefer the ball to be doing the fast moving, and sometimes the players. That’s what we are good at.”

So here’s the contradiction: Spain will stress the virtues of Spanish football while taking on the rest of the continent with the most expatriate XI in their history; at a pinch, five of their team could be footballers who work in England. Euro 2008 stands ready to applaud Spain for the elegance of their passing and swift geometry of their midfield exchanges, while audiences recovering from another breathless 10 months of the Premier League perk up at seeing leading figures from Liverpool and Arsenal’s last seasons wearing the red of España. Yet Cesc Fabregas, who drives the sweet machinery of Arsenal’s football, may not get into Aragones’s first lineup, against Russia on Tuesday. Liverpool’s Torres will, but must alter his game significantly.

“Spain’s style is slower with many more touches on the ball. With Liverpool everything is more direct,” says Torres. Which did he prefer? “The style of play with Liverpool suits me very well, but now I am with Spain and I have to adapt.” Adapt what? “Liverpool is a hard-working team and that gives you more time to pace yourself up front. I have teammates like [Dirk] Kuyt, who is out of this world with his physical effort. He does his work and some of mine, too. Maybe with Liverpool I get fewer chances in front of goal, but in a way, I have a better chance to convert them.” So what does the adaptation, from prolific Liverpool Red to Spain’s Roja, mean?

His goals for Liverpool would more likely come from crosses, he gives as an example, while those for Spain will be “a one-two in the penalty box, a piece of individual skill, maybe via a reverse pass. You have to be ready for that.” And the alteration, the distinction between the adrenalin of Anfield and the tension around Spain, the team who eternally wait to be the sum of their parts, remains one of these championships’ main intrigues. Will Spain be more worldly for their Premier League nous? Or less Spanish? Torres would like an amalgam of the two. And he’d like one extra piece of Liverpool to become Spanish these next three weeks. Which one? “Steven Gerrard, of course,” says Torres, smiling.

Mourinho After Gerrard, Again?

Internazionale coach Jose Mourinho has been rebuffed yet again in his attempts to lure Steven Gerrard away from Liverpool, according to reports.

News of the World reports that Inter had made the England midfielder a priority target before Mourinho’s arrival, pondering a ₤30million bid before their inquiry into the Reds skipper’s availability was ignored by club and player.

The 28-year-old is keen to stay on Merseyside despite the boardroom battles currently raging at Anfield, and despite Liverpool’s continual failure to challenge for the Premier League title.

Inter had hoped to capitalise on the Reds’ unrest by quietly monitoring the situation to see if Gerrard might be tiring of the upstairs antics and offering him a way out.

During his time at Chelsea, Mourinho twice attempted to sign the boy from Huyton, only to be rejected at the last hour – and the Special One will thus be reluctant to pin his hopes on Gerrard this time around, whether he agrees and move or not.

But ‘Stevie G’ is planning to stay with his boyhood club for the long haul, as he hopes to link up with close friend Gareth Barry next season and continue to forge a dynamic attacking partnership with Fernando Torres.

Cesc And Xabi Alonso The Odd-men Out For Spain

Cesc Fabregas and Xabi Alonso are likely to be on the reserves bench when Spain plays its opening game at the European Championship against Russia on Tuesday.

Spain coach Luis Aragones held the team's first full practice march session at the team's base camp at Stubai valley on Saturday with the expected starting 11 winning 5-1 over the backups thanks to David Villa's three goals.

Fabregas looked frustrated throughout the session despite insisting earlier that he would accept a substitute's role.

"I'll play when I'm called, I'm here to help the national squad to go the furthest possible," said Fabregas, the scorer of the backup side's lone goal. "If you come off the bench, you can always make the difference in a game. I have to be ready for that moment when the coach calls."

The 21-year-old Fabregas has won the FA Cup with Arsenal, while Alonso also has an FA Cup to go with his 2005 Champions League medal with Liverpool. Spain is looking to add to its tally of one major football trophy - this same competition 44 years ago.

Spain faces Russia at Innsbruck, Austria, before playing Sweden and defending champion Greece in Group D.

Fernando Torres and Villa, who has shaken off an injury scare that forced him out of Wednesday's friendly against the United States, will be up front and expect service from wingers Andres Iniesta and David Silva and central midfielders Xavi Hernandez and Marcos Senna.

"The first game of a competition like the Euro is always the hardest. It's very important to start with a win," midfielder Ruben de la Red said. "If you win that first game, everything else is much easier."

It wasn't four years ago. Spain opened Euro 2004 with a 1-0 win over the Russians, but it drew its next game against Greece before being knocked out of the tournament after a defeat to host Portugal.

Russia is coached by Guus Hiddink, a Dutchman who has led every team he's coached at a major championship out of the group phase.

"We have to worry about our own game. We shouldn't be worried about our rival," Silva said. "The most important thing is us."

Aragones has a full roster after Sergio Garcia returned from a quadriceps problem to train with the team for the first time since it arrived at the small moutainside village outside Innsbruck.

The 69-year-old Aragones led the Spanish through some light training in the morning, with the drills sometimes looking closer to breakdancing.

"That's worth a photo!" yelled one spectator.

The sight of Fabregas shadow boxing with Carles Puyol was enough to draw two young girls on horseback over to the fence to watch.

Premiership Pair Named In Brazil Squad

Anderson and Lucas are among 12 overseas-based players named by Brazil coach Dunga to play in a warm-up game for the Olympics on June 22.

Brazil are yet to announce an opponent or venue for the game, but that did not stop Dunga releasing an initial squad following Friday night's shock 2-0 loss to Venezuela in Foxborough in the USA.

Real Madrid's Robinho, 24, is the only player in the group of 12 who would fill one of the three over-age slots if he is named in the final squad for the Games.

Squad: Alves (Almeria); Rafinha (Schalke), Filipe (Deportivo la Coruna), Leonardo (Olympiakos), Breno (Bayern Munich); Lucas (Liverpool), Anderson (Manchester United), Diego (Werder Bremen), Fernandinho (Shakhtar Donetsk); Pato (Milan), Sobis (Real Betis), Robinho (Real Madrid).

Torres Relishing Cesc Partnership

Fernando Torres believes his partnership with Cesc Fabregas this summer could see Spain crowned European champions for the first time since 1964.

Although the pair are fierce rivals during the Premier League season when Liverpool and Arsenal go head-to-head, the former Atletico Madrid striker loves playing with the Gunners playmaker.

Torres' pace and movement make him a handful for any defence and he is relishing the prospect of playing alongside Cesc this summer, a player who he knows will put the ball exactly where he wants it.

Although Spain are often perceived as the perennial under-achievers when it comes to major tournaments, Torres is confident everything will come together for Luis Aragones' side this summer.

"Playing with Cesc is like a dream. He understands the way I move and where I want the ball," Torres told the Sun.

"It's so easy and it gives me great confidence. We all know that Cesc is already one of the best midfielders in the world.

"It's easy to play with someone who has vision but also the ability to put the ball exactly where he wants.

"He spots my runs and sends the ball right in front of me. I am confident it will all come together for us in the European Championships.

"Our understanding on the pitch is great. Spain has great quality and Cesc is among the best in the world.

"We hope he comes forth in the Euro and is at the level he's used to performing for Arsenal. It's a luxury to be able to play with him.

"I hope this is Spain's year. The great thing for us, though, is we don't just have Cesc. Xavi is a huge player as well."