Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Barry Under Pressure To Ask For Move As Villa Hold Firm On Price

Gareth Barry may have to go public with his desire to leave Aston Villa for Liverpool as the stalemate over his valuation threatens his move to Anfield. His suitors are adamant they will not meet Villa's £18m-£20m asking price and the England midfielder may have to test Martin O'Neill's intransigence with a transfer request to secure the move.

Liverpool have had three offers rejected, the last of £13m, and are prepared to make a fourth official approach this week, despite O'Neill's reluctance to discuss a deal for the 27-year-old after the Anfield club made their interest public before the end of last season. But Liverpool insist they will not pay £18m, and their next offer is likely to be left with Villa as Rafael Benítez considers alternative targets.

O'Neill is close to strengthening Villa's midfield by signing Steve Sidwell from Chelsea for £4.5m, with confirmation of a deal expected in the next week, but still wants to hold on to Barry, his captain. Barry informed O'Neill of his wish to join Liverpool by telephone after England's international against Trinidad & Tobago this month. He is loth to sour relations with his employers of 11 years and with a manager he respects by formally requesting a transfer, but he will have no alternative if the stand-off continues and his prospects of competing in the Champions League with Liverpool recede.

Liverpool believe they are being held to ransom by Villa, and hold a similar view of Newcastle's insistence on at least £7m for James Milner. The 22-year-old is one of several wingers under consideration by Benítez, who was rebuffed in an attempt to exchange the reserve players Danny Guthrie, Jack Hobbs and Emiliano Insúa for Milner last month. Guthrie, who spent last season on loan at Bolton, may yet be a makeweight in a deal for the former Leeds United midfielder, whom Liverpool value at closer to £5m.

David Villa Not A Liverpool FC Target

Euro 2008 top scorer David Villa is not on Liverpool’s transfer hit list this summer.

And the Valencia striker has even moved to dampen speculation himself.

The four-goal leading marksman at the European Championships was recently quoted as saying he held an ‘attraction’ for both Liverpool and Chelsea.

But the Spanish striker clarified his comments last night.

“I have heard that I am supposed to have said that I would prefer to go to Liverpool to play next season or that I want Chelsea to be my next team,” he said.

“I have not said anything like that. My club insists I am not for sale and, believe me, I am totally focused on the European Championships.

“As far as I know, nobody from Liverpool has been in touch, but in any case my future is not something I have in my mind at the moment. I do not understand why people put words in my mouth.

“I always say the same thing. Nobody from Valencia has told me that I am for sale. In any case, I am not at all worried about that at the moment.

“My priority, for now, is to play well in Euro 2008.”

Reds boss Rafa Benitez is looking elsewhere for reinforcements rather than his old club at the Mestalla.

With Peter Crouch looking likely to leave this summer – although the Reds have received no bids, official or informal, from Portsmouth – Benitez will need more strength in the striking department at Anfield.

But he is not planning a raid on Valencia for Villa.

Speculation has been intense that Villa could become a Reds target, especially as the Spanish star admits that his closest friends in the national team’s camp are all Liverpool players.

After his last minute winner against Sweden he said: “The first person I met to celebrate it with was Reina, my best friend. He ran faster than anybody, in fact he always runs the fastest in goal celebrations. He lives matches very intensely.”

And after his Russia hat-trick he added: “I picked up a hairline fracture in my finger hugging Torres after our first goal of the tournament. My finger got stuck in his shirt. And then with Pepe Reina, I jumped and we hit our heads! God, it is dangerous to celebrate.

“But thank God for Pepe Reina and Xabi Alonso. I don’t speak English, so they had to go to the ref and explain that I wanted the ball, about the traditions involving a hat-trick.

“He didn’t want to give it to me. He said he couldn’t, but in the end he did.

“I am lucky that I play next to Fernando Torres. Contrary to what happens when I play for Valencia, playing alongside Torres for Spain means that defenders have got two people to worry about. I have taken advantage of Fernando’s movement and of his runs.

“The first goal against Russia was practically his: he made the move and, very generously, passed it to me.

“For the second, his movement created a hole that Iniesta spotted and was able to feed me the ball. That is why I went across to the bench to celebrate the hat trick with Fernando.”

It is unlikely, however, that the pair will ever get the opportunity to recreate that partnership at Anfield.

Roma Contemplating Double Liverpool Swoop

As AS Roma close in on the signing of Liverpool full-back John Arne Riise, reports have surfaced that the Italian side are also considering taking out-of-contract Harry Kewell from Anfield to the Stadio Olimpico.

Roma, who finished as runners-up in Serie A last season, are looking to strengthen their squad this summer, and Norway international John Arne Riisehas been a prome target for some time.

Riise himself was quoted as saying there was a 50:50 chance the move would materialise, while according to his brother the full-back is definitely on his way to the Eternal City.

Lillestrom's Bjorn Helge Riise told the Corriere dello Sport: "I have just spoken to my brother and he told me that he will play next year with Roma.

"And he was very happy."

Former Monaco defender John Arne has said the idea of a move to the Italian capital appeals to him, and a transfer looks likely if the two clubs can agree a fee, expected to be around £5 million.

However, with Alessandro Mancini's future with the Giallorossi looking uncertain, Roma are also thought to be weighing up a move for Harry Kewell as the Australian international winger seeks a new club.

Kewell, previously with Leeds United, is keeping his options open but a switch to the Eternal City could materialise if he can't arrange a suitable move in England.

Roma are also being linked with other Premier League players including Manchester United's Louis Saha and Mikael Silvestre.

Aston Villa Prepare For Gareth Barry Exit

Aston Villa are closing in on the signature of Chelsea midfielder Steve Sidwell. And he could be the replacement which would finally convince Martin O'Neill to let Gareth Barry complete his move to Anfield.

The Midlands club is understood to be on the verge of agreeing a £4.5million deal for the Chelsea midfielder, which could go through as early as next week.

Sidwell has been one of Villa manager Martin O’Neill’s main transfer targets since the season ended, and his arrival would offset some of the disappointment surrounding the club regarding Barry’s expected departure.

Sidwell played a major part in Reading establishing themselves in the Premier League two seasons ago before moving to Stamford Bridge last summer.

The former Arsenal trainee, who has also attracted interest from Manchester City, had limited opportunities under Jose Mourinho and then Avram Grant as Chelsea narrowly missed out on Premier League and Champions League glory.

O’Neill, who is currently working as a television pundit at Euro 2008, has a number of other targets including Blackburn winger David Bentley, who has been linked with a £15m switch to Villa.

He is aware of the need to considerably bolster what was the smallest squad in the Premier League last season having already lost the services of Olof Mellberg, Patrik Berger and Thomas Sorensen.

Everton target Tom Huddlestone, Jimmy Bullard, James Milner, Aaron Lennon and Pascal Chimbonda have also been linked with the club.

James Milner Price Set To Cool Liverpool's Interest

Liverpool could end their pursuit of James Milner if Newcastle United hold out for more than £7million for the winger.

The 22-year-old has been tracked by Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez as he seeks to strengthen his flanks, with a player-plus-cash offer involving Danny Guthrie his preferred option.

But suggestions that Kevin Keegan, who is due back from holiday in America, will look to push Milner’s valuation up to £9million look set to cool Benitez’s interest.

The other issue clouding the deal at St James’ Park is the changes that were confirmed in the boardroom yesterday, with chairman Chris Mort stepping down and Derek Llambias taking the new title of managing director.

Sources in the north east claim that owner Mike Ashley will take a more hands-on chairman-like role and is due to discuss plans for next season’s squad building this week.

With Newcastle yet to make any close season signings, their balancing act between letting one of their prize assets go against raising transfer funds is set to be high on the agenda.

But as is policy for a player unproven at European and international level, Benitez will not pay more than what he believes Milner is worth, which is £5m before Guthrie is factored in.

Villa Rubbishes Reds Rumours

Valencia striker David Villa has rubbished speculation that he has set his sights on a move to Liverpool or Chelsea next season.

Villa has impressed at Euro 2008 and is the tournament's current top scorer after firing four goals in the group stages.

That form has reportedly put the 26-year-old on the radar of Liverpool, who are on the look out for a strike partner for Villa's Spain team-mate Fernando Torres, and Chelsea as the Blues consider options for the possible replacement for Didier Drogba.

Villa was recently quoted as saying he held an 'attraction' for both Liverpool and Chelsea, however the former Real Zaragoza star insists he is happy at the Mestalla and that Valencia have not told him he is for sale.

"I have heard that I am supposed to have said that I would prefer to go to Liverpool to play next season or that I want Chelsea to be my next team," Villa told

"I have not said anything like that. My club insists I am not for sale and, believe me, I am totally focused on the European Championship.

"As far as I know, nobody from Liverpool has been in touch, but in any case my future is not something I have in my mind at the moment. I do not understand why people put words in my mouth.

"I always say the same thing, nobody from Valencia has told me that I am for sale. In any case, I am not at all worried about that at the moment.

"My priority, for now, is to play well in Euro 2008."

Villa also insists that he would not be tempted by the likely increase in salary that a move away from Valencia could bring.

"Money means nothing," Villa added. "Of course, everybody works to earn money, but if you are not happy, material things mean nothing. My only target in life is to get better at my job."

Reina Happy To Help

Liverpool shot-stopper Pepe Reina insists he is happy to be helping Spain in the European Championship finals - even if he is not No.1 in goal.

Reina has been on the bench for Spain's opening Group D victories against Russia and Sweden as first-choice Iker Casillas, the Real Madrid goalkeeper, has taken centre stage.

But now that Spain have qualified, Reina is set to play against Greece on Wednesday in the final group game.

He is likely to return to the bench for the quarter-final tie, but Reina insists he is happy to provide the back-up and to help the team.

He said: "I always go out there ready to play. You always go out with the intention of playing and when you do get a chance, just don't screw it up.

"The mentality (in your preparation) is the same - you need to compete whether you are playing or not."

Casillas has been Spain's regular for nearly seven years, winning 79 caps, and Reina does not begrudge the Real keeper his record.

Instead he concentrates on his own game, knowing that he could be called upon at any time to do a job for the team.

He added: "Iker is playing at a high level and there is no reason to replace him.

"I know that I could be called in at a difficult moment and I would be delighted to help. I hope not, but if something like an expulsion or an injury happens to Iker, you have to be ready."

Despite the fact that the Greeks are already out of the competition, Reina says the Spanish will not be complacent.

He added: "We just need to have a good game and show that we can be counted on for any moment. We'll be ready.

"I'll go out there motivated to take advantage of the minutes and to win."

He also believes Spain must play to their strengths if they are to progress in the tournament, saying: "Physically we're inferior to a lot of teams. Our football is about touches, possession ... and it's what we must exploit."

Liverpool Legend Mark Lawrenson Feels Easy Opening Fixture Could Be Advantageous To Rafael Benitez’s Side

Liverpool Legend Mark Lawrenson believes that the Reds can make a rollicking start to the Premiership next season as they have a comparatively easy fixture against Sunderland in the opening match of the 2008/09 season.

Lawrenson feels that the fixture will give Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez a huge chance to show the rest of the teams in The Premiership that they will not be taking things lightly and will be aiming to clinch the title right from the start.

"I think Liverpool's opening game up at Sunderland could suit Rafael Benitez's side," said Lawro.

"It looks like there will be no Kenwyne Jones for the hosts as he picked up a nasty injury in Trinidad & Tobago's friendly with England and although Sunderland seem to have plenty of cash burning a hole in Roy Keane's pockets it's unlikely that he'll know his best team for the opener if he brings in a few new faces.

"It's a good fixture for Liverpool as the pressure will be off and Sunderland will be trying to win rather than looking at their own points tally so early in the campaign.

Lawrenson claimed that he was certain that Spanish international Fernando Torres would definitely be amongst the Reds when they travel to the Stadium of Light, no matter what the papers claim.

"One player I fully expect to be in Benitez's starting line-up at the Stadium of Light so long as he's fit is last season's top scorer Fernando Torres.

"There might be a few stories flying around that the Spanish striker is going to be lured to Chelsea for a huge fee and massive wages but I genuinely believe that he loves being at Liverpool.

"Although it's a big club it's also very much a friendly, family club too.

"Torres might be able to earn more money at Chelsea but if you're a good player then money will always end up coming to you anyway.

"At Anfield he's got a manager who speaks the same language and a set of supporters who love him.

"The fact that Torres stayed at Atletico Madrid so long also shows that he has certain qualities of loyalty and his attitude is very refreshing in the modern game.

"Another thing I like about him is that despite all his goals, he's a real team player.

"The way he created David Villa's first goal against Russia was very unselfish."

Riise To Join Roma By End Of Week

According to reports in England and Italy, Liverpool's John Arne Riise could be a Roma player by the end of this week.

Riise has been at Liverpool since joining them from Monaco in 2001, however he is now surplus to requirements following the arrival of Udinese full back Andrea Dossena.

Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez has admitted that he will allow Riise to leave, and Roma have been already begun negotiations to sign the 27-year-old.

The Merseysiders are currently demanding just over €5m, while Roma are only prepared to pay €4m. Despite this, it seems likely that a compromise can be found, and reports in Italy and England suggest that Riise could be a Roma player by the end of the week.

The Norwegian international has come out in the press stating that he would be interested in a move to the Stadio Olimpico, and there should be no problems with regards to personal terms.

Roma are in desperate need of a left back, as they went through the whole of last season with just one senior option in the form of Max Tonetto.

Liverpool Close In On James Milner Signing

James Milner's switch to Liverpool has moved a step closer with Newcastle interested in a player-plus-cash deal for the England Under-21 midfielder.

Newcastle are reluctant to sell the 22-year-old this summer but are keen on an exchange deal worth £7m plus Danny Guthrie.

Guthrie, who spent last season on loan at Bolton, is thought to have confided in friends that he expects to join Newcastle which has increased speculation that Milner is Anfield bound.

Even though Newcastle manager Kevin Keegan has been away on holiday, assistant coach Terry McDermott has said the former England coach has been working hard to bring new additions to St James' Park this summer.

Keegan will return from the United States this week where he is expected to step up his search ahead of their season opener against Manchester United on Aug 16.

"Even though Kevin's been away, make no mistake, he's been on his phone trying his best to bring new players to this club," McDermott said.

"Now we’ll be coming back in this week and we're looking forward to the start of pre-season. Both myself and Kevin are great believers in a hard pre-season so that the lads are flying when it all kicks off."

While Milner's proposed move to Liverpool gathers pace, John Arne Riise is edging closer to a move to Roma.

Liverpool coach Rafa Benitez has said the club would not prevent Riise departing for the right price. It is thought a £5m deal between the two clubs will be reached by the end of the week.

Gareth Barry's Liverpool Move Gets Closer

John Arne Riise’s move to Roma is expected to go through by the end of the week – as Gareth Barry’s arrival at Anfield took a step closer.

Liverpool and Roma are set to agree terms on a switch for Riise this week, with the Norwegian defender hopeful the Reds will compromise on their demands for £5m.

And as Riise prepares to leave, Barry should soon be joining the Reds with the cancellation of his testimonial suggesting that the midfielder’s days at Villa Park are numbered.

Barry, 27, has been at Villa since he joined from Brighton & Hove Albion in 1997 but Villa have now called off his testimonial on August 9 and are expected to play a regular pre-season friendly on the same date instead.

However, Villa have told Liverpool they are under no pressure to sell their skipper for less than their asking price – which will be in the region of at least £18m.

Villa boss Martin O’Neill has no need to offload the England midfielder on the cheap because it is understood the deal will have no bearing on his own spending power during the summer.

O’Neill is believed to be aware of the funds he has at his disposal from club owner Randy Lerner.

Reds manager Rafael Benitez has already had three bids rejected by Villa for 27-year-old Barry.

And, while it appears inevitable that Barry will move to Anfield, O’Neill will not give the green light until his value of the player is met by Benitez.

A source close to Villa said: “The sale of Barry will have no effect on the plans Martin O’Neill has in place for the summer. Any deal for Barry will be on his and Villa’s terms.”

Benitez is expected to make a fourth offer during the coming week for Barry.

The expected sale of Xabi Alonso to Juventus for a reported £14m may pave the way for what Villa will regard as a more realistic offer for Barry.

Benitez confessed at the end of last season that he would allow Riise to end his seven-year stay at Anfield if “the right price” was offered.

Roma are believed to have made a bid in the region of £4m for the Norwegian international but the two clubs’ differences in the player’s valuation are likely to be ironed out within the next few days.

Earlier this month, Roma coach Luciano Spalletti confirmed his interest in the 27-year-old, saying Riise “can give a different dimension”, and “Riise has the qualities we are looking for.”

Now Riise has spoken for the first time of his intention to leave Anfield in order to find “new challenges.”

He said: “That was nice what was said by the coach (Spalletti), but this is only something I have heard from media reports.

“I have only one year of my contract left, so the price is lower than a year ago – 50m Norwegian Kroner (approximately £5m) seems a little high for me.

“I need to play and need to be in a team where I can become better, because I know I can become better.

“When you change club, you get a kick-start and a set of new challenges.”

Portsmouth Ready To Spark Auction With £10m Bid For Crouch

Liverpool expect an opening bid for Peter Crouch from Portsmouth this week, but those hoping that the long-running transfer saga surrounding the England striker will be resolved within days are likely to be disappointed. The bid from Portsmouth, for around £10m, should begin the transfer process but it is very unlikely to be the final act.

Crouch himself is out of the country on holiday and knows that Liverpool are unlikely to accept the first bid for him, given that he is among the players whose transfer fee will make up the majority of their manager Rafael Benitez's transfer budget this summer. The difficulty Portsmouth, Aston Villa and Newcastle have encountered in their pursuit of Crouch has been in deciding a reasonable level at which to pitch their fee. Benitez had originally demanded £15m for a player who has only a year left on his contract.

The Portsmouth bid should flush out other clubs. Once Liverpool have more than one bid, then they will have a more realistic view of the market for him and tailor their own budget accordingly.

Portsmouth is an attractive prospect for Crouch, who has happy memories of his time there in 2001 and 2002 when he scored 18 goals in little more than eight months. He would relish the chance to work with Harry Redknapp, who was the manager when he left Fratton Park in 2002, but is also mindful that a move out of the Premier League's top four has to be to a club that will keep him in the international reckoning too.

Villa would want Crouch as part of the deal for Gareth Barry – an exchange Benitez has been so far unwilling to sanction. Even then, the personal terms at Villa would have to be right for Crouch, who will not be pushed into a move. In the worst case scenario, he would be prepared to see out his contract and leave on a Bosman free transfer next summer.

It appears that the chain of transfers will begin once Benitez agrees to sell Crouch for a reasonable fee, although £20m for David Villa is currently out of Liverpool's reach. Villa's Spain strike partner Fernando Torres said yesterday he had no intention of leaving Liverpool, despite Chelsea placing him at the top of the list of players they hope to deliver for their new manager, Luiz Felipe Scolari.

Torres said that the ownership dispute between Tom Hicks and George Gillett had "not affected" him "at all. I want to say very clearly I'm not on the market and it's my desire to continue at Liverpool."