Monday, June 30, 2008

Transfer Talk: Liverpool's 2008/9 Prospects

Liverpool’s season was marred by an internal war between manager, shareholders and owners. All eyes went from watching the football to round the clock analysis of the goings on between Rafa Benitez and the Liverpool board.

Anfield seemed to be in turmoil in April with co-owner Tom Hicks reportedly asking Rick Parry to hand in his resignation. Turmoil began as George Gillet admitted he was happy to sell his share of the club – this sparked a repeated interest from Dubai International Capital to take control of Gillet’s share – Hicks meanwhile was working on raising enough capital to buy-out his partner.

All this was going on as Liverpool prepared themselves for their Champions League semi-final against Chelsea – their third appearance in the last four stage in four seasons under Benitez.

Benitez’s position was further undermined when the media reported that former Germany manager Jurgen Klinsmann had been approached as the Spaniard’s replacement – emergency talks were arranged, and as the season came to and end Benitez’s job was as safe again.

As every season, Liverpool will go in to the next campaign talking of a genuine title challenge but it is clear that investment in the playing staff is required to make that ring true for once.


Rafa Benitez

Benitez has been with Liverpool since 2004 replacing Gerard Houllier. Much like the team he coached previously at Valencia, Benitez has struggled with a talented squad who persistently seem to under perform. European success and domestic cups have edeared him to the fans and hinted at what can be achieved but for all at Anfield winning the Premier League becomes more important the longer they go withoutn doing it.

Benitez is a football man - some would say football obsessive - and his constant search for the right balance in the team has yet to yeild a satisfactory solution with Liverpool.


Last season:

4th - 76 points


The pot:

Rafa Benitez is reported to have ‘demanded’ £50 million from Hicks and Gillet in a bid to bring three major signings to Anfield next season. This is something the manager has denied. Liverpool’s finances do not appear all that healthy however; their asking price for Peter Crouch has been branded too high by Harry Redknapp, and their persistent bids to bring Gareth Barry to the club reveal their inability to provide excessive funds. With a new stadium to finance as well Benitez may have to cut his cloth a bit more cleverly than the rest fo the big four if he is to compete for signings.


What they want / need:

Liverpool need width. At least two wide players with pace and the ability to beat a man would add massively to a side that is central midfield heavy. Also, a decent strike partner for Fernando Torres is essential, despite his best efforts as a lone front man last season.


Who their targets are:

Liverpool are expected to make a fourth offer for Aston Villa's Gareth Barry, reports suggest they hope to close a deal in the coming days. They are also targeting Valencia - said to be cash-strapped - in a bid to land David Silva. The departure of John Arne Riise to Roma also makes way for Liverpool to sign Udinese left-back Andrea Dossena for £7m.


Special One:

Having already made three bids for Aston Villa’s Gareth Barry it seems the midfielder is Benitez’s top priority.


Expect to see:

More boardroom turmoil.


Don't expect to see:

A title challenge

O'Neill - Barry Can Leave

Aston Villa manager Martin O'Neill has conceded that Gareth Barry will be allowed to fulfil his wish to join Liverpool, so long as The Reds meet the club's valuation of the player.

Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez is keen to land England international Barry, who on Sunday reiterated his desire to play UEFA Champions League football, as he looks to bolster his midfield ahead of the 2008/09 season.

However, the Anfield club have failed in their previous attempts to secure Barry's services, despite upping their offer earlier this month.

O'Neill has remained adamant that the club are desperate to retain their captain, but has now admitted Barry will be granted permission to leave - for the right price.

"The chairman and I were surprised at Gareth's comments," O'Neill told The Sun.

"Contrary to what he said, we desperately wanted to keep him - and he knows that.

"But if Liverpool meet our valuation, Gareth will get his expressed wish to leave. Until then, he remains an Aston Villa player."

Liverpool's latest offer was reportedly in the region of £15million, but rumours claim Villa are holding out for a fee of £18million.

Anfield Is The Only Place For Me, Insists Gareth Barry

GARETH BARRY insists that his future lies at Anfield because Liverpool want him more than Aston Villa and claims that Martin O’Neill’s lack of support is driving him closer to a move.

Villa are stubbornly trying to get as large a fee as possible for their unsettled captain and have already rejected three bids from Liverpool so far this summer.

Manager O’Neill is furious with the way Liverpool have conducted their pursuit of the player in the public arena and has cut off all contact with the Anfield outfit, leaving negotiations in the hands of chairman Randy Lerner’s assistant, Paul Faulkner.

But it is a lack of dialogue between O’Neill and himself that has apparently upset Barry.

O’Neill has been appearing as a regular pundit on BBC television’s coverage of the European Championship finals in Austria and Switzerland over the past three weeks and despite the Ulsterman insisting that he wants Barry to stay, the player insists he has not heard from his manager during this period.

He said: “My mind’s made up, I want to join Liverpool.

“There’s no going back, it’s time for me to move on. I’m desperate to play Champions League football and that’s why I have to leave Villa. Villa kept saying they wanted me to stay, but I have not heard from the manager for weeks.

“It’s seven weeks now since the season finished, but while the gaffer’s found time to be a pundit for the BBC at Euro 2008, he hasn’t found the time to speak to me.”

In contrast, Barry claims that Liverpool’s high-profile chase for his signature shows just how wanted he is at Anfield.

He said: “Rafa Benitez has shown how much he wants me at Anfield. I am obviously flattered that someone as successful as Rafa Benitez thinks so highly of me.

“And that he’s not been afraid to put his valuation of me in black and white for Villa and all the world to see.

“But have Villa offered me anything to try to persuade me my future is at Villa Park, not Anfield? Not a thing.”

Barry is eager to push a move through this week to spare him having to return to pre-season training with O’Neill’s side but after more than a decade of service to the Midlands club, he hopes the Villa supporters can understand the reasons behind his desire for a transfer as he looks to test himself in Champions League football.

He said: “I hope the Villa fans understand. I have given my all for the club for 10 years and I’m only leaving because now I need to test myself at the very highest level.

“And I can honestly say if Villa were in the Champions League I wouldn’t even consider leaving this great club.”

Rafa Benitez Set To Ring Changes At Anfield

MAURICIO PELLEGRINO is poised to return to Anfield as Rafael Benitez attempts to bring Robbie Keane to Merseyside.

Argentinian Pellegrino, 36, who played 12 games for Liverpool in 2005, has been approached by Benitez for a second stint at the club, this time as part of his coaching staff.

Liverpool are also trying to prise Keane, 27, away from Tottenham Hotspur in a swap deal involving Peter Crouch.

Anfield insiders have confirmed that Benitez's interest in the Republic of Ireland's all-time leading goalscorer is genuine, but admit that it could prove difficult to reach an agreement with the north London club.

Keane, who netted 23 goals last season, is a big favourite with the White Hart Lane supporters, who voted him their player of the year having helped inspire Spurs to a Carling Cup victory.

Pellegrino's expected arrival will be part of Benitez's rebuilding of his backroom staff after a couple of high-profile departures.

The Spaniard's partnership with long-time assistant Pako Ayesteran ended last season.

Although the 45-year-old fitness expert's contract at Anfield doesn't officially end until today, he has not been present at Melwood for several months.

Ayesteran, who has been linked with several coaching positions both in England and Europe, also worked with Benitez at Tenerife and Valencia.

Former first team coach Alex Miller also left at the end of the season, to become manager of Japanese club JEF United Chiba, ending his nine-year association with Liverpool, having been brought in by former manager Gerard Houllier as chief European scout.
Benitez has already brought another former Liverpool player and staff member back to the club in Sammy Lee, who has been appointed assistant manager having worked as coach under Houllier. Although Pellegrino, who is back at Valencia as youth team coach, only played 12 games for Liverpool in the second half of the 2004/05 season and was generally considered to have lacked enough pace to adjust to the Premier League game, he was always a big favourite with Benitez.

The pair had great success together at the Mestalla - winning two Spanish titles - and Benitez remains adamant that it was Pellegrino's run-outs during his short spell on Merseyside that enabled Sami Hyypia to stay fresh ahead of Liverpool's Champions League final victory.

Meanwhile, Anthony Le Tallec has finally formally ended his Liverpool career by signing for French First Division club Le Mans UC 72.

The 23-year-old, who can operate either as an attacking midfielder or striker, has spent the past four seasons away from Anfield out on loan at St Etienne (2004-05), Sunderland (2005-06), Sochaux (2006-07) and Le Mans (2007-08).

Starting his career with Le Harve, Le Tallec impressed former Liverpool manager Houllier at the World Under-17 Championship in 2001 and arrived at Anfield two years later alongside Florent Sinama-Pongolle. However, neither player was able to hold down a regular first team place and Le Tallec made just 17 appearances for Liverpool.

Riera Requests Transfer - Report

El Mundo Deportivo reports that Espanyol winger Albert Riera has made formal his determination to leave Montjuïc this summer.

It comes as no surprise that the Spanish international has sent in a transfer request as various European clubs look to secure his services.

Furthermore, Riera has personal reasons for wishing to leave. As he told the media after Espanyol's disastroud second half of the season, he was hurt by the banners from fans that read: "Stay on vacation. We won't be in Europe, and you won't be at the Euros."

While he then informally signalled his intention to leave, president Daniel Sánchez Llibre stated that he would be going nowhere unless his €24m release clause was met.

Riera, then, has set his agent about finding him a new club of considerable financial wherewithal - a search that continues. Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur are thought to be among those interested.

Striker Luís García, too, could be on the way out as his agent begins to make preliminary enquiries about a move elsewhere.

Rafa: Torres Proved Critics Wrong

Rafa Benitez has spoken of his pride after Fernando Torres confounded his critics to fire Spain to their first major honour since 1964.

The Liverpool boss admits certain sections of the Spanish press were critical of the striker's performances in Euro 2008.

However, El Nino's winning goal against Germany on Sunday night has made him a national hero – and Benitez believes the strike will be talked about for decades to come.

He told "I am very proud, especially after he has been criticised from some journalists in Spain.

"Everyone remembers the Marcelino goal from 44 years ago, and the last final Spain were in was 24 years ago. Now people will talk about Torres in the same way."

Benitez watched the goal from the comfort of his sofa, from where he was in no doubt the best team won.

"Spain played well. For 10 minutes at the start of each half Germany were pressing, but after that Spain controlled the game," he said.

"The first goal changed the game. After that Metzelder pushed forward and Torres was left one versus one. Spain could play on the counter and that was important.

"They had three or four players in the middle with real quality and played good football."

Torres and Spanish counterparts Alvaro Arbeloa, Xabi Alonso and Pepe Reina will now be given three weeks' rest before returning to Melwood ahead of the new campaign.