Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Valero Loving Liverpool Link

Real Mallorca midfielder Borja Valero left little doubt that he would seize the opportunity to join Liverpool in heartbeat.

Reds boss Rafa Benitez is reportedly considering making an offer for the 23-year-old midfielder, who responded by risking antagonising his own fans by proclaiming Liverpool to be the greatest club in the world.

"There's no club greater than Liverpool," Valero is quoted as saying by

"I will stay here at Mallorca until I am told otherwise. If Liverpool are indeed interested in me then I feel very flattered by that.

"Mallorca would surely prefer to keep the squad in place that did so well last season but at the end of the day they are a selling club.

"My aim has always been to win trophies and to grow as a footballer."

The former Real Madrid prospect has been a revelation since signing for Mallorca in 2007, and the belief is that Benitez will move for him if they fail in their long-standing efforts to prise Gareth Barry away from Aston Villa.

Mallorca's sporting director Nando Pons have already indicated that they would be open to selling Valero to LIverpool should the right offer arrive.

“The club needs money but we don’t want to break up the team we had last season," he said last week.

"However, if a great offer arrives we will be forced to consider it”.

Gunners Keen On Alonso - Agent

Xabi Alonso's agent has claimed the Liverpool midfielder is aware of interest from Arsenal.

The Spaniard has seen a possible move to Juventus hit the buffers after the Italian giants signed Christian Poulsen from Sevilla.

However, reports continue to suggest that Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez is prepared to sell Alonso to fund his own spending plans.

Alonso is rated in the £14million bracket and has now been linked with a move to the Reds' Premier League rivals Arsenal.

Gunners manager Arsene Wenger is in the market for a midfielder after losing Mathieu Flamini, while Gilberto Silva is set to join Panathinaikos.

Reports in Spain suggest contact has been made between the two clubs and the 26-year-old's agent Inaki Ibanez says the player is waiting for Liverpool's decision.

"The player knows about this subject and now the decision lies with Liverpool," Ibanez told Spanish newspaper Publico.

Alonso's sale would give Benitez the funds to sign Aston Villa captain Gareth Barry, who has also been linked with a move to Arsenal.

O'Neill Expects Reds Contact

Aston Villa boss Martin O'Neill expects Liverpool to come in with a new bid for Gareth Barry.

Liverpool have been frustrated in their attempts to sign Barry, with Villa reportedly looking for in the region of £18million for the England international.

Barry is set to return to pre-season training with Villa on Wednesday after being suspended for two weeks for his public outburst against O'Neill.

Speaking after Tuesday's friendly at Lincoln, O'Neill says he expects Liverpool to get back in contact regarding Barry, after Villa outlined their demands for a deal to go through.

"I haven't heard anymore," O'Neill told Sky Sports News. "We should be in communication with Liverpool, but he is coming back (to training)."

Villa have been linked with a host of players in recent weeks, including David Bentley, Brad Friedel and Stewart Downing and O'Neill admits it is imperative he adds to his squad.

"I think umpteen players have been linked with us, but definitely we would need a proper squad," added O'Neill.

"I have said it before that last season we worked with the smallest squad in the Premiership and that is the situation we want to address this year."

Rafa Benitez Wants Assurances Over Ryan Babel

Rafael Benitez will seek reassurances from Dutch officials after Ryan Babel’s Olympic call-up yesterday.

Liverpool’s 21-year-old was named in the Holland squad for the Beijing Olympics, meaning he could miss the first two games of the Premier League season.

But of more concern to Anfield manager Benitez is the forward being rushed back into competitive action after his recovery from the ankle ligament tear that ruled him out of Euro 2008. Benitez has already lost Brazilian Lucas and Argentinians Javier Mascherano, and – probably – Emiliano Insua to the Games next month.

And as Babel has battled back to fitness earlier than expected, it has allowed the Dutch to call him up to coach Foppe de Haan’s 18-man squad.

As part of their preparations for the Games, Holland will face Belgium on July 23 before flying to Hong Kong for the ING Cup.

The team will then move on to Tianjin in China, where they play their first Olympic match against Nigeria on August 7 before also facing Japan and the United States in Group B.

This schedule is galling for Benitez given the recovery program Babel has begun at Melwood last week, but he cannot stop the player going under the competition rules.

Benitez said recently: “Obviously, we are really pleased that Ryan has come back to training because he is an important player for us and he has worked hard to recover from the injury he suffered with Holland.

“But we are really worried because after getting him fit we will lose him again. This is a big problem – we prepare him and then he goes away with the national team.

“This season is very important for him. In his first season he was settling in but this time he has more experience and we are looking for him to give something from the beginning, so it is really important for him to start working with his team.”

It is likely that Babel will clash with Everton’s Victor Anichebe when their countries meet in the first group match.

Liverpool FC Confident Of Signing Gareth Barry

Liverpool remain confident of sealing the signature of Gareth Barry despite his return to pre-season training with Aston Villa today.

That is also despite Arsenal monitoring the Barry situation after the Gunners joined the race to sign the midfield ace.

Villa released a statement last night confirming their captain – who they value at £18m – would return to their Bodymoor Heath HQ this morning.

It came less than a fortnight after Martin O’Neill fined Barry a reported two weeks’ wages and declared he wouldn’t be allowed back to training after the player publicly criticised his manager for the handling of the transfer saga a fortnight ago.

But with O’Neill also admitting Arsenal have asked to kept informed of Barry’s status, he is aware of the need to avoid too much disruption to his pre-season preparations.

Villa have accepted the midfielder’s desire for Champions League football but know that he will only yield their asking price if he is kept to the peak of his fitness during the summer.

Barry’s return to training is merely more evidence that his club are prepared to accept his departure for something more in the region of the £15m Liverpool are prepared to pay.

Manager Rafael Benitez is reluctant to abandon the deal at this stage and is pondering a fifth bid as Arsenal’s interest gathers momentum.

But his chances of netting both Barry and Tottenham striker Robbie Keane still hinge on pushing through a big-money departure to subsidise his outlay.

Those hopes were dealt an emphatic blow yesterday when Juventus confirmed they are not in the market for any more players after Monday’s capture of the Danish international Christian Poulsen, thus calling off their pursuit of Xabi Alonso.

“If I have to be honest, unless something extraordinary happens, we can say that we have concluded our transfer activity,” said Juve president Giovanni Cobolli Gigli.

Alonso may well attract interest from Premier League clubs despite his £14m asking price. Allowing him to leave for much less would defeat the object of selling him to raise funds.

Liverpool Must Bid Big For Keane

If Liverpool really do want Tottenham Hotspur striker Robbie Keane, they will have to be prepared to bid up to £20million for the Irishman.

According to The Sun, Liverpool must offer big money for Spurs striker Robbie Keane.

The newspaper reckons Tottenham are prepared to sell their talismanic striker, provided the price is right.

It says Spurs chairman Daniel Levy is "waiting for an offer he can't refuse from Liverpool," and that means around £20million, a fairly astronomical figure which the Reds will almost certainly baulk at paying, given that Fernando Torres cost them only a little more than that - and that the Anfield club are reluctant to meet Aston Villa's £18 million asking price for long-time target Gareth Barry.

Barry's position at Villa has become strained if not unsustainable since he was barred from the club's facilities, with Liverpool continuing to haggle over that £18m price tag. and Arsenal apparently poised to move on with a bid.

So Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez seems unlikely to meet Tottenham's asking price for boyhood Reds fans Keane, suggesting that Spurs will have to lower that price to do business - or keep an unsettled player at White Hart Lane.

Mark Lawrensen: Bringing In Goal Machine Must Be Top Of Agenda

With a month to go until the new Premier League season ask yourself this: As it stands, have Liverpool for the players that can score the goals to give them the title?

Personally, I don’t think they have. My biggest bug-bear with Liverpool is that they need to realise it’s okay to lose some games as long as you’re trying to win them.

Put another way, the defence is fine, especially now Daniel Agger is back. So forget playing things safe because that’s where draws come from – and Liverpool had far too many of those last year.

They took only one point from almost a third of their games but draws mean nothing now. When it was two points for a win, a draw was half a win but now it’s a third, it’s worthless. Especially when Manchester United and Chelsea are winning so many week-in, week-out.

So my point is, who is going to make sure that if Liverpool go all out to win games that they will score the goals to ensure it happens?

Obvious answer is Fernando Torres.

But 33 goals weren’t enough to sustain a challenge last year and the odds are he won’t score that many again this season. He needs help.

And what if he falls over at Sunderland on the opening day of the season and is out for months?

Now Peter Crouch has gone that currently leaves Andriy Voronin and Dirk Kuyt – and he can’t really be trusted to come in and bang the goals in as he’s been more used to a role wide on the right.

There is of course the possibility of Robbie Keane coming in but good player though he is, he’s more of a streaky scorer.

He’ll go on a run and get 10 in 10 but the that’s half his average season’s tally gone in one go.

He can’t guarantee the kind of regular goalscoring Torres was making a habit last season.

I have to admit that being negative this early on isn’t always wise – I’m sure Rafael Benitez does have some ideas up his sleeve for when the market speeds up.

The Spaniard David Silva would be an exciting addition and although that is unlikely to come off, at least some-one of that ilk would at least get Liverpool some way towards matching the top two in terms of firepower.

But at the moment I think it must be a worry for the Anfield faithful that there isn’t that kind of player they can pinpoint as being good enough to turn them into genuine contenders.

And with Javier Mascherano and Ryan Babel looking set for the Olympics it could be a very tricky start to the season if Benitez is unable to boost his forward line before the big kick-off.

It’s even got to the stage where I’m reading reports of Jermaine Pennant leaving for Blackburn and being concerned about losing him.

After all, he’s quick and creative and in terms of players who can operate in the vital wide areas he is an option.

And Benitez is going to have to gather an awful lot of those in the next month.