Friday, August 22, 2008

Reds Reject Stoke's Hyypia Bid

Liverpool have reportedly rejected a £2.5million offer from newly promoted Stoke City for Finnish defender Sami Hyypia.

Premier League newcomers Stoke have had a bid for Liverpool’s veteran centre-back Sami Hyypia turned down by the Anfield club.

The Liverpool Echo reports that Potters manager Tony Pulis - who has already signed two other defenders during the past week in Abdoulaye Faye from Newcastle and Southampton's Andrew Davies - wanted to bring in Hyypia to shore up a suspect back-four that Bolton ripped apart last Saturday.

However, Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez still sees Hyypia, 34, as integral to his own squad, despite the Finn having reached the veteran stage of a distinguished career.

He only recently awarded the Finland international a new contract at Anfield, and needed little time to turn Stoke down.

Hyypia is in competition with the likes of Jamie Carragher, Daniel Agger and Martin Skrtel for a central defensive berth with the Reds.

But Pulis may yet test Liverpool’s resolve by coming back in with an improved offer.

Kuyt Sees Trait Of Champions

Dirk Kuyt believes Liverpool have gained a trait of league champions - the ability to win when playing badly.

The Dutch forward admits he and his teammates were not at their best during the Barclays Premier League opener at Sunderland, with Fernando Torres leaving it until the 83rd minute to secure the points.

Kuyt knows Liverpool will play much better over the coming months but claims they now have enough star quality to win without reaching fifth gear.

"When you are starting a new season you can't be at your best in the first game. It wasn't going to be easy and the important thing was just to work really hard and make sure we got the three points," said the 28-year-old.

"We know we will progress every game and get even better. But you could see we had a lot of quality in that game – players like Robbie Keane, Steven Gerrard and, of course, Torres. So, we know if we work hard and create chances we have the ability to score in every game.

"For us three points from the first game is just what we wanted.

"Now we don't have to look too much at other teams like Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal - we just have to look at ourselves.

"We have to work really hard in every game and the gap will be closer. We know that we have quality. The team is getting better and better and the most important thing is to look at ourselves."

Though the Premier League campaign is just one game old, early indications are that Torres will not suffer from any kind of second season hangover.

Kuyt for one was not surprised to see El Nino pick up where he left off in May.

"Fernando showed last year and in the Euros that he is the best striker in the world and he doesn't need much to score a goal," he said. "Against Sunderland, he was waiting for his chance and he got it. We knew when he got the ball he was going to score."

Reds Quartet Make UEFA Shortlist

Fernando Torres, Pepe Reina, Jamie Carragher and Steven Gerrard have been shortlisted for this year's UEFA European Club Footballer of the Year award.

Seventeen of the 25 nominees play in the Barclays Premier League, a reflection of the fact three English teams reached last season's Champions League semi-finals.

Torres is one of the favourites for the prize along with Cristiano Ronaldo, Frank Lampard and Lionel Messi.

The coaches of the 16 teams which reached the knockout stages of last year's Champions League will now cast their votes at next Thursday's group stage draw.

There are also awards for goalkeeper, defender, midfielder and forward of the year. The list of nominees, from which the overall winner will be selected, is:

UEFA club goalkeeper of the year: Manuel Almunia (Arsenal), Petr Cech (Chelsea), Manuel Neuer (FC Schalke 04), Pepe Reina (Liverpool), Edwin van der Sar (Manchester United).

UEFA club defender of the year: Jamie Carragher (Liverpool), Rio Ferdinand (Manchester United), Carles Puyol (Barcelona), John Terry (Chelsea), Nemanja Vidic (Manchester United).

UEFA club midfielder of the year: Michael Essien (Chelsea), Cesc Fabregas (Arsenal), Steven Gerrard (Liverpool), Frank Lampard (Chelsea), Paul Scholes (Manchester United).

UEFA club forward of the year: Didier Drogba (Chelsea), Lionel Messi (Barcelona), Cristiano Ronaldo (Manchester United), Wayne Rooney (Manchester United), Fernando Torres (Liverpool).

Rafa Gives Up On Barry And Turns To Portugal's Harry Potter To Give Liverpool Extra Width

Liverpool have been linked with a move for a wing wizard nicknamed Harry Potter as they look for alternatives to signing Gareth Barry.

Rafael Benitez is weighing up a bid for Porto star Ricardo Quaresma, but the Anfield club face competition from Italian champions Inter Milan.

Benitez has become frustrated by the protracted move for versatile Villa midfielder Barry and is considering other options to strengthen his left flank.

Liverpool have also been linked with moves for Middlesbrough winger Stewart Downing and Espanyol's Albert Riera.

But Quaresma may prove as difficult to sign as Barry after Porto put a prohibitive £31.7million price tag on the Portugal international.

Inter boss Jose Mourinho has been told to raise his £13.5m bid, while Liverpool are said to be willing to go no higher than £20m for the 24-year-old.

Steven Gerrard Holds The Answer To England’s Midfield Muddle

Wembley are currently promoting an “England versus the Rest of the World’’ game, which might be an even contest if it were cycling but at football it resembles a massive mismatch.

The event, on Sept 7, is in fact a fundraiser for Unicef, with the illustrious likes of Alan Shearer reviving old rivalries with Peter Schmeichel. What Fabio Capello would give for a line-leading centre-forward of Shearer’s marauding class or an English answer to Schmeichel, that imposing Danish goalkeeper.

As sadly witnessed during the dire 2-2 draw with the superior Czechs on Wednesday, England’s present malaise is one-third a problem of personnel, with no dazzling targetman or goalkeeper available, one-third tactical miscalculation and one-third crisis in confidence.

Until the Football Association sort out their youth development system, Capello can do nothing about the dearth of decent No 9s or No 1s but the Italian can introduce some balance and belief into the side. The rush in certain quarters to clamp Capello into the public stock and provide crates of rotting vegetables for the enraged replica-shirted masses must be resisted; only after England’s trip to Croatia on Sept 10 can Capello be judged correctly. Hold the lynch mob. Capello’s lengthy CV deserves respect and a touch more patience.

The Czech captain, Tomas Ujfalusi, formerly of Fiorentina, encountered Capello sides in Serie A and describes the coach as a “genius strategist and psychologist and very charismatic’’. Most pressingly, England need this “genius strategist’’ to re-configure their midfield, a mess against Ujfalusi’s team.

One of English football’s Champions League managers believes that England’s midfielders do not lack technique, as many contend, simply “balance’’ in the way they are set up, although he is too mindful of the difficulties of Capello’s job to repeat such a critique in public.

One way to improve England’s balance would be to reposition Steven Gerrard from a left flank which feels like Siberia to the Scouser. England will struggle to impose themselves on opponents of substance unless Gerrard is deployed in the centre.

If he needs to test support for that theory, Capello has only to ask any England fan or consult any England player who does not hail from Frank Lampard’s Chelsea. If Gerrard is off the pace, and he has had some international shockers, then replace him with Lampard, an able understudy. But not the two together.

Gerrard cannot work with Lampard. Fact. Gerrard is better than Lampard. Fact. Ergo start just with Gerrard. Simple.

Harry Redknapp’s debut as a Setanta pundit on Wednesday was as entertaining as it was illuminating and his scathing verdict on Capello’s misuse of Gerrard deserves re-visiting. “We’ve produced one of the finest midfield players in the world in Steven Gerrard, he is a colossus,’’ the Portsmouth manager said. “We stick him on the left wing?! He’s not a winger. He has got to be in the middle of the park where he can influence the game. We are killing him.’’

Blithely dismissing Redknapp’s comments, Capello insisted Gerrard enjoyed a free role against the Czechs, one practised in training, but the supposed freedom came with serious restrictions because Gerrard inevitably assumed similar positions to Lampard. With David Beckham also pushing inside alongside Gerrard, Lampard and Gareth Barry, England’s centre looked cramped, chaotic and shapeless.

If there was one image Capello should take from the first half it was of Gerrard, centrally stationed, on the ball, looking up, spying an opportunity and threading a pass through to Jermain Defoe. If there was one fact that Capello should scribble into his moleskin notebook it is that Gerrard and Wayne Rooney are on the same wavelength as footballers and friends. He should build around these talented Scousers.

If Gerrard and Rooney are England’s creative heartbeat, as Capello encouragingly accepts, he should construct the right platform for them, which means Barry and Owen Hargreaves deployed as holding midfielders, allowing Gerrard to push and link with Rooney.

Capello suggested that Barry, the Aston Villa captain, had reasons for a below-par display against the Czechs. “At the moment the Liverpool [potential transfer] situation means he is not at his best,’’ Capello observed. Barry can be forgiven an off-game; he remains an important player for England.

To general consternation, Capello argued that there was “progress’’ against the Czechs. “They played for the first time without fear at Wembley,’’ said Capello of his players, adding that international football was more demanding than the Premier League or Champions League because “the level is higher’’, a debatable point.

What was not debatable was that Gerrard and Rooney, John Terry and Rio Ferdinand seem bereft of their club verve when on England duty. “The players are not recognisable from the ones we see in the Premier League every Saturday and Sunday,’’ Redknapp added “They don’t look the same players.

“If Steve McClaren had been in charge of that team there would have been uproar. Wembley would have gone barmy. What I think is the problem is you get people who play for their clubs and they are loved. They play for Chelsea, like Frank Lampard, and the fans idolise them.”

Redknapp added: “They come off here and they are booed by 70,000 people.

“Football’s like life, it’s about confidence. If you have no confidence it’s very difficult, they come out here and make a mistake and they know they’re going to get slaughtered at every opportunity and they just don’t perform.’’

At least when the perennially bubbly Joe Cole came on, he tried to make things happen. Ditto David Bentley. Unfortunately for Tottenham Hotspur’s new boy, Beckham’s place on England’s right seems set in stone, appropriately given old Goldenballs’ lack of acceleration.

“Beckham played not only because he can take set-pieces and free-kicks but because he plays well,’’ stressed Capello, sounding alarmingly like Sven-Goran Eriksson.

With 2010 World Cup qualification looming, the time for experimentation has gone and Beckham, the tried and rusted, will sadly keep out Bentley, the new and ambitious.

Waving away criticism, Capello remained upbeat, insisting: “I have a lot of confidence.’’ If only his players did. If only the fans did.

Liverpool To Cap Riera Offer At €12.7m - Report

According to Spanish sports daily Marca, Liverpool will not offer a cent more than €12.7m to RCD Espanyol in exchange for winger Albert Riera.

Riera is allegedly viewed by Reds coach Rafael Benítez as an ideal candidate to provide competition out wide on the left for Ryan Babel.

However, with Espanyol yet to receive a former offer, it seems as though Liverpool have already made up their mind that the Mallorca native could cost them too much.

That said, should Espanyol relent and lower their demands somewhat then Benítez would submit a bid of €12.7m for the 26-year-old.

Riera previously stated that he wished to leave Espanyol after the fans turned on him towards the end of last season. Some supporters produced a large banner informing him and other squad members that they would do well not to return to Montjuïc after their summer break.

Nonetheless he has since then made his peace with the incidents of May, pledging to improve on the disastrous end to the last campaign that so enraged the fans in Barcelona. Thus unless the situation changes rapidly, or Liverpool prepare to offer more money, Tintín Márquez will have Riera at his disposal for the new campaign.

Rafa Benitez Makes Peace With Rick Parry

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez and chief executive Rick Parry have vowed to "move forward together" after holding clear the air talks at Anfield.

The working relationship between the two had come under pressure over Liverpool’s activity in the transfer market - particularly over the Gareth Barry transfer saga.

Benitez is thought to be frustrated over the club’s inability to secure one of his main targets for the summer.

But with the talks being described as "positive", Parry and Benitez are continuing to work on strengthening the squad before the window closes at the end of the month.

Benitez said: "Clear the air talks have taken place. It was a positive discussion and we will now move forward together."

Liverpool are currently focusing their attentions on bringing in a left-sided midfielder with both Albert Riera and Stewart Downing having been linked with the Reds.

Parry told "I can confirm that we had a friendly and positive meeting and we’re moving forward."