Saturday, August 30, 2008

Barry's Liverpool Showdown

Aston Villa face Liverpool this weekend in the third round of the Premier League. Gareth Barry will likely line-up against the team that flirted with him all summer. Barry remains a committed Villan.

In one of the most protracted pieces of transfer speculation of the summer, England international and Aston Villa captain Gareth Barry had alerted Liverpool to his growth in stature. The courtship was two-ways as Barry, who has been a Villan all his professional life, went as far to criticise manager Martin O'Neill for making him feel unwanted.

The midlands club set deadlines for the deal, while the Mersey side recruited other areas of the team with expensive acquisitions, namely Robbie Keane.

The deal now looks dead. For this window at least, but the story has risen again because of the ironic timing of Liverpool's visit to Villa Park.

Barry is quoted in the Metro as saying: "Will Sunday be strange? I am 100 per cent for Villa. That's all I'll be doing. That won't be strange at all. I've spoken to the manager and I've no problem giving 100 per cent for Aston Villa - and that will be starting against Liverpool on Sunday."

"Will the fans all be behind me?" He asked. "All I can do is give 100 per cent for the club. That is all the fans will want to see anyway. I am sure that will be enough."

"Am I here for the long haul? I always take things a season at a time. This speculation happened at the end of last season and it has been decided I'll be staying at Villa. 'I'll take this season now," he continued, "concentrate on that and hopefully we can improve on last season."

Forever begging the questions Barry added: "Do I feel hung out to dry over what has happened? That is what the football business is all about. I am contracted to Villa. They set a fee and it wasn't matched. Rules are rules."

Regarding any ill-feeling toward his current manager, the 27-year old said: "The manager knows I will be giving 100 per cent for himself and the club and that will be fine for everyone.... It's also nice hearing team-mates want you to stay. We have a great dressing room. You want everyone to stay really but I would have been disappointed if they wanted me to leave!"

Perhaps due to the public flirtation between Barry and Liverpool, Martin O'Neill has alternated the captaincy, with Barry yet to receive the armband this campaign, he said: "The manager decided to change the captaincy and I've got no problem with that. Nigel Reo-Coker has done it and Martin Laursen has done it. I enjoyed being captain but it won't affect my performances," he said.

Concerning his own fitness and recent performances, the midfielder added: "I feel I am getting back to my best. It is going to take a while. It wasn't the ideal pre-season for me... the games are always the best thing. It was a nice run-out even if it was at left-back."

The Hastings-born man finished by saying: "How far am I away from my peak? I don't know. I suppose everyone will wait for top performances and then say I'm fit so I suppose I'll have to start producing some of those."

Capello Accepts Gerrard's England Absence, Says Liverpool Boss Benitez

Rafa Benitez insisted he had made his peace with England coach Fabio Capello yesterday and dismissed claims of a breakdown in communication over Steven Gerrard's latest injury absence.

Gerrard will have the second of two minor groin operations today and will miss Capello's first two competitive games in charge, as England begin their World Cup campaign against Andorra next Saturday and Croatia four days later.

Capello was reportedly unhappy at being kept in the dark over Liverpool's decision to arrange surgery for their skipper in the immediate aftermath of Wednesday night's Champions League qualifying round win over Standard Liege.

He phoned Liverpool's Melwood training ground for an explanation, and Benitez held clear-the-air talks with the Italian. 'I spoke with Fabio this morning, and he asked me what was going on,' he said. 'I know him well from his AC Milan days, and we had a good conversation, a positive one. I explained the timing to him, and he knows what we did was in the best interests of the player, Liverpool and England.

'Stevie was struggling and playing in pain, and it was clear he could not have gone on like that. If he had, he would have risked doing more damage and being out longer. I explained this to Fabio and he accepted it.

'It was impossible to delay it any longer. It needed doing as quickly as possible and our doctor was in contact with the England doctors to tell them what was happening. He had a small operation today and will have another tomorrow, but you shouldn't read anything into that. It is a minor procedure, and the recovery period is the same as we said on Wednesday.

'It should be around 15 days, and, as well as missing the two England qualifiers, it is going to be very close for our game with Manchester United on September 13.'

Any arguments over Owen Hargreaves' availability for Andorra and Croatia were finally ended when he withdrew from Manchester United's Super Cup meeting with Zenit St Petersburg in Monaco.

United manager Sir Alex Ferguson had risked Capello's wrath by planning to use Hargreaves for 45 minutes but claiming he would not be fit for England duty, due to a long-standing knee problem.

The likelihood of another club versus country row subsided, though, when the midfielder aggravated the injury in training.

Rafael Benitez Puts Fabio Capello In His Place

Rafa Benitez told Fabio Capello that Liverpool came before England, and that any decisions taken over Steven Gerrard's medical treatment were exclusively Liverpool's.

Capello was upset to learn that Gerrard had been sent for a groin operation, ruling him out of the start of England's World Cup qualifying campaign.

Capello’s midfield crisis deepened when Manchester United’s Owen Hargreaves failed to start last night’s Uefa Super Cup match against Zenit St Petersburg.

Hargreaves suffered a reaction to his long-standing knee injury and was understood to be very down over the return of his tendinitis.

"He trained in the stadium last night,’’ said United’s manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, of Hargreaves.

"There is no more we could do. We gave him the right platform, the right training program and the right tempo, so that’s a disappointment.

"He said he felt his knee. He said he wasn’t fit enough to play, so there’s nothing we can do about it. If a player declares himself unfit you have to accept that.’’

England's coach names his squad for the ties against Andorra and Croatia and had been hoping to use Hargreaves and particularly Gerrard.

"He called me and we spoke about Steve's operation and how long it would be,'' Benitez said.

"Everything was really positive. If we'd delayed it, then he might have been out for even longer. Fabio Capello understands this.

"Our doctor is in contact with doctors of the national team, but the decision is our decision. Steven couldn't play and was struggling with the problem he had and was always in pain.''

An indication of the problems England currently endure was highlighted by the Portsmouth chief executive, Peter Storrie.

"If you talk to our foreign players, they also find it strange that they get so much time and space when they play England,'' said Storrie, who has players such as Croatia's Niko Kranjcar at Portsmouth.

"We allow them to knock the ball about, especially at Wembley.''

Storrie added that his manager, Harry Redknapp, was "very happy'' at the club despite rumours linking him with West Ham.

"I'd say I was 99.9 per cent certain he's not going anywhere,'' Storrie added.”You could argue that Portsmouth is a better place to be than West Ham.''

Liverpool Fans Angry At New Stadium Delay

Liverpool's proposed new stadium has suffered a fresh delay of at least a year, with fears now mounting on Merseyside over whether the ground can ever be built under the ownership of Tom Hicks and George Gillett.

An official statement pointed to global market conditions for what was described as a "short-term" problem, though The Daily Telegraph understands that Hicks and Gillett accept that the earliest target for an opening date is the 2012-13 season.

However, there are now serious doubts over whether the two Americans will raise the necessary finance for a project that is estimated to cost £350 million.

Next year, they must also either extend or refinance the £350 million loan that they took out with the Royal Bank of Scotland and the American bank, Wachovia, in January.

The latest setback to the credibility of Hicks and Gillett has prompted renewed calls for them to sell the club, with Dubai International Capital's takeover offer of about £400 million still on the table.

"We feel the Americans have no intention of building the stadium," said Jay McKenna, a spokesman for the Spirit of Shankly supporters' group.

"There is a lot of anger. It does not just affect the Liverpool fans, but also the wider community – regeneration is linked to the new stadium. The best thing they could do is step aside for new owners to come in."

Liverpool City Council described the announcement as "disappointing" and warned that they would have to consider revised plans to increase the capacity of the stadium to 73,000.

It also adds to the air of soap opera surrounding the club, although the relationship between Hicks and Gillett is said to have improved significantly in recent months.

However, manager Rafael Benitez has clashed recently with chief executive Rick Parry over the failed attempt to sign Gareth Barry.

"It [the stadium] is not good news, but we cannot change things," Benitez said. "I understand very well our fans and what they may think, but they will understand that I must concentrate on the next match."

Liverpool expect officially to sign the lease from the council for the Stanley Park site next month and are adamant that they well see the project through.

"Our commitment to building a new world-class LFC stadium is undiminished," a spokesman said.

"We will use this period productively and revisit the plans for the stadium to increase its capacity to 73,000 seats."

Riera Flies In For Liverpool Medical

Liverpool are on the verge of completing the signing of winger Albert Riera from Espanyol after the Spaniard flew to Merseyside for a medical.

The terms of his transfer have agreed between the two clubs, so now Riera, 26, needs only to satisfy Liverpool’s medics about his fitness for the deal to be finalised.

The fee involved is believed to be some £8million.

The move would see Riera back in the Barclays Premier League and back in the North-West, because he spent a period on loan to Manchester City during the second half of the 2005-06 campaign.

He made 12 League appearances for City, plus three as a substitute, and scored one goal - the first in a 3-0 victory for Stuart Pearce’s side over Newcastle United in February 2006.

Riera earlier opted for Liverpool ahead of their city rivals Everton.