Saturday, September 06, 2008

Liverpool's Albert Riera Is Keen On Manchester United Repeat

ALBERT RIERA is hoping to repeat his first experience of English football by helping Rafael Benitez finally break his Manchester United hoodoo.

The Spain international left-winger was unveiled at Melwood yesterday after arriving from Espanyol on Monday’s transfer deadline day for an initial £5.5million fee.

Riera is in line for an immediate debut when Liverpool host champions United on Saturday week.

And, having started a loan spell at Manchester City in January 2006 with victory over the Old Trafford outfit, the 26-year-old is eager for a similarly impressive beginning to life at Anfield.

“It would be a dream to start in the same way,” said Riera. “It was maybe the perfect timing for me to go to City, to play in the derby.

“It was fantastic for City to win that game. We won 3-1 that day but we’d have settled for a 1-0, to beat United was great for the fans and the players.

“I know that games against United are very, very important for the supporters at Liverpool, I know how big a game it is in the Premier League. I hope that I can do the same again.”

Benitez has not yet beaten Sir Alex Ferguson’s side in the Premier League in eight previous attempts.

And when told of Riera’s fortunes against United, he said: “I’d like a similar start for sure. If he has that kind of luck, maybe I will always pick him against Manchester United!”

Riera spent six months at Eastlands on loan from Espanyol during the second half of the 2005-06 season, making 19 appearances and scoring one goal.

Benitez, though, is confident Liverpool have bought a player much-improved on the one who appeared for City.

“He has since played in the final of the UEFA Cup and been involved with the international team, and that has given him fantastic experience,” said the manager.

“That shows he is more mature and can manage the pressure better of playing here.

“But the expectations are clearly different here than when he was at City, because we’re trying to win trophies.”

While Liverpool had tracked Riera all summer, the winger attracted higher bids from a number of other clubs, including Everton.

And despite having only closed the deal hours before the transfer deadline, Benitez was always confident the player would arrive at Anfield.

“It wasn’t a big fight to get him here,” said the Liverpool manager. “He was very, very clear from the first day that he wanted to come here. It was easier than people thought. The chairman of Espanyol told him not to worry and that he’d go to Liverpool, and they just needed to sort out the conditions.”

Riera added: “Espanyol knew that I wanted to come to Liverpool. Liverpool made a big effort to get me here so I am very pleased with that.

“It’s true that Espanyol had better offers but they knew I only wanted to come here, I had repeated that 100 times.

“They were fighting for themselves to get a better fee and I was fighting for myself to get the move I wanted.

“That’s normal in football.”

And when asked if former club City’s new-found wealth would have turned his head had it been available earlier in the summer, Riera responded: “No. I was clear from a long time ago that I only wanted to come here.”

Benayoun Turned Down Moscow Riches To Stay With Liverpool

Yossi Benayoun rejected an astonishing £3.5million signing-on fee and double your money offer from Spartak Moscow to stay with Liverpool.

The Israel captain, currently on around £50,000 a week at Anfield, was the subject of a lucrative offer from the wealthy Russian side believed to be worth around £100,000 a week but Benayoun made it clear he wanted to further his career with Liverpool.

Manchester City had tabled a £6m bid for Benayoun with further interest from Tottenham and West Ham during the transfer window but manager Rafael Benitez was reluctant to sell — despite the need to raise cash for new signings.

Benitez has been a fan of the 28-year-old since his days in Spain with Racing Santander and sees him as a vital member of his squad. And sources in Israel say Benayoun wanted to repay Benitez's faith with an upturn in his form this season.

Pepe Reina Eyes Atlético Future

Liverpool goalkeeper Pepe Reina has admitted that if he should return to Spain one day, Atlético Madrid would be his first choice destination.

The 26 year old shot stopper is back on his homeland this week to help his country prepare for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers against Bosnia-Herzegovina and Armenia.

While taking some time off from his gruelling training schedule, Reina gave an interview to radio program, Onda Cero Onda Deportiva, where he spoke about numerous subjects, namely his future.

“If I return to Spain someday, Atlético Madrid would be one of my top choices without doubt,” he confessed. “It is a club that I have a lot of affection for.”

However, he interjected quickly to make sure that his words are not being misinterpreted by the media.

“But at the moment, such a move is completely impossible. I am not considering leaving Liverpool for Atlético,” he declared.

But Reina will soon get a chance to feel what it’s like playing at the Vicente Calderón as the red half of Merseyside will clash with the red-and-white half of Madrid in the Champions League group stage. And he gave a quick analysis of his opponents.

“Atleti are getting better and better every year and no doubt it is going to be very difficult to beat them.

“I know Fernando (Torres) will be very excited with this match because he will return to the Calderón,” he added.

Although Reina never turned out for Atlético Madrid during his stint in Spain, his father, Miguel Reina Santos, was a famous ex-goalkeeper for Los Colchoneros.

Pennant To Pen New Reds Deal

Jermaine Pennant is set to extend his contract with Liverpool, although questions remain over his future at the club.

According to The Times, the Reds will take up their option to add a fourth year to Pennant's current deal, which will expire at the end of the season.

However, there are still doubts over the 25-year-old's long-term prospects at Anfield, especially as he is yet to feature at all for the club this season.

Injuries caused the former Watford winger to fall out of favour with Rafael Benitez last season, while the impact of Fernando Torres brought about a new formation that held no place for genuine widemen.

Blackburn Rovers were eager to tie up a deal during the summer, as manager Paul Ince pegged Pennant as an ideal replacement for his fellow Arsenal product, David Bentley.

Stoke City were also interested in the ex-Notts County man, and it is understood that Benitez attempted to push through a £4million sale on deadline day.

But Pennant turned down a move to Britannia Stadium and is desperate to work his way back into the Reds' starting XI - far from unreasonable, given their dearth of quality options on the right flank.

However, it is likely the Nottingham native will be in the shop window once more come January, and that his contract extension is designed to raise his market value.

Ablett Reveals Reserves Disappointment

Liverpool reserves manager Gary Ablett has spoken of the frustrations that three of his team-members feel having been promoted to the first team for pre-season, only to be drawn back into the reserves for the current campaign.

Gary Ablett has explained to the club's official website the tough time he has boosting the morale of young trident Stephen Darby, Jay Spearing and Daniel Pacheco, after they experienced life with the first team during pre-season, only to be demoted back to participate in the reserves league.

"It's nice to have them back but sometimes you can understand a level of disappointment for them having tasted pre-season with the first-team and having to come back, so it's a question of motivating them," he said.

"I have to make sure they respond in the right way and ten times out of ten they do because that's the type of character they have," he concluded.

Riera On Torres, Rafa and Expectations

New signing Albert Riera has revealed he will thrive on the challenge of creating goalscoring chances for 'one of the best strikers in the world'.

Firstly Albert, there was interest in you from a number of clubs so why was Liverpool your number one choice?

I had a clear idea from the first time Espanyol told me there were some offers. There was only club for me and I told them to only talk to Liverpool. Why? Because they are a very big team with a great history and they play in the Champions League. I like the supporters and the stadium and I can't wait to play at Anfield. I know the boss very well from when I was in Spain. He is a coach that brings the maximum level from all of his players and we all want to give 100 per cent for him.

Was it a concern for you that this transfer went right to the final day of the transfer window?

I would have preferred to be here from the first day of the season but it was difficult. Espanyol were asking for a lot of money for me. As well as Liverpool they had interest from other clubs offering more money, but they knew my clear idea was only to come here. They respected my position and accepted the offer.

Up until now people have been asking questions about the lack of width at Liverpool. Is there pressure on you to bring real quality to the left side?

I don't feel pressure. I will continue to play like I did at Espanyol. I will do what the boss wants from me and give my best at all times for the team. I promise to give 100 per cent in every single game and do my best.

Your spell at Manchester City was one of mixed success. Do you feel you have a point to prove to the supporters here at Liverpool?

I feel I am a better player now. I have three years more experience than when I was at Manchester City. Since then I have been a regular in the Espanyol team and played in a UEFA Cup final. I also played for Spain last year. I am still progressing and I am sure I can continue to do that here and help this club win some trophies.

Did you take advice from any of the Spanish players here at Liverpool before deciding to sign?

I talked to some of them. They will help me a lot and I want to help this team get success.

Does the prospect of crossing the ball to Fernando Torres give you a special feeling?

I can't wait to play alongside Fernando. To play with one of the best strikers in the world is perfect for somebody like me who likes to cross the ball. I am sure we will do well together and I hope to create many goals for Fernando and the team.

Rafa Benitez likes to use rotation. Is that something of a concern for you?

I will do my best in every game and I want to play in all of the matches. I want to stay fit and help this team. It's up to the boss whether I will play in every game and I will respect his decision always.

Have you set yourself any personal targets?

Well I can't promise that I'm going to score 20 or 30 goals every season. The only thing I can promise is I will do my best in every game and always give 100 per cent. I hope to show what I can do for the team and help create goals as well as scoring some myself.

Gareth Barry: Liverpool Summer Transfer Saga Hit Me Hard

Gareth Barry goes into England's World Cup qualifying campaign admitting he lost his focus over the summer.

The midfielder was at the centre of a bitter £18million tug-of-war between Aston Villa and Liverpool which became the summer's longest-running transfer saga.

It even led to England boss Fabio Capello admitting he was concerned at Barry's drop in form during last month's friendly with the Czech Republic at Wembley.

Capello claimed Barry was "not at his best" - his first public criticism of an England player.

Barry, who has lost the Villa captaincy to Martin Laursen, might have been sweating on his place against Andorra tomorrow had it not been for Steven Gerrard being injured. But Barry, 27, insists that is all behind him now as he has pledged his shortterm future to Villa.

Barry said: "It was a tough summer, a difficult summer for myself, but that is all in the past now. That's why I felt it was important I didn't wait until the last minute of the transfer deadline to make a statement on my future.

"I made it 10 days ago now to let everyone know my mind's focused on playing for Aston Villa and more importantly, obviously, for England.

"I didn't see too much of what was said (by Capello). As I've said, it was a tough summer and it may have played a bit on my mind.

"But I wasn't going into the game thinking about my situation at all. I was trying to do the best for my country.

"It's important now that the qualifying games are coming up and everyone knows what I'm focused on.

"I personally feel very good, very fit. I didn't have the ideal preseason but I'm personally fine and ready to go. It's early season and I feel as if I'm playing pretty well."

Barry's summer of discontent and Capello's doubts after the Czech Republic game were just about the only two black marks against the midfielder's incredible rise to prominence as an England regular in the past year or so.

Barry came to the fore in the second half of Steve McClaren's failed Euro 2008 qualifying campaign and - perhaps fortunately - he was a non-playing substitute when England last played Andorra in Barcelona 18 months ago.

England fans booed their own players, under-pressure McClaren flipped in the post-match press conference and all that after an unconvincing 3-0 win.

England go back to face Andorra under Capello's new regime yet it is still somewhat of a no-win situation - even a thumping victory will be dismissed as only against a bunch of part-time nohopers.

So far, the biggest difference in Capello's regime has been a strict dress code and new diets - including more pasta and less bolognese sauce-yet performances have been just as unappetising.

But Barry believes it is a fresh start for England. He said: "It's a clean slate, the first game of the campaign and three points is what we are going to be looking for."

Why So Many British Asians Choose LFC

The lifelong Red has spent the last year researching and writing a book on the subject.

The Asian Liverbird, which was commissioned by the club after an approach by Bhana, explores how immigrants from Asia came to choose LFC upon arriving in England in the Sixties and Seventies – and why, generations later, their children and grandchildren are still wearing red.

"LFC has been entrenched in Asian households since the 1960s," says the author. "But the question of why is incredibly across the board."

Bhana's search for answers took him first to Melwood, where he spoke to stars such as Steven Gerrard, Xabi Alonso and Nabil El Zhar.

Next he conducted a raft of interviews with Asian fans and journalists, each of whom gave their account of why Liverpool is in the blood.

Each story is as colourful as it is different, yet one name is present throughout – Bill Shankly.

"It's the Shankly way," explains Bhana, who spoke to the great Sir Tom Finney about our legendary manager. "He had this great family-orientated take on life.

"It wasn't just what he did for Liverpool on the pitch. You hear about him giving tickets to fans and helping get young kids on the straight and narrow.

"As a kid I could really relate to the great man and I still do. His magic will never fade."

This view is shared by one of our most recognisable ethnic fans, Mohammed Amin Loonat, whose face appeared in every tabloid newspaper after he invaded the pitch to kiss Stan Collymore during the striker's goalscoring debut back in 1995.

"Shankly didn't care about the colour of your skin, or what your name was, he just wanted the club to conquer the whole world," says Amin.

"He made the Kop believe that they were part of the club, and rightly so – we are all one. People all over the world wanted a piece of this club."

If Shanks planted the seeds of our incredible ethnic fanbase, another Kop icon ensured they blossomed throughout the modern era – John Barnes.

"He was the first high-profile black player at the club," says Bhana. "Asians didn't have a great role model in football at the time, so they took to Barnes - a man of colour who destroyed defences week in, week out.

"Asian fans came to Anfield in their droves because of him. It certainly helped the club create an affinity with this fanbase."

The legacy of Shankly and Barnes can be seen in Asian communities up and down the country.

Take Bhana's home town of Batley, for instance. About 70 miles east of Anfield, this old mill town has, on the face of it, little in common with the bright, Capital of Culture-funded lights of Liverpool.

But sit down on a bench outside Batley Town Hall and you won't have to wait long to see a Liverbird sitting proudly on someone's chest.

Liverpool shirts are au couture in this part of Yorkshire, where 30 per cent of the population is Asian.

Journalist Nazia Mogra, who covered the launch of The Asian Liverbird for BBC Radio Manchester, thinks it is a generational thing.

"When the first generations of Asian kids grew up, Liverpool were the best team," she explains.

"You see a lot of people wearing Liverpool shirts in places like Preston, Manchester, London, and Batley.

"It has come through the generations. In the Asian community, a lot of things are passed down, and supporting Liverpool is one of them."

And it's not just in England where the Kop legend is passed on.

Bhana explains: "You cannot discount the impact second and third generation Asians have had on relatives in Asia and the Middle East, who are joining the trend of supporting Liverpool FC.

"Nowadays you hear about relatives in those countries wearing Liverpool tops and watching games. Little did Liverpool Football Club realise that the brand is revered all over Asia with a tremendous increase in fans as far as Gujarat and Bombay.

"My parents returned from a holiday in India recently and they could not believe how many Liverpool fans there were over there. They even saw a Liverpool FC shop in one of the biggest cities in India. No other club can boast such a fanbase or has given so much back to the supporters."

One man who has witnessed this growth first hand is two-times European Cup winner Phil Thompson.

The Scouser visited Asia in his playing heyday before returning two decades later as assistant to Gerard Houllier.

"The way Liverpool Football Club has grown in Asia and the Asian community is unbelievable," says Thommo. "I saw it as a player and it was great then. But I went back twice as assistant manager and it was astonishing – the kind of thing you have to see to believe.

"Growing up as a lad in Kirkby, I would never have imagined in my wildest dreams that Liverpool would go on to be this global phenomenon. I didn't know we had supporters outside the city.

"It just goes to show what Shanks started all those years ago. Of course, he would have said he predicted it!

"Club like AC Milan and Bayern Munich can say what they like but they have nowhere near the level of worldwide support Liverpool have, and these fans live and breathe the club just as much as lads from Kirkby and Anfield."

The Reds' global appeal has only increased since Thompson left the backroom staff in 2004, not least because of the miracle that was Istanbul.

The Asian market is one the club is keen to tap into, an example of which is the launch of a Chinese version of the Official LFC Magazine in Hong Kong.

Back home, the club is taking a palpable lead in commissioning a book specific to our British Asian fans. London Evening Standard journalist Amar Singh believes its 220 pages could have a real impact.

"This book is a big step forward," he says. "It has already made a real impact. At the launch of the book, Ian Rush, Phil Thompson and Mohammed signed copies for fans from various backgrounds. It was just unbelievable.

"I see more and more Asian Liverpool fans each time I go. I recently traveled up to Anfield in a coach with about 50 mainly Asian fans. It was a great feeling.

"British Asians will make their mark in British football and it's great to see Liverpool Football Club leading the way."

Riera Wants Silverware At Anfield

Albert Riera believes that Liverpool will be able to challenge for all four trophies that they are competing for this season after joining the club at the end of the transfer window.

The former Espanyol winger knows that expectations at Anfield are high and is confident that the current squad has the ability to try and win the quadruple this term.

Liverpool have not won the league since 1990 and that is now the main ambition for the Merseyside club and Riera sees no reason why this cannot be their year.

"At Liverpool the most important thing is when you are on the pitch to think only about winning," he explained.

"It is important to fight for everything - to fight to win The Premier League, the Champions League and the two cups. I am sure we will enjoy fighting for all of these titles.

"We want to challenge for everything until the last minute of the last game."

Riera is reported to have chosen to join Liverpool ahead of their city rivals Everton and he revealed that he chose the Reds because he thinks that he will win more medals with them.

"I want to be in finals and to challenge for The Premier League as well because for this club it is very important to challenge for the league, he concluded.