Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Robbie Keane Needs A Goal To Settle Into His Role At Liverpool

Encouraged no end by Saturday's exceptional display that had Manchester United choking in their slipstream, Liverpool must feel in pretty fine fettle going into their Champions League opener with Marseille.

Rafael Benitez knows, after all, that there's so much more to come from this group of players, particularly the one bought at considerable expense from Tottenham in the summer.

In many ways, Robbie Keane has yet to get going at his new club. At the moment, it's as if he's trying too hard to succeed at the club he supported as a boy.

Easier said than done, but he just needs to relax a bit more and become the player that persuaded Benitez to shell out £20 million.

Mind you, like all front men, that will probably only happen when he finds the back of the net and, in Keane's case, heads for the corner flag to complete that trademark celebration, the one that ends with him firing pretend shots at the crowd.

Only then will he begin to loosen up and start showing his new public what he can really do. At the moment, there's a bit of tension to his game, especially when the goal comes within range.

You could see it at the weekend in the way he snatched at one chance before reacting too slowly when Javier Mascherano's pulled shot headed his way – nothing too serious, merely evidence of a player tightening up slightly.

As always with strikers starting out at new clubs, Keane just needs a break of the ball, a bit of luck in the penalty box, then the Republic of Ireland captain can start doing himself justice, whilst developing a better understanding with Fernando Torres.

As yet, we haven't seen the pair click. A combination billed as potentially lethal has lain largely dormant over the first few weeks of the season.

We can put that down to a few things. For a start, the early season internationals certainly haven't helped. With the best players disappearing to all four corners of the globe, the top club managers struggle for continuity.

Having said that, Benitez didn't exactly further the cause of this promising axis when plonking Keane on the left wing recently in a defensive approach at Aston Villa.

Liverpool supporters, let alone the player concerned, won't want to see too much of that as they look forward to the partnership taking off. Who can blame them either when, in theory, the Irishman and the Spaniard should dovetail beautifully to form the kind of potent attacking partnership Anfield hasn't seen in years?

Yet in Torres' absence on Saturday (the Spaniard's recovering hamstring kept him on the bench), Keane worked incredibly hard, compensating gamely for a slight shortfall in confidence by chasing down opponents like a man possessed.

That's important for anyone employed by the demanding Benitez, but particularly for someone trying to foster a relationship with a new set of fans. Mind you, I can't see too many problems in this case.

Keane is the type Liverpool's knowledgeable crowd should grow to love – a very skilful competitor blessed with a natural work ethic who also knows when to pass, and do it, crucially, with a great deal of craft and vision.

Six games in, those qualities might still be waiting to flourish. So might Keane's sharpness in front of goal. Yet if I had to nominate someone just now who seems ideally suited for a particular football club, the 28- year-old would rival Dimitar Berbatov, his old Spurs team-mate, as No 1 choice.

Just like the classy Berbatov looks a perfect match for Manchester United, so the intelligent Keane seems made for the red half of Merseyside.

In fact, I'd go as far to say that the famous No 7 shirt worn by Keegan and Dalglish rests in pretty safe hands.

He's going to succeed – it's just a matter of time – and that moment, I'd guess, isn't too far away. In fact, the Stade Velodrome might be just the place.

Liverpool FC To Offer Daniel Agger New Deal

LIVERPOOL are ready to reassure Daniel Agger his future remains at Anfield by offering the defender a new deal.

Reports in Agger’s homeland have claimed the Denmark international is unhappy at the club and hinted he could buy out his contract next year.

Having missed almost the whole of last season with a metatarsal problem, the 23-year-old has been restricted to just one appearance this campaign by the form of Jamie Carragher and Martin Skrtel and didn’t even make the bench for Saturday’s 2-1 win over Manchester United.

But Rafael Benitez believes Agger remains integral to the club’s future, with the Anfield outfit preparing a new deal for the centre-back.

Agger, who was signed for £5.8m from Brondby in 2006, will enter the final two years of his contract in the New Year.

Under the terms of the landmark Webster agreement, the centre-back could then buy out his contract for a fee quoted at around £2.8m.

“I know about the Webster ruling but I have no further comment,” Agger was quoted as saying. “I can confirm that I haven’t had an offer from the club to extend my contract.”

Liverpool are prepared to extend the player’s association to the club, and chief executive Rick Parry said: “Daniel is very important to the future of the club.”

With Sami Hyypia having been omitted Liverpool’s 25-man Champions League squad, Agger could make an appearance tonight.

“Agger is in the squad,” said Benitez. “The good problem I have is we have good centre-backs here and Agger is one of the best, so he could be playing against Marseille.”

Finnan Explains Espanyol Move

Steve Finnan has revealed that Liverpool's Spanish players convinced him to come to Espanyol.

The Republic of Ireland international made the switch to Espanyol on deadline day as Albert Riera travelled in the opposite direction to Anfield.

Finnan admitted last week that the transfer had come 'out of the blue' but he decided it would be a good move after speaking to the likes of Jose Reina, Alvaro Arbeloa and Xabi Alonso.

Paco Herrera, a former coach at Liverpool and currently Espanyol's sporting director, had also played a part.

"Herrera and the Spanish players spoke very well of the club," Finnan explained to reporters as he was presented as an Espanyol player.

"Liverpool is a great club, but the truth is that I was not playing and sooner or later I was going to have to leave, so I came here.

"This is a club that has done some big things in the past five or six years. They are proud that they reached the Uefa Cup final and the Copa del Rey final twice."

Finnan is keen to fit in as quickly as possible and even realises that he may have to learn two languages to fully integrate in his new surroundings.

"I want to learn Spanish, and Catalan if possible, quickly so that I can understand everyone," he said.

Espanyol president Daniel Sanchez Llibre was also delighted that a deal was done for Finnan so soon after seeing Pablo Zabaleta leave the club to join Manchester City.

"The agreement with Liverpool was done very quickly and the player took three minutes to agree," he stated.

"Finnan knows where the club is heading, who we are and he wants to succeed in Spain like he did in England."

Hicks "Tried To Get New Manchester City Owners To Buy Liverpool"

LIVERPOOL could still end up in the hands of Dubai – despite Dubai International Capital's insistence that it is no longer pursuing a deal to buy the club.

DIC – the investment arm of the Dubai government – put out an official statement yesterday denying it is ready to launch a fresh bid for the Reds or a new one for Newcastle United.

But it has been several months since DIC were leading the Dubai bid for Liverpool, with Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum having made acquiring the Anfield club a personal rather than a government venture.

DIC are out of the picture because – as Dubai’s investment arm – they must always make a return on any purchases. Liverpool’s troubled financial situation means that is now a pledge DIC can no longer realistically make.

An offer from Dubai remains on the table, but owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett are currently refusing to do a deal.

The Americans claim publicly that they are not interested in selling, but sources close to the situation insist they will cash in – but only if they walk away with around £100m in profit each.

That is a price which Dubai are not prepared to pay.

Dubai's determination to buy the club has not diminished but unless the expectations of Hicks and Gillett are reduced they are prepared to walk away.

It was today reported that Hicks made an approach to Abu Dhabi prior to the cash rich Middle Eastern city buying Manchester City, but that was rebuffed. It is not clear whether Hicks was trying to sell the whole club to the Emirate or was offering a minority share but he did make an unsuccessful attempt to secure investment from them.

The Texan has also made at least one more approach to another potential investor, but that has also so far come to nothing.

Hicks has good reason to seek investment, with just four months to go before the £350m loan secured against the club is due to be refinanced and borrowing has become even more fraught with difficulty.

Financial experts believe the bombshell that hit the US stock markets and banking industry yesterday will make the effects of the current credit crunch even greater, and longer lasting, with opportunities to borrow being further reduced.

The situation is further complicated by the fact that shares in American investment bank Wachovia were among the hardest hit in yesterday's stock market nosedive.

Shares in Wachovia - the fourth largest US bank - fell by 22% in the day as investors’ anxiety about the American financial sector and banks in particular hit the stock market.

Wachovia were involved in the last refinancing deal secured by Hicks and Gillett, along with the Royal Bank of Scotland, who loaned the Americans the bulk of the cash.

Should Wachovia Bank require new capital it is a possibility that they could call in some of their existing major loans.

Alonso Focused On Liverpool

Liverpool midfielder Xabi Alonso has promised the club that he is 100% committed to their cause this season, after a summer in which he was left in transfer limbo.

Alonso began the summer as a target for Italian giants Juventus and looked set to seal a deal when he returned to Anfield after claiming the European Championship with Spain.

Rafa Benitez was desperate to raise the cash necessary to lure Gareth Barry from Aston Villa and Alonso was seen as an expendable resource.

Villa's £18million asking price remained beyond Liverpool's reach as Juventus' interest in Alonso cooled; they had already secured the signing of Sevilla midfielder Christian Poulsen for a fraction of what the Merseysiders wanted for Alonso.

A mooted move to Arsenal failed to materialise and now, strangely, Alonso finds himself back in the first team picture at Anfield after a season of uncertainty.

He, along with Javier Mascherano dominated Manchester United's midfield line in Saturday's 2-1 at Anfield, and the Spaniard believes that he is still held in good stead by the Kopites.

He has promised full focus for the coming campaign, and the club's Champions League endeavour begins in earnest tonight in Marseille.

He told the Daily Telegraph: "I am totally focused on Liverpool now. I have always really appreciated the support of Liverpool fans; they are really special. They know when a player is committed to the club and I always try to give 100 per cent."

Cerezo Wants Atlético And Liverpool To Progress

Enrique Cerezo has revealed that he hopes that Liverpool make it through to the next round of the Champions League along with his Atlético de Madrid side from Group D.

Los Colchoneros' president is confident that the Spanish outfit can do well in the competition after a 12-year absence and is delighted with the prestige that their involvement has brought.

Fernando Torres remains a favourite with Atlético after he rose through the club's youth ranks and Cerezo wants the striker's new club to join his club in the second phase.

"It would be fantastic for us to go through to the next round. I would really like Atlético and Liverpool to qualify," he told reporters.

Atlético's first game in the group is against PSV on Tuesday and Cerezo believes that coach Javier Aguirre will not be sending his players out for anything other than three points.

"We are going to try to win because to begin well will be important," he continued. "We have experienced players and they will go out to win and to play well."

Cerezo admitted that he is looking forward to hearing the Champions League music play just before the game, but is more concerned about what happens after that on the pitch.

"It will be a great moment, but the music does not really matter to me. Only goals do," he explained. "These games give prestige to the club and the players.

Collymore: Reds Have Euro Know-How

Stan Collymore believes Liverpool have the Champions League know-how to go to hostile venues like Marseille's Stade Velodrome and triumph.

The ex-Reds striker is confident Rafael Benitez's men have the experience to progress from what he feels is a tight group and is tipping them to overcome Marseille tonight and get off to a winning start.

"Liverpool play a very pragmatic style but they have an ability to win games so they can go to places like the Stade Velodrome and pick up results," he told LFC TV.

"Overall their success is down to a strong defensive core, a strong spine and having the ability to score goals away from home. I also think it's vital that they have Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard back."

With the likes of Atletico Madrid and PSV Eindhoven also in Group D, Collymore feels Liverpool have been handed the most difficult route to the knockout stage and insists any points they pick up away from home will be a welcome boost to their hopes.

"When you look at the group I think it's the toughest out of the lot," he said.

"A lot of people have looked at some of the other groups, where you've got Real Madrid and Juventus in one, and people like to try to pick out a group of death.

"But I think in Liverpool's group all the sides are evenly matched. PSV are perennial qualifiers for the Champions League, Marseille are always difficult at the Stade Velodrome and Atletico have a really good team too.

"People always talk about Inter as one of the outside favourites but I think Atletico could be dark horses, so I think it is a tough group for Liverpool.

"Winning matches at Anfield will be vital if they are to get to the next stage but it's also about nicking points away from home, especially at places like Marseille."