Monday, September 22, 2008

Rafa Ready To Ring The Changes

Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez is ready to offer the younger members of his squad the opportunity to impress against Crewe in the Carling Cup on Tuesday.

Benitez is expected to name the likes of left-back Emiliano Insua, midfielder Damien Plessis and forward Daniel Pacheco in his plans as he looks to rest a number of his first-team stars when the Railwaymen arrive at Anfield.

Insua and Plessis enjoyed games in Liverpool's domestic first-team towards the end of last season as Benitez concentrated on the UEFA Champions League, and he is again willing to field fringe players.

But the Spaniard is well aware that he must name a team which will avoid an upset against Liverpool's League One opponents.

"It's an important competition for us but it's also one which gives us the chance to use some different players," said Benitez.

"We have to be careful though. We want to win the game and go on to win the tournament so while we can use some of our youngsters, we need to make sure we get the team right for winning.

"It's a good opportunity for the youngsters who are selected. We have four or five of them training with the first team every day so they know how we work, but to be involved for a match gives them a chance to show us what they can do.

"They played well in pre-season and also in some games last year, so we know they have the quality to have a future here."

One player definitely in line to make his Anfield debut is Brazilian goalkeeper Diego Cavalieri, who arrived from Palmeiras in the summer, with first choice Jose Reina set to be rested.

"Normally, Diego will play in the Carling Cup - he is a fantastic professional who is learning all the time about English football," Benitez told Liverpool's official website.

"It's a different style to what he was used to in Brazil but I think he showed in pre-season that he can do everything well. He's a good goalkeeper and can challenge Reina."

Kuyt Support For Torres & Keane As Dutchman Says ‘No Worries’ On Lack Of Goals By Liverpool Strike Duo

Liverpool’s Dirk Kuyt has given support to strikers Fernando Torres and Robbie Keane both of whom are looking to be amongst the goals but have been frustrated in their endeavour, as the Reds were held to a goalless draw by new-entrants Stoke City at Anfield on Saturday.

Spanish ace Torres has the record of being the most prolific foreign striker in the Premiership debut campaign following his last season’s tally of 24 league goals. However, the 24-year-old is yet to be back to his best so far this term.

Republic of Ireland forward Keane has had a productive career with Tottenham before his summer move to Anfield. The 28-year-old is still looking to score his first goal for Rafa Benitez's side.

Dutch international Kuyt, who started as a target-man, but is now regularly employed in wide right position, however, is confident that the duo will score goals aplenty.

“The goals will come for Fernando and Robbie. Both are trying hard, but Fernando has had an injury and the Euro 2008 finals to recover from. He lasted in them a bit longer than me!” Kuyt is quoted as saying in Liverpool Daily Post.

“I went out in the quarter-finals with Holland, so I have had more rest and a better pre-season. Torres has not had that, but the goals will come again.

“Fernando is fit now. You can see his quality, as you can with Robbie. We have no worries, they will score plenty of goals.”

Owen Caught In Mersey Melee

Michael Owen's future at Newcastle has been cast into further doubt with rumours circulating that both Everton and Liverpool will move for the striker in January.

According to News of the World, the Merseyside nemeses will approach Owen during the winter with a view to convincing the England hitman to complete a free transfer at the end of the season.

The 28-year-old was in and out of contract negotiations all summer long. The Toon at one point attempted to ease their cash-flow crisis by slashing 20 per cent off his wages, while later reports suggested a bumper £140,000-per-week deal was on the horizon.

But there have been no developments on that front in recent weeks, and with Tyneside in a catastrophic state following Kevin Keegan's scandalous departure it is unlikely Owen will commit to the club anytime soon.

Both Liverpool and Everton were linked with the former Real Madrid player late in the transfer window as tensions began to mount between Keegan and owner Mike Ashley at St James' Park, and their interest has only skyrocketed since.

It would be wholly unsurprising if Owen were to rejoin the Reds, having come close to doing so just a year after leaving for the Santiago Bernabeu.

And while factions of the Kop remain hostile towards their former favourite, manager Rafael Benitez's decision to re-sign an ageing Robbie Fowler in 2006 has set a precedent for fairytale homecomings.

Heskey Regrets Liverpool Exit

Powerful Wigan Athletic striker Emile Heskey has said that he regrets leaving Liverpool, and wishes that he had had more of a chance to prove himself at the top level.

The England international’s career has been reignited since his move to the JJB Stadium, with his good performances earning an England recall and interest from several Premier League clubs.

The 30-year-old moved to Anfield from his beloved Leicester City in 2000 in an £11m deal, and in his first season with the club, scored 23 league goals, earning himself an England call up. After that however, he fell out of favour at Anfield, and was sold to Birmingham for a fee that would rise to £6.25m.

Speaking to The Sunday Times, Heskey said, “It was a disappointment to leave Anfield.

“Liverpool are such a big club. Anybody who tells you he wants to leave a club like that is lying.

“But, if your time has run its course, it's no use hanging on.”

Heskey has regained his form since moving to Wigan two years ago, and played a big part in England’s recent World Cup qualifying victories over Andorra and Croatia. However, the Croatia triumph in Zagreb was marred by racist chanting towards Heskey from the home fans.

Heskey commented, “When I made a challenge, which I got booked for, it felt like the whole stand behind the goal we were attacking in the second half was doing it," he continued.

“When we kicked off again with the free kick it stopped, but for 10 or 20 seconds you could hear it, and it was horrible.

“We've had it before, in Spain and Slovakia, and if you think about it, you probably get it in places where they don't have many black players, or even black people, in the community. Not like England, which is multicultural.

“Over there, they are a long way behind us in that respect, and it's down to ignorance. At first I thought, 'What the hell is this?' But as soon as we kicked off again it went out of my head.

“When I was younger, I'd have been angrier, but the more you come across it, the more you're left thinking, 'What can you do?' It's up to the authorities to take action. We've reported it, so let's see what happens.”

Striking Questions For Benitez

Dirk Kuyt is convinced Fernando Torres and Robbie Keane will soon start scoring for Liverpool despite drawing a blank against relegation favourites Stoke.

Tony Pulis' well-organised, defiant Potters forced an unlikely goalless draw and celebrated as if they had won the Barclays Premier League title.

Their fans, packed into the Anfield Road end, gave it their all as well and Stoke's players responded to hold a team who seven days earlier beat Manchester United on the same pitch.

But Liverpool boss Benitez touched on his problem with a suggestion that Liverpool "needed more ability in the box".

That constitutes a remarkable comment considering he was no doubt referring to Fernando Torres, Robbie Keane and Kuyt, who cost him a combined £50million.

The trio have played 23 games between them this term and notched a total of just two goals.

Benitez will moan, rightly, about referee Andre Marriner's "massive mistake" to deny Steven Gerrard his 100th Liverpool goal. But the unbeaten Anfield men should be able to sweep away such predictable defensive tactics as Stoke employed.

Torres is still clearly suffering from the after-effects on his own amazing summer in winning the Euro 2008 crown for Spain, Keane is working himself into the ground but cannot buy a goal, while Kuyt's work-rate can never be doubted, only his accuracy.

Kuyt believes everything will come right soon, and joined the uproar over the decision to rule-out Gerrard's free-kick goal for offside.

Marriner confirmed afterwards that was the reason the strike did not count, and only served to enrage Liverpool further.

Kuyt said: "It was a perfectly good goal, nobody touched the ball as it curled in and certainly not me. I had no intention of doing anything because the ball was going in and it had not been flicked on or anything like that. I was not interfering with play.

"The referee said there was someone in the eye-line of the 'keeper who was offside."

But Kuyt added: "The goals will come for Fernando and Robbie. Both are trying hard, but Fernando has had an injury and the Euro 2008 finals to recover from. He lasted in them a bit longer than me!

"I went out in the quarter-finals with Holland, so I have had more rest and a better pre-season. Torres has not had that, but the goals will come again.

"Fernando is fit now. You can see his quality, as you can with Robbie. We have no worries, they will score plenty of goals."

Kuyt did not skirt the real issue which cost Liverpool top spot just a couple of hours later when Arsenal won, predictably, at Bolton.

He said: "We had enough chances to score other goals. We worked really hard, had lots of possession, but sometimes you need more luck.

"But we know that many teams come to Anfield and defend like Stoke did. We have just got to be patient and make sure we take the chances we do get, I was guilty of misses too.

"We have lost two points, which after beating Manchester United here is a real blow. But now we must make sure we make up for this.

"Our next league game is at Everton, so we know that will be hard. But we have to make sure we get the points after this.

"That will be the perfect opportunity to make up what we have lost against Stoke."

Pulis was overjoyed, and knew his good fortune.

He said: "To come to one of the greatest clubs in the world and fight like that was magnificent. We even had a decision go our way with that disallowed goal.

"As far as I am concerned, there was nobody offside, and if that is what the referee has said, my view is that I am just happy to have got a point at Anfield and seen a decision go our way.

"We did not have a day off in the week beforehand. We knew we would be under constant pressure and have to face a lot of crosses so we needed to practise defending against them.

"We were confident we have big lads who can handle it and that proved to be the case. It gives us confidence for the rest of the season."

Rafa's Views On Andre Marriner

Rafa Benitez was left to rue a "strange" decision that saw the Reds denied a goal, in a frustrating 0-0 draw with Stoke at Anfield. Stevie Gerrard had a goal ruled out by referee Andre Marriner, as he gave Dirk Kuyt offside, even though he didn't even touch the ball and there was no flag from the assistant. This left Rafa furious with Marriner and he launched an attack, telling Sky Sports:

'It is difficult to explain. When we scored the first goal the game would be open and just the referee in a very bad position disallowed the goal.

'It is strange as I have watched the replay and no one can understand why [the goal was disallowed]. His [the referee's] position is impossible. It is impossible to have a good view, if it was the linesman you could say okay it could be offside but it wasn't.

'Very, very strange [decision], but the referee normally is very, very strange.

'He said to Carra that he disallowed it but didn't say why so maybe he doesn't know.'

Rafa believes that this disallowed goal did make a major difference in the outcome of the match, with things almost certain to have been different otherwise, as he explained:

'Really [the disallowed goal] could be a massive difference, we knew it could be a massive difference, but again having said that we have to score more goals and I think we tried.

'The team was working so hard trying to do everything.

'We had plenty of possession, we were attacking both sides, shooting from distance, playing between the lines.

'At the end of the day the keeper was good in two or three situations but when they defend so deep you don't have space.

'We were controlling and attacking all the time so you cannot do everything perfect and in this case I think the final third we could be better.'

All in all Rafa, despite his anger, couldn't hide his disappointment at two points dropped at Anfield. He does feel that we will still have a good season though as we are still in a good position, even if it could've been better, he added:

'Yeah I am really disappointed as I think this is a game we deserved to win and we could be in a much better situation.

'But we are top of the table and we are in a good position, could be better, but a good position.'

Sometimes you just have one of these matches where nothing goes, but to be fair we have seen a fair amount of fortune this season, times when we haven't played well, or deserved a win, and have still managed it so we can't complain that much really can we? Had this goal not been ruled out after only a minute and a half on the clock the chances are we would've scored a hatful. However for whatever reason the goal was ruled out and we couldn't break down a spirited Stoke rearguard, who deserve credit for this, no matter how hard we tried.

"You'll Never Walk Alone"

To me, it's the greatest and most heartfelt football anthem of all time.

Before the dogs start barking about arrogant Liverpool fans, take my view in the context it's intended. Of course it's going to mean a lot to me, as the anthem of my own club I'm going to have a biased opinion, just as other club's fans will state their anthem means a lot to them; but can any other anthem really have so much passion, history and meaning behind it?

It's a song that can lend itself to be sung in triumph and despair, in desperation and in hope. A song that can be sung with ever changing tones to suit differing situations, with no idea how it manages to sound so different, it just does. From the celebratory You'll Never Walk Alone after an historic victory, to the plea for help from above, and act of defiance of the famous half time battle cry in Istanbul. Each time it's sung it sounds different and means something else; it's a musical phenomenon.

But where did it all start?

For years, there's been Man Utd and Everton fans claiming that "it's a Celtic song", and some even claiming it as their own. I even read an article from a women in the Manchester Evening News stating that United fans sang You'll Never Walk Alone in the aftermath of the Munich Air Disaster, at a Memorial Service before the first home following the crash in 1958, so it was their song as they sang it first. I've got no reason to doubt the song was sung that day, but every reason to doubt United fans then adopted it as their anthem from then on in. It didn't become a popular sound to the ears of the nation for another 5 years, when Gerry and The Pacemakers hit the number one spot with a cover of the 1945 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, Carousel; and United fans certainly didn't sing it at their games after that service.

From Kopites a lot older than myself, I have it on good authority that the singing of You'll Never Walk Alone actually began in early 1963, during a 1-0 defeat at Hillsborough. It was reported to be sung at several games towards the end of the 1962/63 season, and became the new song of The Kop, gathering pace all the time. Gerry Marsden knew of this cult and capitalised on its popularity by releasing it as a single on 4th October 1963. This however is the views of a few, with no facts to back it up.

Back in the 1960's and before, the PA at Anfield used to blare out the current top ten in the build up to the match; with the current number one track being played as the last before the teams were announced. On 14th November 1963, Gerry and The Pacemakers shot into the number one spot with You'll Never Walk Alone, staying there for 4 weeks. So as was the custom with the Kopites of yesteryear, they'd join in and sing along to their favourite tracks of the time. The Kop would sing along to You'll Never Walk Alone as it was bellowed out over the PA, before welcoming the team onto the pitch with rattles and rolled up Echo's, dressed smartly in their pristine suits. Can you imagine the Kop full of suits these days? Actually, that might not be so unrealistic if the money men running our game had their way.....

On 12th December 1963, Gerry and The Pacemakers lost their number one slot to The Beatles, with their "I Want To Hold Your Hand"; hence You'll Never Walk Alone was no longer the last song to be played before the game. The travelling Kop began to sing it at away games during this time, and on it's demotion from the number one spot, requests were made to play the song anyway before the game at Anfield. The Kop began to sing You'll Never Walk Alone of their own accord, before the club agreed to revert to the trend of playing of it just before the teams were announced at every game. From that, an anthem was born.

By early in 1964, The Kop had it's official anthem, and it has been sung at every game since. That ladies and gentlemen, is how it all began.

Now some say Celtic sang it first; but I've yet to see any evidence or reasoning to back up that claim. I look at it this way; Celtic went to Lisbon on the 25th May 1967, for The European Cup Final against Inter Milan, famously winning the "Ol Big Ears" with 11 men born within spitting distance of Glasgow. There is footage of that final readily available, so watch it, and let me know if you hear the Celtic fans singing You'll Never Walk Alone at any point during that game. Remember this was over three and half years since The Kop had officially adopted the song as their anthem, and had been singing it at every game throughout that period. So if Celtic had sung it before The Kop, surely we'd be able to hear them roaring it out in victory over in Lisbon? If they'd adopted the song before The Kop, with the night of the famous Lisbon Lions being almost four years on from that date; surely it would have caught on by then and be sung by the masses? Apparently not. So with the original owner of the anthem cleared up...

Just what does it actually mean? Is it just a song like many thousands of others? What makes it different? What sets it apart from the rest?

To me, it's entire complexion changed after 15th April 1989. Before that date, it was a song of triumph and belief. Sang in celebration and in posture. An arrogant airing before every game, in a statement that meant just as much as the "This Is Anfield" sign above the tunnel. It let everyone know they were at Anfield. Sang prior to games as a statement, sang after the game in joy or defiance, result dependant. Yet after the horrors of Hillsborough, the song had a whole new and more powerful meaning. The lyrics were turned on their head in one scandalous swoop. We were no longer just telling the players they would never walk alone and to hold their heads up high, to never be afraid; we were now singing it to the 96 that left us.

Since that day, thousands of fans affected by the tragedy of Hillsborough, those that lost loved ones, sang that song for them. I can't do that, as I didn't know anybody that lost their life at Hillsborough, but every now and again, when the situation arises, I sing that song for them. The game before the anniversary every year, at the Memorial Service, and when stood alongside friends at the match that did lose brothers, cousins and friends. You can see in their eyes just what the song means to them, and almost 20 years on, the feeling is still there each time the song is sung. The most powerful lyrics ever penned still pulling on emotional strings almost two decades later. How can any other football anthem compare with that?

The following clip brings home what the song means, and how far it can reach and affect people:

AC Milan fans, in the days following the disaster, printed off song sheets with the words to You'll Never Walk Alone and handed them out amongst their support with a plea to learn them for the next home game, only 4 days after the disaster. A gesture was planned to stop the game at 3.06pm (the time of the game being stopped at Hillsborough) and hold a minutes silence. The AC Milan fans had other ideas, and planned to sing You'll Never Walk Alone during that silence. They took the time and effort to learn the words, and sing the song during that break in play. Learning a song in a different language and hearing it ring around the San Siro really brings home what the song means and the depth it holds. AC Milan fans will always have a special place in my heart for that gesture, along with other club's fans across the continent carrying out similar acts of respect for those that passed away. All using You'll Never Walk Alone as the focal point for their thoughts and respects.

Moving onto less sombre renditions of the greatest football anthem of all time; there are two renditions from recent times that will live with me forever, both sung within a few weeks of each other:

1. Full time against Chelsea in the 2005 European Cup Semi Final -

2. Half time in Istanbul -

That night against Chelsea will go down as the greatest in Anfield history, and I very much doubt it will ever be surpassed. I've watched it back on DVD time and time again, yet the coverage just doesn't do it justice. You had to be there that night to really appreciate the atmosphere and the occasion. No media coverage or outside view could ever transmit the raw passion and desire in the air that night. It was 20 years of frustration and absence being released at once. The whole city had a glow and a buzz about it from the crack of dawn, reaching fever pitch in and around the streets of Anfield as the game approached. You can't recreate that atmosphere, you can't fabricate and manufacture 20 years of pent up desire no matter how much money you spend on plastic flags or handing out scarves. On entering the ground some 45 minutes before kick off, it was already bouncing, and you could genuinely see the Chelsea players and fans alike taken aback by what they'd walked into. They didn't expect this in the slightest.

The next 90 minutes is a blur of noise and shapes; then a minute or so after the final whistle, with hugs and punches of the air still going on all around you, George Sephton hits play, and then it starts...

"When you walk, through a storm..."

I still get goose bumps and a shiver up my spine every time I watch that footage back. Yet even watching it back, it still doesn't do justice to the way it was sung that night. The game was over, we'd done it, and we were going to a European Cup Final. A whole generation going to their first, another generation returning to the place they'd long to be, and it all poured out during that song. It signified the game was over and we were actually going to Istanbul. The streets and bars around the city afterwards were flooded with smiles and song, all triggered by that song sparking the celebrations, and bringing it home to us just what we'd all witnessed. We were the massive underdogs, nobody gave us a chance. Yet we beat the Chelsea billionaires to reach a completely unexpected trip to a European Cup Final. With hope in our hearts; our dreams were tossed and blown. Literally.

The second example is probably the most rousing and defiant You'll Never Walk Alone I've ever been a part of. We were 3-0 down to the mighty AC Milan and being humiliated in front of the watching world, on the biggest stage imaginable. Imagine Buzz Aldrin stepping onto the moon, with people all around the globe glued to their screens, then Neil Armstrong sneaks up behind him and whips his trousers down. Ignore the fact he was in a spacesuit and it would have killed him, you get the idea. We had just had our trousers well and truly torn down by Kaka and co, and stood there exposed to the world, warts and all for everyone to see. The players left the field dejected, we all fell into our seats; slumped into piles of fleshy misery and humiliation, as others remained on their feet just staring into space, wondering if this was all just a dream, had that last 45 minutes really just happened? Well it had, and we were beaten, on and off the field. Our support a mixture of stares and slumpers, then it came.

I was sat down on the floor in the aisle trying to take it all in, cold concrete under my sorry behind and no life left. I was beaten. Then the strains of You'll Never Walk Alone could be heard in the distance. Just the opening few words; but I remained where I was, continuing to feel sorry for myself. My mate then screams out in anger, "that song's not the answer for everything you know".

Then it begins to build. It gets louder and louder, people dragging themselves off the floor and helping up others. Rising from the dead like something out of a film, until there were 40,000 of us standing as one and belting it out. It turned from a few bars being sung in desperation, into a passionate mass of scouse solidarity within seconds, becoming the most rousing and supportive You'll Never Walk Alone I've ever heard or been a part of, every word sung with belief and passion as flares lit up the Turkish sky. The Italians thought they had it won, celebrating amongst themselves at the far end of the stadium as we were draped across the ground like deflated red balloons; only to see the whole mood within the ground change during the singing of one song. Chests puffed out, standing tall, heads held high through the storm. The rest is history.

How can there be a greater anthem than that?

You'll Never Walk Alone

Article courtesy of Paul Jones.

Young Reds Win Again

Goals from James Ellison, Lauri Dalla Valle and Marvin Pourie gave Liverpool Under-18s a 3-0 win over Sheffield Wednesday.

Hughie McAuley's side have now won four out of their opening five Academy games, scoring 12 goals in the process.

Highlight of the game was a brilliant effort from substitute Marvin Pourie who finished off a fine individual run with a shot into the top corner of the net.

"We controlled the game from start to finish and plyed some nice attacking football," McAuley told

"We scored three excellent goals. Ellison got the first after good play from Adam Pepper and Nathan Eccleston. Dalla Valle then made it 2-0 with a great finish after a great run from Nathan.

"Marvin came off the bench to score a great goal and we could have added to our tally in the end.

"We had Christopher Buchtmann back after his hamstring problems and he did very well when he came on in the second half at left back."

Liverpool Under-18s team: Martin Hansen, Michael Scott, Alex Cooper (Christopher Buchtmann 60), Andre Wisdom, Joe Kennedy, Astrit Ajdarevic, James Ellison (Marvin Pourie 75), Adam Pepper, Lauri Dalla Valle, Nathan Eccleston, Alex Kacaniklic (David Amoo 70). Unused subs: Jack Metcalf, Deale Chamberlain.