Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Liverpool FC Stadium Will Still Go Ahead

LIVERPOOL have dismissed reports suggesting they are considering ditching plans to build a new stadium.

Speculation claimed the club had hired architects to consider redeveloping Anfield instead of going ahead with proposals to construct a new ground on nearby Stanley Park.

But a club spokesman said: “No-one has been asked to look at increasing the capacity of Anfield with a view to us staying at the present ground.

“Global market conditions may have delayed the project, but the club remains committed to building a new world class LFC stadium on the site in Stanley Park.”

The club’s American owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett recently announced the Stanley Park plans have been delayed for another year because of the credit crunch.

But the Reds remain adamant the Stanley Park option is the only one being pursued.

Meanwhile, Fernando Torres has revealed how boss Rafa Benitez never allows him to rest on his laurels – even after the striker’s record-breaking first season in a Liverpool shirt.

Torres scored 33 goals during his debut season in English football and has another five to his name already this term.

But he admits that Benitez is always demanding that he reaches even greater heights.

“I am my own sternest critic, but my manager is just as demanding as I am,” said Torres.

“Rafa keeps reminding me I still have a long way to go.

“I’ll score a goal, but he won't tell me he is happy afterwards – I have him on my back for six hours every day.”

UEFA Sorry For Reds Disruption

UEFA admit Liverpool fans face major disruption after next week's Champions League tie away to Atletico Madrid was switched to a neutral venue.

Atletico have been fined 150,000 euros (£120,000) for racist abuse of Marseille players and handed a three-match stadium ban after crowd trouble and lack of organisation at the same match.

Liverpool have expressed strong concerns over the timing of the decision but UEFA defended the move saying there was "no alternative" and have pledged to minimise problems for the 3,000 fans who have already booked a trip.

The match cannot take place within 300 kilometres of Madrid under UEFA's ruling, but there are further problems in that Atletico are set to appeal against the punishment, and a final decision will not be known until the weekend.

UEFA communications director William Gaillard said: "We are in touch with Liverpool because we are concerned about the fans.

"We know they face hardship and disruption and we sympathise with that, but we needed to punish Atletico Madrid. We have no alternative.

"What would people have said if Liverpool went there and the players and fans suffered the same treatment?

"We know how sensitive the British public are about racism and violence - and rightly so.

"This is to protect Liverpool fans too - the police were harsh and violent against peaceful fans during the Marseille game and do we want the same story as that, or as happened to the Tottenham fans in Seville last year?"

Gaillard said they were already talking to the club about moving charter flights and UEFA would help in any way they could.

"We are looking at the logistics and seeing what help we can provide," he added.

Liverpool have written to UEFA over the timing of the decision.

"To say the decision is a bit late in the day is to put it mildly," said chief executive Rick Parry.

"We have 3,000 fans going to the game and we are extremely concerned for our supporters, the vast majority of whom have already made travel arrangements.

"If the match is played at least 300 kilometres from Madrid, it will cause major disruption, inconvenience and large additional expense for our fans.

"UEFA have to take their needs into account when making a final decision on the game."

Liverpool fans have also criticised the short notice.

A spokesman for the fans' group Spirit of Shankly said: "This is outrageous - this game was played two weeks ago and UEFA have waited until now to make a decision.

"It's crazy to do this now when everyone's travel plans have been booked."

The row has overshadowed a significant moment in football's campaign against racism - this was UEFA's toughest action for racist behaviour.

Atletico coach Javier Aguirre has also been banned for his club's home and away fixtures against Liverpool for insulting Marseille player Mathieu Valbuena.

Atletico were found guilty of a lack of organisation that led to a number of serious problems. Visiting fans were "victimised" by police, according to UEFA, and no police escort was provided for the team coach to and from the stadium - it was attacked by 'ultras' from the Spanish club.

Furthermore, black journalists in the press area were racially insulted by Atletico fans and no provision was made for disabled supporters who had bought tickets.

Monkey chants were then aimed at Marseille's black players, and Atletico coach Aguirre repeatedly swore at Valbuena, calling him 'a son of a whore' and other insults, and then held onto the ball to waste time at a throw-in.

Anti-racism campaigners have praised UEFA with former Chelsea defender Paul Elliott, ambassador for European campaigners FARE, saying: "This is a momentous decision.

"I and other leading players in the game - black and white - fully support the actions that UEFA have taken."

Lord Ouseley, chairman of Kick It Out, added: "The leadership that UEFA has demonstrated through these sanctions sends out a message that is loud and clear - racism will not be tolerated."

The Spanish side released a statement on their official website shortly after the punishment was imposed by UEFA.

It said Atletico's lawyers were looking into the matter and UEFA had informed the club they have until 12pm on Friday to appeal.

Sports minister Gerry Sutcliffe called on UEFA to use the money from Atletico's record fine to help Liverpool fans.

Sutcliffe said: "It's great to see UEFA taking a tough stance on racism as this is the only way we are going to kick this problem out of the game.

"But the decision to move the match at this late stage will play havoc with Liverpool fans' travel plans and put them out of pocket.

"These decisions need to be made more quickly to avoid this. I would like to see UEFA use the 150,000 euro fine paid by Atletico to help the Liverpool supporters get to the match."

Gary Neville Stirs Up Manchester United And Liverpool Rivalry

GARY NEVILLE knows the Premier League champions will come from the top four as usual – but the Manchester United skipper hopes it is not Liverpool.

It is 1995 since anyone except United, Chelsea or Arsenal last won the title – Blackburn pipped United – and you have to go back another five years for the last of Liverpool’s 18 successes, when Kenny Dalglish was still manager.

Since then, United have finished top on 10 occasions, reversing the old order under Sir Alex Ferguson and moving to within a single championship of Liverpool’s record mark.

But hope is growing in the red half of Merseyside the run will be brought to an end in May.

With Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard spearheading the Anfield challenge, Rafael Benitez’s side are in the slip-stream of early-season pacesetters Chelsea.

But Neville addressed the prospect of a Liverpool title win in typically forthright manner.

"I hope not," said the England defender.

"But we don’t know do we? They have started well and had some good results. They beat us, which was disappointing for us, but will obviously give them confidence.

"It will be Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea and ourselves. We know the champions will be one of those four. It is a case of who puts the most consistent run together."

United are currently six points adrift in mid-table.

However, such statistics do not take into account their game in hand against Fulham, postponed at the end of August due to the European Super Cup encounter with Zenit St Petersburg.

In addition, United have also been to Liverpool and Chelsea, gaining a creditable draw at Stamford Bridge after being beaten at Anfield.

Neville is not too concerned. In fact, the two points he feels have to be made up were lost against Newcastle at Old Trafford on the opening day of the season.

"We will be three points behind if we win our game in hand, so we are still in contention," he said.

"We are probably not quite where we would like to be. But the most disappointing result was Newcastle at home.

"You can always lose to Liverpool away in the league even if you never accept it and it is always disappointing.

"We are two points behind because of that result against Newcastle.

"But it is a long season and we still have time to make it up."

Although he played against Chelsea, Neville missed the wins over Aalborg and Blackburn with a groin injury.

Young Brazilian Rafael Da Silva came in and did an excellent job in the Champions League tie before Wes Brown returned and helped keep a clean sheet against Blackburn, emphasising the strength of Ferguson’s squad.

So, although they have a dozen players on international duty this week, United have the likes of Ryan Giggs, Owen Hargreaves and Michael Carrick fresh, plus Neville if he is fit, for Saturday evening’s clash with West Brom.

"The squad is strong in terms of depth," said Neville. "But as we have seen, we need the numbers.

"Over the last couple of years the manager has built up a young, strong squad. It has a little bit of experience as well, so we are really happy with it."

Atletico Set To Appeal Stadium Ban

Atletico Madrid will appeal against the stadium ban handed out to them by UEFA for incidents during their Champions League tie with Marseille.

The Primera Liga club have issued a statement in which they said they are planning to appeal the punishment - the sternest issued by UEFA in their fight against racism - and wanted to make a public defence.

European football's governing body have ruled Atletico's next two Champions League home matches cannot not be played within 200 miles of Madrid, meaning Liverpool's clash there next Wednesday will now have to be moved - leaving the plans of thousands of Reds fans in tatters. The Spanish club have also been fined £120,000.

The third match ban will only be invoked if there is a repeat of crowd trouble or racist chanting within the next five years.

Atletico coach Javier Aguirre has also been banned for his club's home and away fixtures against Liverpool for insulting Marseille players.

"Regardless of the fact that the club is going to defend its rights by means of the filing of the corresponding appeal, it considers it necessary to put forward its position against the decision made by UEFA, both to its supporters as well as to the public opinion," said a statement on the club's official website.

"The club feels that the sanctions imposed are completely unfair and disproportionate.

"Concerning the accusation of racist insults, the club would like to state that at no time were insults of racist or xenophobic character directed at any Marseille player, as supported by the video of the match and in the record given by the UEFA delegate himself.

"It must be recorded that Atletico Madrid has no prior record with UEFA for equal or similar acts to those set out in the ban.

"In reference to the action attributed to our head coach, Javier Aguirre, for which he has been suspended for hurling insults at the players of the opposing team, the circumstance did not take place at any time, as is made quite clear in the report of the delegates designated to the match and from the fourth referee, who, at no time, mentioned such circumstances in his report."

Liverpool FC's Fernando Torres Disappointed At Ground Switch

LIVERPOOL striker Fernando Torres has spoken of his disappointment after hearing his much-anticipated return to the Vicente Calderon could be scuppered.

Torres had been due to face former club Atletico Madrid at the stadium in the Champions League next week, but that now looks unlikely after Uefa hit the Spanish club with a stadium ban yesterday morning.

The ruling saw Atletico fined 150,000 euros (£120,000) for their fans’ racist abuse of Marseille players earlier this month and handed a three-match stadium ban – one game suspended – after crowd trouble and lack of organisation at the same match.

Torres came up through the ranks at Atletico and quickly become a fans’ favourite before moving to Liverpool. in a big-money move a year ago, heard the news while on international duty with Spain in Belgium.

"After so much time waiting, it is the worst and most unexpected news that I could have heard this morning," the 24-year-old said.

"I’m eager to go back. I don’t know if it is definitive, I hope that a solution can be found.

"It is a shame that these incidents have forced the stadium to be closed, but if this is what happens then we have to accept it."

The sanctions against Atletico are Uefa’s toughest action on racist behaviour, and Rojiblancos’ coach Javier Aguirre has also been banned for his club’s home and away fixtures against Liverpool for insulting Marseille player Mathieu Valbuena.

Uefa confirmed the penalties yesterday and said the next two Champions League home games cannot be played within 300 kilometres of Madrid. The third match ban will be invoked only if there is a repeat of crowd trouble or racist chanting within the next five years.

Torres’ Liverpool team-mate and fellow Spain international Jose Reina added: "It’s a huge blow for us, the Spanish players at Liverpool. Above all for Fernando, who was the most eager of all of us to visit the Calderon.

"As well as that, we all had commitments, tickets agreed, and this changes all the plans."

Reina’s father, Miguel Reina Santos, played for Atletico in the 1970s.

Atletico: We Will Host Liverpool

Atletico Madrid president Enrique Cerezo is confident his side's Champions League match with Liverpool will go ahead at the Vicente Calderon.

UEFA handed Atletico a three-match stadium ban, along with a fine of around £120,000, for incidents during their Champions League home match with Marseille on October 1.

Those incidents included outbreaks of violence between Marseille fans and Spanish police after the latter removed a banner that featured a prohibited symbol, as well as accusations from Marseille officials and players that they had been racially abused by the Atletico fans.

European football's governing body have ruled Atletico's next two Champions League home matches - with a third suspended - cannot be played within 200 miles of Madrid.

That means Liverpool's clash there next week will have to be moved - although Cerezo believes that will not happen.

"The Atleti-Liverpool game will be played at the Vicente Calderon," Cerezo was quoted as saying in Marca.

"We will appeal. I have faith that UEFA will do the right thing. I hope they will listen to both sides evenly."

Meanwhile, Atletico's local rivals Real Madrid have thrown their support behind their neighbours.

Real president Ramon Calderon, speaking to Spanish television while attending the Madrid Masters tennis on Tuesday night, said: "It seems unfair to me. The police do not report to Atletico Madrid. Those that caused the problems were the Marseille fans."

Real full-back Michel Salgado added: "You can't punish an entire fan base for the racist behaviour of a few people in the crowd.

"I think they've been too drastic in their decision. There's racism in every stadium due to a minority of the crowd. It has nothing to do with sport. This punishment sets a precedent.

"We'll have to wait to see what UEFA does whenever this happens again; if every stadium has to be shut down because of this, many games will be played behind closed doors."

Steven Gerrard Up Against Stewart Downing For England Place Against Belarus

Gerrard is expected to play on the left side of England's midfield here, but Fabio Capello stuck Middlesbrough's Stewart Downing in that role in yesterday's final training session at the stadium.

The Liverpool captain has admitted he is worried about his place - and last night will not have helped his confidence.

Gerrard played in the centre of midfield while Gareth Barry and Frank Lampard were in the middle for the opposing team.

It will be a surprise if Wayne Bridge doesn't replace the injured Ashley Cole at left - back, although Joleon Lescott is a rival contender.

Gabriel Agbonlahor, David Wheater and Joe Hart will fly out today - barring injury - to join up with the senior squad after they all played for the Under-21s last night.

Milan Ready To Offer Liverpool New Zidane In Chase For Daniel Agger

Milan are ready to offer Liverpool the 'new Zinedine Zidane' in a bid to beat Real Madrid to the signing of Daniel Agger.

The Italian giants see the Danish centre-back as the long-term replacement for Paolo Maldini.

And they side are willing to offer France midfielder Yoann Gourcuff as part of a deal.

The 22-year-old spent two unhappy years at the the San Siro but is now starring on a season-long loan at Bordeaux - and has quickly established himself in the France team.

Reds Crash To Mini-Derby Defeat

Liverpool Reserves threw away a two-goal advantage as they slumped to a third successive defeat in a pulsating mini-derby at The Halliwell Jones Stadium.

Gary Ablett's side had looked on course to get their Barclays Premier Reserve League North campaign back on track after storming into a 2-0 lead courtesy of second-half goals from Jordy Brouwer and Gerardo Bruna.

But any hopes they had of bringing their two-match losing run to a close were duly ended in a dramatic final quarter of the contest as the Toffees hit back to snatch a 3-2 victory.

The Reds had gone into the match determined to mark their first home game of the season with a win and after a scrappy opening they carved out the first opportunity of note when Dani Pacheco fired wide at the near post following good work down the left by Emiliano Insua.

It was the start of a passage of play in which the hosts took control and James McCarten was lucky not to put through his own net after a devilish cross from the right from Francisco Duran.

Mini-derbies are notorious for being full-blooded encounters and it was perhaps no surprise that three players were booked in the opening 18 minutes as both sides fought with the passion and desire you would expect of such an occasion.

The visitors were boasting an experienced line-up but it wasn't until the 20th minute that they troubled the Reds rearguard and even then Jose Baxter sliced well wide of Dean Bouzanis' goal.

The same player was again presented with an opportunity just three minutes later but he drilled a wayward volley over the top after a cross from the left found him free at the far post.

All of a sudden it was the visitors posing all the questions and the Reds were lucky not to concede a spot-kick just shy of the half hour mark when San Jose appeared to bring James Vaughan crashing to the ground in the area.

Half-time came and went with the game still goalless, although only Jordy Brouwer will know how he failed to turn Duran's cut back into the net just seconds after the restart.

However, the Dutchman made amends on 56 minutes when he gave the home side a deserved lead, bundling home the rebound after Spearing's low effort was spilled by Carlo Nash.

The goal gave the Reds the confidence boost they were in need of and they should have doubled their advantage on 72 minutes but Gerardo Bruna was unlucky to see his shot crash back off the post following good work from Brouwer.

It was a frustrating moment for the forward, but he didn't have long to wait before he was celebrating the Reds' second just minutes later when his free-kick from the right deceived everyone and flew straight in at the near post.

It seemed like job done for Ablett and his men, but their two goal advantage lasted all of three minutes as James Vaughan dived full length to reduce the arrears after Victor Anichebe's drilled cross found him at the far post.

The visitors sensed an anxiety in the Reds' ranks and all Liverpool's good work was undone on 80 minutes when Lee Molyneux crashed in a magnificent 25-yard free-kick.

Both sides piled forward in search of the winner but despite the home side's best efforts they could not make the most of their opportunities and Vaughan was on hand to punish them with his second of the game, seven minutes from time to cap a remarkable comeback for the Blues.