Thursday, November 20, 2008

Referee Gets Death Threats Over Controversial Gerrard Penalty

Martin Hansson, the referee in Liverpool's Champions League game against Atlético Madrid a fortnight ago, has revealed he received death threats over his decision to award a late penalty to Steven Gerrard.

The Swede gave a spot-kick in the final minute of stoppage time for what he perceived to be a push on Liverpool's captain by Mariano Pernía. Gerrard, who scored the penalty to salvage a 1-1 draw, admitted he would have been "livid" had the decision been made against his team.

Hansson told the Swedish newspaper Sport-Expressen that he has given up his mobile telephone number and notified the police after getting a number of threatening calls and text messages.

"I have received death threats. It has been horrible and feels very uncomfortable," he said. "The phone rang all the time and I had a great many text messages. I am pretty used to this but now I've had enough. It has been very threatening. I feel completely fed up. I have always had my mobile phone on and my number has been on the network. Now it no longer works. I'm sad that I can't be as open as I once was. I have notified the police that there have been threats against my life but it is difficult for the police to prove."

Hansson said he would not follow the lead of his compatriot Anders Frisk, who quit as a referee in 2005 after receiving death threats following a Champions League game between Chelsea and Barcelona. "I'll keep on refereeing because I like it," he said. "I want to continue to believe that football can do a lot of good and it would be sad if these dark forces had any influence on me. I thought about quitting, absolutely, but I have made my decision to continue. But I never considered it [quitting] as much as right now."

Meanwhile the referee Andre Marriner is to sit out this weekend's Premier League and Football League programmes after mistakenly sending off Wigan Athletic's Emmerson Boyce last Saturday at Newcastle United. Marriner gave Boyce a second yellow card for a tackle on Shola Ameobi which replays showed to be clean. His temporary withdrawal shows that the error has been viewed as serious.

Howard Webb, acknowledged as England's top referee, is to help Stuart Attwell negotiate his comeback to the Premier League in Portsmouth's game at home to Hull on Saturday by acting as fourth official. This season Attwell has awarded Reading a phantom goal at Watford and his two questionable decisions punished Derby in a draw with Nottingham Forest.

Skrtel Aims To Return Soon

Liverpool defender Martin Skrtel is hoping to be back playing soon as his rehabilitation from a knee injury progresses well.

The Slovakian centre-back damaged his posterior cruciate ligament in Liverpool's 3-2 win at Manchester City in October.

He did not require surgery and is now working hard to return as soon as possible.

"I don't know exactly the date but the predictions were for before Christmas and I am hoping it is as soon as possible," said Skrtel.

"The injury is much better. It has been six weeks since the injury and I have stopped using the crutches, but obviously I have work to do in order to get the ligament back to what it was before."

Liverpool Boss Benitez Insists Arsenal's Premier League Hopes Not Over

Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez has claimed that he is not willing to accept that Arsenal are not threats to their Premier League title dreams this season, even though Arsene Wenger’s men have already lost four games in the Premiership this season.

Currently Chelsea lead the league table on goal difference followed by the Reds, with the Gunners nine points behind the league leaders, which have raised many doubts regarding their title ambitions.

However, the former Valencia coach insists that it too early to rule out Arsene Wenger's side and highlights the fact that Liverpool are still to play the North London club twice.

Benitez said: "It is too early for me. They have enough quality in the squad. We still have to play them (twice) and they have to play the other top sides in the second half of the season.

"It is a difficult situation for them because they have three teams ahead of them but it is too early to rule them out."

Liverpool Football Club Slammed By City Council For Bird-Brained Scheme To Trademark Emblem

Council leaders have hit out at Liverpool's owners over the club's bid to register the Liver bird as a trademark.

The Anfield club have applied to the UK Intellectual Property Office to trademark the iconic image for the sum of £450.

The club hope the move will stem the tide of counterfeit Liverpool merchandise bearing the famous Liver bird emblem.

However, the application has not been welcomed by Liverpool city council, who last week accused the club of attempting to 'steal' the city's crest.

'This is outrageous,' said deputy council leader Flo Clucas in quotes reported by the Guardian.

'The Liver bird belongs to all the people of Liverpool and not one company or organisation. It cannot be bought and sold for private profit.

'This is a symbol of the city and is used not only by the council but also by hundreds of organisations, charities, voluntary groups and sports clubs.'
Clucas revealed last week that the council are taking legal advice over the trademark application.

The club claim they are only attempting to trademark the version which appears on their jerseys, and are not seeking to encroach on the rights of the city council or any other major city organisations to use the Liver bird image.

Liverpool FC's Alvaro Arbeloa Not Signing Until Rafa Benitez Sorted

Liverpool are keen to open talks with Alvaro Arbeloa over a new contract to stave off interest from Atletico Madrid.

But the Spain international has intimated he will wait until the future of Rafael Benitez becomes clearer before reaffirming his commitment to the club.

Arbeloa, an arrival from Deportivo La Coruna in January 2007, has a little over 18 months remaining on his current contract.

The 25-year-old has emerged as a regular at right-back this season with his form since signing for Liverpool earning a place in Spain’s triumphant Euro 2008 squad.

That has alerted Atletico, who want to take the former Real Madrid defender back to the Spanish capital.

Arbeloa said: “I have a contract with Liverpool for one more year. We’ve not spoken about renewing it, not knowing if Benitez will continue, it seems to me a little soon to talk about this.”

Benitez revealed last week that preliminary talks have taken place between his agent and Liverpool’s American owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett over a fresh deal for the Anfield manager.

Along with Arbeloa, both Dirk Kuyt and Daniel Agger will enter the final year of their current deals at the end of the season, with Benitez having previously admitted sorting out the long-term future of his players would be easier once his own contract situation is resolved.

Meanwhile, the Liverpool manager has praised a team effort among his backroom staff after being named Premier League manager of the month for October.

“I am really pleased to be named manager of the month, but the award is not just for me, it is good for the club and also my staff,” said Benitez. “I think that all managers need to have good backroom staff.

“Everyone is doing a very good job and that is important. It allows me to concentrate on different things because I know that they will do the job properly.”

Benitez had particular praise for Mauricio Pellegrino, who was brought back to Anfield in the summer as first-team coach after spending a short stint on the playing staff in 2005.

“When I decided to sign Pellegrino as a player it was because he is very clever and tactically he could help the other defenders,” said Benitez.

“He wasn’t at his best because he was at the end of his career, but he is showing now as a coach how brilliant he is tactically.

“I think everyone has been impressed by the things he has done since he arrived. He is a winner, he is very clever and he has a real passion for football.

“The only concern for me is maybe he will leave in the future because he can be a fantastic manager.”

Liverpool are enjoying their best-ever start to a Premier League campaign with only goal difference keeping them behind leaders Chelsea.

And Fernando Torres believes the Anfield outfit have laid the foundations of a genuine title challenge.

“This season has seen us get off to a good start, and that is very much appreciated here,” said the Spain international.

“If you are still up there by December, then you have serious options of staying there. The big name sides rarely slip up, especially during the first half of the season. If you fall too far behind, you leave yourself very few, if any, options.

“The Premier League is the title which everyone wants, even more than the Champions League, especially considering that the club lifted that one three seasons ago.

“The players who have been at the club for longer have won every title possible apart from the Premier League and the players here now, and especially the fans, want to win it.

“If they had to decide between the two, they would choose the Premier League.”

TOMMY SMITH: Liverpool Still Need Ruthless Touch

If there’s just one thing lacking with the current Liverpool side at present it is their failure to be ruthless.

They have made a terrific start to the season, are level pegging with Chelsea at the top, but they could make things a lot easier if they could take a few more chances.

That must be Rafa Benitez’s main concern after seeing his side achieve a great result at Bolton – not one of our favourite places in the past – and dominate for long periods.

But it required a Steven Gerrard header late on to clinch the points.

Early in the second half, with the Reds holding a slender lead given to them by a superb Dirk Kuyt header, Bolton finally threatened and could easily have scored with two good chances.

Even so, it would have been irrelevant had Robbie Keane converted what looked the simplest of chances in the first half.

What was he trying to do? Why try to use the wrong foot to score, and subsequently completely miss his kick, when it looked all over a simple tap in?

Gerrard also missed out from another pinpoint cross while Fernando Torres, making a welcome return, could also have scored a couple late on.

However, his pass with the outside of his foot to his skipper for the second was worth waiting for. It was brilliant and shows what a hell of a player he is.

Goals are vital – we all know that’s obvious. But if you score them you take the pressure off your midfield and defence, and get the opposition to play more openly.

But, overall, the Reds are looking good, have now got over that deflating result at Spurs, and have shown they are serious title contenders.

Fed Up Skrtel 'Ready To Quit Anfield And Return To St Petersburg'

Liverpool face losing Martin Skrtel after the Slovakian admitted he is struggling to adjust to life on Merseyside.

The 24-year-old defender is lonely and bored and would like to return to St Petersburg, according to his close friend, Zenit goalkeeper Kamil Contofalsky.

Contofalsky told Russia's 90 Minutes Magazines: 'I talk a lot to Martin on the phone and he said he would like to return to Zenit because it's very boring for him in England.

'He feels lonely there, doesn't have any friends. And also the local paparazzi follow him all the time.

'There's no such camera madness in Russia and Martin confessed to me that life in St Petersburg was better for him.

'But that doesn't mean he regrets his move to Liverpool. He made it into the main squad quickly and played top class football which is much better than in the Russian premiership.'

Should Liverpool And Everton Ground-Share?

Passion. Loyalty. Pride. The credit crunch. Ticket prices. Pragmatics. Which arguments are the most compelling in the ground-sharing debate? Kevin Garside and Jeremy Wilson go head to head with their respective arguments.

Kevin Garside - No to ground-sharing

Football, like all sports, is a form of escape, a fantasy, an adventure, a romance, an attachment. It conforms not to rational promptings but to emotional impulses. Yes, it is logical for Liverpool and Everton to ground-share. Yes, it makes fiscal sense. Why build two stadia to accommodate two teams housed either side of Stanley Park? It would be madness. Well yes, it would. For the fan, football is a form of madness. Necessarily so. It provides a subtext to our lives. It nourishes the parts work cannot reach. It allows us to drift legitimately for periods of time from the more prosaic conventions that govern us. From responsibility.

We do this in groups. It becomes a secondary identity. This is Dave. He's okay. He's a Liverpool fan. Hi Dave. Welcome to the club. You're in, one of us. Out of this simple commonality a relationship flows. Dave might eat insects, he might pierce his toes, he might do lots of things that would get him locked up, but we forgive him his eccentricities because he's a Liverpool fan; part of the family.

Dave and the boys convene once or twice a week at their ground. It's been their home for more than a hundred years. Their dads came before them, their granddads before them. They are bound by a set of shared beliefs that have evolved and made them what they are in football. This is Anfield.

Dave's cousin, John, is a blue. John's dad, Dave's uncle, went to Goodison Park as a kid to spite his old fella. John loves Everton like Dave loves the reds. John's bedroom wall is a shrine to Everton. He's even got a picture of Kendall, Ball and Harvey that his dad cut out of a Shoot magazine when he was 10.

Dave and John are not economists. They have no interest in balancing books. They are not clients of Anfield and Goodison Park. They are, in their imaginations, part owners of Liverpool and Everton. They turn up without fail in all weathers in their replica shirts bought at the club shops and stump up money they don't have to get their emotional fix.

Dave and John share blood but not teams. This part of their lives is experienced independently. They are mutually exclusive. This is the tradition in Merseyside, in England, in Britain; separate homes at the home of the game.

Jeremy Wilson - Yes to ground-sharing

Rick Parry, the Liverpool chief executive, struck a rather hopeful note earlier this week when he attempted to allay ever-growing fears about the viability of a new stadium. "It's a case of a delay while things settle down," he said.

A delay while things settle down? At a time when even the world's most eminent economists have little idea when confidence in the banking system will return, it was hardly a statement to reassure any Liverpool fan.

As for Everton, the club claims that it has funds for a new stadium, yet the council's objection to the retail element of their Kirkby project has ensured ongoing delays. Time, though, is hardly on the side of either football club.

On Saturday, Liverpool will host Fulham and can expect to earn around £1.4 million from the game, while a similar fixture for Everton would generate in the region of £800,000. Comparable matches at Arsenal's Emirates Stadium or Manchester United's Old Trafford would net the clubs around £3.5 million.

Over a season, it gives Arsenal and Manchester United an ongoing advantage in turnover in excess of £50 million over their Merseyside rivals.

And yet there is a simple solution. In Stanley Park, Liverpool have planning permission - but not the money - for a 60,000-seater ground that could potentially become a 75,000 capacity stadium. By contrast, Everton's difficulties surround the location for their ground. It is often said that a problem shared is a problem halved yet, in this case, an unlikely alliance would actually solve two problems.

A shared stadium would also provide a wider focal point for Liverpool that could represent the 'Wembley of the north' and attract other high profile events to Merseyside. A call to consider the idea from both council leader Warren Bradley and Steven Broomhead, the chief executive of the North West Regional Development Agency, also suggests that public bodies may look favourably on supporting a joint project that could serve to unite the community.

For all the understandable emotion about retaining each club's unique identity, it is a project that has been proven to work in other leading European football cities.

The San Siro is famously the base for both AC Milan and Inter, while the Olympic Stadium in Rome hosts Roma and Lazio. The Allianz Arena in Germany can even change colour from red to blue depending on whether Bayern Munich or TSV 1860 Munich are at home.
The lesson is clear. Football waits for nobody and, if Liverpool and Everton doggedly allow their hearts to rule their heads, they will continue to get left behind.

Fernando Torres Back To His Best - And Ready To Fire For Liverpool

Fernando Torres returned to goalscoring form last night in Spain’s 3-0 win over Chile.

It was the Liverpool forward’s first goal since his return from the hamstring injury that he sustained on international duty in early October.

And in a further boost to manager Rafael Benitez’s preparations for the visit of Fulham this Saturday, he saw all five of his Spanish internationals come through without picking up injuries.

Xabi Alonso and Albert Riera completed full 90 minutes while goalkeeper Pepe Reina played the second half after replacing Iker Casillas.

Right-back Alvaro Arbeloa also made an appearance just past the hour mark before Torres scored just nine minutes after replacing David Villa 12 minutes into the second half. But Benitez’s main concern was welcoming Torres back with his fitness intact after being injured on international duty three times during his Liverpool career.

Meanwhile, Martin Skrtel has revealed his determination to fight to regain his place in the Liverpool back line when he returns from injury.

The Slovakian defender has earmarked the Christmas period as a realistic target for his return following his spell on the sidelines with a knee injury.

He said: “Daniel and Sami are excellent players and they are playing well.

“It will be difficult to get back into the team but I am working hard and I will do my best to impress the coach and fight for my place back.

“I am sad that I am not currently part of the team but I am happy that we are winning and at the end of the day it is the goal of all of us to win matches.

“Being at the top of the Premier League gives us a lot of confidence. We are trying to win every game and hopefully our form can continue for as long as possible.

“Of course I would like to win some silverware but it’s still early and there is a long time to go until the end of the season.”

Skrtel, who joined Liverpool from Zenit St Petersburg in January, admits that he is happy with the schedule of his recovery – because the initial impact of the injury at Eastlands left him feeling he would be out for much longer.

“The injury is much better,” Skrtel said. “It has been six weeks since the injury and I have stopped using the crutches, but obviously I have work to do in order to get the ligament back to what it was before.

“The pain when it happened was huge and I thought it was much worse than it actually was. Once I was back in the changing room I realised it was not as serious as I first feared.

“The first week or two was the worst but then I started to look forward to doing exercises that helped me to heal and speed up the recovery process.”

As for a likely return date, the Slovakian international is still hopeful he will achieve his initial target of a run-out during the Christmas programme.

“I don’t know exactly the date but the predictions were for before Christmas and I am hoping it is as soon as possible.

“It has been a long time. I can’t wait to start kicking a ball again and resume full training,” he added.