Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Samuel Eto'o Linked With Liverpool Move

Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez is weighing up a move for Barcelona striker Samuel Eto’o in a bid to ensure his side do not rely so heavily on Fernando Torres next season, according to reports in Spain.

The sale of Robbie Keane to his former club Tottenham in January has left Benitez with just youngster David N’Gog as cover for Torres, a situation the Spaniard knows he must remedy if Liverpool are to keep pace with Manchester United and Chelsea.

Eto’o has insisted he would like to stay a Camp Nou until his contract runs out in the summer of 2010 and while Benitez would be prepared to wait to land one of Europe’s best strikers on a free transfer, it is thought he may try to exploit the uncertainty surrounding his future to land his man sooner.

After coming close to leaving Barcelona last summer, after manager Pep Guardiola revealed the Cameroon international did not feature in his plans, Eto’o has won his place back in emphatic fashion. He tops the Spanish goalscoring charts and has played a key role as Barcelona have threatened to run away with the La Liga title.

But Guardiola could still be convinced to cash in on a player unlikely to sign a new deal if a suitable offer arrived as he looks to supplement Europe’s best attacking line with the likes of Bayern Munich’s Franck Ribery and Brazilian striker Keirrison.

Despite landing two La Liga titles since joining the Catalan side from Real Madrid, as well as playing a key role in winning the 2006 Champions League, Eto’o’s time at Barcelona has been chequered. He is widely considered a source of dressing room discontent and Guardiola had wanted to sell him, along with Deco and Ronaldinho, last summer, but could not find a buyer.

Benitez has been promised a transfer kitty of at least £30 million by Liverpool’s owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett, plus whatever he can raise by selling off any of his squad he no longer requires.

A striker, as well as cover on the right wing and at right back, are likely to be his priorities, while a second move for Aston Villa captain Gareth Barry is likely.

Hertha Berlin To Buy Voronin From Liverpool If They Seal Champions League Spot

Hertha Berlin have let it be known that an agreement is in place that will see Liverpool loanee Andriy Voronin join them on a permanent basis - but only if Champions League football is assured for next term.

The Ukrainian striker's red-hot form since joining on loan from Liverpool is a primary reason why Hertha currently top the Bundesliga going into the final stretch of the season.

Nevertheless, with no less than five teams in with a realistic shot of winning the title, a Champions League place is by no means guaranteed to the German capital club.

Hertha president Werner Gegenbauer told SID, "We cannot go through with a transfer unless we have extra funds from the Champions League, so it depends on whether or not we qualify.

"We can give and receive no promise, but we have to wait and see what happens at the end of the season."

Liverpool have yet to officially confirm whether they are willing to sell the 29-year-old outright, but his short spell at Anfield was so underwhelming that it is hard to imagine them turning down a reasonable offer.

Liverpool FC Duo Jay Spearing And Stephen Darby Set For New Contracts

Liverpool are ready to reward Jay Spearing for his progress at Anfield by offering the young midfielder a new contract.

And the club have already opened talks with fellow youngster Stephen Darby as Rafael Benitez continues planning for the future.

Spearing, who won the FA Youth Cup in 2006, captained the team that retained the trophy in 2007 and also won the FA Premier Reserve League last year, finally made his long-awaited breakthrough into the first-team squad this season.

The 20-year-old midfielder was handed a debut as substitute in the Champions’ League group win at PSV Eindhoven in December.

Spearing, who is expected to be loaned out to a leading Coca-Cola Championship club next season, then enjoyed an impressive cameo from the bench in his Anfield bow against Real Madrid last month, with his performance earning praise from Liverpool skipper Steven Gerrard.

“I was delighted for Jay because I think a few people will have been surprised by the way he performed after coming on against Real Madrid but I wasn’t one of them,” said Gerrard.

“First of all, you have to give credit to the manager for giving a young player a chance in such a big game and Jay certainly did not let him down.

“I see him in training all the time and he’s got a good touch, he passes the ball well and he keeps thing simple and it was good to see him show what he is all about in a game like this.

“He certainly won’t let anyone down if he is given more chances in the future.”

Both Spearing and Darby, also 20, have just more than 12 months to run on their contracts.

Darby also played in the FA Youth Cup-winning sides of 2006 and 2007 and was the skipper of the reserve team that beat Aston Villa 3-0 to win the national title last season.

The right-back – and England under-19 international – made his debut in the Carling Cup defeat at Tottenham Hotspur in November and appeared at PSV Eindhoven in the Champions League the following month.

Sami Hyypia In Knee Injury Scare

Rafa Benitez was today sweating on the fitness of Sami Hyypia after the long serving Reds defender returned early from international duty with a knee injury.

Hyypia picked the knock up during Finland’s 2-0 win over Wales in a World Cup qualifier in Cardiff at the weekend and was today due to undergo a scan at Melwood as Liverpool’s medical staff attempt to discover the extent of the damage.

The initial suspicion is that the 35-year-old has suffered a knee ligament injury and if that is confirmed Hyypia would almost certainly be ruled out of Liverpool’s forthcoming matches against Fulham in the Premier League and Chelsea in the Champions League.

With Yossi Benayoun having picked up a calf problem during Israel’s qualifying clash with Greece, the current international break is already looking likely to turn out to be a costly one for Benitez.

A further worry for the Reds boss is that Javier Mascherano will not return to Merseyside from international duty with Argentina until 24 hours before Liverpool take on Fulham at Craven Cottage.

The midfield general is set to captain Diego Maradona’s side as Argentina take on Bolivia in La Paz and afterwards will face a 14-hour flight back to the UK.

With several other senior members of his squad also involved in international matches tomorrow night, Benitez will not get the majority of his players back until Thursday afternoon.

Gerrard Houllier - Bring Jamie Carragher Back For England

Gerard Houllier has urged Fabio Capello to persuade Jamie Carragher to come out of international retirement – and hailed the Liverpool man as the answer to England’s problematic right-back position.

Carragher, who has won 34 caps, has asked not to be considered for selection for his country since 2007 having grown tired at his treatment from a succession of national team managers.

The 31-year-old was in particular aggrieved that he was rarely utilized in his preferred centre-back role despite regularly being hailed as one of the best defenders in Europe by his peers.

With Manchester United pair Gary Neville and Wes Brown hampered by injuries in recent years and Portsmouth’s Glen Johnson yet to fully convince Capello, the right-back slot remains up for grabs ahead of next summer’s World Cup.

And former Liverpool manager Houllier believes Carragher’s versatility and experience would prove invaluable for England in South Africa.

“It’s not my place to offer advice to Fabio Capello,” said Houllier. “But I’d go to Jamie Carragher and say ‘We need you’.

“I’d ask him to come back at the start of next season. In my mind I’d have him pencilled in for the right-back position, where England have no obvious solution at the moment, but the great thing about Carra is he can play right-back, left-back and, of course, centre-back – and do a job in defensive midfield, too.

“All that experience would be valuable in a World Cup. On top of everything else, he’s a great lad to have in the dressing room.”

Capello declared last month that the door was open for Carragher and Manchester United midfielder Paul Scholes, who retired from the international scene almost five years ago.

However, Capello’s plea is likely to fall on deaf ears with Carragher having shown little sign of being tempted back into the international fold, particularly when any possible recall would not be in his preferred position in central defence.

England can move a step closer to next summer’s World Cup with victory in their qualifier against Ukraine at Wembley tomorrow.

Mark Lawrenson: Internationals A Bad Break For Liverpool FC Momentum

Last week all the talk was about the title momentum being with Liverpool. Well not any more, it’s not. Because this international break could not have come at a worse time.

After scoring 13 goals in three wins against Real Madrid, Manchester United and Aston Villa, you want your team to get back out there as soon as possible while you’re still in the groove.

You don’t want the situation Rafael Benitez now finds himself in, just sitting there and waiting for his players to come back.

He’ll be like a cat on a hot tin roof towards the end of the week, anxiously hoping his phone doesn’t ring with more injury news from the continent.

The situation with Yossi Benayoun won’t have done anything to reassure him over the risks of this particular round of games.

Instead of basking in the satisfaction of what Liverpool have achieved in getting back into the title race, he’s deprived of building on that and working with his key players ahead of a massive – and very difficult – game at Fulham on Saturday.

That’s the problem with the expanded number of sides in the World Cup qualifiers.

You never used to have the nuisance of a fortnight’s break from your club. You’d go off after a weekend game and play in midweek, then you’d be back straight away for another club game the next weekend.

The break didn’t need to be that long, maybe only four or five days compared to the 10 or 11 days that you’re needed on duty in the modern era.

That time must feel like an eternity for Benitez, stuck back at Melwood with just Jamie Carragher for company on the training ground. Hardly the ideal way to stoke up your squad for an impending title run-in and all the intensity that goes with it.

But my big worry is not how it will affect Liverpool. It is how it will affect Manchester United.

They’re in the exact opposite camp to Liverpool – they needed the break.

They needed the time away to recharge the batteries after two terrible results and they needed to get away from the pressure that went with them.

Pressure that would have been building up nicely now ahead of the Aston Villa game, which they could go into in second place in the table.

But the psychological doubts that creep in at this time will have been erased by this two-week break.

Yes, Alex Ferguson will have been short of players and unable to prepare them just like Benitez, but at least nobody has been talking about the Aston Villa game.

Normally, the papers and media would be full of stuff about the title race, like it was last week.

But by the time the aftermath of the World Cup qualifiers has died down it will be Friday before anyone even mentions the Premier League programme.

The scrutiny has been taken off United and the problems they had. And that’s why the timing of this break will suit them far more than Liverpool.

Trophy Delight For AFC Liverpool’s Under-16s

AFC Liverpool’s Under-16s team claimed the Adam Bell Trophy with a 3-0 triumph over Arriva Youth.

With first team manager Derek Goulding and reserve team boss John Moran in attendance, AFC Liverpool’s Under-16’s secured the silverware in a largely one-sided final held at Burscough’s Victoria Park ground.

The Reds were in the ascendancy right from the off and took the lead after five minutes when a David McElnay cross looped over the opposition goalkeeper.

The Reds didn’t need such luck with James Rushton-Woods, son of former chairman Mark Woods, and Daniel Currie controlling the midfield to ensure that from an early stage the result was never in doubt.

The Reds continued to press for a second goal without success until right on the stroke of half-time Tom O’Sullivan nodded home a right wing cross to double AFC Liverpool’s advantage.

In the second half AFC Liverpool made a number of substitutions without losing control of the game showing the strength in depth of the squad.

A nasty looking injury to Steven Grey which resulted in a red card for the Arriva offender marred the second half which ended with Lewis Hogg scoring the third for a well-deserved victory for the Reds.

It was a great night for the Under-16s with a good turnout from AFC Liverpool fans and the support of the first team and reserve team manager.

Ian Rush: No Chance Of Resting Liverpool FC Stars As Euro Clash Looms

In recent seasons, Rafa Benitez has been able to rest key players in league games ahead of big European ties but he won’t be able to do that this weekend.

The Champions League quarter final clash with Chelsea comes just a few days after Saturday’s meeting with Fulham and I’m sure the Liverpool manager would love to be able to give one or two of his stars a bit of a rest at the weekend.

But with a Premier League challenge now well and truly on Benitez will have to pick his best available side for the league game.

The problem is that so many Liverpool players have been away on international duty and the Reds boss will have to factor this into his planning.

Tiredness could be a problem, particularly for the likes of Javier Mascherano who will only return from South America 24 hours before the Fulham game.

There are also likely to be a few players carrying knocks and if they aren’t 100% then Benitez will have some big decisions to make.

But there is no doubt that these are exactly the kind of problems that Benitez would have wanted when the season started because they mean that Liverpool have a chance in two of football’s biggest competitions.

Benayoun Injury Adds To Liverpool Insult

Yossi Benayoun has risked the wrath of Rafael Benítez by defying the Liverpool manager's wishes not to travel on international duty and then suffering an injury during Israel's World Cup qualifier with Greece.

The Israel captain, who missed three games for Liverpool with a hamstring strain prior to Saturday's Group 2 fixture, was carried off in the 71st minute of the 1-1 draw with what appeared to be a calf injury. Liverpool are still awaiting confirmation of the damage to the midfielder and a decision on whether he can be considered for Israel's return game with Greece on Wednesday or their own Premier League trip to Fulham on Saturday.

Benayoun, however, is unrepentant at starting the World Cup qualifier. "I made the right decision, and that's it," he said. "We hope we'll win in Greece, but a draw isn't that bad either. Still, our aim is to win in Crete."

Prior to the first encounter with Greece the 28-year-old admitted he had defied Liverpool's instructions not to play given his recent hamstring problems. He said: "I had a little problem with Liverpool. They didn't really want me to come to Israel. But as long as I know I will be able to give 100% I will play, even if it means risking my health."

Steven Gerrard Lauds Liverpool Goalkeeper Pepe Reina

Liverpool's guardian Pepe Reina is often overlooked by both Premier League and Spanish fans due to Edwin van der Sar's excellence at Old Trafford and Iker Casillas' continued exemplary form with Real Madrid and the national team.

Steven Gerrard, though, has today lauded Reina as one of the best in the business. The praise arrives in the wake of the 'keeper’s ability to reach 100 shut-outs in club-record time.

"We're really happy with the keeper that we've got at Liverpool and, as far as I'm concerned, Pepe is probably the best in the world in his position right now," Gerrard explained to the club's official website.

"If you look at the games we've won of late, Pepe has played a really important part in those victories by making important saves at vital moments and he's even created a couple of goals as well.

"So we know just how good he is and he is definitely one of the world's best.”

Gerrard is currently away on international duty with England. He is currently preparing for a World Cup qualifier on Wednesday evening against Ukraine.

Monday, March 30, 2009

James Lawton: Inspired Gerrard Clicks With United Man To Promise Untold Riches

No wonder Fabio Capello so quickly folded up Steven Gerrard as though he was a newly minted bank note and put him away for a day when he needs something rather closer to maximum spending power, as in this coming Wednesday when victory over Ukraine will all but guarantee a place in next year's World Cup finals.

Slovakia were opponents conquered by the mere rattle of small change but not before Gerrard in his first-half appearance was able to debunk the theory that for all their individual assets he and Wayne Rooney were unlikely to ever forge a truly coherent playing relationship.

Rooney ran his way out of the anger which flared so disturbingly again at Fulham the previous weekend – and was also apparently expressed in an eye-popping collision with Sir Alex Ferguson – most spectacularly, only after Gerrard had showered and changed and sat, statesmanlike, at the touchline.

But by then Rooney's superbly taken goals and David Beckham's latest walk-on part, in which he was able to stroll virtually unchallenged past Bobby Moore's outfield record of 108 caps, were very much adornments after the most crucial fact.

This was that Rooney, running free up front and with all his native intelligence, did indeed have the capacity to make a sweet alliance with the currently inspired Gerrard.

Their interchange before Emile Heskey's opening goal was so natural, and so irresistible, it might have been carried on a gust of wind.

At 23 Rooney is still in need of emergency anger management whenever the ball does not roll so sweetly for him, or when he is nursing some passing sense of grievance, but the good news is that the turbulence of his nature blows itself out a lot more easily than the abandonment of his extraordinary ability to make football at times seem so easy.

It has always been the mark of a great player and that Rooney enjoys this status has never been compromised by his susceptibility to the red mist. Against Slovakia, he was an unbroken source of both pressure and creativity, and with such movement and wit in front of him, Gerrard looked so comfortably at home he might have played for several hours instead of a mere 45 minutes without one of his trademarked sighs of frustration.

Naturally, Capello looked as contended as any Italian cat presented with a large bowl of cappuccino.

No doubt Ukraine, with Liverpool reject Andrei Voronin threatening to maintain the goal stream that has delighted his current employers, Hertha Berlin, and Andrei Shevchenko hoping to prove to an English audience that his own stay here was just a fleeting case of misadventure, will provide a much sterner test than Slovakia, but the England manager has plenty of reasons to believe in further unhindered progress to South Africa next year.

Chief among them is the growing certainty of key players. On Saturday this was most evident in the play of Rooney and Gerrard, so much so that it was almost as if Capello withdrew the latter not so much as a precaution but through fear of everybody, and also fate, being over-exposed to an extremely good thing.

Most evident was that which has always been the most striking aspect of the ability of Rooney, a natural football intelligence of sometimes stunning proportions. His innate sense of how to arrive at points of maximum opportunity at the age of 17 persuaded no less a judge than Arsène Wenger to proclaim that he had never seen a more promising young English player, a verdict that the Arsenal manager no doubt would have willingly confirmed as the Slovakian defenders were so relentlessly put on their wrong feet.

Beneath the waves of fury, Rooney is a runner and a thinker. Gerrard, it has always seemed, relies more on moments of inspiration than a constant involvement at the heart of a game. On Saturday, though, we often seemed close to a perfect fusion.

The rest, including Beckham's latest milestone, was predictable enough. Beckham's delivery of the ball, by and large, is still exceptional, but of course he cannot begin to match the pace or vitality of those such as Aaron Lennon and Shaun Wright-Phillips and if there is any intrigue in this equation it mostly concerns at which point the manager will decide that the veteran's lack of mobility, against the most serious opposition, has passed the point of being merely critical.

One reality may have been slow to dawn on some of us, and not least in this quarter. It concerns the foolishness of equating the number of caps Beckham wins with his all-time standing in the rankings of great English players. That statistically speaking Beckham's contribution to the national team now exceeds those of Sir Bobby Charlton and Moore surely makes the whole exercise palpably absurd.

According to Capello, who has got so much right, Beckham still has a role to play for England just so long as he continues to be involved in something more serious than the club football practised by his principal employers, Los Angeles Galaxy.

Inevitably, though, this issue is made to look increasingly marginal by so many of the signposts to the future hammered into the ground by Capello.

The manager is increasingly comfortable in placing maximum trust in players like Rooney and Gerrard and here his reward could scarcely have been greater. Rooney and Gerrard had moments beautifully detached from the old strivings and bogus swagger of underachieving England. They had both simplicity and poise, and the hunch here is that such qualities will again be paraded in the most demanding conditions of Wednesday night.

Not only did Rooney's anger diminish in the flow of sweet football. So too did the collective insecurity of a team which may just be beginning to believe in its own powers. Capello has been in charge scarcely more than a year. When you remember this, you can only say he is moving at breathtaking pace.

Gerrard Unhappy About Lucas Criticism

Steven Gerrard has told the Liverpool supporters to stop criticising under-fire midfielder Lucas Leiva.

The Brazil international, 22, has been booed by his own fans this season as he has struggled to find his best form and recently admitted that ‘some people don't trust me yet’.

However, he has already received the full backing of boss Rafa Benitez, and Gerrard has now called on the Liverpool fans to get behind the player as he develops.

“The criticism he receives does get to me,” he said in the Daily Star Sunday.

“I think people forget he’s 22 years old. He’s not 27 or 28.

“I remember what I was like at that age and I look at where I am now.

“I know that I’m a one-million-percent better player now. I got better with experience.

“I made mistakes and learned and it has helped me become the player I am.

“Lucas is a good player and I know he’ll continue to get better.”

Gerrard has also called for critics to recognise the contribution of the rest of the squad after the team’s recent impressive run.

Gerrard and Fernando Torres have taken most of the plaudits after the impressive victories over Real Madrid, Manchester United and Aston Villa, but the club captain feels it has been a team effort.

"It's an absolute privilege to captain this football club at any time, but especially when the team is playing the way it is," he said.

"It makes my job an awful lot easier when you don't have to talk too much to players because they are just doing their jobs without that being needed.

"Confidence is really high right now and we're certainly enjoying playing together. We are playing without fear and without anxiety and I think you're seeing some superb football from us in the last couple of weeks.

"I'm playing with magnificent players. Torres and myself have had a lot of pats on the back of late, but it's important to acknowledge our teammates who have been fantastic.

"That's from the goalkeeper and the defence right through to the front.

"The two full backs have been magnificent lately, the centre backs have been the same. I could go right through the team and everyone is doing their job properly.

“Long may that continue and hopefully it will right up until the end of the season.

"If we keep playing the way we have been over the last three games then it's going to be an exciting finish."

Benitez Drops Agger Hint

Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez has hinted that Daniel Agger is a part of his future first-team plans.

The centre-back has been persistently linked with a move away Anfield, with AC Milan understood to be monitoring prolonged contract negotiations.

Agger - whose season has been hit by injury - has yet to put pen-to-paper on a long-term deal as he is not guaranteed a place in the starting XI after apparently falling behind Jamie Carragher, Martin Skrtel and Sami Hyypia in the pecking order.

However, Benitez has implied that the Denmark international could regain a regular place in his plans if he remains on Merseyside.

The Liverpool boss said in the Mail on Sunday: "Agger knows what I think of him.

"If he stays fit, he will have as good a chance of playing as anyone else, maybe more."

Two Football Games That Changed Us Forever

A book that champions Arsenal’s 1989 title-winning game at Anfield against Liverpool might not be an obvious choice for a bestseller on Merseyside but Jason Cowley’s new publication is much more than ‘Gooner’ triumphalism.

A highly-respected print journalist, Cowley’s memoir attempts to place the highly-significant Liverpool v Arsenal Championship-decider in the context of the Hillsborough disaster and the significant impact that both events have had on English football over the following 20 years.

Cowley said: “Arsenal fans often celebrate the 1989 title-winning game in isolation of Hillsborough but I have attempted to contextualise it with what happened in Liverpool’s ill-fated semi-final a month earlier.

“For different reasons, both of these events ushered in landmark changes in our game.

“After Hillsborough everything changed and had to change.

“That goes for English football as a whole, the Liverpool fans and the city.

“I think that some changes had begun already at the time.

“The move away from hooliganism and the constant fear of violence at games from earlier in the 1980s had started to be replaced by the fanzine movement and more wittier banter.

“There was also the beginning of the rave scene in the summers of love in 1988 and 1989 which brought about a more ‘spliffed-out’ rather than drunken atmosphere amongst some fans.”

As one of the closest title battles in history, the climax to the 1988-89 First Division Championship race was also ideally suited for a live television spectacle.

Having already won an emotional second all-Merseyside FA Cup Final in four seasons against neighbours Everton a week earlier, Liverpool were the better placed of the two contenders to finish the season on top of the table.

Kenny Dalglish’s reigning champions went into the game three points ahead of George Graham’s side and even a 1-0 defeat to Arsenal would have been enough for them to retain their crown on goal difference.

Liverpool fans won’t need reminding that with just seconds to go, such a scenario was in place with the Gunners leading thanks to an Alan Smith header but still not doing enough to pip their rivals.

However, a last-gasp strike from future Liverpool FA Cup Final hero Michael Thomas broke Kopites hearts on this occasion as he popped up to give the Londoners the title on goals scored after both sides finished equal on both 76 points and a goal difference of plus 37.

Cowley said: “The way football was broadcast was also changing. Sky Television had launched in 1989 and six million people watched the title decider on ITV.

“It was a great piece of television sporting drama and showed just what could be done with big football matches.

“This was followed by England’s march to the World Cup semi-finals the following summer complete with Paul Gascoigne’s tears plus the return of English clubs to European competition and suddenly there was a different feel about the game and a new audience.”

Although Arsenal had enjoyed a healthy lead at the summit earlier in the campaign, Liverpool had approached the finish line in tremendous form winning 13 out of their previous 14 league fixtures, including a period of nine consecutive victories, a run punctuated only by a goalless draw at Goodison Park in their first competitive game after Hillsborough.

Cowley said: “Liverpool were playing fantastically. There was an incredible energy in the club and they were all grieving after Hillsborough.

“After the Cup Final, they’d beaten West Ham 5-1 at Anfield ahead of the Arsenal game which had just done enough to edge them ahead of my team in regards to goal difference.

“Although there was always going to be a winner and a loser on the night when it came to the title race, I remember this occasion as being one of great sportsmanship from both sets of players and fans.

“The Arsenal team came out wearing black armbands and laid a floral tribute to the victims of Hillsborough which was applauded.

Having already won an emotional second all-Merseyside FA Cup Final in four seasons against neighbours Everton a week earlier, Liverpool were the better placed of the two contenders to finish the season on top of the table.

Kenny Dalglish’s reigning champions went into the game three points ahead of George Graham’s side and even a 1-0 defeat to Arsenal would have been enough for them to retain their crown on goal difference.

Liverpool fans won’t need reminding that with just seconds to go, such a scenario was in place with the Gunners leading thanks to an Alan Smith header but still not doing enough to pip their rivals.

However, a last-gasp strike from future Liverpool FA Cup Final hero Michael Thomas broke Kopites hearts on this occasion as he popped up to give the Londoners the title on goals scored after both sides finished equal on both 76 points and a goal difference of plus 37.

Cowley said: “The way football was broadcast was also changing. Sky Television had launched in 1989 and six million people watched the title decider on ITV.

“It was a great piece of television sporting drama and showed just what could be done with big football matches.

“This was followed by England’s march to the World Cup semi-finals the following summer complete with Paul Gascoigne’s tears plus the return of English clubs to European competition and suddenly there was a different feel about the game and a new audience.”

Although Arsenal had enjoyed a healthy lead at the summit earlier in the campaign, Liverpool had approached the finish line in tremendous form winning 13 out of their previous 14 league fixtures, including a period of nine consecutive victories, a run punctuated only by a goalless draw at Goodison Park in their first competitive game after Hillsborough.

Cowley said: “Liverpool were playing fantastically. There was an incredible energy in the club and they were all grieving after Hillsborough.

“After the Cup Final, they’d beaten West Ham 5-1 at Anfield ahead of the Arsenal game which had just done enough to edge them ahead of my team in regards to goal difference.

“Although there was always going to be a winner and a loser on the night when it came to the title race, I remember this occasion as being one of great sportsmanship from both sets of players and fans.

“The Arsenal team came out wearing black armbands and laid a floral tribute to the victims of Hillsborough which was applauded.
“But there was applause too from the home crowd even after Arsenal had nicked it.

“To see your team lose the Championship with virtually the last kick of the season must have been particularly galling for the Liverpool supporters and you might imagine that they have booed or just walked out en masse but they stayed and clapped.”

Sportsmanship from the fiercely passionate and partisan Merseyside football crowds has often proved a pleasant surprise to outsiders like Cowley who added: “Do I think the reaction would be the same if it happened now? Yes.

“Liverpool fans have always been regarded as being very sporting.

“I remember Jurgen Klinsmann talking about his astonishment of the warm reaction they gave him and his Tottenham team-mates after they knocked Liverpool out of the 1995 FA Cup quarter-final.

“Also, Thierry Henry also regarded the Liverpool fans very highly when he was at Arsenal.

“I think there’s a magic there at Anfield, especially on those European nights or at other big games.

“There’s a certain spirit at the club which has resonated from Bill Shankly, through to the likes of Bob Paisley although I think it was lost somewhat during Graeme Souness’s tenure.

“I think a lot of it’s down to the unique Scouse attitude that Liverpool embodies.

“I’ve not had the same feeling from Everton although my friend James Corbett, a staunch Evertonian tells me that his team are actually ‘The People’s Club’ on Merseyside and that viewpoint is expressed in the book but he’s got his standpoint and I’ve got mine.

“I still love coming to the city whether it’s for football or not.

“It’s great to see how Liverpool has reinvented and revived itself since the blight of the 1980s.”

Cowley also believes that the game also ended the Anfield outfit’s dominance of the English game.

He said: “It was the start of something fresh for Arsenal who had not won the title since 1971.

“They were champions in 1991 and since then there have been the successes of Arsene Wenger’s French revolution.

“However, it was the end of an era for Liverpool.

“It didn’t end their dominance overnight, they went on to win their last League Championship to date the following year in 1990 but their own players admitted that something had been lost that night that they never recovered.”

Skrtel Was Out Of Order - Crouch

Peter Crouch has accused former Liverpool team-mate Martin Skrtel of deliberately kicking him and adding to England's striker crisis.

Crouch was forced off with a dead leg towards the end of the friendly win over Slovakia, having already seen Emile Heskey and Carlton Cole limp off in the first half at Wembley.

"I went up with Skrtel. I thought he was my mate to be honest, but obviously not," Crouch said. "I went up with him and he kicked out and gave me a dead leg."

Skrtel was being given a torrid time by Wayne Rooney, which may have contributed to the centre-back's frustration during the 4-0 defeat to Fabio Capello's men.

"It was a little bit (out of order)," Crouch added. "It's for other people to discuss if he didn't have the best of days."

Capello has drafted in Tottenham striker Darren Bent as cover, with Crouch desperate to be fit for Wednesday's World Cup qualifier against Ukraine.

The 28-year-old sees Capello's injury problems as a real opportunity to seize his chance to impress.

"I was gutted to come off, I just wanted to carry on running around but having both our other strikers come off the manager wanted to take me off," he said.

"If I rest up on ice when I get to the hotel, hopefully I can play some part on Wednesday.

"You don't wish injuries on anyone but when they do you have to take your chances.

"I've always felt that when I play I score goals. There is an opening now, a couple of injuries and I can prove myself.

"When I've played I've done well and hopefully, given the chances, I will continue to do well. I've scored goals for England and when called upon will score goals. Hopefully that will be the case."

Crouch would have been on the scoresheet against Slovakia if skipper John Terry had not tapped in when the ball was about to cross the line.

"I was looking to do that, come in and maybe score a goal if JT stayed out the way!" Crouch said.

"He apologised a few times. I would have done the same as well so I can't blame him."

If Crouch had scored there would have been no repeat of his famous robot celebration - a mark of the change in attitude under Capello.

"A few of the lads in the dressing room told me to do it but I don't think I can to be honest, it's a serious business now and I don't think it would go down too well with the manager," he said.

Cole and Heskey have now been ruled out of the Ukraine clash, with West Ham striker Cole reflecting on a missed opportunity.

He said: "I'm really disappointed, Emile scored and it was a great opportunity for me to come on and show what I can do.

"I felt really good after training all week so I am a bit disappointed that I couldn't come on and translate that onto the field."

Hull City Boss Phil Brown Thinks Liverpool Can Win Title

Hull City manager Phil Brown feels that Liverpool now have every chance of beating Manchester United in the race to claim the Premier League title, after the Merseysiders recent run of excellent results blew the race wide open.

"Two weeks ago, most of us were ready to present the Premier League title to Manchester United," Brown wrote in his column in The Hull Daily Mail.

"With rivals faltering and Sir Alex Ferguson's men looking invincible, it looked like being a procession through the season's final months. But after a huge shift in momentum to blow the race wide open, Liverpool are firmly back in the hunt.

"Rafael Benitez's side, brilliantly led by Steven Gerrard, have been in superb form since hammering Manchester United at Old Trafford. A 4-1 win over the leaders was followed up by a thumping 5-0 victory over Aston Villa next weekend and, all of a sudden, the title race is back on.

"With a game in hand and a point to the good, the title is still Manchester United's to lose but we look set for a thrilling finale to the season."

Interestingly, the City boss, mired in so much controversy in the last few weeks and bullish in his attitude to his job all season, went on to highlight just how much he feels the pressure increases at this time of the season, even for the greatest managers and players.

"Recent weeks have shown no-one is immune to the growing sense of pressure - not even the quintuple-chasing Manchester United.

"Nemanja Vidic, who is one of the front-runners to be crowned the PFA Player of the Year, had a nightmare against Liverpool when gifting Fernando Torres a goal and then being sent off."

Brown concluded by saying that that pressure was also affecting match officials, the consequences of which his side had been forced to endure in recent weeks.

"We're not just seeing top players being affected by the pressure. Even Howard Webb, a referee I rate very highly, had a very poor game in our clash with Newcastle a fortnight ago.

"I put that down to the old 'squeaky bum-time' affecting us all as the weeks tick down."

UEFA Secretary David Taylor Slams Liverpool & Others For Massive Squads

UEFA's general secretary David Taylor has led calls from the governing body questioning the need for the very biggest clubs to maintain such massive playing squads, with the case of Liverpool, who have 62 senior players registered, being highlighted by Taylor as especially baffling and unhealthy.

"Ridiculous. 62? You could have two full-size practice games," Taylor told The Observer.

"You can only field 11 at one time. It's an open question as to how many you actually need. Is it 20, 25?"

The same newspaper also reports that Taylor responded to a question asking him what benefit he felt clubs such as Liverpool gained from such a huge squad he responded, "You'd have to ask them."

Taylor also supports limiting the size of club's squads, as in the Champions League where only 25 players can be registered. He added, "UEFA has been in the vanguard of this and we certainly feel it's very useful. But that's for organisers of domestic leagues to decide among the clubs."

Liverpool have loaned out 17 players this season to a host of clubs, with many youngsters feeling frustrated at the lack of opportunities, according to The Observer, with one player, Craig Lindfield, aged 20, on loan at Accrington Stanley, saying, "That's the difference between Liverpool and other clubs, young lads get more of a chance elsewhere."

Meanwhile, Gordon Taylor, head of the PFA agrees with UEFA's general secretary and also feels it leads to players being lost to the game who actually have the talent to earn a living from it.

"Six hundred each year join Premier and Football League clubs at 16," he said.

"Of those, 500 will be out of the game by 21. It's a big wastage and not good enough. We have got to look at improving the ­success rate of academies and centres of excellence.

"Those who don't make it at the top don't necessarily make it lower down. Skills and technique don't always count as much as strength and ­competitiveness. We're finding a big black hole between 19 and 21."

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Stewart Downing And Out

Stewart Downing will be allowed to leave Middlesbrough if the Teesiders are dumped into The Championship.

Boro Chairman Steve Gibson has assured the winger there will be no repeat of the hardine 'no sale' stance of recent years if Gareth Southgate's side get relegated.

That will alert Spurs and Liverpool to a possible £15m summer swoop, with Harry Redknapp most likely to revive the bid which was turned down in January.

Downing put in a transfer request in the last transfer window which was immediately rejected by Boro.

But his loyalty despite successive years of interest from Premier League club's has been noted by Gibson, who recognises it will be impossible to keep the player in the event of the drop.

The 24-year-old has ambitions to play in Europe, and to cement a place in the England side. He knows he can't afford to fall down a division if his career is to progess.

Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez was tracking the winger last summer, but opted for the cheaper Albert Riera from Espanyol.

Riera has proven a successful buy, which may thwart Downing's preference for a move to Anfield. Spurs' Redknapp remains as keen as ever to recruit the wide man, however.

But while Downing's future looks to be away from the North East, Boro will take a tougher line on the rest of Southgate's squad and block any possibility of a mass player exodus.

That means youngsters such as David Wheater won't be allowed to leave The Riverside, regardless of the club's plight.

Wheater has attracted as much interest as Downing this season, despite Boro's woes, but Gibson will make it clear the club's up-and-coming stars are not for sale under any circumstances.

Liverpool Chase Record Shirt Deal

Liverpool are pursuing a record sponsorship deal with Carlsberg which could net them £60million.

The Merseysiders hope to conclude negotiations as early as this summer on an agreement which would eclipse those of Manchester United and Chelsea.

Liverpool's current three-year contract with the Danish brewers is worth around £10m a year - including Champions League bonuses - and ends after the 2009-10 season.

But co-owners Tom Hicks (below) and George Gillett want to shatter previous records with a new four-year deal.

They are out to top the four-year £56m arrangement United signed with AIG in 2006 and Chelsea's five-year £50m contract with Samsung, which runs to 2010.

Previous deals with Carlsberg, Liverpool sponsors since 1992, were thought to be worth a lot less than those of rival clubs.

A swift deal would give boss Rafa Benitez a transfer kitty and could help protect Reds' value if either owner is forced to sell his share.

Agger Won't Rush

Daniel Agger will reject Liverpool's bid to secure him on a long-term contract when he returns to Anfield this week.

The Danish defender has made it clear that Rafa Benitez's decision to extend his own stay on Merseyside for another five years will not rush him into a decision on his own future.

Agger has been frustrated by his lack of first-team chances under Benitez, even though he has been hampered by a series of injuries - including a back problem suffered on international duty that sidelined him for a month.

Agger, 24, has fallen behind Jamie Carragher, Martin Skrtel and Sami Hyypia in the Liverpool pecking order.

And with just over a year on his current contract - and Italian giants AC Milan and Juventus monitoring his situation - he knows he can negotiate from a position of strength.

Agger, a £5.8million signing from Brondby just over three years ago, is rated at £15m by Benitez.

The Anfield boss is hoping to get Agger - as well as Dirk Kuyt, Alvaro Arbeloa and Fabiano Aurelio - on fresh deals, after securing his own long-term future.

Gareth Barry Must Adapt

Gareth Barry will be asked to become Liverpool's 'Mr. Versatile' to finally secure his dream Anfield move.

Kop boss Rafa Benitez is ready to bring his year-long pursuit of Barry to an end with a cut-price £8million bid this summer.

Barry has a year left on his Aston Villa deal at the end of this season - and Villa will be in no position to demand £20m again.

Last year, Barry was pursued as a possible replacement for Xabi Alonso but is now seen as a utility man who can play in central midfield, left midfield or at left-back.

Steve Staunton On How Liverpool Can Overthrow Manchester United

Steve Staunton thinks the Kopites have got their old Liverpool back - and the spirit of the golden age can help them topple Manchester United.

The former Republic of Ireland manager, who grew up supporting the Anfield side and played for the last Reds team to win the league 19 years ago, hopes their recent outstanding form has setup a fairytale finish to the campaign.

Staunton believes that 13 goals in three games against Real Madrid, United and Aston Villa, combined with Rafa Benitez's new contract, have conjured up a potent force that might just be unstoppable.

He said: "The momentum is certainly with them.

They're scoring goals and keeping it tight at the back.

"They've got a beautiful blend and what's pleasing from my own - and every Liverpool supporter's - viewpoint is the fact that it's like the old Anfield now.

"The team's coming out from the off and having a right good go at the opposition, putting them on the back foot. It looks as though Liverpool have got 12 or 13 players on the pitch. It's just like the old days."

There's another emotional factor behind 2009 looking like a title-winning year - the 20th anniversary of Hillsborough, when 96 Liverpool fans were crushed to death at the 1989 FA Cup semi-final.

"It doesn't matter that it's 20 years," he said. "Each year, that day is very special to the people of Liverpool. I played that day and it was a very emotional time.

"If it wasn't for the people of Liverpool, God knows what would have happened to the club. It was draining, but the club has come back strong. And if they can win the league, it will be great – whether it's this year, next year or the one after. It will happen."

Staunton - speaking as Aston Villa Old Stars unveiled their new Prostar strip, which will be worn throughout the team's 50th anniversary season - added: "Rafa's signed a new contract, everybody's settled and they've got the bit between their teeth.

"They know they have to win every game. If they do win, it will be like United winning the league title after 26 years. I remember that because I was at Villa and we came second!

"If they had to choose between that and the Champions League, Liverpool fans would want the league title. That's the burning desire after 19 years.

"I remember the last time very well - and we won it at a canter.

"I was playing for a club I supported. There were a lot of Irish players there, a lot of people I looked up to. They were my boyhood heroes.

"But you soon find out you are part of the furniture. It doesn't matter if you cost ten pounds, ten grand, ten million, you're treated the same.

"That's the way the club was run - and that's how Benitez runs it now. It's about the team, not individuals."

Gerrard Proud To Skipper Reds

Steven Gerrard has declared that it is an 'absolute privilege' to captain a Liverpool side in such a rich vein of form.

The Reds have put in a number of fine performances of late, with the club fighting for the Premier League title and in the last eight of the UEFA Champions League.

Gerrard himself has received many plaudits and is in the running to be named this season's PFA Player of the Year.

The England international has hailed the Reds' current form and has warned their rivals that they 'are playing without fear'.

"It's an absolute privilege to captain this football club at any time but especially when the team is playing the way it is," Gerrard said on the club's official website.

"It makes my job an awful lot easier when you don't have to talk too much to players because they are just doing their jobs without that being needed.

"Confidence is really high right now and we're certainly enjoying playing together. We are playing without fear and without anxiety and I think you're seeing some superb football from us in the last couple of weeks.

"From front to back everyone is pulling in the right direction for the team. The goals are coming and I'm certainly enjoying my football at the moment.

"I'm playing with magnificent players. (Fernando) Torres and myself have had a lot of pats on the back of late but it's important to acknowledge our team-mates who have been fantastic.

"If we keep playing the way we have been over the last three games then it's going to be an exciting finish."

Tony Barrett: Oceans Apart - The Fans Who Feel Betrayed By Tom Hicks And George Gillett

I never like reading about Tom Hicks in the paper anymore,” wrote the sports fan to an online blog. “If I were him and hated as much by so many as he is, I wouldn't like to read about me either.”

The angry missive did not appear on an English website and it was not penned by a Liverpool fan, it was featured on the homepages of the Dallas Morning News and was sent in by a fan of the Texas Rangers, another “sports franchise” owned by Hicks.

No reason was given for the enmity, the author simply expected his views to be part of a consensus which would be understood by all those who follow the Rangers.

A blog written by one of the Morning News’ top sports writers gave one indication why there is so much disquiet about Hicks, having learned the Rangers owner is to cut $20m from the baseball outfit’s annual payroll.

“What would another $20 million do to the Texas Rangers payroll?” pondered blogger Jim Reeves.

“Wait a minute, don’t get the wrong idea. I’m not talking about adding another $20 million. I’m talking about subtracting it.

“According to multiple sources, and confirmed by the man himself, that’s exactly what Rangers owner Tom Hicks would like to do, not for this season but for 2010, and I can tell you what slicing another $20 million from his team’s already below-average payroll would do.

“It might just incite a riot among an already restless and frustrated Rangers fandom.”

At least Liverpool fans know that they are not alone.

Over in Montreal, the natives are similarly restless following George Gillett’s decision to engage in some “estate planning” which supporters of the much loved Canadiens ice hockey team fear could lead to the sale of one of sport’s most famous names.

Gillett is irritated by the fact that his financial pruning has become so public, insisting: “I am not used to this kind of attention, and this kind of impoliteness. I am really offended by it, because it really is truly private.”

Which is odd, because just 48 hours earlier Canadiens president and Gillett ally Pierre Bolvin had ignited media interest by issuing an official statement saying: “The Gillett family has retained the services of financial advisers in order to assess various strategic alternatives to optimise the value of its corporate assets."

So much for it being “truly private”.

But what are Liverpool fans to make of events Stateside?

Well this week, we have learned that as well as asking George W Bush to throw the opening pitch of the Rangers’ season, Hicks is looking for investment in his baseball team.

We also know that Gillett’s estate planning is likely to result in minority investors – or perhaps even outright buyers – taking a stake in one or more of his franchises.

In short, the duo are looking to cut costs and increase revenue and are doing it at exactly the same time. Anyone would think they have a major refinancing deadline to meet in just four months time.

As ever, it is their motives which remain unclear though. Are they looking down the back of their sofas for loose change in a bid to ensure they can convince the banks to continue with the massive £350m loan which allows them to be owners of Liverpool?

Or is it a public attempt to convince anyone looking to buy the Reds at a knockdown price, that they have the means to get through the refinancing process?

Both insist they are not interested in selling but both have instructed rival leading banks to seek out potential investment in Liverpool and it is widely believed that Merrill Lynch and Rothschilds have discussed a total sale of the club with more than one party.

Furthermore, it was less than a year ago that Hicks and Gillett came within two hours of selling Liverpool to the Al-Kharafi family only for the wealthy Kuwaitis to walk away from the negotiating table without any explanation.

This happened at a time when the American duo were similarly adamant that Liverpool was not for sale and the secrecy surrounding the proposed deal with the Al-Kharafis was so great that the talks took place without the knowledge of Reds chief executive Rick Parry, who denied any such negotiations were taking place.

The talks may have collapsed but a price had been agreed which suggests that Hicks and Gillett are willing to sell but, in the words of the late Leslie Crowther, only when the price is right.

It remains to be seen whether any of Liverpool’s potential suitors are willing to meet that price and unless they do it seems that Hicks and Gillett will be able to continue insisting that they won’t be selling.

But one thing’s for sure, newspaper buyers on both sides of the Atlantic had best get used to reading about Tom Hicks because the Texan is going to continue to be big news in the months to come.

Liverpool Youngster Jay Spearing Dreams Of Emulating Steven Gerrard

The Birkenhead kid wants to be just like another famous local boy who is currently reaping punditry acclaim all over the world.

Liverpool midfielder Jay Spearing made his home debut for the Reds earlier this month when Rafa Benitez's men destroyed Real Madrid 4-0 at Anfield.

That, understandably, was a night that the youngster says he will never forget, but he has lofty ambitions to become a local-born heartbeat to the side in the manner of his hero, current Liverpool skipper Steven Gerrard, whom he replaced on that memorable evening.

"That’s exactly what I want to be doing at Liverpool," the Birkenhead-born midfielder told The Liverpool Echo.

"Anything I can do that comes even close to what Stevie has achieved would be incredible. To get two Champions League appearances already is great for me. Three years ago that was the kind of thing I was dreaming of.

"I’d always be thinking that I want to play in the Champions League and the Premier League. I want to do this, I want to do that. But to actually have that reality rubber stamped now and to say I’ve done it is fantastic.

"Knowing that I’ve played in what is probably the biggest club tournament in the world will give me bags of confidence going forward. But I’ve got to take things as they come now, day by day and keep working hard."

The response of the fans to his first appearance was also something else that the 20-year-old will never forget, especially as the crowd were heard to chant his name.

"I’ll remember it for the rest of my life, definitely," he added.

"I’m not going to forget my Anfield debut against Real Madrid in a hurry am I? One of my mates asked me afterwards how I felt and to be perfectly honest I felt more nervous on my debut against PSV.

"That was the first time I’d travelled and actually got on the pitch. At Anfield, I had a few of our fans shouting to me when I was warming up, saying ‘come on’ and all that.

"That helped settle me down and gave me confidence, knowing I had the fans behind me."

And the youngster went on to reveal just how exciting the Anfield occasion was, particularly with the intensity of the crowd noise at pitch level.

"When we got to half time and it was 2-0 I was thinking ‘Oh come on, I just want to have a go. Just get me on and give me a go’," he added.

"The atmosphere was incredible and when Stevie G scored the third I couldn’t believe just how loud the crowd could be from down on the touchline. When you’re in the stand it is loud enough but when you’re down at the side of the pitch it’s deafening. It sent shivers down my body, never mind Stevie’s.

"After that I was like ‘Oh please, just give me a go. Any time will do. But then when I eventually got on it was more a case of excitement than thinking about anything else. I just wanted to get out there and show what I could do to help the team.

“But I had to keep my head together. There’s no point me going round trying to snap or kick people. I thought ‘just play your own game, get the ball down, start passing it and enjoy yourself’.

"I thought I did okay."

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Liverpool FC Out Of The Chase For Valencia's £30m David Silva

Liverpool have pulled out of the race to sign David Silva after Rafa Benitez baulked at Valencia’s £30m asking price.

The Reds boss confirmed to the Post that Liverpool made an inquiry for the Valencia midfielder but is not planning to follow it up with a firm offer.

Benitez said: “It is true that we were asking about the situation with him but we are not happy with the situation now and

he will not be a target for us.

“We have to work hard and we are trying to have conversations and trying to progress but it’s not easy to sign any player now.

“The most important thing now is to make progress with the contracts of our own players.

“We are working hard on that because this is our priority.”

While the Anfield club did make tentative moves for Silva, his Valencia team mate Raul Albiol wasn’t featured on Benitez’s shopping list.

“He is another good player but he is not our target,” said the Reds boss.

Voronin Forced To Wait

Hertha Berlin have yet to reach an agreement with on-loan Liverpool striker Andriy Voronin regarding his long-term future.

The Ukraine international is currently on a season-long loan in Germany after flopping at Anfield following his arrival in 2007 from Bayer Leverkusen.

Voronin has made no secret of his desire to stay in the Bundesliga, but it is reported that a permanent transfer has yet to be decided as talks have stalled.

It is understood that Voronin was keen to have his future settled by the end of March, but the 29-year-old will be forced to wait for a conclusion.

"We are on the look-out for solutions," Hertha general manager Dieter Hoeness told Kicker when asked about a deal for Voronin.

Liverpool FC's Martin Skrtel Backed To Stop Man Utd's Wayne Rooney

Slovakia coach Vladimir Weiss has backed Martin Skrtel to stop England’s Wayne Rooney once more when they face England at Wembley tomorrow.

The Liverpool defender, named Slovakia’s Player of the Year on Thursday, has kept Rooney quiet in two league victories over Manchester United this season.

Skrtel is likely to face another battle against the United striker in tomorrow’s friendly but Weiss is confident the Liverpool defender can stop him yet again.

"I believe he knows Rooney quite well and he can stop him all the time," said Weiss. "We believe he can do it again tomorrow.

"Skrtel is a very tough player and he knows how to handle Rooney. I believe that he will show that again against England.

"We hope he will show his performance in the best way. He has just won the Slovakian Player of the Year award so it will be a big boost for his confidence."

Rooney’s temperament has come under fire since he was sent off against Fulham last Saturday for throwing the ball at referee Phil Dowd.

It prompted Dowd to issue the furious Rooney with a second yellow card and the player then thumped the corner flag as he walked to the dressing rooms.

But Weiss is hoping the United striker will play the game in the right spirit at Wembley.

"He is an excellent player and this is a friendly match so I hope we won’t see too much anger in his performance," he said.

Weiss is also hoping for a better outcome than he experienced on his last visit to Wembley.

In April 1990, Weiss was a member of the Czechoslovakia side beaten 4-2 by England in a game that saw Steve Bull score twice with others from Stuart Pearce and Paul Gascoigne.

Weiss is hoping that his Slovakia side can come away with a better result against today’s England stars.

"When I was a player here we lost 4-2 and I remember Paul Gascoigne was playing for them," recalled Weiss. "I hope it will be better tomorrow but it is still an amazing feeling to be here as a coach."

But while Weiss accepts tomorrow’s game is high profile, his mind is more firmly fixed on Wednesday’s Group Three World Cup qualifier against the Czech Republic in Prague.

Tomorrow is a prestige game and we would like to have nice memories but Wednesday’s match is for points and that is the main thing for us," he said.

Meanwhile, midfielder Stanislav Sestak is looking forward to playing against the likes of Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard and David Beckham.

But the Slovakia midfielder insists they are not just coming to swap shirts with the superstar opposition.

"It is nice to play here against these famous people, it is an honour for us," said Sestak. "It is not every day we can play against England, so we are looking forward to it.

"Beckham is the famous one and everybody would like his shirt but we are here to play the game and not swap shirts."

Liverpool FC Owner Tom Hicks Out To Find Partners

Tom Hicks is looking to sell a big minority stake in his Texas Rangers baseball team.

Hicks, who co-owns Liverpool with George Gillett, has announced that he wants potential investors for the Rangers and his Dallas Stars ice hockey team, in which he has 95 per cent stakes.

He said: “I’m looking quietly, and have been for the last four or five months, for minority investors to come back into to the Rangers.

“I’m doing the same thing with the Stars.

"At the end of the day, I’ll still have 51-to-60% of the ballclub and have new partners.

"That doesn’t change anything.

I started out owning 55% and over the past 10 years I’ve been slowly buying out partners that wanted to sell.

“It’s not a big deal at all.

“I don’t think I need to own 95% of any team..

"There aren’t many owners who own 95%..

"In times like these, you like to reduce your debt and diversify your investments.”

Hicks owns 95% of both the Rangers and the Stars.

He is willing to let up to 49% of each club be owned by minority investors, allowing him to keep majority ownership.

The development comes after Gillett called in leading banks to conduct a review his global assets.

The Reds co-owners have until July 24 to refinance a £350m debt they arranged with the Royal Bank of Scotland and Wachovia just over a year ago.

Sammy Lee Should Tell Liverpool Boys To Take One Game At Time

Sammy Lee has given an original take on football’s most hackneyed phrase.

When asked what he thought of Liverpool’s chances of winning trophies in May he replied: "We need to take one game at a time. I know it’s a cliche but cliches are the sayings that have held true over time. It’s simple - all you do is look at the next game."

A wise mantra which the Anfield veteran needs to pummel into the heads of some of the Spanish lads.

This is Xavi Alonso’s take on the Premier League: "We have demonstrated this season that we are superior to United. It’s not impossible to imagine we could win all of our next eight matches while United lose two."

And this is how Alvaro Arbeloa hopes the Champions League will pan out after Liverpool have waltzed past Chelsea: "We’re waiting to see if we meet Barcelona to take them down a peg or two."

There’s clearly a peg or two needs to be taken down Shankly-style at Melwood, Sammy. With the words: "Fulham. Away. Next Saturday. That’s it."

Liverpool Manager Rafael Benitez Strengthens Backroom Spine

Rafael Benitez has moved quickly to assert his enhanced authority at Liverpool by launching a strategic review of the club's academy and securing two-year contract extensions for five members of his backroom team.

Assistant manager Sammy Lee, first team coach Mauricio Pellegrino, goalkeeping coach Xavi Valero, fitness coach Paco de Miguel and chief scout Eduardo Macia have all been secured to new contracts.

Benitez, who committed himself to a new five-year deal last week, has also appointed former Anfield chief scout Frank McParland to undertake a root-and-branch review of the club's Kirkby-based academy.

Benitez said: "When I signed my new contract, it was agreed I'd have a more significant influence at the academy and this is an important step in assessing the future direction we will need to take.

"I value Frank's opinions. He will liaise closely with the staff at the academy to produce a comprehensive analysis of the operation there before reporting back."

Benitez added: "I said when I signed my own deal that it was a priority to sort out the future of the technical staff. Continuity is essential if we are to build on the progress we have made this season and move the club forward."

Why England Must Make Space For Steven Gerrard's Talent

Steven Gerrard is the best player in the world in his position for Liverpool.

Forget Cristiano Ronaldo or even Lionel Messi. Gerrard is No.1 in my book. That role just behind Fernando Torres for Liverpool is perfect for Gerrard and he runs amok for his club, outshining the best players in the world in the Champions League.

Gerrard has been rampant in recent weeks and shows just what a quality player he is. He is different class. But it still mystifies me as to why no England manager has ever properly let him off the leash.

Even Fabio Capello has often stuck him out wide left, cutting in when the opportunity arises.

That is not the free role that he enjoys for Liverpool. Nowhere near it, in fact.

But Gerrard’s talent commands it because he is the best there is and the best player England have. Most countries would build their team around their best player, not England.

If that means playing Gerrard just behind Wayne Rooney then so be it but that’s the way it should be.

If you have one striker then Theo Walcott becomes even more important on the right. But you have to make space for Gerrard’s pace, talent and ability in the free role. He can destroy teams on his own.

Gerrard’s speed, drive and goals make him an irresistible force for Liverpool - and it should be for England too.

Capello - Gerrard Is The Best

England manager Fabio Capello believes Steven Gerrard is at the 'very top of his game'.

The Liverpool captain has hit stunning form over the past month and has been a major factor in his club's renewed challenge for the Premier League title and continued presence in the UEFA Champions League.

Gerrard, who has been playing as a second striker for the Reds, was recently described by French legend Zinedine Zidane as one of the best players in the world, and that sentiment has been echoed by Capello.

The England boss is expected to play Gerrard in a roaming role on the left of midfield in Saturday's friendly with Slovakia, and he is in no doubt about the 28-year-old's ability to perform at the highest level.

"Zidane said Gerrard was one of the best in the world and I agree with him," said the Italian.

"It is a fantastic time for him. He is at the very top of his game."

Capello used Gerrard as a support forward in a meeting with France in 2008, and the England boss is not surprised to see the man from Merseyside thriving in the position.

He added: "Against France last year I put Steven Gerrard into the team as a second striker and everyone said, 'why?'.

"Now Steven Gerrard is doing well for Liverpool as a second striker and people ask me, 'why am I not playing him there?' Thank you for supporting me at that time.

"Also, the last time he played - in Belarus last October - he scored one, nearly got another and played very well. So I don't know why we are speaking about Gerrard's position in the team."

Hansen Urges Liverpool To Pile More Pressure On Manchester United

The battle between the two North-West giants is intensifying, and ex-Liverpool great Hansen says Rafa's team must keep cranking up the pressure on United by winning their matches.

Ex-Liverpool central defender turned leading pundit Alan Hansen is urging his former club to put Manchester United under psychological pressure by reclaiming top spot in the Premier League next weekend, even if only temporarily.

Hansen believes Liverpool have an advantage over United of playing the day before their rivals. The Merseyside Reds are at Fulham on Saturday April 4, while United's Red Devils, who lead by a point and have a game in hand, host Aston Villa the following afternoon.

"To be honest, it is unbelievable to think Liverpool could be top of the Premier League on April 4 given some of the setbacks we've had,” Hansen told Liverpool's official website.

"At one stage we looked the most likely to win it, then it was doom and gloom because we couldn't win it, and now we are right back in the title race."

The former Scotland international now feels that Liverpool have the initiative after their recent emphatic victories over United and Aston Villa.

"Liverpool are in the ascendancy and we've got the momentum. The big thing for us is to keep that going because in the past we've come off the rails in key games," he said.

"It doesn't look like that will happen this season because of the way we're going for the throats of the opposition and that is great to see.

"Every game now is massive, not just for Liverpool but Manchester United too. It's going to be nip and tuck, and all Liverpool must do is keep on piling that pressure on United.”

Hansen added, "What the players need to do when they return from international duty is carry on where they've left off in our next game at Fulham."

Albert Riera Must Build On Aston Villa Performance – Benitez

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez has long had trouble finding a suitable recruit who can provide an added dimension from the flanks, offering balance and width.

A return to his native Spain to pluck Albert Riera from Espanyol ensued over the summer and, though the 26-year-old looks much-improved than the product that strolled out at Manchester City in 2006, he can still seemingly add more to his game.

His tally of five goals in all competitions, together with a handful of assists needs to be built upon if Liverpool are going to challenge Manchester United for the title, and Benitez is urging Riera to use his display against Aston Villa as a benchmark to return to.

"He has had some good games but, because the team was playing really well, this could be his best game so far," 'Rafa' explained to the club's official website.

"I thought he started really well against Manchester United in his first game and he has scored some good goals for us. Riera has quality but he has to be more consistent. Clearly he is a player with ability and he can score great goals.

"When he is playing well he can beat anyone so that is what you always expect from a winger.

"He is playing with confidence."

Friday, March 27, 2009

Xabi Alonso Distances Himself From Reports Of Real Madrid Move

Xabi Alonso has denied having been approached by Real Madrid’s presidential candidate Florentino Perez over a summer move to the Bernabeu.

Reports in Spain have claimed the Liverpool midfielder is one of several players Perez is promising will be captured as part of his campaign to be re-elected at the club.

Manchester United winger Cristiano Ronaldo and Lyon striker Karim Benzema are also of Perez’s shopping list.

Perez, who presided over the infamous Galacticos era at the Bernabeu between 2000 and 2006, is favourite to depose current president Vicente Boluda during the forthcoming Real Madrid elections.

It has been suggested Perez has already opened talks with his potential signings, but Alonso – currently preparing for his country’s World Cup qualifier against Turkey tomorrow – distanced himself from such talk yesterday.

“I’ve not had any contact with Florentino Perez,” said Alonso. “I don’t like to comment on speculation, but I’m used to these kind of rumours.

“At the present time I am only focused on Spain and on the game with Turkey.”

Liverpool went into the international break having closed the gap on Premier League leaders Manchester United to a single point.

United still have a game in hand and Alonso admits the Old Trafford outfit must still be regarded favourites for the title.

“It’s going to be difficult because we can’t afford to drop many points and we know that United have a very good team,” said the Spaniard.

“They are the main favourites, of course, but we are going to be doing our best to be challenging until the final weeks of the season.

“I think the pressure is on United. They are the champions. They are in the best position and they have that advantage. We have to do our job and try to make things difficult for them.”

Alonso believes Liverpool’s improvement in form has coincided with the Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard rekindling their partnership in attack.

At the moment the team is playing and defending well as a team,” he added. “The partnership between Stevie and Fernando is working well for us.

“Of course Torres is really important for us. When he’s fit he’s a threat for all the defenders and that’s a boost for us.”

Liverpool Defender Jamie Carragher Hails Lower League Academies

The Reds hero is urging people not to forget the grassroots work done at lower league clubs in developing players.

Jamie Carragher, himself a product of Liverpool's youth academy, has hailed the work achieved by small clubs in helping identify and develop young English talent, and has urged the powers-that-be to review the situation that sees clubs lose their Centres of Excellence when they drop out of the league.

Both Cambridge United and Wrexham had thriving academies until the senior sides were relegated from League Two, and Carragher feels that to allow such fine youth set-ups to simply disappear is far from a positive move.

"It is important that young players are getting the opportunity to show what they can do. If they can go on and take their opportunity is up to them, but first and foremost they have to be given a chance, like I was," he told Sky Sports.

"It is important that young players are not lost to the game. They need a chance not only at the top clubs but at the smaller ones as well because there are some good smaller clubs out there who work hard on developing young players."

And the former England international pointed to the example of his former team-mate Danny Murphy, now at Fulham, as evidence that lower league academies produce fine players.

"If you take someone I played with at Liverpool - Danny Murphy - he is the perfect example. He came through the Crewe Academy and went on to play for Liverpool," Carragher said.

"It is important that those type of opportunities are not lost to the game. There are some great smaller clubs out there, like Wrexham and Cambridge, who worked hard with youngsters but then saw their funding disappear when they lost their league status. It is vital that clubs like that are not forgotten."

Kuyt Keen To Turn Up Heat On United

Dirk Kuyt has vowed that Liverpool will give everything to ensure they win all of their remaining Premier League games of the season.

The Reds' recently impressive form, combined with back-to-back defeats for Manchester United, has seen the Merseyside club climb within a point of the leaders.

United, though, boast a game in hand, and Holland striker Kuyt is aware Liverpool must maintain their charge if they are to end a 19-year wait for the title.

He told Sky Sports News: "We know we have to win every league game from now. We have shown we are capable of that, but it will be very difficult. But we will give it a try."

Kuyt also feels that the current international break will work against United, adding: "You have to play your international games and everyone has the same problems.

"I think Man United are not in a great position, too. If you get beaten twice and everybody has to go and play for their country, it is not the best thing."

Kuyt went on to hail Reds captain Steven Gerrard, and backed the England midfielder to be land the Footballer of the Year awards.

"For me, he was always top class. He is the best midfielder in the world," said Kuyt.

"He has got everything. He has got pace, he can score goals, a great shot from outside the box, he can tackle, I could go on and on.

"Stevie is playing exceptional this year. He has made a lot of goals. He is so important for the team. So I think he deserves to win the player of the league."

Ajdarevic Completes Foxes Switch

League One leaders Leicester have signed Sweden Under-17 international Astrit Ajdarevic on loan from Liverpool until the end of the season.

The midfielder joins the Foxes following a spell on trial, which saw him included in the reserve-team that beat an English Colleges XI 3-0 last week.

Ajdarevic signed for Liverpool from Swedish second division side Falkenbergs FF in 2007 and in his first season with the Reds he helped them win the FA Youth Cup.

"We have taken the option to take Astrit on loan to give us the chance to take a further look at him. We will see how things progress," Leicester manager Nigel Pearson told the club's official website.

Terriers Sign Liverpool Defender

Huddersfield Town have landed highly-rated Liverpool youngster Martin Kelly on loan until the end of the season.

Terriers boss Lee Clark was delighted to sign the 18-year-old central defender, who recently signed a new deal at Anfield and believes it could help them land the player next season.

"I am delighted to have him here for the rest of the season, as it allows us to have a look at him with a view to a potential loan move in the future," Clark told the club's official website.

"He is from the Liverpool school so he is obviously comfortable on the ball, but he also has real pace and genuinely enjoys defending."

Alonso: Reds Can Pip United To Title

Xabi Alonso claims Liverpool have demonstrated they are superior to Manchester United in this season's two matches between the title rivals.

The Spanish schemer admits United are still favourites to retain their Premier League crown but the events of the past few weeks have certainly opened up the race.

Liverpool's sensational 4-1 victory at Old Trafford was followed by United losing at Fulham the following weekend, as Rafa Benitez's men thumped Aston Villa 5-0 to close the gap at the top to just a solitary point.

Earlier in the campaign Liverpool also stole bragging rights at Anfield as they claimed a 2-1 victory on Merseyside.

United still have a game in hand on their North West rivals, but Alonso sees no reason why a 19-year wait for the title could not be sated this season.

"We can win the Premier League. It is far more likely than a month ago when we were a lot of points behind," he told the Daily Star.

"Liverpool have demonstrated this season that they are superior to United in the two matches between the teams.

"Nobody could dispute that, but now it is a real race for the title.

"It is not impossible to imagine that we could win all of our next eight matches while United lose two.

"But we know that we need to remain calm and to play without any real pressure or fear.

"United know what it is like to play under pressure, but they have shown there are some cracks in the last two games, and we will be ready to pounce.

"Every game is going to be vital from now on."

Alonso concedes Liverpool must win their remaining eight league games in order to have a realistic chance of the title.

"In our dressing room we are trying to remain calm. We know we need to take 24 points from a possible 24 so we need to be ice-cool about it. That is our challenge," he added.

"Mentally we are prepared to fight for the league and Champions League.

"United are defending champions and I feel they will be more nervous.

"It could be a very emotional end to the season for us and after such a long time to win the league would be fantastic.

"I feel we deserve it by the way we have already played this season, particularly in the big games."

Liverpool Boss Benitez Offers Public Support At Launch Of Commemorative Hillsborough CD

The Reds boss hugged members of victims' families and affirmed the club's remembrance at the release event today for a new CD commemorating the dreadful events of 20 years ago.

Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez was today attending an event to launch the release of a special CD - recorded by Liverpool-based musicians - that hopes to further raise awareness of the terrible incident that took place at an FA Cup semi-final almost exactly 20 years ago.

Nottingham Forest faced Liverpool at Sheffield Wednesday's Hillsborough ground, and a horrifying terrace crush at the Leppings Lane end of the stadium resulted in the deaths of 96 people, a tragedy that changed the face of English football, leading directly to the creation of the Premier League and the advent of all-seater stadia.

Now, Liverpool musician Peter Hooton, formerly of 90's group The Farm, along with other Scouse musical luminaries such as John Power (formerly of The La's and Cast) and members of Echo & the Bunnymen, and Starsailor, have released a version of 'The Fields of Anfield Road', itself a reworking of the Irish folk song 'The Fields of Athenry', that includes a reference to the disaster amongst its verses paying tribute to Reds legends. All profits from sales of the track, also available in digital formats, will be donated to The Hillsborough Families' Support Group.

Featured on the single is the 'Kop Choir', consisting of former Liverpool players Kenny Dalglish, Phil Thompson, John Aldridge, Bruce Grobbelaar, Howard Gayle and Alan Kennedy, all adding their vocal talents to the choruses.

Benitez was on hand today to lend his support to the release, saying, "I think it’s important to show support for the fans and the families."

The Spaniard also recalled the first time he attended a remembrance ceremony relating to the disaster, adding, "It was very emotional for me, for all the players, it was something we will never forget.

"I think you can feel it (the loss) in every single game, what it means for the fans."

Musician Hooton, a noted Reds fan of many years, was a keen follower of the club home and away in the 80's, also highlighted the project's positive aspects, saying, "A lot of people have volunteered to get involved. It is a reworking of a Kop classic and I hope it raises awareness of the Hillsborough disaster and is a fitting tribute to the 96 and the survivors."

The idea to produce the track came from the city of Liverpool's Lord Mayor, Steve Rotherham, who was at the game in Sheffield where the tragedy occurred, and he indicated his hopes for the project, stating, "Hillsborough affected so many lives, not just on Merseyside but across the whole of the UK. I attended the match 20 years ago and the passing years do not diminish the poignancy of the occasion.

"I approached a number of Liverpool’s music legends and they immediately offered their services for free.

"The Lord Mayor’s charity is funding the production costs and we aim to raise a much bigger sum to benefit the families of the 96 who died."

The single will be available from Liverpool's club shop and in digital formats online.

Hicks Looks To Strengthen Hold At Liverpool By Selling Baseball Shares

Liverpool's co-owner Tom Hicks has moved to strengthen his position at Anfield by putting part of his shares in the Major League Baseball team Texas Rangers up for sale.

The Texan recently reiterated his desire to remain at Liverpool, which he has owned alongside fellow American George Gillett since February 2007, but is struggling to meet the financial requirements of doing so, particularly as Gillett is reluctant to put any more money into the club and would rather sell up.

Hicks would ideally like to buy Gillett's 50% share and his announcement today that he is willing to give up some of his stake in the Rangers is believed to be geared towards seizing full control at Liverpool.

"I've been quietly looking for minority investors to come back into the ownership of the Rangers as a way to be prudent in a bad economy," said Hicks, who also owns NHL side Dallas.

"I'm doing the same thing with the Stars. At the end of the day, I'll still have 51-to-60% of the ball club and have new partners. That doesn't change anything. I own 95% of the Rangers. I started out owning 55% and over the past 10 years I've been slowly buying out partners that wanted to sell. There's no reason to own 95%. There aren't many owners who own 95%."