Saturday, January 17, 2009

Liverpool Owner Still Confident Benitez Will Sign New Contract

Liverpool co-owner Tom Hicks is adamant Rafael Benitez's contract dispute will be resolved, and believes the Spaniard will remain manager for the next five years.

Benitez today turned down the offer of a new deal because of an apparent disagreement with Hicks and his fellow owner George Gillett over his level of control.

Benitez explained: 'The owners feel the manager's decisions need to be subject to the chief executive.'

But Hicks says he has no worries about the situation, and sent a message to Liverpool fans that he expects Benitez to remain at Anfield for years to come.

'I'll be working with Rafa to get this resolved - and I am just not worried about it at all,' he said.

'Rafa is going to be coach of Liverpool for the next five years, and we will work through all this.'

Hicks concedes Benitez has had qualms about the details of his position - but the American is confident there is no reason to fear an impasse.

'Rafa has been frustrated for a long time at the length of time it has taken certain things to happen,' he said. 'We understand that and are committed to working with him.

'I think he's just trying to position himself to do his job better. We will work through it. We can fix it - and we will. Rafa wants to be the manager and will be the manager.'

Hicks expects to meet Benitez at the end of the month to discuss any outstanding issues but has made it clear the lines of communication have been open and cordial in recent times.

He is also delighted with Liverpool's success on the pitch this season.

'You can't complain being in first place (in the Premier League),' he added.

'I have had a great relationship with Rafa over this past year. We talk often and email even more often - and I have had a lot of fun watching him do a great job this year.

'There are certainly no issues between Rafa and the owners.'

While Hicks is urging Liverpool and their supporters to concentrate not on matters off the pitch but on the points to be won in Monday's derby at home to Everton, Benitez has left little room for doubt that he is far from happy.

With less than 18 months left on his contract, Benitez's claims that he is being asked to defer to chief executive Rick Parry on transfer issues appear to be the sticking point.

The 48-year-old said: 'This is solely about being allowed to manage Liverpool Football Club to the best of my abilities as I see them.

'I believe that this club has the potential to improve - and I just want to be able to help this to happen.

'I will continue to do my job as manager and concentrate on the thing that our fans want me to focus on - winning trophies for them.

'From the first day I came to the club, I have only ever given 100 per cent - and I will continue to do this.

'I know that I am subject to results and to our fans - and they are the best judges I will ever have.'

Portsmouth Set To Fail In Jermaine Pennant Bid

Portsmouth will fail in their attempts to sign Liverpool winger Jermaine Pennant during the transfer window.

The two clubs have agreed a fee for the 26-year-old, who does not form part of Rafael Benitez’s long-term plans.

Portsmouth claimed yesterday that Pennant was due on the south coast to discuss personal terms “over the next few days”.

But Pennant is intent on staying at Anfield until the summer, when he can leave for nothing as and able to command greater wages and a possible signing-on fee as a free transfer.

The player, signed from Birmingham City for £6.7million in July 2006, has attracted interest from European giants AC Milan and Real Madrid during the past month, as well as Barclays Premier League sides Wigan Athletic, Hull City and Blackburn Rovers.

And the winger said yesterday: “My preference is to stay at Liverpool and I am still hoping to do so. There has been a lot of speculation about my future but I have always maintained my position of wanting to stay at the club.

“I am happy to compete for my place here and hope I am given the chance to do so.”

Pennant has made only two Premier League starts this season and has not featured since the home match against Portsmouth on October 28.

Pompey manager Tony Adams wants to make Pennant, a former Arsenal club-mate, his first signing since taking over at Fratton Park.

Adams said: “Jermaine is a player I have been tracking because he is not getting regular first-team football.

“I realised he wasn’t in the team at Liverpool, he was a bit-part player, and I said to (executive chairman) Peter Storrie we might be able to give him a platform to play football.

“We have had a bid accepted by Liverpool and we want to get him down here ASAP.

“But it’s down to the player.

“I knew him as Ashley Cole’s buddy as a kid. He has had a few, shall we say ‘different’ experiences through his career.

“Haven’t we all? But I think he is growing wiser with age.

“As a player, he has played in the Champions League final which is something that I never did.

“Maybe he has had a better career than me.”

Liverpool FC: Rafa Benitez Set To Walk Away In The Summer

RAFAEL BENITEZ could walk away from Liverpool at the end of the season if the club’s American owners do not allow him complete control over transfers.

The Spaniard has rejected the offer of a new contract at Anfield after failing to be granted the wide-ranging powers he was seeking as part of a new deal.

Co-owner Tom Hicks believes the problems can be ironed out and was yesterday confident Benitez will be Liverpool manager for the next five years. But unless Hicks and George Gillett meet Benitez’s demands of autonomy regarding transfers, the Spaniard, who has 18 months remaining on his present contract, is likely to leave Liverpool in the summer.

The length of the contract and the financial terms of the deal had already been agreed last month, with the scope of Benitez’s responsibility the sticking point.

The Spaniard, who insists he has no quarrel with the owners, does not want to depart and the Americans are keen for him to stay.

But Benitez demonstrated at Valencia in 2004, when he fell out with the club’s director of sport Jesus Garcia Pitarch over the failure to buy the players he had singled out and subsequently left, that he will not compromise on his stance.

Benitez has long been unhappy at the speed in which Liverpool deal in the market, but the desire for control over transfers stems from the failure to sign Gareth Barry from Aston Villa in the summer after the club refused to match the £18m asking price.

The Liverpool manager also wants greater influence over the Academy than his present contract allows.

With Premier League leaders Liverpool facing neighbours Everton on Monday and possibly usurped from top place by Manchester United later today, the timing of Benitez’s decision to reject the deal has surprised the Anfield hierarchy, as did the manager’s outburst against Sir Alex Ferguson last week.

Explaining his decision to reject the deal, Benitez said: “My relationship with the owners is better than people think. I have regular contact with them and especially with Tom Hicks who has always been very supportive.

“The talks between my agent and the advisers of the owners have been very positive and friendly and our differences are about my responsibilities.

“I have to say again that this is not about financial gain. This is solely about being allowed to manage Liverpool Football Club to the best of my abilities as I see them.

“I will continue to do my job as manager and concentrate on the thing that our fans want me to focus on – winning trophies for them.

“From the first day I came to the club I have only ever given 100% and I will continue to do this. We have a very important game coming up against Everton on Monday night and now I just want to be able to concentrate only on this.”

Hicks has revealed a meeting will take place later this month with Benitez in which the owner hopes an agreement can be thrashed out. And he said: “As Rafa says, we have a strong working relationship and are united behind the team. We understand his frustrations and are committed to working with him and his advisors to find a solution here, and we will keep talking. I am coming over for the Chelsea game. We already planned to get together on the 30th and 31st to talk over a number of issues and we will clear up everything we need to.

“Rafa’s been frustrated for a long time about the length of time it takes for certain things to happen. I think he’s trying to position himself to do the job better but there are balances that have to be done in English football, and we will work through this. We can fix that and we will.

“I do think it can be worked out. There are no issues between Rafa and the owners in any way. There are issues he wants to work out to make it better for this club.

“Rafa will be coaching Liverpool for the next five years and we will work through all these lawyer issues.”

However, it is understood Gillett was unhappy that, after a joint statement was put out from the owners concerning Benitez’s contract, Hicks held a further, separate interview.

Gillett is worried that the perception will be Hicks and Benitez are siding against Gillett and chief executive Rick Parry, which is not the case.

Threat To Liverpool's Title Chances Coming From Inside Anfield

WITH each passing day, it seems the greatest threat to Liverpool’s chances of silverware this season comes from within.

Forget Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal. The Anfield outfit are in danger of becoming their own worst enemy.

The news yesterday that Rafael Benitez has rejected the offer of a new contract will have been met with dismay from Liverpool supporters who have grown tired of the behind-the-scenes manoeuvring at Anfield being aired in public.

But the question on the lips of fans isn’t so much ‘why?’. Instead, they’ll be asking ‘why now?’.

Benitez’s timing was called into question last week when, with his team top of the table and well positioned to finally end a 19-year title drought, he launched an extraordinary broadside against Sir Alex Ferguson.

And if the Manchester United manager wasn’t rubbing his hands in delight then, he almost certainly will be now.

Yes, Benitez was completely within his rights to air his grievances about Manchester United and their manager, as he was to reject the contract offer from Anfield co-owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett.

But both actions are in danger of derailing a Liverpool championship challenge the Spaniard has impressively spearheaded this season. And ahead of a critical derby double header, too.

Should Liverpool’s season end in spectacular implosion, the last seven days are sure to be regarded as the point where matters began to unravel.

By turning down the new deal, the Spaniard is standing firm for what he believes is right, the granting of more wide-ranging powers that he is convinced can help Liverpool consistently challenge for major honours both home and abroad.

After admitting it was “with great regret” that he has declined the proposal, Benitez explained: “The owners feel that the manager’s decisions need to be subject to the chief executive but I know that I am subject to results and to our fans and they are the best judges I will ever have.

I have a lot of experience in football at different clubs and if you do not have a technical director and you are the manager you have to have control of the football decisions. But always within the confines of a budget which is controlled by the owners and the club.

“In this scenario the manager knows the amount money he has available to him and can decide how much he should spend on each player according to the needs of the team.

“The only person who can decide the value of a player to his squad is the manager because he knows what elements are needed to improve the squad.”

While these comments will once again raise questions about his working relationship with Rick Parry, the fact he didn’t mention Parry by name casts doubt over whether Benitez is prepared to work with any chief executive.

Certainly, the Spaniard doesn’t enjoy his judgement in the transfer market questioned by those in the corridors of power, as was apparently the case with Gareth Barry during the summer.

But when the fans did judge him on Barry during the pre-season friendly against Lazio, they were as damning as the Americans over the prospective transfer.

Past evidence suggests Benitez is desperate for almost complete control of football matters, with the chief executive instead concentrating on business concerns.

That virtual autonomy can be unhealthy for a club if left unmonitored, and the key to Benitez eventually agreeing to sign a new deal will be the “balance” that Hicks yesterday conceded must be achieved.

And which other club allows the manager the scope of responsibility Benitez is seeking? The link with Real Madrid does not go away, but presumably the Spaniard would have even less power at the Bernabeu than he enjoys at Anfield right now.

Of course, Benitez is no stranger to disagreements. He fell out with the board at Tenerife and, most famously, his disagreement with Valencia’s director of sport Jesus Garcia Pitarch over the signing of players – “I asked for a table and they bought me a lampshade,” bemoaned Benitez – accelerated his departure from the Mestalla to Anfield.

The Liverpool manager even parted ways with Pako Ayesteran, his right-hand man and trusted compatriot for so many years with whom Benitez ultimately felt he could no longer work alongside.

Benitez’s other bugbear is the Academy. The Spaniard wants a greater influence over the Kirkby-based facility than he is contractually obliged at present, a situation he hoped would be addressed in talks with Hicks and Gillett.

However, as with the transfers, the American owners have refused to meet with the manager’s demands.

“I believe the Academy is a very important part of the future of the club,” explained Benitez. “The length of the contract was already agreed and this showed my long term commitment to the club.

“I know the academies of Ajax, Real Madrid, Barcelona, AC Milan and Valencia and they are producing players regularly. The way the system works there means the manager has an input into development and I think this could be the way forward here and we would hope that this would help us make better use of local talent.”

Benitez is an incredibly single-minded, stubborn individual. Those very qualities are key elements to his success as a manager, yet they are also the very same attributes that have undermined his efforts in the past and continue to do so.

Last week, Ferguson dismissed Benitez’s criticisms as those of a “disturbed” man. Now Liverpool supporters must hope its not their team’s hopes of glory that have been disturbed by their manager’s latest actions.

Torres Closing In On Premier League Record

Fernando Torres heads into the Merseyside derby against Everton on Monday with the chance to become the fastest ever foreign player to score 30 Premier League goals.

The 24-year-old has scored 29 goals in 43 PL appearances since joining Liverpool.

He will become the fastest foreign player in PL history to reach 30 PL goals if he nets against the Toffees - one match ahead of Dutchman Ruud van Nistelrooy - who scored his first 30 PL goals in 45 PL appearances for Manchester United.

Torres would also become the fourth-fastest player to reach 30 PL goals behind Andy Cole, Kevin Phillips and Alan Shearer.

He has scored three goals in his last two Premier League derby matches against Everton.

Steven Gerrard Bar Brawl: Accrington Stanley Goalkeeper Is Arrested

The goalkeeper for Accrington Stanley Football Club has been arrested in connection with a bar brawl which allegedly involved Premier League footballer Steven Gerrard.

Ian Dunbavin, 28, was arrested on Friday morning on suspicion of assault and affray, according to police sources.

The brawl took place in the Lounge Inn bar in Southport, on December 29. Part-time DJ Marcus McGee allegedly lost a tooth and suffered a cut face.

Gerrard, the Liverpool FC captain, was celebrating the Reds' win over Newcastle when the trouble began.

The 28-year-old player was arrested and charged with assault and affray.

In the hours after the fracas, blood and broken glass were visible on the floor of the club.

Gerrard, of Formby, Merseyside, will appear at North Sefton Magistrates' Court on January 23 along with John Doran, 29, and Ian Gerard Smith, 19, both of Huyton.

They also face counts of assault and affray.

Coleen Rooney's 19-year-old brother, Anthony McLoughlin, was also arrested in connection with the brawl but was released pending further inquiries.

Accrington Stanley Football Club, based in Lancashire, was promoted from the Nationwide Conference to League Two in April 2006.

It is perhaps best known for being name-checked in a celebrated British milk advert from the 1980s.

The scene was between two boys with thick Liverpudlian accents dressed in Liverpool football shirts who were looking for something to drink after a game of football.

They opt for milk on the advice of former Liverpool player Ian Rush, believing it will help them to play for a better team than Accrington Stanley.

Gokhan Inler Interests The Reds?

Rumours have begun to surface that Liverpool may be interested in Udinese's holding midfielder Gokhan Inler. Inler, who has made 23 appearances for the Swiss national team, has supposedly been contacted from Liverpool officials over his availability. With Arsenal and Real Madrid also said to be credited with an interest in the 24 year old, if the rumours prove to be true then we could face a battle on our hands to land the player due to our financial state that we currently find ourselves in.

When quizzed over possible contact from clubs around Europe, Dino Lamberti (Inler's agent) told; 'I was contacted by officials because the Spanish club Real Madrid was interested in taking him. In England, three out of the top four have asked about him. There is also a friend of his playing at Liverpool and there was a call to ask information about him'.

If this rumour does happen to be true then the question has to be asked, is this the area that we need strengthening? With Alonso finding his top form again this season and Mascherano being his usual hard working self, as well as Lucas forcing his way into the first team picture this season and of course not forgetting Gerrard then is another centre midfielder the area we need to strengthen? A good player never the less but in my opinion a new full back will be needed if we are to continue pushing for honours this season.