Sunday, January 18, 2009

Rafa Benitez In Fresh Warning Over Liverpool Transfer Policy

Rafa Benitez last night insisted he isn't a control freak - but reiterated that he wants full authority on transfer policy.

The Kop boss turned down a contract extension that would have kept him at Anfield for a further five years and was worth £20m as the boardroom split that has torn Liverpool apart over the last two years widened further.

Owner Tom Hicks is prepared to back the Spaniard, but he faces opposition from partner George Gillett and chief executive Rick Parry in a row that threatens to wreck Liverpool's title challenge.

Benitez, who has just 18 months left on his current deal, feels he should be allowed full control to spend his transfer budget on players he has identified.

His anger stems from Parry's failure to secure Aston Villa's £18m-rated Gareth Barry before agreeing to spend the club's £20m summer budget on Robbie Keane.

Then Xabi Alonso's proposed move to Juventus collapsed over the Italian club's refusal to pay more than £12m - leaving Liverpool with insufficient funds to buy Barry.

Benitez said: "I don't want 100 per cent control of everything, but a manager should be given a transfer budget and left to decide how to spend it.

"If he is given £20m he should be able to decide whether he brings in four players for £5m each or spends £20m on one.

"Who knows these things best? The manager. Who knows the value of players? The manager.

"The manager has to decide. It doesn't matter whether you have one chief executive or 20. It must be only the manager who decides how the budget is spent.

"I have to manage the team, so I should decide these things."

Sami To Stay At Anfield

Sami Hyypia has been earmarked for an Anfield player-coach role at the end of the season.

His contract ends in July and he is a target for several Premier League clubs but Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez wants Hyypia to remain in his plans on and off the pitch.

Benitez sees the 35-year-old as the ideal role model to younger players.

Hyypia’s Euro limbo is also set to be ended with a recall to Liverpool’s 25-man Champions League squad — but Benitez will have to axe Philipp Degen or Andrea Dossena to make room.

Reina - Judge Us On Trophies

Liverpool goalkeeper Jose Reina insists that the club can only be judged by how much silverware they have claimed come the end of the season.

The Reds stuttered to a 0-0 draw at Stoke last weekend and will be forced into second place for the first time in more than a month if Manchester United can claim three points on Saturday.

As a result, many are predicting that Liverpool's early season form will peter out over the final months of the Premier League campaign, but Reina is adamant that no judgments should be made until May.

"The end of the season is the best time to analyse the players and the team. Then we will have the trophies on our side - or they will be on the other side," the Spaniard told The Daily Express.

"It is important to win a trophy this season. If it can be the league then that would be unbelievable."

However, standing in the immediate way for Reina's side are consecutive Merseyside derbies that could well prove vital to Liverpool's hopes of silverware.

"These games against Everton are like two finals. In the one we fight for the cup, but the league game is a final too," added the keeper.

"We have to win. We cannot drop any more points at home. That will be difficult, but that has to be or target."

Though one man determined to undo The Reds' title hopes will be Reina's old friend Mikel Arteta, who has proved to be Everton's star player so far this season.

The two players used to bunk together as youngsters at Barcelona's academy, but, despite a close friendship, the Liverpool stopper expects that there will be no love lost when they meet on the pitch.

"He knows, and I know, that if he has to punish me with a free-kick or penalty he will do it. If I can save it I will," Reina added.

"Mikel looks out for his team and I will do the same. For 90 minutes we will not be friends."

Meanwhile, the Reds have offered Swedish midfielder Alexander Kacaniklic his first professional contract after impressing in the Liverpool under-18 team.

Kacaniklic was brought into the Reds Academy in the summer of 2007 from Helsingborg and has now signed a deal with the league leaders which runs until June 2010.

Pompey Hopeful Over Pennant

Portsmouth are still hopeful of signing Liverpool winger Jermaine Pennant - despite the player's desire to stay at the Reds.

The two clubs agreed a fee for the out of favour player, who has since re-iterated his preference of wanting to stay with the league leaders and fight for his place.

But Reds boss Rafa Benitez believes the player will move, while Pompey executive chairman Peter Storrie is hopeful that the South Coast side could progress with the transfer this weekend.

He said on Friday night: "We spoke at length with his agent (on Thursday) and hopefully some time over the weekend we can move things forward."

Pompey have earned around £35million from selling Lassana Diarra to Real Madrid and Jermain Defoe to Tottenham, although the finances at Fratton Park mean boss Tony Adams cannot fully reinvest on signings.

He has identified four players he would like to strengthen with, but Pompey have failed in their efforts to sign Edu from Valencia and bring Gary O'Neil back from Middlesbrough.

However, they could have more luck with Real Madrid striker Javier Saviola.

Storrie said: "We're trying to bring four players in but the window is what it is and can be frustrating at times.

"We were hoping to bring Gary O'Neil back to club but Middlesbrough have put a full stop on that one.

"We were very hopeful of bringing Edu in from Valencia - but they decided not to sell at this stage.

"I have had quite a lot of discussions with Real (about Saviola). I'm sure there's a deal to be done but it will be down to Tony to decide if he wants to take that forward."

Benitez Believes Agger Will Stay

Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez is confident Danish international defender Daniel Agger will stay at Anfield.

The 24-year-old Dane, a £5.8m signing from Brondby in 2006, has been linked with a move to AC Milan.

"I had a conversation with Daniel two days ago," said Benitez. "He wants to stay - he's not thinking about money.

"I can guarantee his commitment to the club is 100%. I was talking with his agent and they are waiting for us. The player is really happy here."

Agger missed much of last season through injury and has faced competition for the central defensive positions from Martin Skrtel and Jamie Carragher.

"He knows we have a strong team and he wants to stay," Benitez told the Liverpool website.

Agger's contract with Liverpool expires at the end of June 2010.

Hansen Expecting Two Cracking Merseyside Derbies

A veteran of many Merseyside derbies, ex-Liverpool defender Alan Hansen thinks the Reds will have the upper hand in the two upcoming clashes between the Reds and Everton - especially as the Toffees will be without suspended Fellaini.

On Monday evening Liverpool host Everton, their neighbours from across Stanley Park, in what will be the 207th Merseyside derby. And six days later, on the following Sunday, the 208th will be contested in an FA Cup fourth round tie.

Former Liverpool great Alan Hansen played in many a Merseyside derby and is excited by the prospect of the imminent double-header. Now a leading pundit for the New Football Pools and BBC TV's Match of the Day, Hansen said:

"My old club Liverpool face two Merseyside derbies against in form Everton in the League and FA Cup in what should be cracking games.

"Both sides are playing well but the Toffees' loss of Marouane Fellaini is a massive blow to their ambitions. The big Belgian plays a big part in the way they currently play and offers size and physical strength to a relatively small Everton midfield. He also weighs in with goals which the Blues will struggle to replace with their lack of strength in depth in key areas.

"Despite the fact the match will be tense and no quarter given in any area of the pitch, I would perhaps unsurprisingly have to back my old club to win both games. Rafa’s side will have too much quality for Everton in both midfield and attack but it certainly won’t be easy.

"If David Moyes’ side could win either one of these two clashes it would set them up for the rest of the season but I personally can’t see it."

Police To Crackdown on Everton Fans Who Abuse Steven Gerrard

Merseyside Police are to target Everton fans who abuse Steven Gerrard during tomorrow night's Anfield derby.

The Liverpool force want to emulate their Hampshire colleagues, who handled the Sol Campbell affair by cracking down on any offensive chanting.

Extra officers will be on the beat with instructions to arrest anybody making crude gestures, or singing inappropriate songs.

Obscene chants have recently been aimed at Liverpool captain Gerrard and Merseyside police Chief Supt Dave Lewis said: "We will speak to the CPS to see if what is sung is viewed as abusive and we could arrest people and charge them. We won't be arresting hundreds as we haven't got the resources to do so and could prompt a melee.

Rafa Benitez Wants Long Liverpool Stay

It was recently confirmed that Rafael Benitez had rejected Liverpool's latest contract offer due to a disagreement over wages and the terms of the deal.

Press reports suggest that the Spanish manager hopes to be granted complete control in the transfer market, but club co-owner Tom Hicks yesterday declared that the main issue is the speed - or lack thereof - with which signings are made.

Hicks stressed that he was determined to work things out one way or another, and Benitez is similarly eager to reach an agreement when the American returns to Merseyside in February.

The former Valencia boss told the News of the World, "We will see what happens when Tom Hicks comes next month. Maybe we will talk again in the future.

"When the owners offered me a contract I said we needed to do it quickly as I wanted no distractions. We have been talking for two months and they know my idea. If we can’t progress, we finish the conversations.

"We were close. I have no problem talking with them and anyone else at the club. The phone still works both ways, but I will try to concentrate on the football."

Nevertheless, a sliver of doubt lingers over Benitez's future at Anfield, and a number of clubs - most notably Juventus and Real Madrid - are thought to be keeping tabs on his situation.

But Rafa said, "I’m linked with a lot of teams but I guarantee I’m focused on winning trophies for Liverpool. I want to stay at Liverpool for a long time. I’m signing young players because I’m thinking about the future. I’ve told the owners what I want and that’s it."