Saturday, January 24, 2009

Dalglish: Why I Quit After Last Cup Derby

Kenny Dalglish has revealed how a moment in the last FA Cup Merseyside derby made him realise it was time to walk away from the club he had served so well throughout an illustrious career.

Eighteen years have passed since the fateful night in March 1991 where the Reds drew 4-4 with the Blues in a Cup replay now firmly etched in derby folklore.

The local rivals not only produced one of the finest games in the competition's history, but it proved to be the Scot's final match in charge as Liverpool manager.

The Reds legend stunned the football fraternity after announcing his resignation as the dust was still settling on one of the greatest derbies in living memory.

Dalglish told the official LFC magazine: "I knew that night that I had to go. After we took the lead for the final time, I was standing on the touchline and I knew that I had to make a change to shore things up at the back.

"I could see what had to be done, and what would happen if I didn't do it, but I didn't act on what I knew I had to do. That was the moment I knew.

"The wife was busy planning my 40th birthday, and I just came in that night and told her I was done. I needed the break. I was shattered and Marina was stunned.

"I never fell out of love with the game, even now I still love it and you get those pangs of regret and thoughts of what might have been.

"Leaving Liverpool was the first decision I'd made in my life, in more than 20 years, that was for the good of Kenny Dalglish and the Dalglish family, and not the football club."

Having come to terms with the end of his own reign in the Liverpool hotseat, Dalglish is now a firm supporter of the current regime and would love nothing more than seeing Rafa Benitez lead the Reds to Wembley.

"I'd love to see Rafa leading Liverpool out of the tunnel at Wembley for the first time. Hell, I'd love to play in the game myself," added the 57-year-old.

"I've got great memories of playing there. It's a competition that we've done well in in the past and it's a ground where we have had some tremendous results.

"I've never even been to Wembley since it was re-done and it would be great for me personally to go back to watch Steven lead the teams out."

King Kenny admits to being bemused by the mentality of some clubs that see the FA Cup as a distraction.

"For me, it's a crying shame," he said. "I'm a Cup romantic and I love the competition. It's just so different to when we played.

"Maybe it's because I'm not in the game that I see it this way. If I was involved on a day to day basis and saw a club's bottom line and budget I'd understand it better.

"But all I care about is Liverpool. Rafa doesn't seem to care about prioritising his competitions too much - if there's a trophy to be won then the Liverpool boss will push his team towards it.

"That's the Liverpool way."

Kuwaiti Group Deny Liverpool Takeover Rumours

The Middle East investment arm representing Kuwaiti billionaire Nasser Al-Kharafi have moved today to disassociate themselves from suggestions that they are trying to buy Liverpool.

The move has come following speculation originating from English tabloid The Sun claiming that Liverpool's American owners George Gillett and Tom Hicks are currently in discussions with Nasser Al-Kharafi regarding a potential mega-money takeover.

"We have not conducted any negotiations," insisted Jassem al-Kharafi, elder brother of the Group's chairman Nasser al-Kharafi.

"The Group has no plans to buy any sports club."

Kharafi Group vice president Loay al-Kharafi underscored the statement released to the press by insisting that the reports emanating from the British press are "not correct".

Al-Kharafi, ranked as the 46th richest man in the world, was linked with a takeover at Newcastle United last October, and his cousin held buy-out talks with Hicks earlier in the year.

Liverpool Fans Divided On Takeover Talks

Liverpool fans have responded with mixed emotions to news of takeover talks with one of the wealthiest families in Kuwait.

Some supporters are concerned that Tom Hicks' decision to open discussions with representatives of the Al-Kharafi family could lead to further off the field strife.

While the obvious appeal of having vast amounts of cash in the bank is welcomed, with one fan excitingly commenting "let's buy Kaka" on one of the club's unofficial messageboards, the fear of 'doing a Manchester City' is a concern for other supporters.

"I really hope something good comes of this," redfishman7 says on the forum. "I don't want us to be in the stupid situation that City have found themselves in."

Gazzam1963 does not share his fellow supporters' concerns. He says: "The problem with City is they have all this cash to spend but no prospects for a couple of years.

"Liverpool are one of the top European sides with fantastic history, top of the league, Champions League every year so we are a different prospect to City."

Other Reds supporters see it as a chance to finally get rid of American co-owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett, whose rocky relationship has caused no end of problems for manager Rafa Benitez.

"Hope some good comes of this, but I doubt it will," Virginia Plain says. "Hicks is too much of a greedy b-----d and he doesn't know when to quit."

Rafa 'Surprised' By Takeover Talk

Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez has admitted his surprise at talk of a possible takeover at Anfield.

Widespread reports on Friday suggested the club were in discussions with Kuwaiti billionaire Nasser Al-Kharafi about possible investment in the Anfield outfit.

Benitez insists he knows nothing about the takeover rumours and is only concentrating on this weekend's FA Cup clash with Everton.

"I was surprised by what I saw in the press this morning, but I've just been focusing on getting my team prepared," said Benitez.

The Reds have been quiet in the transfer market so far and Benitez admits he is unlikely to do any business before the window closes.

"No we are not doing anything. We have received some phone calls about young players on loan but not really senior players because we need everyone for winning the title.

"I did not this opportunity because I have a lot of confidence in my squad so we were not looking for players we just want keep the people here happy and focused on games."

Asked if he would make any signings, Benitez added: "It would be difficult so I don't think so. We are not looking for players."

Why Liverpool FC Owners Want A Takeover

Moves to sell Liverpool to one of Kuwait’s richest families have been prompted by the need of the club’s American owners to find a buyer by July.

That is when the £350m loans owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett took on when they bought the club two years ago must be refinanced.

The duo been actively searching for a new owner for months, but it is understood they have been made aware that the Royal Bank of Scotland will not refinance the original loan in the summer.

That loan was extended for six months at the beginning of the year, but a source close to the deal said: "Hicks has been told time is running out, the clock is ticking."

It has emerged that Hicks sanctioned talks this week with the Al-Kharafi family, initially over funding for the club’s new stadium but then for a possible £500m takeover.

Gillett is thought to have been initially unaware of the talks, held with the club’s commercial director Ian Ayre and financial director Phillip Nash.

Both are allies of Hicks in the on-going war between the club’s owners.

The source added: "Hicks knows that RBS will not re-finance the original deal."

Gillett, who wanted to sell to Dubai international capital last season only to be thwarted by Hicks, is understood not to be planning to block this current move in retaliation.

The Americans know they must find a buyer or a new financial arrangement with another bank, or see RBS take control themselves.

In the current climate no other bank is likely to be interested, while RBS’s involvement in control of Liverpool would also put the Government in a difficult decision considering they now own a majority stake.

The source added: "Hicks has been trying to sell his assets, and that is believed to include Texas Rangers, while Gillett has cut back on his NASCAR involvement.

"Liverpool was almost sold to the Al-Kharafi family in November, it only needed a signature, but they walked away. Hicks is believed to have been furious."

The Al-Kharafi family’s wealth is estimated at £8bn.

The family are led by two brothers, Nasser and Jassem, but the planned purchase of Liverpool is likely to be a project overseen by one of their sons.

The family made their fortune from a variety of enterprises, including construction, banking, engineering, telecommunications and fast food.

Nasser is a highly successful businessman who runs MA Kharafi & Sons, which oversees the family’s interests, while Jassem is an influential politician who has served for the past nine years as the speaker in the Kuwait National Assembly.

Hicks and Gillett bought the club for £218.9m in February 2007, but their regime has seen constant problems behind the scenes.

The new stadium development has been stopped and there is an on-going conflict between boss Rafael Benitez and chief executive Rick Parry, which has become public again during the negotiations over the manager’s new contract.

Benitez wants more power over transfers, curtailing Parry’s influence in that area.

Rafa Benitez Warns Juventus Over Liverpool Star Dirk Kuyt Insisting The Dutchman Will Not Be Leaving Anfield

Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez has hinted Dirk Kuyt will not be leaving Anfield for Juventus.

The Dutchman had been linked with a move to the Serie A giants with reports in Italy suggesting the club were willing to spend around £30m to get his signature.

But Benitez, talking to the media ahead of Sunday's FA Cup Fourth Round tie against Everton, insists he does not want any 'senior player' leaving Anfield during the January transfer window.

And that would suggest Kuyt's immediate future remains on Merseyside as Benitez wants his more experienced players to end Liverpool's 19-year title wait.

He said: 'We are not doing anything in the transfer window.

'We are just waiting, we are receiving phone calls about our younger players going out on loan but not senior players because we need them to help us win the title.'

Babel Eyeing FA Cup Start

Ryan Babel is hoping he will get the chance to play against Everton in Sunday's FA Cup derby and help the Reds make amends for Monday night's disappointing draw by reaching the fifth round.

Rafael Benitez has already revealed he will make one or two changes to his team for the second Merseyside derby in a week, and the Dutch international is hoping he will be given the chance to impress.

Babel played the full 90 minutes in the third round win over Preston North End and admits everyone in the squad is determined to put things right after Everton's late equaliser on Monday.

"That was very frustrating for everybody and maybe it wasn't the best performance from us, but we have this FA Cup tie on Sunday which gives us a chance to play better and win the game," said Babel.

"We felt we would go on to win the game after Stevie scored a nice goal but it was disappointing to concede such a late goal.

"Everybody was disappointed in the dressing room after the game and it was very quiet. Sammy Lee spoke to us about the positive things and the fact we can put things right on Sunday, and he got our confidence up. Sammy is very important for us and he always lifts everybody.

"This will be a different game on Sunday and hopefully I will get the chance to play and help us win the game.

"We can talk a little bit about revenge maybe and we want to improve our performance and get a better result.

"I enjoy playing in the derby. I knew about the Merseyside derby when I was in Holland but when you talk about the level of both teams I think we are much better than them.

"Liverpool also has a big rivalry with Manchester United but we know how special this game is for the supporters.

"Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher also make us aware of just how important this match is and we are ready for Sunday."

The Reds number 19 is hoping Liverpool can go all the way in the FA Cup this season with the prize of playing at Wembley.

"I have never played there, so it would be great to play at Wembley," he said. "Hopefully we can keep doing well and go all the way.

"Last season was my first at Liverpool but we didn't win any prizes, so hopefully this season we can achieve something special. I believe we will win something - everybody has that belief."

The former Ajax winger recently lifted the lid on a chat in which the gaffer outlined areas he needed to improve to gain regular first-team football.

Babel is confident he can respond over the coming months and play a part in Liverpool's quest for big prizes.

"I know what I have to do and I will continue to work hard and try and be a regular in the first team," said Babel.

"I like the competition for places as it's good for your development when you have to fight for your place.

"I'm still 22 and I have a long career ahead of me. I know I am good enough and I will try and get a regular place in the starting XI."

Arbeloa: Kids Keeping Us On Our Toes

Alvaro Arbeloa believes there is a new generation of Liverpool players in the club's youth ranks ready to keep him and his teammates on their toes.

Youngsters like Emiliano Insua, Stephen Darby, Jay Spearing and Martin Kelly have established themselves in the first-team squad this season, and Arbeloa recognises the importance of developing young talent as well as splashing the cash on established stars.

He doesn't think it will be long before the talented crop of youngsters are pushing the senior players for a regular berth in the first XI.

"It's important that the young players at Liverpool are training with the first team as is happening now," the 25-year-old told the official LFC Magazine.

"They are improving and they are getting their chances in the first team.

"The development of Darby, Spearing, Plessis and Kelly is crucially important for Liverpool.

"You cannot buy players every transfer window. You must bring some of your own players through from within to maintain a healthy balance.

"We have got some very good young players here at this club and it would not surprise me at all if they began to force their way into the squads in the next year or so.

"It's good news for everybody."

The Reds defender was in a similar position when he was on the books at the Bernabeu and understands the pressures on emerging talent at a club like Liverpool.

"When I was a Real Madrid player I was in the same situation as they are," said Arbeloa.

"It is not easy trying to force your way into the games but if you have a good attitude, you work hard every day in training and are aware of the areas of your game that you need to strengthen, and work towards doing that, then you can do it."

Now a senior pro, Arbeloa knows he will have to retain the consistency he has shown in the first half of the season to keep his place.

"You anticipate competition for your place at Liverpool. It is good for the health and future of the club. No-one can be too confident about their place in the team," he said.

"You always have to play at a high level. I know that Darby is going to join Philipp Degen when he is fit and both of them will push me hard for my position."

Rafa Benitez Backing Steven Gerrard To Focus

Steven Gerrard is expected to lead Liverpool out in tomorrow’s derby with Rafael Benitez confident his skipper will not be affected by his court appearances.

Gerrard appeared in front of North Sefton magistrates yesterday charged with assault occasioning actual bodily harm and affray following an altercation at a bar in Southport last month.

The case was adjourned until Friday, March 20, 2009 when Gerrard will be one of three men due to appear before a judge at Liverpool crown court.

Gerrard was then driven straight to training at Melwood, as Liverpool prepare to entertain Everton for the second time in six days tomorrow afternoon, and the 210th time overall, in their FA Cup fourth round tie.

Gerrard netted Liverpool’s goal in Monday’s 1-1 draw with their Merseyside rivals, and Benitez has revealed the captain has shown no adverse reaction from his off-field pressures.

“The court appearance won’t have any bearing on team selection,” said the Anfield manager. “Steven was training really well. He was playing five-a-side at the end and scored two or three goals and was okay.

“I don’t think that he is affected by what’s going on. Steven is in the right frame of mind. We were talking and I asked how everything was, and he said it was okay. It was a normal training session.

“He has shown in the past few weeks what a fantastic professional he is and I think he will do the same now. He has our full support and he knows this.”

Gerrard’s next scheduled court appearance is sandwiched by a trip to league leaders Manchester United and a home game against fellow title rivals Aston Villa.

And Benitez said: “If the team continues playing well, we won’t see any problem if he is still focused on football.

“How can we guarantee he will be okay in that time? We just need to keep him fit and playing well, and it will be easier for me.”

While Gerrard is almost certain to start, Benitez is likely to make a raft of changes from the side that played on Monday.

“The players are training really well. We have a lot of options, and they are all good options. I cannot guarantee which team I will play. I will change some players but I don’t know how many yet.

“We will try to win, which players will play depends on if the players are ready or not and if we can manage and keep the balance. It’s clear we want to beat Everton.”

Liverpool were yesterday linked with a possible takeover by Kuwaiti billionaire businessman Nasser Al Kharafi, with current co-owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett keen to dilute their share in the club.

But Benitez said: “I was really surprised this morning with the news. I cannot say anything as I am preparing for the game. That’s it for me. The most important thing for me now is to prepare the game.”

Benitez also sidestepped questions over how possible new ownership at Anfield could impact on his contract talks and said: “We can only think about Everton. The training session was really good.

“The atmosphere on the training ground is very good, the players are really focused and ready for the next game. I’m sure you will ask me about this again, and I’ll just say the same thing.

“In my mind I don’t see us losing to Everton, I am always positive.”

Transfer target Emile Heskey has moved to Aston Villa, and Benitez admitted: “I don’t think we will do anything in the window now. We need to have confidence in our squad and keep going.”

Benitez: Players Must Stay Focused

Liverpool's FA Cup showdown at home to Everton on Sunday will be overshadowed by yet another potential takeover saga at Anfield, but boss Rafael Benitez wants his players to concentrate only on the job in hand.

With the club's American owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett reportedly involved in talks with the super-rich Kuwaiti Al Kharafi family, it could prove a major distraction to the task of overcoming Everton in the fourth-round tie.

Benitez, however, wants his players to concentrate on producing the right reaction to Monday's disappointing 1-1 Barclays Premier League draw with Everton at Anfield.

The Spaniard, who insists skipper Steven Gerrard is in the right frame of mind to play despite his court appearance yesterday, said: "It is always important that you respond well if you suffer a disappointment and this is what has happened in training this week.

"I have been really pleased with the last two training sessions we have had because the attitude of the players has been really positive.

"We have been analysing Monday night's game and we know that we made some mistakes. So we will try to adjust the small details that can make such a big difference.

"But it is important to remember that we drew on Monday night, we did not lose the game, and we have not lost any game for more than two months.

"There are a lot of positives and now we must try to build on them in the second half of the season."

He added: "We were not playing to our level on Monday night, we know that. But we still could have won the game and had it not been for a mistake with just a few minutes to go we would have done.

"This means that if we play the way we know we can then clearly we must have a good chance of winning the cup tie. Obviously it will be tough because it is another derby but I have a lot of confidence that the team will do well."

It had been rumoured that Benitez would rest his skipper following the adjourned court hearing, in which the 28-year-old confirmed he intends to plead not guilty to charges of affray and assault.

But Benitez said: "Steven was working as normal in training and he was scoring goals and you could see the spirit was there that he always has.

"Steven is in the right frame of mind. I have watched him in training and he is fine.

"He scored a few goals in five-a-side and he is very positive and okay for the match.

"He showed the other week that he has a responsibility to the fans and the club.

"He is a very good professional and showed he can concentrate on the job. And he knows that he has our full support."

Benitez brushed aside takeover talk, adding: "I knew nothing of this and I was surprised to see what is being said, but I would prefer to train the team and concentrate on the game with Everton."

Pennant Rues Treatment By Benitez

Jermaine Pennant is looking forward to kicking off his Portsmouth career in today's FA Cup clash with Swansea after claiming being English made it hard for him to win favour with Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez.

Former teenage prodigy Pennant, 26 last week, arrived at Pompey on a six-month loan deal after finding himself out in the cold at Anfield since October. Although he joined Arsenal for a £2million fee from home-town club Notts County ten years ago and became their youngest player in a competitive match at just over 16, he was rarely given a chance by manager Arsene Wenger.

Pennant had loan spells at Watford and Leeds before joining Birmingham City who sold him to Liverpool for £6million in 2005 where he forced his way into a star-studded team and played in a Champions League final.

But this season, after coming back from a broken leg, Pennant made just three starts for the Reds – the last in a 1-0 win over Portsmouth in their new manager Tony Adams' first match in charge – and claims he was a victim of Benitez's preference for foreign talent. He said: "I don't know what it is with me and Rafa. He knows I've got the ability and that I'm capable of playing in his team.

"But when you find yourself suddenly training on your own – when all the other boys are out there – and it's just a couple of years after playing in a Champions League final, you've got to wonder where you are going. A lot of people at Liverpool told me they can't understand why I've not even been given a sniff of a chance even on the bench, and I don't know either because I played 34 games last season and suddenly I can't get in."

Pennant said he felt his career was "rotting away" in Liverpool's reserves and that he simply had to review his options. "I've come here to Portsmouth to do a job for them and when my contract is finished in July then the world's my oyster," he said.

"I don't think Liverpool will be watching or coming back for me. All I've said to Rafa in the last couple of seasons is 'Good morning' and things like that, but you can't knock him. It's his team and he's won plenty of trophies, including the Champions League. But it does look as if, apart from the obvious ones, you stand a better chance of being in the team there if you are a foreigner."

Pennant's availability today is a boost for Adams, particularly after a scan revealed that Croatia midfielder Niko Kranjcar has torn a groin muscle and is likely to be out long term.