Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Barcelona To Chase Liverpool Hitman Fernando Torres

According to a report in The Daily Mail, Barcelona could launch an ambitious summer campaign to bring Fernando Torres, a former Atletico Madrid forward, back to Spain. This has been echoed in Spain by Sport.

The Liverpool striker will be very much in the public eye in his homeland over the next few weeks. The striker is preparing for a friendly clash with England in Seville and also a Champions League knock-out tie against Real Madrid.

However, it was at the FIFA World Player of the Year dinner that Joan Laporta, the president of the Catalan giants, is alleged to have laid the groundwork for an end of season pursuit. Lionel Messi and Xavi are also said to have hobnobbed with the Euro 2008 winner.

Any deal is likely to be dependant on the future of Barca's current top scorer, Samuel Eto'o, which is looking decidedly unclear at present.

The Blaugrana are holding several rounds of meetings this month regarding their plans for next term and contract renewals have been on top of the agenda.

Along with ensuring that Victor Valdes, Rafael Marquez and Carles Puyol are tied down to long-term deals, sorting out Eto'o is becoming a matter of priority.

While the free-scoring striker has a contract until the summer of 2010, Barcelona are not prepared to let that run down and to see him leave on a free transfer. Eto’o, however, does not appear to be in a rush to renew his deal.

"If Laporta and [technical secretary Txiki] Begiristain asked me to sit down and negotiate now, I would ask them not to distract me and that we can wait until the summer," Eto'o told La Vanguardia.

That will not have gone down well with either Begiristain or coach Josep Guardiola, both of whom are keen to have all their plans in place before the end of the current season.

Plans to cash in on Eto'o could be in place given his reluctance to talk, his expected wage demands and the fact that he could be away at the African Cup of Nations for six weeks of next season.

With that in mind, Sport believe that the names of David Villa and Karim Benzema have been superseded by an even more ambitious target: Torres is now the player that club want.

With the blessing of Guardiola and Laporta, Txiki Begiristain will now start to consider ways to force 'Pool into a sale.

It won't be easy, of course, but behind-the-scenes unrest at Anfield and a less-than-certain financial future could work in the favour of Barcelona.

Torres Planning Long Reds Stay

Fernando Torres has pledged his long-term future to Liverpool despite reports in Spain that Barcelona are weighing up a big-money move.

Speaking ahead of Spain's friendly with England on Wednesday, Torres insists he is happy to stay at Anfield and cannot imagine himself playing for "any other team".

He said: "I don't see myself playing for Real Madrid, or Barcelona or Chelsea or any other team.

"I see myself playing for Liverpool. I have a long contract and that's that."

Meanwhile, Torres is hopeful he is finally over the injury problems that have blighted his season so far.

"This year what I am more worried about are injuries," added Torres. "I have had many problems since last summer but I hope I will be okay now until the end of the season."

The 24-year-old is also wishing Reds team-mate Steven Gerrard a speedy recovery from his hamstring problem and hopes he could return to action for the Champions League clash with Real Madrid later this month.

"Hopefully Steven Gerrard will be okay too," said Torres. "He's a special player and a vital part of our team and we need him fit again soon.

"I don't know how long it will take for his leg to heal, but we wish him the best and hope we can have him back as quick as possible.

"If it is in time for the Champions League game with Real Madrid even better."

Agger - No Reds Deal

Liverpool defender Daniel Agger admits he is no closer to signing a new deal at Anfield.

Reports last weekend claimed Agger had agreed terms over a new long-term contract only for his agent to quickly rebuff the suggestion.

Agger, who has less than 18 months to run on his current contract, has confirmed he has not agreed a new deal and that he is ready to wait until the summer to sort out his future.

"There is no dialogue on a new contract with the club. It seemed like Liverpool were eager to close this deal and sign a new contract, but that proved to be wrong," Agger told Ekstra Bladet.

"For me it's ok to wait and see how things evolve in the summer. I believe that I am in a good position for negotiations and I wish for more time in the red jersey."

Agger is maintaining his focus on staying fit and playing regularly after seeing last season ravaged by injury because of a serious foot problem.

"I have more games in my body, and wish to fall into the rhythm.

"At this level you can't afford to make mistakes. I will only be judged when I am playing, regardless of how long you have been sidelined.

"I want to play every game but unfortunately that's not possible.

"But I am happy now that myself, Carragher and Skrtel all are fit. So now it's up to Rafa Benitez."

Spain Will Test Liverpool FC Manager's Patience On Torres

Rafael Benitez is heading for another club versus country row with Spain after coach Vicente Del Bosque insisted Fernando Torres could return to Liverpool “in better shape” after tonight’s friendly with England.

The Spanish coach insists he has not had a fall-out with Benitez over the striker, who has been visibly fatigued in recent weeks despite his return to goalscoring form.

Torres was taken off in the recent league game with Wigan and in extra time during the FA Cup exit to Everton last week.

On Saturday at Portsmouth he scored the winning goal, although he was only brought on for the final 14 minutes.

Liverpool manager Benitez has accepted that at least a 45-minute appearance in Seville is inevitable, but Del Bosque has hinted at giving Torres significantly more.

He said: “It might be good for Fernando Torres to play a lot of minutes and go back to Liverpool in better shape.

“You cannot make a decision in advance because then the game doesn’t go the way you expect.

“I know my starting 11 but it will depend on the match. You can’t say this or that person is going to play 40 or 45 minutes because you don’t know what is going to happen.”

Del Bosque is helped by the fact Liverpool have no game this weekend because they are not in the FA Cup, but Benitez will be concerned that his forward is further exposed to the risk of injury.

Captain Steven Gerrard will already be missing with a hamstring injury when they return to Premier League action at home to Manchester City a week on Sunday, and further injuries could leave them shorn of attacking options in a week when they face Real Madrid in the Champions League.

“There has been no conflict with Rafa Benitez,” Del Bosque said. “I have always had good contact with him and was in Villarreal earlier this season when Liverpool played a friendly there.

“There is a perfectly correct relationship with Liverpool. I spoke to him last Friday and of course we spoke about the players and their physical condition.”

Del Bosque added: “It was a perfectly cordial discussion and I would rather base my decision on what Rafa has said to me, not what has appeared in the press.”

Torres has already been injured while on international duty three times in his 18-month Liverpool career.

The last occasion came in a World Cup qualifier with Belgium, when he picked up a hamstring strain that eventually kept him out for the whole of December.

The 24-year-old made a scoring return to the Reds side as a substitute at Preston in the FA Cup on January 2, and he has since made seven appearances.

Benitez will also be monitoring Liverpool’s Xabi Alonso, Alvaro Arbeloa, Albert Riera and Pepe Reina, who are also in the Spain squad to take on England.

Dossena Settled At Anfield

Liverpool defender Andrea Dossena admits he is feeling more settled at Anfield after a difficult start to life in England.

Dossena struggled to make an impact at Liverpool following his arrival from Udinese last summer.

But the full-back believes he now understands more of what is required of him from Reds boss Rafa Benitez.

"In the first six months it was not easy for me because Italian football is very different from here," Dossena told Sky Sports News.

"Now I know what the boss Benitez wants from me."

Dossena insists Liverpool will fight until the end with Manchester United for the Premier League title.

The Reds sit in second spot two points behind leaders United, but Dossena says the squad will give their all to try and win the championship crown.

"United are a strong team, a good team, but we are Liverpool Football Club we want to win and we will try to win until the finish of the season.

"If at the finish of the season you win OK, but we want to stay there."

Liverpool Chief Exec Rick Parry Reveals 'Homegrown' Quota Being Considered By Premier League Clubs

Premier League clubs are considering a quota for a minimum number of ’homegrown’ players in their squads in a bid to stave off attempts to impose spending controls.

Liverpool chief executive Rick Parry has revealed the 20 clubs discussed the move at a meeting last week and there was consensus over the general principle.

The move comes as the European Clubs’ Association, of which Parry is a board member, yesterday shelved a proposal for clubs in UEFA competitions to be limited to spending a maximum of 50% of their turnover on wages.

Clubs in the Champions League and UEFA Cup are already obliged to have eight homegrown players – of any nationality, but who have spent three years under the age of 21 at the club – in their 25- man squads.

Parry, speaking from Geneva in Switzerland said: “It was discussed at the Premier League last week after being put up by the Premier League board.

“We have not accepted a figure, just the principle that some minimum limit of homegrown players makes sense.

“For those of us competing in the Champions League we could introduce it now and it wouldn’t be an issue. Indeed the Premier League did produce an analysis which showed that actually a lot of the clubs would not have too much difficult complying.

“It will certainly be given more consideration, it’s a way off being decided but it was certainly a constructive discussion.”

The Football League have already agreed that from next season at least four out of the 16 players in matchday squads have to come through the ranks of clubs in England and Wales.

Other proposals being considered by the Premier League include giving financial incentives to clubs to use academy products, but the ’homegrown’ rule looks the most likely.

It will also allow clubs to argue they will bring more players through the ranks rather than spending big on established stars.

Parry said the Premier League’s discussions have come in response to pressure from the Government, UEFA president Michel Platini and FA chairman Lord Triesman for top- flight clubs to create a more level playing field and reduce debt.

He added: “We are aware that there is concern at Government and FA level and what we have to do is engage in that debate and be part of the solution.

“They want to see something, as does Michel Platini, so it’s about not being completely negative and isolationist about those ideas that do have merit and perhaps being in step with Europe rather than being completely out of step.”

The clubs will return to the issue at their summer meeting in June when a range of options on encouraging youth players will be put to chairmen.

A Premier League spokesman said: “There has been an ongoing discussion about raising the standards of youth development and progressing academy players but no definitive policy decision has been taken.”

Parry said that the 93 member clubs of the ECA who turned up for today’s general assembly viewed a 50% turnover-wages limit as a “blunt instrument”.

He said: “The debate on should we just have a simple 50% limit on turnover threw up all sorts of issues such as does that mean the big clubs stay big and the small ones never have a chance to catch up?

“Does it mean that clubs in countries with different tax regimes suffer?

“A lot of clubs felt it is a bit of a blunt instrument and maybe the debate over young players is a better approach.

“What we in England don’t want to see is a dumbing down and be penalised for the success we have achieved.”

Rafa Wary Of Villa Threat

Rafa Benitez is refusing to believe the Premier League title battle is a two-horse race between Manchester United and Liverpool.

United are leading the way two points ahead of Benitez's Reds, but Aston Villa sit just five points behind the leaders with managerless Chelsea a further two points adrift.

Villa have been the surprise package so far this season and Benitez admits Martin O'Neill's men could be involved in the chase for the Premier League crown.

"Aston Villa are in a good position," said Benitez. "I think it's too soon to say it's a two-horse race. We have to keep going and then maybe at the end it could be down to two teams.

"I'm not surprised Villa are doing well because they have good players. They are working really hard and are in a good position, and that makes motivation for each game easier.

"The important thing is we are still in a fantastic position. The character of the players at Portsmouth was very good and the way we came back showed we have the right mentality. We have done that so many times this season.

"We have more confidence now because we are winning. If we keep winning it will be easier to keep our focus and keep going to the end."

Benitez also expressed his shock at Luiz Felipe Scolari's sudden departure from Chelsea on Monday.

The Spaniard was sad to hear the Brazilian lose his position at Stamford Bridge after just seven months at the helm.

"I was really surprised and disappointed," added Benitez. "He is a nice man, a fantastic manager and a good professional."

Ian Rush: Rafa Benitez Had Perfect Response To Silence Liverpool's Critics

The vultures were circling the second Liverpool’s team-sheet was announced on Saturday night.

But Rafa had the perfect response with a massively important three points.

Like almost everybody else in the country, I was surprised when I saw so many influential names left on the substitutes’ bench.

I would be lying if I said otherwise.

But unlike perhaps plenty of pundits, I also had some sympathy with Rafa’s team selection, because I’ve been in exactly the same position as Fernando Torres.

I wasn’t sure about leaving Dirk Kuyt on the bench, because he looks like he could play about five matches every week and still not suffer.

But resting Torres was totally understandable.

He’s still feeling his way back from injury, he was clearly shattered on Wednesday night and the trip to Portsmouth came less than 72 hours later.

By introducing him when he did, Rafa ensured that Torres would be operating on a level playing field with the Portsmouth defenders.

Kenny Dalglish did exactly the same thing with me in the 1989 FA Cup final.

I’d been injured and had only made half a dozen substitute appearances before the cup final.

I thought I could start at Wembley.

I told Kenny I was fit.

I was desperate to kick-off against Everton, but he decided my energy levels weren’t up to what was required and left me on the bench.

In the end Kenny did the right thing.

If I’d started the match I probably wouldn’t have been able to do anything.

But when I came on my energy levels were at the same levels as the Everton defenders and I was able to make an impact.

It was the same with Torres at Portsmouth.

If he’d played from the start, when the Portsmouth defenders were fresh, he’d have been tired when the game started to open up in the last third and probably unable to take advantage of the opportunity which came his way.

As it was, he was sharp enough to find the opening and finish it in style just when it mattered the most.

It was good management, because the end result says so.

Just like Kenny got it right back in 1989.

Mark Lawrenson: Liverpool Still Needed Replacement For Misfiring Robbie Keane

I wrote here several times that I thought that Liverpool selling Robbie Keane in January would be the best thing.

But I meant for the player and the club.

And while Keane will no doubt be relieved to be back where he is loved and where the pressure is off, I don’t really see the benefit for Liverpool.

Because if you’re going to get rid of someone, you have to replace him.

This might sound wise after the event but I looked at Jo scoring two goals for Everton in their win over Bolton on Saturday and thought ‘well, why couldn’t Liverpool have taken a chance on him?’

Or at least a similar type of loan signing.

Okay, so he’s not played for ages and had looked a bit out of place at Manchester City – but that’s only the same situation Robbie Fowler was in three years ago.

But that didn’t matter because he was only brought in to boost the forward line for the final few months of the season.

I just think any striker would have done in these circumstances, where numbers are so low that David Ngog is starting on his own up front and even Andriy Voronin fancies it again.

Nothing against Ngog, but he’s untried and unknown. And that’s not ideal when you’re going for the league.

Keane didn’t have to be replaced by another £20million superstar, just a competent striker who can help take the burden off Fernando Torres.

Because the situation now is, we’re praying for Torres not to get injured between now and the end of the season.

He showed how vital he is with the winner at Portsmouth on Saturday. Take him out and you’re looking over at Manchester United. You’re looking for players to be able to provide you with what Rooney, Ronaldo, Tevez and Berbatov do for them.

And then you realise how much Liverpool really do need Torres to keep on competing with them for this title.

Reds Look At Danish Starlet

Liverpool have handed a trial to highly-rated Danish winger Oliver Feldballe.

Feldballe currently plays for Odense and his performances have alerted Liverpool's coaching staff.

The 18-year-old, who has represented Denmark at Under 18 and Under 19 level, will train with Liverpool's first team so that Rafa Benitez can cast an eye over him.

Odense's head of development, Uffe Pedersen has confirmed the club are happy to let him link up with Liverpool and he believes Feldballe can establish himself as a big player in the future.

"We got an inquiry from Liverpool that they wish to see him in training and we have agreed to let him go there. He will be there for the rest of the week Pedersen told

"Their philosophy is that they bring on a lot of players. If the players end up breaking through, there is a bigger chance that they will choose Liverpool as they already are familiar with the club.

"At the same time it is a good experience for our players to get away and try something new.

"He [Feldballe] is one of the biggest talents that we hope to use in the future."