Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Liverpool's Revolution Under Rafael Benitez

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez's former assistant coach Paco Herrera revealed all about the revolutionary changes implemented by the Spaniard in his first five years at the Merseyside club.

Benitez, who has just signed up until 2014, has transformed Liverpool into one of Europe's most threatening teams. In the last fortnight alone they have closed Manchester United's seven-point lead to one, knocked Real Madrid out of the Champions league and put five goals past Aston Villa.

Hererra, who left Anfield to take over at Castellon, describes his former boss as a man who "lives football 24 hours a day" and revealed to the Sun what Benitez has achieved since 2004.

Creating a database of over 10,000 world players:
"Benitez does not leave any room for improvisation and he himself supervises everything. It's true he has a database with information on more than 10,000 players. It was when we started to sign up all the scouts. We started incorporating people from one country or another [and] as time went on Rafa proposed to create a personal database. That's where every day all the scouts are putting information on all the players they are watching - I would say it would be closer to 14,000 players."

Building a video room and ensuring access to footage from 12 top leagues around the world:
"There are big satellite dishes and contracts with two or three companies that make sure every month the club get all the videos from every country."

Transforming the Melwood training ground:
"Everything was created little by little - most of the things were done in the first two years. In the second year we started building a hotel of about 20 rooms. It was completed before I left so the players could concentrate there - above all before Champions League games. The players rest there in the training centre and they don't go to any other hotel. Benitez also created small hills in the training ground for the players to do resistance running."

Revolutionising the player's lifestyles:
"Dietary habits were changed from the outset. In general terms in the teams where the management staff were English the diet was not very careful. St the start the entire training ground - restaurant areas, areas with refrigerators where you can get energy drinks - as soon as Rafa arrived he banned everything he thought might be bad for the players. From that day food was meticulously studied. Now breakfast and lunch is made with commonsense for the good of an athlete."

Paco Herrera on Rafael Benitez and Liverpool:
"Everything is very detailed and thought through. Rafa lives football 24 hours a day. He has faith in his coaching staff and we had a great team. What they [Liverpool] value is the personality of Rafa. Professionals are respected there and Rafa is hugely respected. Bill Shankly is a myth for them - he is everything. but I think Rafa, in those five years at least, will match what they consider Shankly to be."

John Barnes: Liverpool Can Win All Their Remaining Games And Take Manchester United's Title

"Manchester United’s defeat at Fulham and Liverpool’s home thrashing of Aston Villa has certainly made the title race far more interesting," writes pundit John Barnes.

"Sir Alex Ferguson’s side still look in a good position to win the title, a point in front with their game in hand but after having a look at both team’s remaining fixtures, Liverpool have by far the easier run-in and really do have a great chance of winning the title.

"Prior to seeing the games left to play I would have strongly fancied United to take the title but they face a number of tough fixtures, though most of them are at Old Trafford. When you consider Liverpool’s run-in, only Arsenal at Anfield looks a tough one and when you consider the confidence Rafa’s side have gained from not losing to any of their big four this season, I can easily see Liverpool winning all their remaining games.

"I don’t think United are showing signs of blowing the title despite back-to-back defeats. The talk of indiscipline following three red cards in those games is rubbish too. Take the two sending-offs on Saturday, Paul Scholes handball on the line was a natural reaction and Wayne Rooney would be the same as he was against Fulham whether winning or not. So you can’t say the pressure has got to them, it’s just all come at once.

"A lot has been made of United’s lacking performance at Craven Cottage but you must give credit to Fulham who have shown they are a very good side at home. It also proves that none of the big boys are unbeatable and as I’ve said all along they’ll all drop points as on any day any Premier League side can beat another, such is the strength of the English top division.

"United still have to travel to Boro and Wigan who are both potential banana skins plus host local rivals City, Arsenal, Tottenham and Aston Villa so will do well to take all the points in those games. I still see United dropping more points in the run-in, so it may well depend on whether Liverpool can win all their remaining matches to decide the destination of the Premier League title. Can Rafa’s side take maximum points from their remaining 8 league games? Looking at Liverpool’s remaining games, I believe they can."

Steven Gerrard Hopes To Emulate David Beckham's England Record

Liverpool and England forward Steve Gerrard has spoken today of the high admiration in which he holds AC Milan midfielder David Beckham, and of how he would like to attain a similar number of international caps as the former Manchester United legend.

Beckham will play his 109th game for the Three Lions, should he feature against Solvakia or Ukraine over the next week, and when asked today as to whether he would like to emulate such a record, the Liverpool skipper affirmed, as reported by Liverpool's official website, "Let's hope so. I hope I can stay around the set-up for a long time.

"I love playing for my country and being around the squad. I'm happy with my 70-odd caps but I've missed quite a few with injury, so hopefully I can add a few more in the future.

"It's an unbelievable record to have [David Beckham's record-equalling outfield cap haul]. Let's hope he does break it - he deserves it. He's been a fantastic servant to this country and I'd love to see him break the record."

Gerrard is also hoping to take the recent awesome form of his club side, who have demolished Real Madrid, Manchester United and Aston Villa over the last couple of weeks, into his performances for England over the coming days.

"I'm on a high. Things have been going really well at the club," he added.

"My last performance for England I was really happy with. I was under slight pressure before that game to put in a good performance and I thought I delivered that.

"I missed a few games with injury since then but I've found my form quickly after the latest hamstring injury and at the moment I'm full of confidence."

Ban Overturned: Villa Keeper Friedel Cleared To Face Manchester United And Maintain Record-Breaking Run

The red card Brad Friedel received against Liverpool has been wiped out - clearing the Aston Villa keeper to play against Manchester United after the international break.

An FA panel accepted the goalkeeper's appeal over his dismissal for a challenge on Fernando Torres, which led to a penalty at Anfield during Liverpool's 5-0 romp on Sunday.

Villa were already trailing 4-0 when Friedel was dismissed by Martin Atkinson for bringing down the Spain striker inside the area after 65 minutes.

However, the American argued he went for a 50-50 ball and had nowhere else to go after Torres got their first.

Suspension would have brought an end to the U.S. keeper's Barclays Premier League appearance record of 182 successive games.

Villa boss Martin O’Neill felt Friedel was trying to avoid Torres rather than bring the Spain striker down and will try to get referee Martin Atkinson’s decision overturned.

'I’ve seen the sending off from a better angle and, from Brad’s point of view, I don’t think he’s gone out and made a deliberate attempt to upend him,' said O’Neill.

'In fact, quite the opposite. When Torres touched the ball on, Brad realised he wasn’t going to get it and actually made himself smaller.

'The fact is that the referee interpreted it as a penalty and added the sending off on top of that.'

Arbeloa Jokes That Liverpool Will Knock Barcelona Down A Peg

Alvaro Arbeloa joked today that Liverpool will knock Barcelona down a peg if they meet them in the Champions League.

The defender was talking alongside his Spanish team-mate Xavi, who has been one of the key players for the Catalans this year.

He told AS that Liverpool are feeling good at the moment and they are ready to knock some of the stuffing out of Barcelona.

"We are very well at the moment. We will see if we can hunt down Manchester United in the Premier League and then see if we can cross paths with Barcelona," he mused.

"I have already said to Xavi that we will knock them down a few pegs because they are very high up."

Certainly the Catalans are one of the favourites for the tournament at the moment and Arbeloa acknowledges that they are a good side.

"For me, they are the favourites, I hope we face them. Everybody thinks that they are the ones playing the best. First we need to face a tough task in Chelsea [in the quarter-finals] and then it would be nice to play at the Camp Nou," he said.

Xavi responded in part to some of the comments made by his international team-mate, admitting that the compliments are welcome and that they are indeed playing well.

"They look at us and see we are very strong. As Arbeloa says, Barcelona are the team to beat, therefore we have to be humble, because even though we are in form, the season is long," he explained.

"We have chances in three competitions. One must go step by step in the Champions League because it is decided by details and we have strong opponents in Bayern. In the league and Copa del Rey we are well placed and we are grateful for the compliments."

Steven Gerrard Wants To Extend Liverpool FC Career

Steven Gerrard has revealed he has never been happier in his career than he is at the moment – and wants to prolong his Liverpool career.

The club captain has previously been on the verge of going elsewhere to fulfil ambitions but is determined to remain at Anfield well into his 30s.

Liverpool are still in the race for the Premier League title, closing the gap on leaders Manchester United to just one point after scoring nine goals in successive wins against the defending champions and Aston Villa.

Gerrard scored four times in those victories to ensure a career-best League total of 13 as he spearheads another chase for honours.

He said: "I’ve never been happier than I am at the moment throughout my career. I’m playing in a top team, I’m playing with world-class players and I believe in the manager that, going forward, we can be successful.

"It is important. I do want to be successful. I’m really happy at the club at the moment.

"I’ve got two years left on my contract and if there was a chance to extend that, I’m sure I’d do it."

WIth manager Rafael Benitez sealing a deal to keep him at the club for five more years last week, and Gerrard admits their relationship is getting stronger.

The 28-year-old has had cause for complaint in past seasons when he has been asked to operate in wider or deeper areas.

And although he is revelling in his current role just behind Fernando Torres, he now accepts his previous outlook to where he was being played was "selfish".

"My relationship with Rafa has got stronger and stronger as time’s gone by," Gerrard added. "Maybe when I was a bit younger I was a bit selfish. Thinking of myself a bit too much when he was playing me out of position.

"I should have maybe taken a deep breath and realised it was for the team. But, at the moment, he’s playing me in my favourite position, I’m captain, we’re winning.

"Things at the club are really good. For years and years, I’ve moaned about not being involved in a title race and being far away from the other teams.

"But, at the moment, I’m playing in a team that’s capable of beating anyone in the league."

Gerrard is, however, cautious about getting caught up in the euphoria surrounding Liverpool’s recent re-emergence as genuine contenders.

United still have a game in hand and, on an individual level, are far more adept and experienced at coping with the pressurised demands of the climax to a Premier League title race.

"There’s a good feeling around at the moment but it’s important not to get carried away," Gerrard said.

"Man United are still favourites. If they win their game in hand they’re four points ahead, which is a decent lead at this stage of the season with nine games to go.

"But confidence is high, the momentum is with us. We have to focus on what we’re doing and, if they have another slip-up, we have to capitalise on it."

Gerrard’s exceptional form has just brought more discussion with England about his best position.

And he said: "I would love nothing better than to be given the chance to play there for England to try to find that form."

Such a move by coach Fabio Capello would come at a cost to Wayne Rooney, who has previously been thought of as an automatic choice in the deeper attacking slot.

"Wayne Rooney can play anywhere," was Gerrard’s instant reaction when the potential problem was pointed out.

As Gerrard, David Beckham and Emile Heskey played little part in training yesterday and Peter Crouch was sent for a precautionary scan on a calf injury, it is highly possible Capello will be spared the task of solving the puzzling dilemma on Saturday.

In Belarus last October, Capello chose to start with Gerrard on the left, where Rooney has been slotted in by Sir Alex Ferguson over the years.

"The manager has explained clearly that he doesn’t want me as an out-and-out left winger," said Gerrard.

"He wants me to be free and to go into places where I can cause problems for defenders."

George Gillett: I Won't Sell My Liverpool FC Stake

George Gillett today insisted he is not preparing to sell his stake in Liverpool.

The Reds co-owner was left stunned when speculation surfaced suggesting he could be ready to auction his 50% share in Anfield.

Gillett has appointed financial advisers BMO Capital Markets to examine all his family’s investments across the globe and is believed to be in the market for a buyer for his Montreal Canadiens ice hockey team.

But he insists this is not the beginning of a process which would lead to him selling his stake in Liverpool.

“We have appointed advisers in different countries to assess our assets,” Gillett told the ECHO.

“We have engaged professionals who are doing some asset planning, it has nothing to do with any decisions to sell any assets.

“We may do some recapitalisation, but any links between what we are doing and the situation at Liverpool is incorrect.

“We have made no decision to sell.”

Canadiens president Pierre Boivin had said: “We’re talking about a very large range of firms and assets which are good companies.

“There is Liverpool, Nascar, the Canadiens and the Bell Centre. This could involve refinancing, the arrival of new investors or – purely and simply – the sale of certain assets.

“The process has been started but we're only at the beginning. We’re not hiding it; we’re going through a very difficult economic period.”

One scenario is that Gillett is trying to raise capital to pay off existing debts in the USA while also putting funds together to enable him to refinance his stake in Liverpool.

Gillett and Hicks are due to refinance the £350m debt they have built up on Liverpool in July and in the current economic climate it is unlikely any financial institution would agree to support such a loan unless secured by big personal guarantees.

With reports from the USA also indicating that Hicks is on the lookout for potential minority investors in the Dallas Stars ice hockey team it seems that Liverpool’s co-owners are covering their positions by making sure they have the necessary finance in place to ensure that being bought out on the cheap is not an option.

Last year, Gillett appointed leading investment bank Rothschild’s to hold talks with potential buyers while Hicks asked Merrill Lynch to do the same for him.

Despite interest from investment groups in Dubai, Kuwait and elsewhere no progress was made, primarily because the asking price – believed to be in the region of £500m – was deemed to be too high.

Daniel Agger: Rafa Benitez's New Deal Won't Influence My Liverpool Decision

Liverpool defender Daniel Agger was keen to stress that he will not automatically sign a new contract with the club just because Rafa Benitez did so.

Virtually immediately after putting pen to paper on his new five-year deal, Benitez said that it would be one of his top priorities to ensure that Agger, along with Dirk Kuyt, committed his long-term future to the club as well.

The 24-year-old has been linked with a move away from Anfield in a season which has never quite kicked-off for him due to injury, with AC Milan the most high-profile and determined of his many admirers.

When commenting to Danish news agency Ritzau about Benitez's new deal, Agger said, "Congratulations to him. He has done it well. But I will not sign with Benitez but with the club. That is something that I have to keep in mind."

When pressed on whether the Spaniard's decision to stay on would have a direct bearing on his own future pertaining to a prospective new deal, the ex-Brondby standout responded, "I don't want to get involved in that discussion. But he was the one that brought me to the club."

The Real Reason Why Rafa Benitez Looked So Grumpy Following Liverpool’s Thrashing Of Aston Villa

What a couple of weeks for Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez.

First his nemesis Rick Parry resigns from his position as the club’s chief executive.

Then he sees his team puts four goals past Real Madrid, another four past Manchester United, and then five past Aston Villa in successive games.

And along the way he signs a fat new contract that will bring untold new riches to casa Benitez.

So why was he seen skulking around Anfield on Sunday afternoon muttering about how his reborn, rampant players hadn’t actually performed very well at all, and should in fact have scored more goals?

Could it be that Rafa doesn’t actually want Liverpool to win the Premier League?

Could it be that the Champions League is of such paramount importance in his mind that a tight, tense title run-in could actually jeopardise his side’s progress in Europe?

Nah, of course not. That really would be the behaviour of a man cracking up, right?