Friday, March 27, 2009

Xabi Alonso Distances Himself From Reports Of Real Madrid Move

Xabi Alonso has denied having been approached by Real Madrid’s presidential candidate Florentino Perez over a summer move to the Bernabeu.

Reports in Spain have claimed the Liverpool midfielder is one of several players Perez is promising will be captured as part of his campaign to be re-elected at the club.

Manchester United winger Cristiano Ronaldo and Lyon striker Karim Benzema are also of Perez’s shopping list.

Perez, who presided over the infamous Galacticos era at the Bernabeu between 2000 and 2006, is favourite to depose current president Vicente Boluda during the forthcoming Real Madrid elections.

It has been suggested Perez has already opened talks with his potential signings, but Alonso – currently preparing for his country’s World Cup qualifier against Turkey tomorrow – distanced himself from such talk yesterday.

“I’ve not had any contact with Florentino Perez,” said Alonso. “I don’t like to comment on speculation, but I’m used to these kind of rumours.

“At the present time I am only focused on Spain and on the game with Turkey.”

Liverpool went into the international break having closed the gap on Premier League leaders Manchester United to a single point.

United still have a game in hand and Alonso admits the Old Trafford outfit must still be regarded favourites for the title.

“It’s going to be difficult because we can’t afford to drop many points and we know that United have a very good team,” said the Spaniard.

“They are the main favourites, of course, but we are going to be doing our best to be challenging until the final weeks of the season.

“I think the pressure is on United. They are the champions. They are in the best position and they have that advantage. We have to do our job and try to make things difficult for them.”

Alonso believes Liverpool’s improvement in form has coincided with the Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard rekindling their partnership in attack.

At the moment the team is playing and defending well as a team,” he added. “The partnership between Stevie and Fernando is working well for us.

“Of course Torres is really important for us. When he’s fit he’s a threat for all the defenders and that’s a boost for us.”

Liverpool Defender Jamie Carragher Hails Lower League Academies

The Reds hero is urging people not to forget the grassroots work done at lower league clubs in developing players.

Jamie Carragher, himself a product of Liverpool's youth academy, has hailed the work achieved by small clubs in helping identify and develop young English talent, and has urged the powers-that-be to review the situation that sees clubs lose their Centres of Excellence when they drop out of the league.

Both Cambridge United and Wrexham had thriving academies until the senior sides were relegated from League Two, and Carragher feels that to allow such fine youth set-ups to simply disappear is far from a positive move.

"It is important that young players are getting the opportunity to show what they can do. If they can go on and take their opportunity is up to them, but first and foremost they have to be given a chance, like I was," he told Sky Sports.

"It is important that young players are not lost to the game. They need a chance not only at the top clubs but at the smaller ones as well because there are some good smaller clubs out there who work hard on developing young players."

And the former England international pointed to the example of his former team-mate Danny Murphy, now at Fulham, as evidence that lower league academies produce fine players.

"If you take someone I played with at Liverpool - Danny Murphy - he is the perfect example. He came through the Crewe Academy and went on to play for Liverpool," Carragher said.

"It is important that those type of opportunities are not lost to the game. There are some great smaller clubs out there, like Wrexham and Cambridge, who worked hard with youngsters but then saw their funding disappear when they lost their league status. It is vital that clubs like that are not forgotten."

Kuyt Keen To Turn Up Heat On United

Dirk Kuyt has vowed that Liverpool will give everything to ensure they win all of their remaining Premier League games of the season.

The Reds' recently impressive form, combined with back-to-back defeats for Manchester United, has seen the Merseyside club climb within a point of the leaders.

United, though, boast a game in hand, and Holland striker Kuyt is aware Liverpool must maintain their charge if they are to end a 19-year wait for the title.

He told Sky Sports News: "We know we have to win every league game from now. We have shown we are capable of that, but it will be very difficult. But we will give it a try."

Kuyt also feels that the current international break will work against United, adding: "You have to play your international games and everyone has the same problems.

"I think Man United are not in a great position, too. If you get beaten twice and everybody has to go and play for their country, it is not the best thing."

Kuyt went on to hail Reds captain Steven Gerrard, and backed the England midfielder to be land the Footballer of the Year awards.

"For me, he was always top class. He is the best midfielder in the world," said Kuyt.

"He has got everything. He has got pace, he can score goals, a great shot from outside the box, he can tackle, I could go on and on.

"Stevie is playing exceptional this year. He has made a lot of goals. He is so important for the team. So I think he deserves to win the player of the league."

Ajdarevic Completes Foxes Switch

League One leaders Leicester have signed Sweden Under-17 international Astrit Ajdarevic on loan from Liverpool until the end of the season.

The midfielder joins the Foxes following a spell on trial, which saw him included in the reserve-team that beat an English Colleges XI 3-0 last week.

Ajdarevic signed for Liverpool from Swedish second division side Falkenbergs FF in 2007 and in his first season with the Reds he helped them win the FA Youth Cup.

"We have taken the option to take Astrit on loan to give us the chance to take a further look at him. We will see how things progress," Leicester manager Nigel Pearson told the club's official website.

Terriers Sign Liverpool Defender

Huddersfield Town have landed highly-rated Liverpool youngster Martin Kelly on loan until the end of the season.

Terriers boss Lee Clark was delighted to sign the 18-year-old central defender, who recently signed a new deal at Anfield and believes it could help them land the player next season.

"I am delighted to have him here for the rest of the season, as it allows us to have a look at him with a view to a potential loan move in the future," Clark told the club's official website.

"He is from the Liverpool school so he is obviously comfortable on the ball, but he also has real pace and genuinely enjoys defending."

Alonso: Reds Can Pip United To Title

Xabi Alonso claims Liverpool have demonstrated they are superior to Manchester United in this season's two matches between the title rivals.

The Spanish schemer admits United are still favourites to retain their Premier League crown but the events of the past few weeks have certainly opened up the race.

Liverpool's sensational 4-1 victory at Old Trafford was followed by United losing at Fulham the following weekend, as Rafa Benitez's men thumped Aston Villa 5-0 to close the gap at the top to just a solitary point.

Earlier in the campaign Liverpool also stole bragging rights at Anfield as they claimed a 2-1 victory on Merseyside.

United still have a game in hand on their North West rivals, but Alonso sees no reason why a 19-year wait for the title could not be sated this season.

"We can win the Premier League. It is far more likely than a month ago when we were a lot of points behind," he told the Daily Star.

"Liverpool have demonstrated this season that they are superior to United in the two matches between the teams.

"Nobody could dispute that, but now it is a real race for the title.

"It is not impossible to imagine that we could win all of our next eight matches while United lose two.

"But we know that we need to remain calm and to play without any real pressure or fear.

"United know what it is like to play under pressure, but they have shown there are some cracks in the last two games, and we will be ready to pounce.

"Every game is going to be vital from now on."

Alonso concedes Liverpool must win their remaining eight league games in order to have a realistic chance of the title.

"In our dressing room we are trying to remain calm. We know we need to take 24 points from a possible 24 so we need to be ice-cool about it. That is our challenge," he added.

"Mentally we are prepared to fight for the league and Champions League.

"United are defending champions and I feel they will be more nervous.

"It could be a very emotional end to the season for us and after such a long time to win the league would be fantastic.

"I feel we deserve it by the way we have already played this season, particularly in the big games."

Liverpool Boss Benitez Offers Public Support At Launch Of Commemorative Hillsborough CD

The Reds boss hugged members of victims' families and affirmed the club's remembrance at the release event today for a new CD commemorating the dreadful events of 20 years ago.

Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez was today attending an event to launch the release of a special CD - recorded by Liverpool-based musicians - that hopes to further raise awareness of the terrible incident that took place at an FA Cup semi-final almost exactly 20 years ago.

Nottingham Forest faced Liverpool at Sheffield Wednesday's Hillsborough ground, and a horrifying terrace crush at the Leppings Lane end of the stadium resulted in the deaths of 96 people, a tragedy that changed the face of English football, leading directly to the creation of the Premier League and the advent of all-seater stadia.

Now, Liverpool musician Peter Hooton, formerly of 90's group The Farm, along with other Scouse musical luminaries such as John Power (formerly of The La's and Cast) and members of Echo & the Bunnymen, and Starsailor, have released a version of 'The Fields of Anfield Road', itself a reworking of the Irish folk song 'The Fields of Athenry', that includes a reference to the disaster amongst its verses paying tribute to Reds legends. All profits from sales of the track, also available in digital formats, will be donated to The Hillsborough Families' Support Group.

Featured on the single is the 'Kop Choir', consisting of former Liverpool players Kenny Dalglish, Phil Thompson, John Aldridge, Bruce Grobbelaar, Howard Gayle and Alan Kennedy, all adding their vocal talents to the choruses.

Benitez was on hand today to lend his support to the release, saying, "I think it’s important to show support for the fans and the families."

The Spaniard also recalled the first time he attended a remembrance ceremony relating to the disaster, adding, "It was very emotional for me, for all the players, it was something we will never forget.

"I think you can feel it (the loss) in every single game, what it means for the fans."

Musician Hooton, a noted Reds fan of many years, was a keen follower of the club home and away in the 80's, also highlighted the project's positive aspects, saying, "A lot of people have volunteered to get involved. It is a reworking of a Kop classic and I hope it raises awareness of the Hillsborough disaster and is a fitting tribute to the 96 and the survivors."

The idea to produce the track came from the city of Liverpool's Lord Mayor, Steve Rotherham, who was at the game in Sheffield where the tragedy occurred, and he indicated his hopes for the project, stating, "Hillsborough affected so many lives, not just on Merseyside but across the whole of the UK. I attended the match 20 years ago and the passing years do not diminish the poignancy of the occasion.

"I approached a number of Liverpool’s music legends and they immediately offered their services for free.

"The Lord Mayor’s charity is funding the production costs and we aim to raise a much bigger sum to benefit the families of the 96 who died."

The single will be available from Liverpool's club shop and in digital formats online.

Hicks Looks To Strengthen Hold At Liverpool By Selling Baseball Shares

Liverpool's co-owner Tom Hicks has moved to strengthen his position at Anfield by putting part of his shares in the Major League Baseball team Texas Rangers up for sale.

The Texan recently reiterated his desire to remain at Liverpool, which he has owned alongside fellow American George Gillett since February 2007, but is struggling to meet the financial requirements of doing so, particularly as Gillett is reluctant to put any more money into the club and would rather sell up.

Hicks would ideally like to buy Gillett's 50% share and his announcement today that he is willing to give up some of his stake in the Rangers is believed to be geared towards seizing full control at Liverpool.

"I've been quietly looking for minority investors to come back into the ownership of the Rangers as a way to be prudent in a bad economy," said Hicks, who also owns NHL side Dallas.

"I'm doing the same thing with the Stars. At the end of the day, I'll still have 51-to-60% of the ball club and have new partners. That doesn't change anything. I own 95% of the Rangers. I started out owning 55% and over the past 10 years I've been slowly buying out partners that wanted to sell. There's no reason to own 95%. There aren't many owners who own 95%."

Tears Flow As Liverpool FC Stars Gather For Launch Of Hillsborough Anniversary Record

The world premiere of a song recorded to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster took place in Liverpool yesterday.

Former Anfield stars, musicians and families who lost loved ones in Sheffield gathered at The Picket club to listen to the first airing of The Fields Of Anfield Road.

The song, which has a specially-added Hillsborough verse, was played to an emotionally-charged audience.

There were tears in the eyes of ex-players John Aldridge, Phil Thompson and Howard Gayle, and the watching Hillsborough families, as they mouthed the words to the track.

The poignant video showed the singers in Liverpool’s Elevator Studios with Kenny Dalglish, Alan Kennedy and Bruce Grobbelaar all taking part.

Anfield manager Rafael Benitez also attended the launch and said: “I think it is important to show support for the fans and the families.

“When we went to the ceremony, it was amazing.

“It was very emotional and for me, for all the new players, it was something we will never forget.

“I think you can feel it [the emotion] in every single game, what it means for the fans. It is a very good song and Liverpool fans sing it better than anyone.”

On stage, Benitez hugged Pat Joynes, who lost her son Nicholas, 27, in the tragedy. She said: “He said to me he was pleased to meet me and it was a very good way to remember the 96.

“He said they will always be in Liverpool’s hearts.”

Ex-La’s and Cast singer John Power provided the lead vocal and said: “Musically, I am happy with the way the song came out.

“The most important thing is the 20th anniversary and the injustice which was committed.

“We are not looking to change the world, but it is a fitting tribute and the least we could do.”

The owner of the copyright to both The Fields of Anfield Road and the original Irish classic, Fields of Athenry, both waived a fee for the new single.

All proceeds from the record will go to the Hillsborough Family Support Group.

Denise Horn, who lost her brother Gordon, 20, at Hillsborough, said: “The song is really good and it is important to keep their memory going.

“I will be buying it and I am sure it will get to number one. It is poignant because Gordon would have been 40 yesterday.”

Peter Hooton, of The Farm, was at the forefront of the project and was joined by Mick Head, of Shack, Nick Kilroe, from Echo and the Bunnymen, and Rob Taylor, of the Troubadours.

The idea first came from Lord Mayor, Cllr Steve Rotheram.

The extra Hillsborough verse added to the song goes: “Beside the Hillsborough flame, I hear the Kopite mourning. Why so many taken on that day? Justice has never been done, but the memories will carry on.”

The CD will be sold exclusively at Liverpool FC official stores priced at £2 and can be downloaded from iTunes from April 6 for 79p.

Pete Wylie, Elvis Costello and James Walsh have contributed B-sides.

Former Liverpool player Phil Thompson said: “Listening to the Kop sing this makes the hairs stand on the back of your neck.

“We did enjoy making it, but it was emotional and there were a lot of proud people in that studio.

“It is community – Liverpool FC is a family. We will keep together and stick together. We have not forgotten about Hillsborough and we still have not had answers.”

Chelsea's Frank Lampard Says He Can Work Wirh Liverpool FC Captain Steven Gerrard

Frank Lampard is ready to sacrifice his natural attacking tendencies to ensure that he and Steven Gerrard can finally work together in England’s midfield.

The Chelsea star has been playing a more disciplined holding role since Fabio Capello took charge of the national team 15 months ago.

It has allowed Gerrard to do more of the attacking, although he was asked to play out of position on the left wing in his last international appearances against Kazakhstan and Belarus.

Capello’s predecessors, Sven-Goran Eriksson and Steve McClaren, both failed to find a way of utilising the pair but Lampard insists the Italian has found the key.

"The way Capello works is very authoritative," said Lampard. "Other managers will sit you down and ask how this or that is going, whereas he will just tell us how we’re going to do it. I am playing a different role. It is much more of a holding position, while Steven has been asked to play more on the left, but to be fair it’s worked.

"There had to be a re-jigging of the midfield because it wasn’t working. I do want to get forward because that is my natural game but I will try to adapt."