Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Gerrard Lifts Fans' Award

Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard has been named the PFA Fans' Player of the Year for 2009 following a superb season for the Reds.

The Anfield skipper, who has picked up three monthly awards this season, can now add the title of PFA Fans' Player of the Year 2009 to his ever-growing list of honours.

England midfielder Steven was the first ever winner of the annual fans' player award back in 2001 and this latest tribute shows that his popularity is as great as ever.

There's no bigger fan of the inspirational Liverpool star than PFA chief executive Gordon Taylor: "Steven has always been a particular favourite of mine and I was delighted when he was nominated by his fellow pros for our Players' Player of the Year award.

"Obviously, that particular award went to Ryan Giggs, and rightly so, and I am equally thrilled that football fans up and down the country, givemefootball readers, have acknowledged Steven in this way.

"Like his many supporters and suitors, I have the utmost respect and admiration for the way he continues to go about his business. He is a top pro and a worthy winner."

Rafael Benitez Targets New Striker For Liverpool

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez has revealed that one of his top priorities in the transfer market at the end of the season will be the acquisition of a new forward.

The Spanish tactician splashed out £20 million for Robbie Keane last summer, but the Republic of Ireland international returned to Tottenham Hotspur in January having failed to settle in at Anfield.

The Reds boss says he has not been put off by the episode and neither does he believe that it will make potential targets wary of joining the Merseyside outfit.

It appears that Benitez favours a system whereby Fernando Torres plays up front with Steven Gerrard just behind, but he insists he needs, and wants, top quality cover for his attacking duo.

"I don’t think it is going to be a problem – I think we will manage," Benitez is quoted as saying by The Daily Post when asked about the Robbie Keane saga.

"We have been working hard identifying players, it is just a question of signing the right ones, but I am confident we will.

"Everyone knows how good Torres and Gerrard are, and they do play very well together. But we have 60 games or so a season.

"That means there are going to be plenty of chances for everyone, so I don’t think it would be a problem."

The 49-year-old also suggested that he has not confined captain Gerrard to playing just off Torres, insisting he is good enough to play in a variety of positions.

"Stevie is an intelligent player and he knows he can play on the right, middle or left, as well as a second striker, so we will have options," he said

"He’s clever and has matured, so we just have to make sure we use his quality in the best way for the team. I don’t think that makes a big difference, it doesn’t matter what position he’s in."

Competition Improves Me - Lucas

Liverpool's Lucas Leiva believes competition for places in the Reds midfield has made him a better player.

The 22-year-old Brazil international midfielder has played a supporting role to Javier Mascherano and Xabi Alonso at Anfield this season.

He told BBC Radio Merseyside: "It's good because when you are fighting with players like Alonso and Javier. You try to improve every day.

"You know if you don't improve it will be impossible to play."

Lucas, who has scored three goals in 36 appearances for Liverpool this season, has not always been met with universal approval from Liverpool fans.

The former Brazil Under-20 captain believes it is too early to compare him to his more experienced midfield team-mates at Anfield.

"I am learning, but Steven Gerrard is 29, Alonso is almost 28, Javier is almost 25 and I'm 22 so I'm young and I have to enjoy this time and to learn with them.

"Hopefully in one or two years I will be a key player also," said Lucas.

Lucas believes he is beginning to show the faith that manager Rafa Benitez placed in him on signing from Gremio in 2007.

"When I don't start I play some minutes, which shows how confident Rafa is in my quality.

"I know not everybody trusts in me but I don't care. I have said before I just care about the team, (and) the staff.

"If they are happy in me I will show, as soon as possible, my real quality."

Rafael Benitez: Robbie Keane Experience Will Not Put Pff New Liverpool Signings

Rafael Benitez believes he will have no trouble attracting new players to Liverpool despite Robbie Keane's futile attempts to win a regular first-team place.

Keane, who signed for £20 million from Tottenham Hotspur last summer and was sold back at a loss just six months later, failed to dislodge either Steven Gerrard or Fernando Torres from Benitez's first-choice attack.

The Liverpool manager has been linked with a host of international forwards as he attempts to provide his favoured pairing with the necessary support to launch another Premier League title challenge next season.

Valencia winger David Silva, Almeria striker Alvaro Negredo and Tottenham's Aaron Lennon are all thought to be on Benitez's radar.

But the experiences of Keane may prove chastening for any player hoping to establish themselves as a fixture in Benitez's unpredictable line-ups.

The Irish international, the club's second most expensive signing to date, made just 17 domestic starts and found himself out in the cold whenever Torres and Gerrard were both available.

But despite the duo's form over the last two years, and an almost telepathic understanding between them, Benitez insists he will try to augment his squad this summer. He expects that challenging for four trophies will provide enough games to ensure there is no repeat of the Keane situation.

He said: "Everybody knows they are very good players and play well together but normally there are 60 games a year and that is enough for everyone.

"Our squad has shown it is better this year and it will improve if we can add the right players to our strong spine. Next year will be even better if we add top-class players.

"It is important to remember that Steven can also play as a midfielder, so if the other players are of the right quality, you can manage the situation.

"He can play on the right, the left, as a second striker or in the midfield. He is a clever player and has quality. As long as we use that quality, it doesn't matter where he plays."

It is hard to imagine Gerrard regularly reverting to a deeper role than the one in which he has shone for his club, especially after Benitez warned Europe's giants they were "wasting their time" trying to lure Javier Mascherano away from Anfield.

The Spaniard revealed that "four or five clubs" are interested in the Argentina captain, but insisted Mascherano "knows the best option for him is this club, where he is an idol to the fans and important to the team and the manager".

Benitez is equally determined to keep hold of Xabi Alonso, despite interest from Juventus and Real Madrid, and is likely to revive his move for Gareth Barry, the Aston Villa player, as an alternative to, not a replacement for, the Basque.

Benitez is confident he will be able to sign Barry for around £9 million after Villa missed out on Champions League qualification.

Ian Rush: Daniel Agger Deal Can Be Vital For Liverpool FC

Rafa Benitez deserves a lot of credit for getting Daniel Agger’s future sorted out because there was a time when it looked like he could end up leaving Liverpool.

Contracts are never easy to agree, particularly in the modern game.

It’s very rare these days that a deal will be struck really quickly in the way that Steven Gerrard’s was, but the situation with Agger was becoming increasingly worrying because there didn’t seem to be any real signs that an agreement would be reached.

But Rafa has come up with a deal that Agger is happy with – and this can only be good news for everyone at Anfield.

Agger is a young player with a lot of potential and I think he could become a very important part of Liverpool’s future.

It’s obvious to say that the most important part of being a defender is being able to defend and Agger can certainly do that.

He reads the game well, gets into good positions to make tackles and is decent in the air.

But he also brings something different in that he is so comfortable on the ball that he can easily add to Liverpool’s midfield numbers on days when teams come to Anfield and don’t go beyond the halfway line.

If you have a player like Agger who can bring the ball out of defence it can make a massive difference, as I know from my own experience at Liverpool.

We were really fortunate to have a player like Alan Hansen who would break out of central defence and link up with play higher up the pitch.

This was a really effective tactic for us, particularly when our opponents would try to play for a draw.

The fact that we had a centre back who could start attacks meant that it was more difficult for us to be stopped and I think that Agger can do a similar job for the current team.

I wouldn’t like to compare him with Hansen, although there are obvious similarities, and Agger has the potential to score a lot more goals than Alan ever did!

We have already seen the power of his shooting on several occasions and I think there are quite a few more goals to come from him because his technique is excellent.

He is still learning but hopefully he is over his injures, because if Agger’s progress continues he can become a very important player for Liverpool.

Tommy Smith: Liverpool's Sami Hyypia Right To Carry On Playing

I can completely understand Sami Hyypia’s decision to carry on playing.

It was one I took myself at the end of my Anfield career and I never regretted it.

In 1978 both myself and Ian Callaghan got a call from John Toshack to come and join Swansea, where he was the manager.

Cally and I had two great years there before I hung up my boots - and we managed to get promoted twice.

The fans were great and we got a lot of respect because of the years we had spent at Liverpool.

The standard of football might not have been quite as good as we were used to but we both wanted to carry on enjoying the game as long as we could and Swansea gave us the perfect opportunity and some great memories.

Sami, likewise still has plenty to offer and isn’t ready to quit. I suspect he did not want to sign for anyone who might end up playing Liverpool and there’s not much chance of that happening.

I understand Rafa Benitez is disappointed he could not persuade him to say a bit longer but his chances of first team action are going to be very limited - even though he showed against United how good a player he still is.

He was magnificent that memorable day at Old Trafford, just as he has been throughout his whole Liverpool career.

He’s had one or two ups and downs I know but as the boss said, he is the model pro and it would be great to see him back at Anfield one day in a coaching capacity if possible.

But that’s for another day.

You are usually out of this game for much longer than you are in it and that’s why you hear so many retired professionals urging players to keep going as long as they can.

Sami’s taking the advice - and while we’ll all miss the big fella Leverkusen are making a terrific capture.

WE might be running out of games to catch Manchester United now but we’re certainly not running out of belief or form.

Three more goals against a very poor Newcastle side safely claimed the points on Sunday and but for the most stubborn crossbar of the season it could have been six.

Now we go to West Ham on Saturday with another chance to put pressure on United before their derby match with City on Sunday.

West Ham have improved under Zola but I’m still confident we’ll go there and get the three points.

If they want to get it down and play football, then we’ve obviously got the game to match them and more. But if the Hammers want to mix it a bit then I believe we’ve got a side under Benitez that can win a scrap too.

Hopefully Torres will be back and if we can go on and close the gap at the top again this weekend, then this title is still possible.

No one is going to be happy with second place and neither should anyone at Liverpool be. But if that’s where the Reds end up, it will still be a sign of good progress and an encouraging signal for next season.

But this one isn’t over yet and hope is not lost.

A good result against the Hammers lads and you just never, ever know!

Playing Is Sami Hyypia’s Priority Before Possible Liverpool FC Comeback

Sami Hyypia has revealed a desire for regular first-team football was behind his decision to leave Liverpool after 10 years – but he has not ruled out a return to Anfield in a coaching capacity.

The veteran defender will join German club Bayer Leverkusen on a two-year deal when his current contract expires in the summer.

And the Finland star has revealed he did not want manager Rafael Benitez to make promises he could not be sure of keeping over the amount of games he would be able to play next season.

The 35-year-old faces stiff competition from Jamie Carragher, Daniel Agger and Martin Skrtel and has not played for Liverpool since the 4-1 win at Manchester United in March.

Hyypia said: “The main reason is I still think I’m young enough to play football and I know chances to play here would be limited.

“I spoke to the manager and I didn’t want him to make promises about how many games I would play but this season has been mentally very difficult. I haven’t played a lot and playing is what I enjoy most.

“I understand it isn’t possible to play enough games here for me to be happy, so I had to look elsewhere.

“I got the option to go abroad to Bayer Leverkusen. The whole package was good, they have big plans for me and hopefully I can go there and help them to be successful.”

Benitez offered Hyypia another year’s contract and the chance to join the coaching staff, but the defender wants to concentrate on playing as long as he can.

He said: “Leaving is very difficult because from day one I have felt at home here. I have had good relationships with the club, with the staff and all the players who have been here over the last 10 years. It’s difficult to leave but my reasons are all professional. I still want to play football.

“Ten years is a long time to spend at one club. My family are settled here and I know it will be stressful moving with them into a new house in a new country. But the professional side drove this decision. It’s a new challenge and I will give it everything to be successful in Germany.”

Benitez has described Hyypia as “the perfect professional”, and Hyypia added: “He (Benitez) wished me good luck.

“We had a number of discussions and the possibility of a coaching role was mentioned but I don’t feel ready for that yet. I feel I still have a few more years in my legs to play football.

“We have had a lot of ups and downs during my time here but I have so many great memories and Liverpool will be my English club forever. Obviously, I’ll miss the fans a lot and I’d like to take this opportunity to say thank you to them all.

“They still sing my name when I’m warming up or playing and that’s always good to hear. It’s sad to be leaving but I’ll be back one day to watch some games and maybe see them all again.

“Coaching is something which has always been in my mind but I have to take my badges first. At the end of my playing career I will look to take the badges and then see. I would like to come back here one day as a coach.”

Heerenveen's Danijel Pranjic Admits Interest In Joining Liverpool

Heerenveen winger Danijel Pranjic has revealed that he would be delighted to join a club of Liverpool's stature.

Recent speculation has claimed that the Reds have identified the 20-time capped Croatia international as an end of season transfer target.

While the 27-year-old has moved to deny having any knowledge of the Merseyside outfit's alleged interest, he admits a move to Anfield is very appealing.

"I still don’t know, that is a difficult question to answer," Pranjic told Omroep Friesland when asked who he thinks he will be plying his trade for next season.

"I have to wait until the transfer period and then I will see.

"That was yesterday in Croatia. In every newspaper they called me and I was live on television and they heard something about Liverpool but I cannot say anything about it.

"It was in the newspaper that is all I know. Yes of course [it would be a dream club]."

The versatile left-sided midfielder, who can also play as a wing-back, has been in terrific form for Heerenveen this season, scoring 16 goals in 29 Eredivisie appearances, as well as weighing in with seven assists.

Primera Division rivals Sevilla and Real Betis have also been linked with the former Dinamo Zagreb star.

Dossena Will Stay And Fight For Liverpool Place

Italian defender Andrea Dossena is only focused on making his mark at Liverpool despite speculation he could be off-loaded in the summer.

With suggestions Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez may have to sell before he can buy ahead of next season, Dossena's inconsistent form has put him at the head of many lists to depart.

The full-back joined the Reds from Udinese for £6million last summer and looked off the pace for much of the season before finding his place as a left-sided midfielder, a position from which he scored against both Real Madrid and Manchester United.

"When I arrived I didn't understand the language or the football here. I found a lot of differences between English and Italian football," Dossena said.

"Here there is a higher intensity on the pitch and you have less time to think.

"In Italy you have more space, you have more time and the football is not as physical as it is here.

"But I have worked each day to adapt to the differences and now it is better for me. I've made progress with my English as well and it's much better than it was at the start of the season.

"I can understand what the boss wants from me and I know my team-mates much better."

The 27 year-old has faced stiff competition for the left-back role from Fabio Aurelio and Emiliano Insua this season, but Dossena feels opposition for places is commonplace at a club of Liverpool's stature.

He said: "In every big team in Europe competition is normal, even at the likes of AC Milan and Barcelona.

"But I am friends with all my team-mates and there is a good atmosphere in the dressing room.

"Fabio is a typical Brazilian player with 'good feet' and ability, while Emiliano is young and I have a lot of time for him. I believe he will develop into a great player."

Kenny Dalglish Thanks To Stars Over Hillsborough Memorial Game

Kenny Dalglish today paid glowing tribute to the long list of legends and celebrities who have pledged to turn out at Anfield next week for the Hillsborough 20th Anniversary Memorial game.

World boxing great Joe Calzaghe will be among a host of famous names to appear at Anfield next Thursday night, including Robbie Fowler and Paul Gascoigne plus a long list of former Everton and Liverpool greats.

Kop legend Fowler has promised to fly in from Australia, where he is now playing with A-League side North Queensland, to take part in a Liverpool Legends v All Stars encounter.

Other top names on show in the match will include Dalglish himself, Alan Hansen, Dave Watson, Alan Stubbs, Gary Gillespie, Trevor Steven and Graham Stuart.

Singer Craig David and Nicky Byrne from Westlife are among a line-up of celebrities who will also play in the match - which will pay tribute to the 96 victims of the Leppings Lane disaster in 1989 while also raising money for the Marina Dalglish appeal to help build a £15m radiotherapy unit at Aintree Hospital in Fazakerley.

Dalglish said: “The support from everyone for this game has been truly amazing and I must thank every one of the lads for agreeing to come along and play.

“I’ve never seen Joe Calzaghe play football before but he is one of boxing’s all time greats with a magnificent unbeaten record - and anyway someone said he should add a fair bit of punch up front!

“Robbie is flying in from Australia and Gazza will be there too.

“Everyone has been magnificent since being approached and the intention is to put on a real good game for the fans to come along and really enjoy.”

Nigel Clough and Des Walker, who both played for Nottingham Forest during the ill-fated FA Cup semi final match against Liverpool 20 years ago, will also be turning out.

Former Liverpool keeper Paul Harrison, whose father Gary and uncle Stephen were among the 96 killed at Hillsborough, will play in goal for the Reds.

Added Dalglish: “I think people understand that the money we are raising from this game will help provide a wonderful, world class facility with state of the art medical equipment here in Liverpool.

“Right now an awful lot of people have to travel very long distances to Clatterbridge for radiotherapy treatment and it can be a long and difficult journey for a lot of people.

“Hopefully the people of Merseyside, who have been brilliant and so generous down the years, will come along and show their magnificent support yet again.

“There’ll be a real family feel to the occasion and a few laughs no doubt - but rest assured everyone will take the game seriously.

“Certainly the celebs like Nicky, Craig Johnny Wlkes and Gethin Jones, who won Strictly Come dancing, can all play a fair bit.”