Saturday, May 16, 2009

Steven Gerrard Aims For Successful 2010 With Liverpool FC And England

Steven Gerrard has vowed to turn 2010 into the greatest season of his life by winning the World Cup with England and the title with Liverpool – just like Roger Hunt did more than 40 years ago.

Gerrard admits he may have to put the frustration of this year’s championship race behind him as he looks ahead to two crucial World Cup qualifiers for his country in June.

But he is being inspired by the memories of England glory days of old.

Back in 1966 England won their only World Cup – and it came only weeks after Liverpool had been crowned champions in the league.

England and Liverpool striker Hunt famously picked up both medals and a similar double next year would make Gerrard the happiest man on the planet.

“Roger was a fantastic player,” reflected the midfielder, who was speaking on a visit to Christ the King school in Huyton on behalf of England sponsors Nationwide Building Society.

“It’s a bit before my time but my dad has certainly made me aware of how good Roger was.

“If I can go on and emulate what he achieved in 1966 next year, you will certainly see a happy Steven Gerrard come the end of the World Cup! It would be the best year of my career.”

The longer time passes with no-one to step in for the heroes of 66, the more distant the actual prize seems to get.

Seeing the aura Sir Bobby Charlton still attracts proves any success enjoyed at club level is eclipsed by England.

Yet, as Liverpool seem certain to reach 19 years without the championship and United stand on the brink of equalling their record of 18 triumphs, Gerrard feels it is time to be greedy.

“To win the league and then go on and win the World Cup, that’s what dreams are made of,” he said.

Liverpool FC Boss Rafa Benitez Hoping For Favour From Arsenal

By half past two this afternoon, either Liverpool’s Premier League dream will be over or they will have been handed an unlikely lifeline.

Manchester United need just a point from their lunchtime clash with Arsenal to equal the Reds’ record of 18 league titles.

Arrangements have been made to present the trophy at Old Trafford today but Rafa Benitez wasn’t prepared to throw the towel in yesterday.

The Spaniard believes the Gunners are capable of doing Liverpool a favour and ensuring there is something still riding on tomorrow’s trip to relegation-threatened West Brom.

“We have to think positively,” Benitez insisted.

“Arsenal are a good team with quality and after the defeats they have had in the last two games they have something to prove.

“Arsene Wenger is a winner and he will want to get a result. It could be a tough game for United.

“Hopefully we will still have a chance on Sunday. If the title race is still on we will fight for that, otherwise we will fight for second place.

“All we can do is think about getting three points in our game.”

If United wrap things up today the Reds will be consigned to a third successive trophyless campaign.

However, Benitez insists his players should be proud of the progress made at Anfield this season. Victory at The Hawthorns tomorrow would secure their best ever points return in the Premier League.

“It’s always important to have targets,” he said.

“We have 80 points and 82 is our best total in history. To get 83 would be fantastic but 86 would be even better.

“We have to be really pleased to be in this position at this stage of the season.

“We are playing well, scoring lots of goals and that is really positive for the future.

“Some people talk about trophies but in the Premier League it is not easy.

“There is Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal. In the future maybe Manchester City, Tottenham, Aston Villa will be challenging.

“It’s not easy but to be contenders is the key. If you are 20 points behind you have no chance but this year we are so close and that’s good news for the future.

“Before people talked about us as a team for the Cup or the Champions League, now we’ve shown we’re a team for the Premier League.

“Now we have to wait and see what happens at Old Trafford. Hopefully Arsenal will do the right things for us.

“If not we have to look to improve for next season, while keeping the same mentality and confidence.”

Benitez insists the fact that Liverpool have kept up their pursuit of United until this stage of the season is an achievement in itself considering the financial gulf between the two clubs.

“United are in this position because they have won more games than us and been more consistent,” he said.

“You can analyse and look at how they have won a lot of games 1-0 but the fact is the better team will be the one at the end with the most points.

“When you talk about United you are talking about a top side who have been spending big money on a lot of top class players. That’s the main difference between them and the other teams.

“They can make mistakes and they can change players without anyone noticing.

“If you remember our game against them they had Giggs, Scholes and Berbatov on the bench.

“We cannot do things like this. We have to have Gerrard and Torres out there all the time.

“They can play Berbatov, Rooney, Ronaldo or Tevez. That means big money and that’s because they have 75,000 fans in their stadium every week.

“There is a massive difference in the money they have got but on the pitch we are reducing the gap. We’ve made progress and clearly have to be really proud of the team’s performance this season.

“We have to be positive but it doesn’t mean next year will be easier. Every year is different and in the summer we have to ensure we do the right things.

“We will need to bring in new players to keep up the competition for places.”

If Liverpool’s title push does fall short Benitez knows critics will point to the home draws against the likes of Stoke, Hull, West Ham and Fulham.

“I agree maybe they cost us but in some of these games we had maybe 20 or 25 attempts on goal and their keeper was man of the match,” he added.

“We just didn’t take our chances and we had bad luck.

“Against Stoke we had an early goal disallowed and that could have made a massive difference.

“In the home games against Newcastle and Blackburn we scored in the first half and then those games were easy.

“The fact is are in the position we deserve to be.”

Real Success Means Silverware - Liverpool FC Star Xabi Alonso

If he was around today, Bill Shankly would be proud of Xabi Alonso.

For while a season of genuine progress at Anfield may be good enough for some, it is certainly nowhere near good enough for the Spanish midfielder who clearly subscribes to the famous Shanklyism about first being first and second being nowhere.

With just two games remaining the chances of Liverpool winning the title have all but run out and Alonso cannot hide his disappointment that the wait for the league championship to be paraded at Anfield now looks set to go into a 20th year.

“In terms of the Premier League it has been better than it has before but if you don’t win anything you can't consider it to be a good season,” he said.

“We have to be disappointed with ourselves, try to be critics and try to analyse the things that we haven’t done properly.

“Of course you also have to think that we have made progress in the Premier League and we have to keep working on this basis but you also know that success means winning trophies for Liverpool.

“It’s very painful to look back and think of the draws that we had and the two defeats we have had also.

“It’s only natural to think where would we be if we had managed to get another good result?

“But then all the teams in the Premier League can say the same thing.”

As was the case last summer, Alonso’s Liverpool future has been the subject of much speculation in recent weeks with suggestions that he could be sacrificed by Rafa Benitez to fund squad rebuilding.

Arsenal and Man City are both reported to be potential suitors but it is Real Madrid whose interest is strongest with presidential candidate having identified Alonso as the player he wants to build a new midfield around at the Bernabeu.

But the man himself remains sanguine about the situation, prefering to focus his thoughts on Liverpool’s future rather than his own.

He said: “I have seen this kind of situation so many times in my career and at the moment it is just speculation and rumours and you can't be talking about them because there is nothing more than this so far.

“It is more important at this time to think of how we can be even better this season and this probably means keeping the good basis that we have settled on this season and by trying to go a little bit further.

“Also by trying to make sure that we take all three points in games where we are maybe not at our best and then maybe at the end of the season this could make a big difference.”

In recent weeks, it looks like that very penny has begun to drop at Anfield with Liverpool having won eight and drawn one of their last nine league games in a run which has allowed them to push Man United all the way in the title race.

Their attacking play has been reinvigorated with 38 goals scored in their last dozen fixtures and though not obsessed with hitting the back of the net himself Alonso is delighted with the way improved collective confidence has resulted in improved output.

“I think it’s a state of mind more than anything,” he said. “Whenever you are confident all the players are in the mood to score goals, not just the usual names.

“We have had different players scoring goals in this week and that is good and overall the attacking play has been good.

“I am not obsessed with trying to score 15 goals or 10 goals myself. If I can help by scoring goals then that would be great, of course but my responsibility in the team is probably a different one because of the position and the job that I have to do on the pitch.”

Alonso is hoping to be back in action on Sunday when Liverpool travel to West Brom after an ankle injury suffered in a challenge by Newcastle’s Joey Barton meant he missed last weekend’s win over West Ham.

Though disappointed at the way the injury came about and aware of the fact that Barton was the sixth player to be sent off for a foul on him this season, the 27-year-old insists that he is not being deliberately targeted by opposition teams.

He said: “Whenever you can't control and injury you are going to be really disappointed but when it is a harsh tackle you are probably going to be even more disappointed.

“It wasn’t in the right moment and it wasn’t a fair tackle.

“But I don’t think that other teams are targeting me. I think it is just part of the game, challenges happen all the time.

“I’m not scared of course because if you want to play in England then you have to understand this part of the game. I know that the physical approach is very strong here and you can't avoid going into tackles or challenging for the ball.”

While no team prizes appear to be headed Liverpool’s way this season, Steven Gerrard has at least scooped a personal accolade by being named football writers player of the year, an award Alonso feels his captain fully deserves.

“I think that it is totally deserved after the season that Steven has played,” he added.

“He has scored so many important goals for the team and he is a very important player for us.

“We all know his qualities – he has great power, great spirit, he is a very complete player who can defend as well as attack.

“And whenever you need an important goal he delivers so many times and because of this it makes things much easier for the team.

“This season he has been playing in a slightly different role, more as a second striker than as a traditional midfielder, and I think this is a position that suits him really well.”

Dirk Kuyt Warns Rivals That Liverpool Will Be Serious Title Contenders Next Season

Consider the master Dutch footballers - Cruyff, Van Basten, Van Persie - all incredibly gifted but also temperamental and a touch arrogant.

And Dirk Kuyt? He is the complete opposite - a dedicated team man with a super-human work-rate, rock-solid temperament and modesty to the point of shyness.

His self-deprecating humour is so strong that he will readily tell you how different he is to the stereotype Dutch footballer.

"I have heard the jokes that I can't be from Holland, and I know that I am not a typical Dutch player. Maybe I am different to the typical Dutch character too," he said.

"I'm from a fishing village where you have to work really hard, at sea five or six days a week, come home for one day and then be off working even for weeks at a time, so the mentality comes from that I think.

"That is my character, which is what the Liverpool fans see. But if you are talking football-wise then I am definitely not a typical Dutch player.

"You think of them being technically gifted, like Cruyff and Van Basten, Bergkamp and Van Persie - I am just a different kind of player.

"I do like to work very hard every game, but I enjoy myself, and maybe I'm a little more than just hard work.

"I am happy with what I have achieved so far with my own style, and I am still very hungry to do better. I still have the feeling that I can progress, get better and achieve more." Given Holland's history of internal squabbling within their squads, it is clear that Kuyt really is cut from a different cloth.

His attitude and incredible spirit has been a key factor for Liverpool this season, making him arguably their most impressive performer.

He has scored 15 goals and created countless others, and after experiencing the lows of a horrible period last season when it seemed he may even leave, things are finally going his way again. Not that Kuyt is surprised.

Throughout his career he has had people tell him he's not good enough, that he is out of his depth and he can go no further.

Each time he has defied the predictions.

"When I was a kid I didn't get picked up by a professional club, and was just an amateur so I could never have dreamt that I would be part of a club like this.

"I was with an amateur club called Quick Boys and my dream was simply to play in the first team. So to be here now is beyond my wildest dreams.

"When I first started my career, people tried to tell me I wouldn't be a professional, I wouldn't play for a big club in Holland, I wouldn't reach the national team, I wouldn't play for an important club in Europe, and I wouldn't survive at Anfield.

"And I have always proved them wrong, I have always reached the next level. I am still getting better, still reaching my targets and still learning every day.

"Every step along that way I have had another dream and have achieved it. So I will not stop dreaming until we get what we want with Liverpool, and that is the title, this season or next." At every stage of his career Kuyt has overcome hardship and heartache. His father died 18 months ago, a tragedy that struck him during one of the lowest points of his career.

But he has overcome everything, and he believes that even if Manchester United, as now seems certain, are crowned champions tomorrow, then Liverpool will overhaul them next season. "This team can be proud of itself, and the way we have played this season no matter what happens in the final week, we can raise our heads high.

"We have beaten the biggest teams, United and Chelsea, twice each in the league. We can say that there were too many draws in the home games, but you have to learn from it because we are a young team.

"We have a sense now, a really strong belief that we can go on and achieve what we want because the quality is there and the progress is there. If it is not enough this time we will definitely be there for the big push next season.

"The team is getting more experienced, and importantly, the players are now in it for the long term. Important players have agreed new contracts and they all believe they are part of something big. The belief is there." If it happens, no one will be prouder than Kuyt, and not just because once again he will have defied incredible odds.

When his father, Dirk senior, died, he offered his son one final piece of advice.

"I am proud that my father was able to watch me play here at Liverpool in my first year, and the last game he ever watched was the Champions League final which was at the highest level in one of the biggest finals and I scored.

"His wish was that I stay here as long as possible, and that is my wish too. I want to be part of what is happening at Anfield.

"The proudest moment for me was signing for this club, being part of one of the biggest clubs in the world, and of course my father was proud of that fact.

"It is a famous club, one of the biggest in the world, and to be part of it with such a great history for me is something you want to be around as long as possible.

"Every year I am here I am proud. Every year you have to fight for your place and every year there are better and better players coming here to take your place, so I am proud to still be here and to have a new three-year contract."

Rafa Demands Schedule Changes

Rafa Benitez believes games involving teams that are challenging for the title and fighting against relegation should be played at the same time.

The Liverpool boss added that this would eradicate any unfair advantage gained from playing before of after your rivals.

Manchester United could have already wrapped up the Premier League title if they secure a point against Arsenal on Saturday before the Reds have even taken to the field at West Brom 24 hours later.

In the last four games the two sides have played in the same weekend they have only played on the same day once and even then United faced Tottenham in the evening kick-off knowing that Liverpool had beaten Hull City earlier in the day.

"Yes it is something we can improve in the future because over the last few weeks I think it is better to play at the same time," the Spaniard said.

"The teams that are fighting to avoid relegation and the teams fighting for the title, I think that if you play at the same time the last two games it will be the same for everyone. At least in Spain it is like this."

Despite United needing just a point from their remaining two games to secure their third successive title Benitez is not giving up until it is mathematically impossible for his side to wrestle the crown away from the Red Devils.

"I think so. You always have to think about the positive," he added.

"We have to get three points in our game and see if we can fight. If not we will fight to finish second.

"Arsenal is a good team they have a lot of quality and because of the defeat in the last game they have to prove something.

"He (Arsene Wenger) is a winner so he will want to win too and the players will not want lose like they have lost the last games and try to do your best."

Tony Barrett: Steven Gerrard Richly Deserves To Win Footballer Of The Year Award

Steven Gerrard had barely had time to digest the news that he had been named Footballer of the Year before some critics had started questioning the Liverpool captain’s right to the award.

Just like an A-level student who has just got a string of A grades only for the usual parade of mealy mouthed media mouthpieces to take the wind out of their sails by claiming exams ain’t what they used to be, Gerrard discovered that success in this country may well have a thousand fathers it also has many more naysayers.

It was the same for Ryan Giggs when he won the PFA version of the award even though the Manchester United star had come out on top after a democratic vote of his peers.

Surely, whatever misgivings anyone has about these decisions you have to yield to the right of those who are making them, particularly if they are the very people who actually play the game.

The question marks raised about the country’s football writers electing Gerrard as their annual player of most distinction seem to be based on the fact that the Anfield hero’s team is likely to end the season empty handed.

To be the best individual, the logic seems to go, you have to be part of the best team and in this case the chances are United will again be out in front of the rest of the pack and as such one of their players should have won the award.

But what is the point of an individual award if it isn’t about individuals?

No fewer than five Old Trafford stars were in the running for the football writers gong, suggesting United have more top class, top performing players than any other club in the country, as their status as likely league champions and Champions League finalists suggests.

Surely that means it is easier for their big names to shine than it is for players at other clubs who do not have quite as much quality in their ranks?

By contrast, Gerrard was Liverpool’s only nomination – despite the very obvious claims of Xabi Alonso who has enjoyed an outstanding season – and the fact that he was the sole representative of his club is a very clear indication of what a fine individual campaign he has had.

A running total of 23 goals in all competitions put the Reds skipper level with Nicolas Anelka, a player widely viewed as the most natural of goalscorers, and just a couple behind the moody but magnificent Cristiano Ronaldo who was last season’s top scorer.

This in a campaign when niggling injuries have meant that Gerrard has played fewer games than both of his main rivals for the golden boot.

It isn’t just his prowess in front of goal which makes Gerrard such a worthy winner though, it is the whole package you get from a player whom even Zinedine Zidane has described as the best in the world.

Look for a weakness in his game and it is more difficult to find than an MP without an expenses form.

Power, pace, technical ability, versatility, leadership skills – Gerrard has got the lot and what’s more, unlike many footballers, he displays his talents on an almost weekly basis.

There was a time earlier in his career when question marks were somewhat unfairly placed over his performances in big games with one former Liverpool coach arguing that Gerrard’s desire to do well in them was so big that it became all consuming and stopped him from producing his best.

Arguably, equally important was the fact that back then Liverpool relied on him so much that it became easier for their rivals to negate his influence on games.

The comparatively recent additions of Alonso and to an even greater extent Fernando Torres mean that Gerrard is no longer the sole focus of opponents' attentions and this is the main reason why his game has reached another level in the last couple of seasons.

So when the 28-year-old said that he could not have won the writers award without the help of his team mates he was absolutely spot on because the current Liverpool team is bringing out the very best in him.

Never was this more evident than against Man United at Old Trafford and Real Madrid at Anfield where Gerrard produced the biggest of performances against the biggest of clubs.

Those two displays highlighted all that is good about Gerrard as his free running style created numerous opportunities for his team and his ceaseless ambition and peerless talent rendered Liverpool’s opponents powerless.

If you can perform like that on such massive occasions then the player of the year crown should be worn with the most immense pride because not only have you earned it, you also richly deserve it – no matter what the naysayers may say.

Gerrard Talks Up Brazilian Youngster

Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard believes Lucas Leiva has a bright future at the club, despite some of the Anfield Faithfull’s criticism of the player.

The newly crowned Football Writer’s Player of the year told the club’s official website: “Lucas has had criticism from people, and for me that's unfair. He's a young lad still learning his trade,”

“He does a lot of hard work that goes unnoticed in this team by many people, but we as players notice it.”

“He's come in to a lot of big games where the manager has basically said to him 'it's sink or swim'. And for me he has swam.”

“He's done very well for us when he's been called upon, and he's certainly got a bright future here.”

Leiva has struggled to break into the Liverpool first team and has found his route blocked by the brilliant form of Xabi Alonso and Javier Mascherano.

The Brazilian international was signed from Gremio in 2007 for a reputed £6 million transfer fee.

Carlsberg Keen To Have Name On New Anfield

Liverpool's shirt sponsor Carlsberg want their name on the Premier League club's new stadium, but the brewing company say they need assurances about the team's financial strength before extending its long-standing commercial partnership.

Their ties with the club stretch back to 1991, and the current contract, worth £7m per year, expires at the end of the 2009-10 season.

In announcing Carlsberg's intentions the head of sponsorship, Gareth Roberts, indicated his company would be monitoring the club's ability to refinance a loan of around £250m and, more crucially, progress on a new stadium.

The new 60,000-seat venue on the adjacent Stanley Park was due to have been ready by 2011, but the global economic downturn forced the co-owners, Tom Hicks and George Gillett Jr, to halt building work last year. Carlsberg, though, are still keen on the new stadium bearing their name.

"That will be part of the discussion I'm sure, but there's been no decisions yet," Roberts said.

Roberts found the off-field tensions between Hicks and Gillett distracting, but last month's show of unity, with the Americans sitting together during the 4-4 draw with Arsenal, was an encouraging sign as negotiations between the parties intensify.

"We need to understand where they are going with the stadium, what is the next step?" Roberts told the Associated Press. "[The ownership situation] is a distraction. The best thing is they seem to have resolved the internal issues and they are going to take the next step. If it's done in the right way and they take the next step then absolutely.

"The ownership issue is also about the stadium and the financial setup. The stadium is a big step of their progression in the future and we want to be part of that."

Naming rights have been on the owners' agenda since they bought the club in 2007, with Gillett saying the windfall could subsidise buying a high-profile player every year.

Xabi Alonso Staying At Liverpool, Says Rafa Benitez

Rafa Benitez insists Xabi Alonso will remain at Anfield beyond this summer.

The 27-year-old’s future has been the subject of much speculation in recent weeks with Arsenal, Manchester City and Real Madrid all linked with a move for the Spaniard.

Alonso, who is fit to return to the squad for tomorrow’s clash at West Brom, has enjoyed an impressive campaign at the heart of Liverpool’s midfield.

And the Reds boss has ruled out sacrificing him to fund any squad rebuilding.

“Xabi has been doing really well this season,” Benitez said.

“He’s a key player for us and with him being fit again it will give us a different option in midfield.

“Xabi has been talking about how he wants to stay here and we certainly want to keep him so I don’t think there will be any problems.”

Meanwhile, Benitez has criticised the Premier League for failing to ensure clubs kick-off at the same time this weekend.

Manchester United need just a point from their home clash with Arsenal today to be crowned champions ahead of Liverpool’s trip to the Midlands tomorrow.

Benitez wants the last two weekend schedules of the season to be played at the same time, rather than just the last day as it is now.

“This is a strange situation, having games so close to the end of the season on different days,” he said. “It is something that should be improved in the future.

“For the last two weeks of the season, teams fighting for the title or to avoid relegation should have their matches all at the same time.

“The last two games should be the same for everyone, in Spain it is like this.”

West Brom, who haven’t beaten Liverpool since 1981, must win tomorrow if they are going to keep their survival bid alive.

Benitez believes Baggies boss Tony Mowbray deserves praise for persisting with an attacking style despite their relegation battle.

“For West Brom it has been very difficult, always fighting against relegation,” Benitez said.

“And it is a pity because they try to play good football.

“You look at some teams at the bottom of the table and they play long ball, physical and a different style.

“It all depends on the players you have.

“It is unfair to criticise Tony Mowbray for trying to play good football.

“Each manager has his own ideas on style, and you have to respect what people do.”

United Reject Forlan Set For Liverpool - Transfer Talk

Sir Alex Ferguson won't admit Manchester United have won the Premier League but he is already plotting a summer strategy to strengthen his squad as he seeks a fourth straight year of domestic dominance.

And he will gain a lot of satisfaction by beating Liverpool in the £20million race for Wigan winger Luis Antonio Valencia.

Bayern Munich and Real Madrid are also interested in the Ecuador international.

Anfield boss Rafael Benitez will seek some payback on United by taking Manchester United striker Diego Forlan, who is now at Atletico Madrid, to Merseyside.

Benitez will also be delighted by the news that Spain midfielder Xabi Alonso, wanted by Arsenal and numerous clubs in Italy and Spain, is happy to stay at Liverpool.