Friday, May 22, 2009

Benitez Hands Hyypia Captain's Armband

Rafa Benitez is ready to make Sami Hyypia captain for his final Liverpool appearance.

The Finnish centre-back is leaving Anfield this summer after 10 years with the club after agreeing a two-year deal with Bayer Leverkusen.

And Benitez, whose side host Spurs on Sunday, admits the Reds will be losing a legend when the 35-year-old leaves Merseyside.

He said: "Certainly we are losing a legend. For years he has been so good. He has scored important goals and has been very good in defence. Clearly we are losing an important player.

"He will get a fantastic reception from the fans.

They are amazing and they recognise when someone has been a very good servant to the club.

"He is a fantastic professional and a very good person."

Benitez also insists he feels nothing but pride for his players, even though they have finished without a trophy.

He added: "The fact that we have won nine of our last 10 games and not won the title just shows the high level of the Premier League.

"This season we have managed very good performances against the top sides - something we had not been doing before - and now we have to improve a little bit more.

"We've 83 points and that would have been enough to win the title on six other occasions since the Premier League started.

"I can only underline that I am pleased and proud of my team to have gone this close."

The Kop boss has started to generate cash by agreeing a £1m fee with Leicester for defender Jack Hobbs, who helped the Foxes to promotion to the Championship, while winger Paul Anderson will join Swansea for a fee of around £750,000.

Gerrard Savours Experience

Steven Gerrard hopes Liverpool's title-chasing experience will help the club end their drought for the league title next campaign.

The Reds pushed rivals Manchester United for the Premier League crown this season but fell short after dropping too many points at Anfield.

Liverpool have not won the league since 1990 but their efforts this campaign demonstrated progress under manager Rafa Benitez.

Captain Gerrard has spoken of his pride at his charges' challenge and is already hopeful that 2010 could be Liverpool's year.

Gerrard told the club's official website: "I am really proud. This season is the first time I've ever been involved in a title race and, from a personal point of view, I've certainly enjoyed it. Speaking to the other boys, they've enjoyed it too.

"Obviously we were unfortunate not to win the league, but we can take a lot of positives from this season moving forward.

"We've put in some terrific performances this year and have performed well as a team. I think we can use this experience and take big confidence into next campaign.

"As far as trophies are concerned, we've finished empty-handed, but I think we can be really proud of how we have performed. From maybe mid-December onwards we've shown championship-winning form.

"To win the Premier League you have to have had experience of being involved in a title race and let's hope the experience we've gained this year will help us go one better next season."

Sami Hyypia's Regret Over One Missing Piece Of Silver In Liverpool FC Career

It isn’t the leaving of Liverpool that is grieving Sami Hyypia most as he contemplates his impending departure from the club he has served with such distinction for the past decade.

It is the knowledge that the club has been unable to deliver the prize which its fans crave above all others.

Although Hyypia has no regrets from his time at Anfield, he admits that if he could change one thing it would be for the one remaining space in his own trophy cabinet to be filled with a title winners’ medal.

“Maybe that is a disappointment but I am more sad for the fans than for myself because they deserve it so much,” he said.

“But I have no real regrets because there are always ups and downs when you are a professional athlete and I think that we’ve had more ups than downs in the ten years that I’ve been here.

“I’ve had a really happy time here and I want to thank all of my team mates, the staff here and the fans for everything because it has been a great time.”

On Sunday afternoon it will be Hyypia’s turn to be on the receiving end of some richly deserved gratitude as he brings the curtain down on an Anfield career which has seen him go from a relative unknown – remember the wags who christened him Sami Who-pia? – to being regarded as one of Europe’s finest modern day defenders.

Now 35-years-old and considered a veteran, Hyypia has experienced pretty much all the highs and lows that football has to offer.

So much so that it might be expected that he will take his final appearance in his giant Finnish stride. But such is his affection for Liverpool as a club and as a city, he is actually refusing to contemplate the enormity of it all for fear that the emotions which will inevitably be stirred could undermine his trademark professionalism and the needs of the team.

“I haven’t really thought about Sunday yet,” he admitted. “I think it is better that way so that I can concentrate on training because we still have one game to play.

“We really haven’t discussed what will happen yet. The manager hasn’t talked to me about it so we will see what happens.

“Obviously I’m hoping to be involved in the game at some stage just so I can get onto the pitch for one last time. I would be happy with that, of course, but no matter what happens I will still have the chance to say goodbye to the fans after the game.”

An online collection on the Red All Over The Land and Red And White Kop fans forums has raised enough money to buy a special commemorative flag so that the supporters can bid a fitting farewell to one of their modern day heroes.

There are also plans for a Kop mosaic, such is the esteem in which Hyypia is held by the Liverpool supporters, of which he counts himself as one.

“I was a Liverpool fan before and I will definitely remain a Liverpool fan for the rest of my life,” he said.

“Of course I know You’ll Never Walk Alone and I can sing that but I haven’t really picked up too many of the other songs.

“Usually you can hear them when you are playing but you can’t hear exactly what they are singing but when I come back for some games I will have to go on the internet first and learn the words of the songs so I can sing along.

“It has always been really special for me whenever I have heard the fans sing my name.

“It is something that I’ve enjoyed a lot. Even nowadays when I go to warm up and they sing my name it’s a great thing and a great feeling.”

That self same feeling was one of the main reasons why Hyypia turned down several offers to remain in the Premier League once word seeped out into the football fraternity that the time had come for him to move on.

Stoke City, Wolves, Newcastle United and Sunderland were all keen to acquire the services of a player who has literally and metaphorically placed himself head and shoulders above so many of his contemporaries during the past ten years.

But the thought of playing against Liverpool and the supporters who adore him was not something Hyypia was even prepared to contemplate and when Bundesliga outfit Bayer Leverkusen made him an offer he quickly realised it was one he could not refuse.

“Of course it would have been difficult to come back to Anfield to play against Liverpool if I’d stayed in this country,” said the centre back.

“Leverkusen showed from day one that they wanted me there and they had a plan for me.

“They have a young team and they need experience and the package is good.

“To have the opportunity at my age to experience another of the top leagues in Europe is good for me. It’s a new challenge and now I just need to match their expectations and I will be fine.

“It’s a really good challenge and I’m looking forward to it.

“I still want to play and I feel that I still have something to offer. I know that if I’d stayed here I wouldn’t have played as many times as I would like to.”

Rafa Benitez and Jamie Carragher have both described Sami Hyypia as a Liverpool legend and there will be precious few people at Anfield on Sunday afternoon who will disagree.

He may be departing without that much longed for league title winners medal, but he will leave with the affection of a city and a football club and the unstinting admiration of those who have played alongside him and supported him.

Daniel Agger: No-One Should Leave Liverpool

Centre-back Daniel Agger recently signed a new five-year deal which ended rife speculation about his Liverpool future.

Now, following a season in which the Reds mounted their strongest challenge for the Premier League title in recent times, the Dane has opined that it would be foolish to leave Anfield at this time.

He predicts that success is just around the corner, and has urged his current team-mates not to look beyond the Merseyside club.

"I've agreed a contract, the manager has agreed a new contract, Steven Gerrard, Dirk Kuyt and some other players are all agreeing contracts," he reminded the club's official website.

"I think this shows you that within the club there is a real sense that we are building towards something special.

"Everyone wants to be successful, everyone wants to be part of it. If you don't, then I think you're making a big mistake. There is a lot to be proud of this season, and we are."

Agger will be hoping to enjoy an injury-free campaign after the summer break, in order to get the most out of Rafa's apparent revolution.

Gerrard - Consistency Is The Key

Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard insists that the club are now well aware that consistency is the key to winning the Premier League.

The Reds narrowly missed out on this season's title after arch-rivals Manchester United won their third league trophy in a row last weekend.

Gerrard believes that a trio of successive draws at Anfield at the end of 2008 against Fulham, West Ham and Hull City proved costly.

"Looking back at those three draws on the spin at home in December, they are key because if we had turned them into wins, we would be champions or at least still in the race with one game to go," the England star said in the Daily Mirror.

"That shows everyone how difficult this league is to win. You need to perform immaculately at home and win all your games.

"From maybe mid-December onwards we have shown championship-winning form and you've got to go and do it over the whole season."

Napoli Reject Liverpool’s €22m Bid For Ezequiel Lavezzi

According to La Gazzetta dello Sport, Napoli president Aurelio De Laurentiis has rebuffed a €22 million bid from Premier League giants Liverpool for Argentine star Ezequiel Lavezzi.

The 24-year-old has been frequently associated with a move away from the San Paolo in recent weeks, with the Italian press suggesting that his agent, Alejandro Manzoni, has been in talks with Juventus.

It is claimed the Vesuviani were approached by an unnamed emissary on behalf of the Merseyside outfit, however, De Laurentiis said no to the initial bid.

Things could change at the start of next week, though. Manzoni is reportedly arranging a direct meeting between the two clubs for Monday.

Lavezzi is tied to the Campani until 2013 but there have been reports his representatives will seek a considerable pay rise at the end of the season.

The former San Lorenzo man, who has netted seven goals in 28 league appearances this season, currently earns €1.3m per season at the San Paolo. Liverpool are allegedly prepared to offer him a salary of €4m to lure him to Anfield.

Lavezzi has been sidelined with a muscular problem since Napoli’s 1-0 win over Inter last month but he could be back in action against Catania this weekend.

Liverpool Sign Barcelona Youth Wizard

Liverpool have appointed the coach that helped to groom many of the current crop of homegrown Barcelona players as Rafa Benitez seeks to overhaul the Anfield club's youth set-up.

Pep Segura worked at Camp Nou with the youngsters in a two-year spell that saw him help discover such talents as Bojan Krkic, Sergi Busquets and Pedro.

The 48-year-old spent three seasons at the Catalan club at a time when Andres Iniesta made his first-team breakthrough and is now set to be asked to help restructure things at Anfield.

Benitez wants the club to produce more of its own players to complement the big money signings that he is planning and sees Segura as a key piece in his jigsaw.

"There is much work to do at the Academy," Benitez is quoted as saying by Sport.

"Pep has worked with some of the young talents in Spain and knows how to reach the top, the first team.”

After Barcelona, Segura became the assistant to former Blaugrana boss Llorenç Serra Ferrer at AEK, before taking over as head coach at Olympiakos having worked under Takis Lemonis for a year.

Liverpool FC Youngsters Up For FA Youth Cup Final Battle Against Arsenal

Liverpool’s Youth team will look to take giant strides towards a third FA Youth Cup when they take on Arsenal in tonight’s final first leg.

Current FA Premier League national winners, and widely regarded as the best youth side in the country, the Gunners will provide a stern test for the Reds.

Hugh McAuley’s Anfield outfit have reached this evening’s match at the Emirates Stadium (kick-off 8pm) having beaten Leeds United, Bristol Rovers, Chelsea, Bolton Wanderers and Birmingham City in the semi-final.

Although fully aware of the threat posed by Arsenal, youth boss McAuley is confident his troops can grab a positive result to take back to Anfield for the second leg next Tuesday (7:45pm).

He said: “We are really looking forward to it, especially because it is against Arsenal. It will be good to go to the Emirates. I don’t think any of us have been to the stadium before.

“They are a good team, with some excellent players – some of them have played in the first team. We have two games to pit our wits against them and hopefully do well. The fact that we beat them in the Youth Cup last year may help us.

“The ultimate aim is to obviously win. We must just play our normal game, do what we are good at and also try and contain Arsenal as best we can. If you are too negative about the first leg then it can backfire.

“We want a decent result to take back to Anfield. Whatever the score, it will affect how many people come along for the second leg. We have to be confident we can go down there and get a decent result ready for the game at Anfield.”

If the Reds are to grab a lead to bring back to Merseyside then they will be looking to striking hotshot Lauri Dalla Valle, who has scored seven times in the competition.

However McAuley’s men will be without Swedish midfielder Alex Pepper who picked up an injury in the two legged win over Birmingham City.

McAuley added: “We have played some tricky games, some good games and deserve to be in the final with how they have played. This type of competition is great for the lads.”