Saturday, June 13, 2009

Liverpool FC Worried About Players' Fitness

An unnecessary addition to an already crowded fixture list or a prestigious curtain raiser to next summer's World Cup?

The Confederations Cup kicks off in Johannesburg tomorrow – leaving followers of Liverpool and Everton with their hearts in their mouths for the next fortnight.

Influential figures like Fernando Torres and Steven Pienaar, Pepe Reina and Tim Howard could see their seasons extended until June 28 by the Fifa backed tournament – barely a week before Everton and Liverpool return to begin their pre-season preparations for next season.

But while football fans locally might have concerns, the eight-team tournament is here to stay.

And there's no doubting the quality of this year's event.

Brazil include £56m Real Madrid signing Kaka joining Robinho, Daniel Alves and Elano, while Italy coach Marcello Lippi says he will use the Confederations Cup to build a team capable of retaining the World Cup next year.

Added to those world heavyweights are the current European champions Spain, joined by the winners of each of the Fifa confederation championships – USA, Iraq, Egypt, New Zealand and next summer's World Cup hosts South Africa.

Liverpool will have six players involved in the tournament – Fernando Torres, Xabi Alonso, Albert Riera, Pepe Reina and Alvaro Arbeloa with Spain and Andrea Dossena in the Italy squad.

Everton have Steven Pienaar as host South Africa's key figure and Tim Howard keeping goal for the USA.

First contested in 1992, the Confederations Cup evolved from the Artemio Franchi Trophy, contested in 1985 between the winners of the Copa America and European Football Championships.

Originally staged in Saudi Arabia, the host country usually invited various continental champions to take part. In 1997 Fifa took over the organisation of the tournament, named it the Fifa Confederations Cup, and staged the competition every two years.

Premier League managers have winced ever since. But despite their concerns, there is no doubt the tournament is high quality.

From 2005 it was decided to stage the event every four years – one year prior to each World Cup in the host country.

It is now an effective dress-rehearsal for the World Cup, using around half of the stadia intended for use at the following year's tournament and giving the host nation, who qualify for that tournament automatically, a vital taste of competitive action during two years of friendlies.

While club managers complain, international coaches like Marcello Lippi told reporters he was relishing the chance to spend three weeks with his squad in a tournament situation.

“The last time I had the players together for a long period we did not do too badly,” joked Lippi referring to the 2006 World Cup.

“We usually get the players only for a short period of time so we will look to use this longer period constructively. Our immediate objective is to get some form. I will be using players who are in good physical condition.

“We will be trying to mix a few youngsters with the experienced footballers we have as this is how you blend a team for the World Cup.”

Spanish striking star David Villa said: “As reigning European Champions, expectations of us are much higher,” he explained.

“We know we've got to go out and defend our style of play. But we must keep our feet on the ground and take one game at a time, hopefully all the way to the final.”

Spain will be in Group A with hosts South Africa, as well as New Zealand and Iraq. It is, on paper at least, the easier of the two groups.

“If we work as hard as we have up to now, I have no doubts that we'll get through the group stage,” predicted Villa.

“But we'll have to give it our all. There are no easy games and, despite their records, these teams will make it very difficult for us as they'll be showing the same passion and determination to reach the final as ourselves.”

Pompey Defender Johnson Looks The Right Man For Liverpool Boss Benitez

Rafa Benitez will step up his efforts to finance a deal for Glen Johnson over the weekend and hopes to unveil the England right back as his first summer signing in the next few days.

Manchester City and Bayern Munich have enquired about Johnson, but Chelsea are Liverpool's chief rivals for his signature after having a £17million bid accepted by Portsmouth, as revealed in Sportsmail last week.

However, Benitez remains confident of seeing off the 24-year-old's former club after it emerged that Anfield would be his preferred destination.

Raising the necessary finance appears to be the Liverpool manager's main stumbling block, but it is understood he is ready to utilise an outstanding amount from Peter Crouch's move to Portsmouth - thought to be around £7million - to top up his available funds and match Chelsea's £17million offer.

That should be enough to push a deal through for a player who has become Benitez's No 1 target in recent weeks.

Johnson's attacking forays down the right for Portsmouth and, in particular, England have convinced Benitez of his worth, but his arrival will leave little leeway for further strengthening.

Benitez has also lodged a £2m bid for Johnson's Fratton Park team-mate Sylvain Distin, but will have to consider selling before making any other signings.

He could raise badly needed revenue by sacrificing Yossi Benayoun after reports in Israel that Tottenham, as well as Barcelona, had made an approach for the midfielder.

Benayoun has been priced at £12m for foreign clubs but would cost even more for any of Liverpool's Barclays Premier League rivals.

Liverpool Close In On £5m Real Madrid Outcast Javier Saviola

Liverpool hope to complete the £5million transfer of Javier Saviola from Real Madrid next week.

Rafa Benitez is keen to sign the Argentina international nicknamed the Rabbit who joined Madrid on a Bosman free from Barcelona two years ago.

The 27-year-old, who has scored 12 goals in 44 internationals, has struggled to establish himself at the Bernabeu and has been told to vacate the No 9 shirt, which will be worn by Cristiano Ronaldo next season.

Ronaldo, on the verge of completing an £80m transfer from Manchester United, has already trademarked 'CR9' for marketing purposes.

Saviola, who has Spanish citizenship, will have even fewer chances with Madrid following the arrival of Kaka and Ronaldo and would offer Liverpool more options in attack.

Madrid intend to offload up to 10 players to accommodate and help fund a spending spree that could reach £260m.

The Spanish giants want to sign Xabi Alonso and, after meeting resistance from Liverpool, may offer Saviola as part of a renewed bid for the 27-year-old.

Alonso also interests Manchester City, but Benitez insists he is going nowhere.

Martinez Aware Of Benitez Interest

Liverpool and Manchester City target Javi Martinez says he is aware of interest from the Premier League and is waiting to see if either club makes a move.

The Athletic Bilbao midfielder has been attracting rave reviews and Rafael Benitez reportedly sees him as a long-term replacement for Xabi Alonso, while mega-rich City are also keen.

And Martinez is happy to play the waiting game, although he doesn't want to burn his bridges in Bilbao.

"I know the rumours about Liverpool and Manchester City," said Martinez. "I am just concentrating on myself and we will see what happens.

"I'm pleased that these rumours are there, but it doesn't really influence my daily life too much.

"And I'm enjoying my time in Bilbao, and I want to experience playing in the UEFA Cup with them next season."

Liverpool Offered Samuel Eto'o In Return For Javier Mascherano

Liverpool are to have their will tested after reports claimed that Barcelona are set to offer the Premier League runners-up Samuel Eto'o in a swap deal that would see Javier Mascherano move the other way.

It is the second time in a week the unsettled Argentina midfielder has been linked with the European champions, following reports that Liverpool turned down a £20 million offer from the Nou Camp, adding that not even £50m would be enough.

According to the Mirror, however, Pep Guardiola is prepared to test the wrath of Benitez and has made a second bid which would allow for him to offload 28-year-old Eto'o, who failed to agree to a new deal with Barca.

In spite of Liverpool's protestations that Mascherano is going nowhere, the midfielder's agent Walter Tamer has said his client would welcome a move to Spain.

"If a club like Barcelona want you after winning everything, obviously a player will say he wants to play there," he said. "It would make Javier proud to play for them after they've had such an incredible year.

"I believe a transfer can be done. I've spoken to (Barcelona technical director) Txiki Beguiristain about this although we've not been in contact for some time."

Meanwhile, Liverpool are reported to have made a £6m offer for Real Madrid's Alvaro Negredo - a player the Spanish side brought back from Almeria last week in the hope of negotiating a player-plus-cash deal with the Merseysiders to secure Xabi Alonso.

Benitez has made it abundantly clear that he intends to hold on to Alonso so it is possible Real will now turn their attentions to Alvaro Arbeloa who carries a price tag of £8 million.

Yossi Benayoun To Discuss Liverpool FC Future

Yossi Benayoun has distanced himself from the prospect of a shock move to Barcelona, but admits he will have to discuss his future with Liverpool.

It has been claimed that the European champions have enquired about Benayoun, in the same week that fellow Reds midfielder Javier Mascherano was linked with the Catalan giants.

But with just two years left on his contract, Israel skipper Benayoun’s advisors could well be angling for a new deal for the 27-year-old.

Benayoun said recently: “It could be Real Madrid knocking on my door, I would still rather stay at Liverpool. I have had some offers so maybe I need to talk with Liverpool.

“At the moment I am a Liverpool player, and unless something surprising happens, I will remain one. But after such a good season, I have had some offers from England and Spain.

“You have to give that some consideration, so there will probably be some discussions with Liverpool.”

Liverpool Glad To See The Back Of Ronaldo

Liverpool defender Alvaro Arbeloa admits he is happy to see Cristiano Ronaldo leave their arch rivals and believes he can achieve bigger things playing for Real Madrid.

Manchester United have agreed a world record £80m fee with Real Madrid for the Portuguese winger.

Arbeloa knows Ronaldo's departure will strengthen Liverpool's chances of closing the gap on United next season as they look to win the title for the first time since 1990.

The Spanish defender started his career at Real Madrid and feels Ronaldo can become an even bigger global star following his move to the Bernabeu.

Arbeloa said: "I don't know his personal reasons for leaving, but I have played for Real Madrid and the challenge to achieve more things at such a large club on a worldwide basis is a key decision for any player.

"It is important for the Spanish League to have players such as Kaka and Ronaldo because it will raise the level of the Spanish game.

"Ronaldo is a great footballer and gave everything when he was playing for Manchester United."

Dossena Open To Reds Stay

Andrea Dossena would be happy to remain at Liverpool, according to the full-back's agent.

Dossena signed at Anfield from Udinese last summer but struggled to make an impact during his debut campaign in the Premier League.

Juventus have been linked with a move for the Italian defender, and Dossena has confirmed he would like to play for the Serie A giants.

However, Dossena's representative, Roberto La Florio, has stated that Liverpool are keen to retain his services.

"We have spoken with Liverpool and with Benitez and we received confirmation that the club are keen on holding onto Dossena," La Florio told

"However, we all know what the market is like and when a certain offer comes along then negotiations open up.

"So far neither us nor Liverpool have been presented with an offer but we did have contact with Juve last year.

"Dossena is fine in England. He would be happy to return, but under certain conditions. Juve are making their own evaluations and they will contact us if they are interested. We will wait."

Real Madrid Offer Liverpool Heinze And Robben For Xabi Alonso

Real Madrid have been active in the transfer market this past month, and things are not likely to change any time soon, should the latest reports be believed.

According to British tabloid The Sun, Los Blancos president Florentino Perez has offered Arjen Robben to Liverpool in a direct swap for Spanish midfielder Xabi Alonso.

Perez, who is known to be a big fan of Alonso, has already offered £18 million for the holding midfielder, but Liverpool manager, Rafael Benitez, turned down the bid. The report states that Liverpool want £27 million for Alonso, but Perez is not keen to splash out more money after spending £142 million on Kaka and Ronaldo earlier this week.

Dutchman Robben is also valued at £27 million, and Perez is confident that Benitez will accept a direct swap for the wing-wizard, without the inclusion of cash in the deal.

The stumbling block of the deal could be Robben's injury record, as the Netherlands international has been struggling with fitness ever since he moved to the Bernabeu two years ago.

The Sun also states that, should Liverpool decline such an offer, then Perez will be willing to offer Gabriel Heinze plus £18 million for Alonso instead. This deal is more realistic, since Benitez tried to capture the Argentinean stopper two years ago while he was playing at Manchester United.

The cold relations between Alonso and Benitez could be an important factor in the deal, with the two clashing heads earlier last summer. Also, Benitez is known to be a scavenging the market for an experienced left-back, and with his experience in the Premier League, Heinze fits the profile perfectly.

Both Arjen Robben and Gabriel Heinze have declared their wish to remain at Madrid, but the final decision may not be up to them.

Liverpool Co-Owner George Gillett Keen To Offload Montreal Canadiens To Refinance Deal

At least two consortiums are preparing bids for the Montreal Canadiens, the ice hockey franchise put up for sale last week by Liverpool co-owner George Gillett.

The American is attempting to raise the funds to refinance the £350 million loan with banks RBS and Wachovia used to buy the Premier League club.

Media conglomerate Quebecor and the Molson family have both admitted an interest in buying the profitable franchise, as well as its Bell Arena home, for a price that could rise as high as £300million, allowing Gillett to secure both his position at Liverpool and the club's immediate financial future.

Both Gillett and his business partner, Tom Hicks, have admitted in recent weeks they are looking for "minority" investors in their sporting empires and it is believed both are prepared to countenance selling their sport assets in the United States to maintain control of Liverpool.

Despite the club's holding company, Kop Football Ltd, posting a £42.6million loss in the year to July 2008, as revealed by accounts published last week, Hicks and Gillett are thought to be close to securing a six-month extension on the £350 million loan taken out last January.

It is believed any such deal would likely be dependent on both owners putting more of their own capital into the club.

The Liverpool manager, Rafael Benitez, is not likely to be handed a significant boost in the transfer market should Gillett sell the Canadiens, but the Spaniard is adamant he has "enough" money for the "one or two" signings he believes he needs without coming under any pressure to sell his squad's stars.