Saturday, June 20, 2009

More Transfer Frustration For Benitez

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez's summer plans may not be as straightforward as he would have wanted as it seems he faces another transfer battle.

Having spent the last couple of weeks fending off interest in midfielders Xabi Alonso and Javier Mascherano from Real Madrid and Barcelona, it now appears Chelsea are competing for the signature of Portsmouth defender Glen Johnson.

The Merseysiders were in pole position to bring in the England international for a fee, which includes money still owed to them from the transfer of Peter Crouch to Pompey, believed to be around £17million.

However, with Fratton Park chairman Peter Storrie confirming a second club, understood to be Johnson's former side Chelsea, had lodged an identical bid there is now serious competition for the 24-year-old's signature.

Having seen Gareth Barry, Benitez's number one transfer target last summer, complete a surprise move to Manchester City earlier this month the Liverpool boss will not want to be pipped at the post again.

Liverpool remain confident they are Johnson's preferred choice and it has been reported the player is to cut short a holiday to have a medical over the weekend.

'The matter will come to a conclusion at the beginning of next week. I do not have a preference over the move, it is up to Glen,' said Storrie.

'The deals are almost identical so it really is down to him and what club he prefers, which one is going to pay him more money.'

With Madrid's interest in Alonso seemingly still alive and Barcelona reportedly considering a move for Jose Reina to replace goalkeeper Victor Valdes, signing Johnson would be a welcome relief for Benitez.

At least he can rely on star striker Fernando Torres, who signed an improved contract last month.

The Spain international also believes much of the speculation about his club-mates, although unsettling, will not be too damaging.

'A lot of players committed themselves to Liverpool this summer with new contracts and players don't do that unless they think they can have their ambitions met,' he said.

'There is a lot of belief at the club and a lot of trust in the manager.

'I'm very happy with my contract at Liverpool and wouldn't leave just to earn a little more somewhere else where I wouldn't be that happy.

'To want any more would be greedy and that is not me. As long as Liverpool want me, I will stay.'

Recent comments by Liverpool's auditors about the level of debt at the club - American owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett are in the process of renegotiating a loan of £350million - have only increased speculation about departures from Anfield.

Torres, however, believes the majority of the squad will remain and dismissed suggestions Mascherano was unhappy on Merseyside.

'Javier loves it at Liverpool, that is all I can tell you," said the striker.

'In the summer people like to make a lot of noises about world-class players - and Javier is a world-class player.

'He has said himself that he is very happy at Anfield and there is no reason for him to want to leave.'

The future of left-back Andrea Dossena could be finalised next week as the Italian's agent believes Juventus will soon make a decision on whether to make a bid.

'I don't know if you can call it an ultimatum, but I think that Juve will decide what to do within the next week,' agent Roberto La Florio told

'The left-back position is a necessity for the Bianconeri and the directors are not willing to drag this on.

'However, I still think it's a two-horse race between Andrea and (Fabio) Grosso.

'Andrea has subtly expressed his desire to join Juve in recent days, but he also said that he loves it in Liverpool.

'We'll definitely know more about it next week and Juve remain the most likely destination for him.'

Liverpool FC Confident Of Beating Chelsea To Glen Johnson Signature

Liverpool are set to score their first victory of the new season over Chelsea – by clinching the signature of Glen Johnson from Portsmouth.

Pompey chief executive Peter Storrie has confirmed that the England full-back had been given permission to speak to TWO clubs.

“Glen has got permission to speak to two clubs and I think that is what he is going to do,” he said.

“The matter will come to a conclusion next week. I do not have a preference over the move, it is up to Glen and his agent. The deals are almost identical so it is really down to him and what club he prefers.”

Liverpool, however, remain confident that the £17m defender has made up his mind on a move to Anfield.

He is expected to cut short a holiday to have a medical this weekend.

Barcelona Preparing Bid For Liverpool's Javier Mascherano

According to a report in the British tabloid The Daily Mail, Primera Division giants Barcelona are readying an offer for Liverpool's Javier Mascherano.

It is claimed the combative midfielder has decided to leave the Merseyside outfit because his wife is keen to leave England having failed to settle.

It is thought that manager Rafael Benitez understands the 48-time capped Argentina international's predicament and is ready to grant him a transfer, provided his valuation is met.

Apparently, the Reds boss is holding out for at least €41.5 million (£35m) in exchange for the 25-year-old's services.

Although La Blaugrana are expected to meet Liverpool's demands, they may well test the Premier League club's resolve with a bid of €23.7m (£20m) plus a player, possibly highly-rated young striker Bojan, in the first instance.

Glen Johnson Can Be A Liverpool FC Wide Boy

Rafa Benitez doesn’t do favourites.

But if he did, Alvaro Arbeloa would probably figure pretty high on that list.

Rafa may be the master of the rotation policy, but the Spanish full-back has been his most consistent selection for the last two years.

He managed 43 starts last season, despite injury and suspension. The previous season he started 38.

Which all makes the £17m bid for Glen Johnson so surprising.

Even if a large portion of that fee isn’t handed over because of the outstanding monies owed by Portsmouth from Peter Crouch’s transfer, it’s still a hefty outlay for a full-back. Especially one for whom defending is far from a strong point.

Johnson’s recent performance against Kazakhstan was typical.

Taken to the cleaners time and again by a lively left winger, the first after barely 15 seconds, he then produced a mesmerizing run to put a goal on a plate for Wayne Rooney.

So maybe Rafa doesn’t plan to use him as a right-back at all?

Genuine width down Liverpool’s right side has been a problem ever since the wildly successful experiment to use Steven Gerrard out there was abandoned after 25 goals.

Glen Johnson may offer that width and penetration, without sacrificing Alvaro Arbeloa at all.

But where does that leave Dirk Kuyt?

It promises to be an intriguing summer at Anfield.

Liverpool Captain Steven Gerrard Is Worth More Than Cristiano Ronaldo - Jan Molby

Former Liverpool midfielder Jan Molby believes that the expected £80 million transfer of Cristiano Ronaldo from Premier League champions Manchester United to La Primera giants Real Madrid would not be enough to land Steven Gerrard who, he believes, would never be up for sale.

Molby spent a dozen years at Anfield picking up two league titles and two FA Cups, and further revealed on the club's official website that he was the subject of a transfer bid from Real's competitive rivals Barcelona, but the deal fell through unexpectedly at the last minute.

Regarding the valuation of Gerrard, who has spent much of the last season in a secondary striker's position supplementing Fernando Torres, Molby said, "It's almost pointless putting a transfer fee on Gerrard because there are certain players who will never be for sale, and he falls into that category, whereas I feel Cristiano Ronaldo will probably be up for sale again at some point.

"But all of us at Liverpool know how valuable Gerrard is to the club and he would be worth more money than Cristiano Ronaldo," he opined.

On his conversations with the Catalunya outfit during his own playing days, Molby confirmed, "In November 1990 the transfer appeared set to go through. Liverpool had accepted a £1.6 million bid from Barcelona and I played in what I thought was my last game for the club against Luton.

"However, while I was away on international duty with Denmark the deal fell through. It would have been a nice experience to have played for Barcelona, but instead I stayed at Anfield for another six-years and that wasn't too bad!"

We Want Signings Not Sales, Says Carragher

Jamie Carragher is hoping that big-name arrivals rather than departures will be the story of Liverpool’s summer.

A number of the Anfield club’s high-profile names have been linked with big-money moves abroad, with the likes of Barcelona and Real Madrid keeping a close eye on the financial situation at Liverpool.

But the Reds insist that signings, not sales, are the priority as Rafa Benitez looks to build a squad that can finally conquer the Premier League.

Carragher admits it is vitally important that stance is backed up, with Liverpool looking to go one better than last season’s second-place finish.

He said: “I’m like any fan, I get excited about who we might bring in. The players are exactly the same as the man on the street, you pick up the paper hoping you are going to see you’ve signed someone.

“But this summer there has been a bit of speculation about players moving on, so at the moment I’m hoping that doesn’t happen rather than people come in.

“We have got a great side at the moment, and I’m sure the manager will make a couple of additions, but we don’t want to lose anyone.”

One of those linked with a summer exit is Spanish midfielder Xabi Alonso, but Carragher hopes those reports prove wide of the mark.

“He and Stevie Gerrard were probably our best two players last season. I think Stevie won Footballer of the Year, but if you asked the fans I think they would maybe say that Alonso was our best player last season, so he is certainly someone we don’t want to lose,” he said.

Carragher also believes that Cristiano Ronaldo’s record-breaking move to Real Madrid will help the chasing pack to close on champions Manchester United next term, but admits the Premier League champions will still be a force to be reckoned with next season.

He added: “He’s a great player and I think he will be a big miss for the Premiership. He makes a big difference to Manchester United, even though they have a lot of other great players, and I think he was the one for them.

“But I’m sure Sir Alex Ferguson knows what he is doing.”

I’d Love To See Rafa Emulate Shankly

Liverpool old boy Ian Callaghan reckons Anfield boss Rafa Benitez has a hint of Bill Shankly in his make-up.

But the former Kop favourite, who saw at firsthand what the legendary Scot achieved at the club, says the Spaniard will never be held in similar esteem even if he does finally end Liverpool’s wait for the Premier League crown next season.

“A lot of progress has been made over the past five years and Rafa is emerging as a fantastic manager in the club’s history,” said Callaghan, who made a record 857 appearances for the club.

“I really admire him and what he has achieved so far is exceptional.

“He has won the Champions League and the FA Cup, got to another Champions League final and just missed out on the title.

“This is the best league in the world and it’s very difficult when you’ve got other big clubs spending a great deal of money.

“But we came so close last season and if he can keep the squad together we only need a couple of additions.

“The Premier League has to be the number one priority because that’s what all the fans want. I’m looking forward to watching us make the next step.”

Callaghan knows all about gifted tacticians wrestling control of the club having been at Anfield during Shankly’s reign.

He signed as an apprentice in 1960 – just a few months after the Scotsman had taken over – and stayed for 18 years.

In that time the club were transformed from Second Division strugglers into champions of Europe.

Shankly resigned in 1974 after his 15 years in charge had yielded the Second Division title, three First Division championships, two FA Cups and the Uefa Cup.

“Like Bill Shankly, Rafa is a strong personality but you can’t really compare them,” Callaghan said.

“No disrespect to Rafa, but there will only ever be one Bill Shankly.

“He was in charge for 15 years and what he achieved was unbelievable. I was privileged to play under him

“Liverpool were a Second Division club going nowhere when he took over in 1959.

“We really needed someone who was very strong and outgoing to turn the club around because we weren't going anywhere until Shanks arrived.

“The foundations were laid by Shanks and Bob (Paisley) carried it on. Shanks turned the club around and got us back into the top division.

“It took a few seasons to get what he wanted but he changed everything. Liverpool are where they are today thanks to him.

“I would love to see Rafa go on to emulate what Shanks achieved.

“It’s been far too long since the club won the title and hopefully Steven Gerrard will finally get his hands on the trophy next season.”

Fans may still be waiting for the Reds’ first new signing to be paraded – but it has already been a summer of change at Anfield.

Celebrating his fifth anniversary this week as Liverpool boss, the Spaniard knows his position has never been stronger.

Benitez has finally secured the kind of influence he has always craved, his frustration at the Reds’ failure to complete transfer deals eased by the departure of chief executive Rick Parry.

Now Benitez has a much more hands-on role in securing targets.

Just like Bill Shankly when he walked into Anfield nearly 50 years ago, Benitez has a vision.

And he won’t be afraid to make difficult decisions which he believes will benefit Liverpool in the long term.

Nikola Kalinic: ‘The Future Of Croatian Football’ Perfect As Torres Understudy At Liverpool

Liverpool are one of a number of Premier League clubs looking to strengthen their squads with new strikers this summer as Rafa Benitez looks to bring in an understudy to main man Fernando Torres. One such target may well be a relative unknown to English fans but who has started to make a name for himself throughout Europe. That played is 21-year-old striker Nikola Kalinic.

The youngster is arguably one of the most highly-rated players to emerge in Croatia in the past 10 years and is beginning to make clubs around Europe sit up and take notice with his goalscoring exploits. The Hajduk Split frontman finished 2nd in the scoring charts in his country with 15 goals in 28 League appearances for his club. This followed on from a superb 2007/08 campaign which led to Kalinic being called up to Slaven Bilic’s Euro 2008 squad.

The young striker is so highly regarded in his homeland that Bilic described him as “the future of Croatian football” which is high praise indeed. The 2007/08 season saw Kalinic came of age in the Hajduk first team after returning from successful loan spells at Pula and Sibenik.

He finished 3rd top scorer in Croatia in 2007/08 with 17 goals in 25 League appearances (23 starts) despite his club finishing 5th in the 12-team division. This earned him a call-up to Euro 2008 despite being uncapped prior to the naming of the squad. Since then Kalinic has made three senior appearances (all as substitute) without scoring against Moldova (friendly), Poland at Euro 2008 and Andorra in World Cup qualifier.

Kalinic was born in the small town of Solin and made his top division debut for Hajduk aged just 17 in the 2005/06 season. The young striker made 6 League appearances that season (2 starts). Even though he failed to score, his talent was there for all to see.

The following season Kalinic was sent out on loan to fellow Croatian side Pula where he scored 3 goals in 12 League appearances and was dubbed by their manager Krunoslav Jurčić as Croatia’s version of Zlatan Ibrahimovic. He then joined Sibenik on loan where he managed to score 3 goals in just 8 League appearances prior to returning to Hajduk for the 2007/08 season when his career took off.

Kalinic has represented his country at every level from U17 to the seniors and is tipped by many in his homeland to follow in the footsteps of arguably the greatest Croatian striker in history - Davor Suker. However, he has a lot to live up to as Suker scored an incredible 45 goals in 69 internationals so any comparisons may be unfair. At U17 level Kalinic scored 16 goals in 20 appearances, at U19 level he scored 11 goals in 12 games and at U21 level he scored 3 goals in 3 games.

At 6 ft 1 he is built for Premier League football and would surely be of interest to a number of clubs searching for a striker who may soon be out of their League if he continues to impress. He would be the perfect young back up to the established striking talent of Fernando Torres at Anfield.