Thursday, July 09, 2009

Steven Gerrard Puts Pen To Paper On New Contract

Steven Gerrard has officially put pen to paper on a contract extension that will keep him at Anfield for the rest of his career.

The Liverpool captain agreed two years on top of his current deal - which ran for another two seasons - back in April.

And now, having returned for pre-season training after being given extra days off following his commitments with England, he has finally made it official by signing a contract until 2013, worth a reported £26 million in total.

Gerrard has said this will likely be his last deal and is considering retirement after it expires, when he will be 33.

The news of Gerrard's signature will come as a further huge boost to manager Rafa Benitez, who had already tied down Yossi Benayoun to an improved four-year contract earlier this week.

Benitez will now push ahead with contract paperwork for Fernando Torres, Dirk Kuyt and Daniel Agger, who have all agreed to extend their current Liverpool deals.

The Spaniard will also sit down with Javier Mascherano and urge the Argentine to ignore pleas from Barcelona for him to swap Anfield for the Nou Camp.

Messi Eyes Cesc And Mascherano

Lionel Messi is hoping Barcelona can push through deals for Arsenal midfielder Cesc Fabregas and Liverpool lynchpin Javier Mascherano.

Both players have been heavily linked with summer moves to the Nou Camp, with Thursday's Daily Star suggesting Barca are ready to cash in on Samuel Eto'o to raise the funding needed to move for Fabregas.

The Spaniard recently voiced his frustration at Arsenal's lack of silverware - though within hours had insisted he remained committed to the club.

That has apparently not put off his former club, though, with Mascherano also reportedly featuring on the European champions' summer shopping list.

Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez has insisted the Argentine is "not for sale" but speculation persists in both England and Spain that a deal is on the cards.

And Messi is hoping both Fabregas and Mascherano will join him.

He told Sport: "I hope Mascherano can come and we can form a solid partnership. His qualities are always appreciated.

"The same goes for Fabregas. A good footballer like him who can contribute is always welcome."

McDermott Hails Rafael Benitez's Decision To Tie Up Yossi Benayoun

Three-time European Cup winner Terry McDermott has backed Rafael Benitez’s decision to tie Yossi Benayoun to a long term deal at Anfield.

The Israel captain put pen to paper on a two-year extension to his Liverpool contract earlier this week and declared: “Now I can concentrate on the hard work that needs to be done and try to play better and better and win some silverware."

It means the 29-year-old has now committed his future to the club until 2013.

And McDermott, who scored 81 goals in 329 appearances for Liverpool, admits he is thrilled at the decision and is backing the Israeli international to go from strength to strength in 2009-10.

"I think it's brilliant news for club and I'm delighted," said the current assistant boss at League One side Huddersfield.

"It's definitely a good signing for Rafa as I'm sure there are plenty of clubs out there who would like to have him.

"Yossi is a great player and has proved how good he is since he moved to Liverpool. He's busy, creative and scores goals. He is a great asset to the club.

"He was excellent at the end of last season and it's that form he showed that probably earned him the new deal.

"His displays in some of the bigger games, the likes of Real Madrid away, were fantastic and he's demonstrated he is a man for the big occasion.

"I don't see any reason why he can't replicate the superb form he showed at the end of last campaign this time around.

"He was one of our top performers last season and, with the confidence of signing a new contract, I am sure there is more to come from Yossi."

Nabil El Zhar Eager For More Liverpool FC Success

Liverpool’s Moroccan winger Nabil El Zhar has pledged to do all he can to prove his worth to Reds boss Rafa Benitez.

El Zhar admits he is living the dream at one of the world's top clubs and has vowed to make an even bigger impression next term.

El Zhar made 19 appearances for the Liverpool first-team last campaign and played a prominent role in some of the Reds' dramatic early season comebacks, leading Benitez to describe the 22-year-old as a 'lucky charm'.

Now El Zhar is eager to repay the faith shown in him by the boss and play his part in next term's title push.

"I have to work hard and God willing improve and prove my worth and play my part for the first team," he said.

"I feel as though I am more at home at the club now. I've been gaining more confidence by coming on more, and now I just have to keep on going, work hard and try and play many more games.

"You have to forget about the big names you are playing with and try to show people what you can do. I have to keep at this level.

"The manager has said to me that he wanted to give me more chances in the first-team. He told me that I had to work hard and listen to advice and take my opportunities when they come."

El Zhar, who scored his only goal of his Liverpool career so far against Cardiff City in a League Cup tie at Anfield in 2007, added: "I also love playing for Morocco and want to make a big impact. I have a lot of work to do and keep my feet on the ground but it was great to score in front of the Kop and now I am living the dream."

The Reds No.31 says he had no reservations about swapping Saint Etienne for Merseyside in October 2006 at the tender age of 20, admitting the prospect of playing for a club of Liverpool's stature was too good to turn down.

"I've read about all the history of Liverpool Football Club in France, and what they've won, and how a bigger name it is in world football," he continued.

"It's a well known club throughout many communities. Outside of the French clubs a lot of people from many backgrounds support Liverpool more than other English teams because of what Shankly and Paisley achieved. They inspired many people to support Liverpool.

"Also, there are a lot of French players who have played in England and developed into a big name. The club has many supporters back in Morocco and throughout the whole of Africa."

Many of Benitez's charges returned to Melwood on Monday to begin preparations for the 2009-10 season.

El Zhar is relishing another assault on the Barclays Premier League title, but acknowledges the Reds must find a way of slashing the number of home draws if they are to be crowned champions come next May.

"Liverpool are a top team, and we all know that we have to work hard," he says. "The whole squad knows that they have to be playing well and working hard to get into the team and stay there.

"By beating United and Chelsea, and drawing at Arsenal, we've shown that we can do well against the other top teams. But we're going to have to start winning more games against smaller teams if we want to remain contenders for the title."

Liverpool FC Sign French Starlet Chris Mavinga From Paris St Germain

Liverpool are set to make their second summer signing after agreeing a deal to bring promising French left-back Chris Mavinga to Anfield.

The France under-18 international has been snapped up from Paris Saint Germain under the nose of Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger, who was keen to take Mavinga to the Emirates.

Liverpool will have to pay PSG a compensation fee for the 18-year-old who was yet to sign a full contract with the French club.

Mavinga’s recruitment is timely with Fabio Aurelio set to miss the start of the season with a knee injury and Andrea Dossena likely to leave Anfield should Liverpool receive a suitable offer for his services.

Emiliano Insua underlined his promise last season but Benitez will be happy that the young Argentinian will face increased competition for his place when the new season gets under way.

With Glen Johnson already signed from Portsmouth in a club record deal for a defender, the Reds boss has clearly earmarked Liverpool’s full-back positions as areas which can be improved.

Johnson was today undertaking his first day of training as a Liverpool player as he and fellow England international Steven Gerrard joined in with their team mates at Melwood.

Benitez gave the England duo an extra few days holiday to allow them to recover from their excursions with the national team in early June.

Time For Xabi To Put Cards On The Table

Xabi Alonso's future is threatening to overshadow Liverpool's pre-season build up for the second successive summer.

However, the circumstances now compared to a year ago are very different.

In 2008 Alonso was left feeling unwanted and let down by Rafa Benitez's willingness to sell him in order to finance the purchase of Gareth Barry.

His situation commanded sympathy from the majority of Reds fans who felt he had been unfairly treated.

Fast forward 12 months and the ongoing uncertainty over where he will be playing his football next season is all of his own making.

Real Madrid have been openly courting the midfielder but Liverpool have made it abundantly clear he is not for sale.

As for Alonso, he has repeatedly refused to come out and publicly state his own intentions.

In fact the 27-year-old has been doing so much fence sitting in recent weeks that he's in danger of getting some nasty splinters.

When pressed about his future on his return to Spain after the end of the Confederations Cup, he said: “It is always positive when various teams are said to want you because that is better than nobody being interested.

"I will be able to decide what happens next whenever it arises.

“I do not think a move to Real Madrid is impossible, but I would also have no regrets at all staying at Liverpool.

"I do miss certain things from Spain. I cannot rule out a move or even staying in the Premier League.”

A game of chess is being played out with Real, who have yet to officially submit a bid, seemingly happy to bide their time.

Benitez is loathe to lose Alonso but admits he can't keep someone who wants to be elsewhere.

If he reluctantly agrees to sell and the price is right then the Reds boss knows letting Alonso go won't be a popular decision.

And if Liverpool are going to do business, Benitez will rightly want Alonso to come out and admit he wants a transfer.

However, there appears to be little sign that the player, who has three years left on his current deal, is prepared to put his cards on the table.

Of course, there will be plenty of fans who feel Alonso is well within his rights to act like he is after the way he was treated last summer.

But that argument just doesn't add up. The reason Liverpool were willing to sell Alonso last summer was because during the 2007/8 campaign his form had dipped alarmingly.

Yes, he angered Benitez by his decision to miss the Champions League game against Inter Milan in March 2008 to attend the birth of his son.

But the decision to consider selling him wasn’t down to some petty grudge.

Alonso only played 27 out of 59 competitive matches that campaign and didn't look like the player whose slick passing had endeared him to Reds fans since his arrival in the summer of 2004.

He had lost his way and if anything last summer's saga gave him the kick up the backside he needed to get his career back on track.

His response was professional and emphatic as last season he was key to the Reds' sustained title challenge and a strong contender for the club’s Player of the Year accolade.

Losing Alonso would undoubtedly be a major blow but the most important thing now is that the issue is resolved as soon as possible.

Madrid are clearly happy for it to drag on hoping Liverpool will drop their asking price but time is not on the Reds’ side. Even if he goes for £30million, finding a replacement will be no easy task.

Alonso’s place in the club’s history books is secured and if he does want a new challenge then he should do the decent thing and come out and say so.

Another Reds player hardly covering himself in glory at the moment is Barcelona target Javier Mascherano, who has refused to distance himself with a move to Spain.

He said: "I am very proud and thankful for the interest from Barcelona and Real Madrid. It's good for me to have these two teams interested in me.”

Mascherano needs to remember two things. Who rescued him from the obscurity of West Ham Reserves two years ago? And who allowed him to fulfill his Olympic dream at a crucial stage of last season?

Liverpool's Fabio Aurelio Faces Six-Month Lay-Off After Holiday Injury

Liverpool could lose defender Fabio Aurelio for up to six months after the Brazilian picked up an injury on holiday.

The 29-year-old left-back suffered a twisted knee while playing football with his children and is likely to require surgery.

Aurelio is definitely ruled out for the start of the Premier League season and the club now fear he will be sidelined until the end of the year.

The injury means manager Rafa Benitez is set to pull the plug on Andrea Dossena's potential move to Juventus.

Dossena, 27, has failed to make an impact since his £7 million move from Udinese and it was widely expected that he would return to Italy this summer, with Turin his most likely destination.

That now looks remote, although even with Aurelio's injury, Dossena is still set to play second fiddle to Argentine Emiliano Insua, while Benitez has brought in Chris Mavinga from PSG as further back-up.

Taye Taiwo: Liverpool Step Up Chase For African Powerhouse After Aurelio Injury

Injury to Fabio Aurelio has led to Rafa Benitez stepping up his pursuit of Marseille’s powerful left-back Taye Taiwo. Aurelio seriously injured his knee while playing football on holiday in Brazil with his family and may be out until 2010 according to reports.

Taiwo issued a ‘come and get me’ plea to the Premier League big four at the end of last season which alerted Liverpool who are in the hunt to add a left-sided defender following the disappointing performance of Andrea Dossena last season. The Italian is expected to be offloaded to Juventus this summer leaving the club having to rely on Argentine youngster Emiliano Insua unless someone is brought in. Glen Johnson has already been brought to Anfield and if Taiwo can be signed, it would provide Liverpool with two of the most attacking full-backs in the Premier League.

The player had this to say to France-Football, “If I was to depart, then I would not join a small club.”It will be Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool or Arsenal.

“I do not want to leave Marseille for the sake of it. If I make it, it will be for a big club, to win the UEFA Champions League, in England, or why not Spain?

“I won’t make it for money, otherwise I could immediately leave for Ukraine, where I could earn just as much.”

The defender is confident in his ability to play against the very best in the Premier League as Taiwo’s comments illustrate, “I am not scared by the level in England. I believe I have the right level to defend against [Wayne] Rooney or Cristiano Ronaldo.

“Anyway I am more powerful than them. The only one with whom it would be much more complex is [Lionel] Messi.

“He is too small and too strong. That’s why maybe it could be better for me to join England rather than Spain.”

The 24-year-old Nigerian international has been linked to numerous Premier League clubs in the past year particularly Tottenham and Man City. The defender had this to say earlier in the season, “I have made my desire to play in the Premier League clear,” he told Sky Sports. “Tottenham are a big club, but I am at Marseille. I want to play in the Premier League, but I have a contract. But if the clubs agree…”

Man City, Newcastle and Sunderland had been heavily linked to the raiding full-back in the past though Liverpool are the club that would ideally suit the Nigerian from the current big four. Rafa Benitez summer signing Andrea Dossena has failed to impress since arriving at Anfield and faces the exit door. Fabio Aurelio performed well towards the end of the season although there are still a few question marks over his defensive and attacking qualities. Young Argentine Emiliano Insua shown potential when given the chance, however, Taiwo would fit perfectly into Liverpool’s style of play and has far more experience.

The left-back has played in France for the last 4 seasons and has made 134 league appearances for the club (10 goals). Marseille finished 16th in the 2007/08 season which led to speculation concerning a number of their players but they managed to retain the Nigerian and it has paid off. The club came 2nd last season just 3 points behind champions Bordeaux with Taiwo playing in 35 of the team’s 38 league games (34 starts).

Not only is Taiwo renowned for his no-nonsense defending but also his attacking forays and powerful shooting ability. His long range efforts have been clocked at over 80mph so expect him to fight with Steven Gerrard to take charge of free-kicks if he does sign for Liverpool.

Taiwo was signed by Marseille to replace legendary French full-back Bixente Lizarazu and has become a cult figure for the club. He was part of the Nigerian side that lost to Argentina in the final of the 2005 World Youth Championships. In fact, he was voted 3rd best player in the tournament behind Lionel Messi and Obi Mikel.

The Nigerian international has is a regular in his senior national side scoring 7 goals. He has also played in two African Cup of Nations tournaments.

Souness Believes Liverpool Do Not Have Finances To Compete Next Season

With escalating murmurs of player departures emanating from Anfield, together with the financial ambiguity of parent club Kop Holdings Ltd, the omens do not bode well for Liverpool's ability to compete next season.

That is the opinion of former Reds manager Graeme Souness, who informed Sky Sports News today that he does not think there will be much money spent at Anfield this summer.

"I think things will be tight," he said. "I see things being tight... I don't think there will be lots of money spent at Anfield this year."

Regarding the rumours that Real Madrid are interested in signing deep-lying playmaker Xabi Alonso, while midfield battler Javier Mascherano continues to head Barcelona's shortlist, Souness said, "They can't afford to let Steven Gerrard go anywhere, and they can't afford to allow both Xabi Alonso and Javier Mascherano to go."

When pressed as to what competition - the Premier League in particular - manager Rafael Benitez should prioritise, Souness answered without hesitation, "That, and the European Cup.

"It's an enormous task, though, and Liverpool don't have the finances."

Tranmere Rovers Eye Relationship With Liverpool

Tranmere Rovers are attempting to strike up a closer relationship with Liverpool in order to strengthen this season.

Anfield legend John Barnes (pictured) was recently appointed manager at the League One club, with fellow former Reds player Jason McAteer serving as his assistant.

And McAteer believes Rovers should become close to their Premier League neighbours in more than just a geographical sense.

"It would be daft not to try and exploit some sort of relationship with the likes of Liverpool," the retired defender told LFC Magazine.

"I haven't been in the job long but anyone I've already spoken to at Liverpool has been first class.

"Money is tight at this level. It can be really difficult when you're working on the budgets a club like Tranmere has to.

"We have to work within our means so we would be stupid not to sit down and listen to the likes of Liverpool if they wanted to help in any way or offer some advice."

Also a former Tranmere player, McAteer added that his new club would gladly take on some of Liverpool's exciting prospects on loan in order to assist their development.

He continued, "If they want to lend us players and the quality is there we will be more than happy to take them and help with their football education."