Saturday, July 11, 2009

Rafa Benitez: Liverpool Don't Need Franck Ribery

Rafa Benitez has dismissed suggestions Franck Ribery will join Liverpool by insisting he already has the talent in place to win the title.

Speculation was rife yesterday about a shock move for the French striker, after one bookmaker slashed the odds on Ribery leaving Bayern Munich for Merseyside.

But Reds boss Benitez rubbished the rumour and said: "I don't think we will be signing anyone else for big, big money - just maybe the ones who can fit into our team.

"I will be really pleased if we can keep this squad together because I don't think we need to do too many things to get us in position.

"Now we are just thinking of improving the fitness of the players, not thinking of the transfer market. We have the quality and will have chances again."

Benitez wants Valencia winger David Silva to bolster his squad, but only if he can snatch the Spanish winger for around £15m.

But the manager's main ambition is to keep his midfield together and has spent most of the summer fending off Real Madrid and Barcelona's attempts to snatch Xabi Alonso and Javier Mascherano.

Benitez has given up hope of keeping full-back Alvaro Arbeloa, who will join Madrid next week for a fee of around £6m.

"We offered him an extension before, but if you have an idea and the agent has another one, you have to find solutions," he said.

Johnson A Flexible Friend

New boy Glen Johnson's versatility could be a major boost for Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez as the season approaches.

And the Anfield chief has already tried out the England man at left-back, which is going to a problem position when the new season starts.

With Brazilian full-back Fabio Aurelio out for a couple of months after knee surgery, Benitez lacks an experienced left-back for the start of the new campaign.

He has youngsters Emiliano Insua, plus newly-signed teenager Chris Mavinga from Paris St Germain while erratic Italian international Andrea Dossena is an option.

But in only his second training session, right-back Johnson was tried out on the left.

He says: "There is a lot of versatility to my game, I can play in different positions.

"At the end of last season I was even playing off the front two at Portsmouth as an attacker. That may have been a one-off, but I did enjoy it all the same.

"I can play on the right of midfield, and I feel comfortable there. In my younger days I was a striker and at West Ham I played a lot in central defence for the youth sides.

"But it is not easy for a 17-year-old to play centre-back in the Premier League, so I was put in at right-back there.

"Rafa has spoken to me about my versatility, even in my first day of training with the squad he tried me at left-back.

"It is good for a squad that you can play in more than one position, I don't really mind where."

Johnson will make his Liverpool debut next Wednesday in the club's first pre-season friendly against St Gallen in Switzerland, and nobody should be surprised to see him given a run-out at left back, such are Benitez's problems in that area.

But long term, Johnson seems certain to replace Arbeloa on the right of defence, with the Spanish international likely to be sold to Real Madrid.

Johnson says of his new Anfield career: "The lads here had a fantastic season last time out, finishing second, and I just want to do my best to help them improve even more.

"I know already that the players here are determined to improve on that and it will be fantastic to play alongside people like Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres.

"People saw how I played last season, and I know I can do even better than that."

Johnson, 24, is just delighted to be back at a top-four club after his career at Chelsea nose-dived once Jose Mourinho took over.

The Greenwich-born player said: "I suppose I have come full circle. Back to a top-four club with the chance to play in the Champions League.

"It started well for me at Chelsea under Claudio (Ranieri), but when Mourinho came in and brought in his own players everything started to change. I wasn't getting games and I wanted to leave.

"I left Chelsea to do exactly what I have done, going to Portsmouth gave me the chance to play and improve. And aim now to keep that improvement going here.

"I wished I'd played more at Chelsea, but there is no point worrying about the past when I have a big future ahead of me.

"Liverpool were so close to winning the title last season, and I have already realised how desperate the lads here are to go that one more step now to win the title.

"Everybody at this club wants to improve, the fans want that and they want the league title. That is what the players here want to give them."

Liverpool fly out to their Swiss training camp on Sunday, with Javier Mascherano expected to join them on Tuesday. His wife, Fernanda, is due to give birth to the couple's second child this weekend.

Liverpool will be based in Bad Ragaz, and will travel from there to Vienna next weekend for the friendly against Rapid Vienna on July 19.

There they will be joined by the club's Spanish contingent, and the squad will fly direct to the Far East for matches against Thailand on July 22 and Singapore on July 26.

The party will then return to Liverpool after the match, and have three days off before returning to training ahead of the away friendly in Barcelona against Espanyol on August 2.

Being away from the UK for more than two weeks will mean that the futures of Mascherano and Xabi Alonso will be sorted out while Liverpool are on their travels.

Liverpool Eye Lee Cattermole To Replace Xabi Alonso Or Javier Mascherano

Liverpool are reportedly considering a surprise offer for Wigan Athletic midfielder Lee Cattermole if they end up selling either Xabi Alonso or Javier Mascherano this summer.

The Independent reports that the Reds are covering all bases in case one of their midfield linchpins decides to leave and they are setting their sights on Cattermole, who impressed for England’s Under-21 side in the recent European finals in Sweden.

Real Madrid have still not given up on signing Alonso, while European champions Barcelona are still said to be targeting a swoop for Argentina captain Mascherano.

Club boss Rafael Benitez recently insisted the two players are not for sale and are happy at the Anfield club, although the fact he is lining up potential replacements could mean he is yet to rule out a departure for one of the pair.

Cattermole will not be an easy target to land. Sunderland have already had a £7 million offer rejected for the former Middlesbrough player, while new Wigan manager Roberto Martinez had made it clear that the player is in his future plans.

Speaking earlier in the week, he said, "Lee is not for sale. End of story.

“He is a fantastic player, a leader on and off the field, and is central to our plans going forwards. We are not interested in selling him, which was why this offer [from Sunderland] was rejected immediately.

"It is not usually our style to discuss incoming or outgoing transfers until they are completed, but we have made an exception in this case because I feel so strongly about keeping Lee, along with all my best players. He is one of many talented players. Let's forget about this now and move on."

Liverpool, last season’s Premier League runners-up, did unveil one new signing this week, England defender Glen Johnson, who joined from Portsmouth for a reported fee of £17m.

Reds Target Cambiasso understands Liverpool are lining up a move for Inter Milan's Esteban Cambiasso in case they lose either Xabi Alonso or Javier Mascherano.

Reds boss Rafa Benitez is fighting to keep hold of midfield duo Alonso and Mascherano with the pair being strongly linked with moves to Spain.

Big-spending Real Madrid have openly declared their interest in Alonso, while Barcelona have refused to rule out a bid for Mascherano.

Benitez insists the pair will not be leaving Merseyside, but he is thought to be drawing up possible replacements in case he loses one or both of them with Cambiasso thought to be at the top of his wanted list.

Cambiasso has established himself as a key player for Inter since his arrival from Real Madrid in 2004 and Jose Mourinho would be loath to lose him.

Benitez is thought to be a big admirer of Cambiasso and could step up his interest if he loses either of his two midfield stars before the close of the transfer window.

Liverpool's Steven Gerrard And Jamie Carragher Join Rafa Benitez On Stage In Theatre

Liverpool's football heroes are used to nights of great drama - but not in the theatre.

Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher took to the stage with assistant manager Sammy Lee at the opening night of a play about the club's greatest game. One Night in Istanbul follows a group of Liverpool fans trying to watch the incredible 2005's Champions League final win in a seedy Turkish hotel.

But there was a surprise plot twist when manager Rafa Benitez walked on with the European Cup followed by the other three Kop stars.

Captain Steve Gerrard said: "It brought back so many memories. But I don't think I'll take up acting."

The Reds heroes also had an important message for the crowd and wore armbands saying "justice" in support of Michael Shields, 22 - who was jailed for attempted murder after the Istanbul game.

Many people believe he is innocent and playwright Nicky Allt thought it was important he was not forgotten. He added: "We didn't want to mess the first night up so just went with armbands."

More Kop stars are due at the 11 remaining shows at the Liverpool Empire. Meanwhile, Shields' plight is to be debated by MPs after Justice Secretary Jack Straw last week refused him a pardon.

Liverpool's Ngog In Owls Link

Liverpool forward David Ngog is the latest name to be linked with a loan move to Hillsborough as the new Championship season approaches.

Owls boss Brian Laws is still on the lookout for a new striker to bolster his attacking options for the 2009-10 campaign, and has revealed that he's looking for a Premier League forward on loan.

And Ngog would fit the bill, with Reds boss Rafa Benitez willing to let the youngster go out on loan to gain some valuable first team experience.

Wednesday's Championship rivals Ipswich Town are also said to be interested in the player's services.

Laws has already been linked with West Ham's Freddie Sears, who's since moved on loan to Crystal Palace, while Everton hitman Victor Anichebe has also been linked with a switch to S6.

Xabi Alonso Yes, Cesc Fabregas No - Real Madrid Sporting Director

Real Madrid are set to pursue their interest in Xabi Alonso while trying to lower the asking price, but they have reiterated that Cesc Fabregas is not on their agenda.

Madrid's new sporting director, Miguel Pardeza is still keen to see a new midfielder added to the ranks to play alongside Lassana Diarra and outlined how things were progressing.

Alonso has been a target for Madrid throughout the summer, but Liverpool have not reacted well to the interest and manager Rafa Benitez has attempted to put them off although it does not appear to have worked.

"Madrid must not discard an option until it's totally gone," Pardeza is quoted as saying by Reuters.

"There is an insurmountable financial barrier at the moment, but it's something that could change.

"We're looking at other options, although there aren't many."

Madrid's director general Jorge Valdano explained earlier this week that Fabregas is too similar to Kaka in his style for Madrid to need him and Pardeza reiterated that the Arsenal star is not being looked at.

"He is a great player, there's no doubt about that, but at this moment he is not a target for Real Madrid," he continued.

"The club is working on other alternatives."

Real Madrid Hierarchy Calls For Patience Over Anfield Raid

Real Madrid’s director of institutional relations Emilion Butragueno, has suggested the club have not given up their pursuit of Liverpool midfielder Xabi Alonso, but called for patience amid reports the Premier League side are digging their heals in over the 27-year-old’s valuation.

Butragueno told Sky Sports: “There are many weeks remaining,”

“We must show patience. There is time.”

Alonso is reportedly keen to leave the club, and yesterday Spanish based journalist Guillem Balague intimated the player and his manager Rafa Benitez had fallen out, suggesting their relationship had reached “breaking point”.