Saturday, July 25, 2009

Benitez Is Satisfied With Liverpool FC's Asia Workout

Rafa Benitez insists he is happy with Liverpool’s pre-season build-up, despite a winless start to their summer program.

The Reds arrived in Singapore for the second leg of their Far East tour yesterday following their 1-1 draw with Thailand in Bangkok.

Previously they were held 0-0 by St Gallen and lost 1-0 to Rapid Vienna, but Benitez has urged fans not to read too much into those results.

“I think our pre-season is going well,” he said.

“It is very difficult when you have a lot of players away who come back much later.

“For example Fernando Torres and the rest of the Spanish players have trained for only three days.

“On Wednesday he played 10 minutes and was very good, but after three days training I wasn’t expecting a performance like that.

“It’s impossible to make any judgments when players have only trained for a few days.

“We have to analyze the team after maybe two more weeks.”

The Reds were set to train twice today as they stepped up their preparations for Sunday’s clash with the Singapore national team.

“For us to be here is a great experience,” Benitez added.

“For the club it’s a great opportunity and we have to approach it in a positive way.

“Hopefully we won’t have any more injuries and we will be able to train properly.”

The club denied speculation that a fee had been agreed with Real Madrid for Xabi Alonso and Benitez once again refused to comment on the midfielder’s future. Alonso missed the game against Thailand with an ankle injury.

Benitez hit back at reports Javier Mascherano’s agent had said the Argentine was keen to quit the Reds.

“Like I said before, Alonso will enjoy the weather, the fans and the journalists,” Benitez said. “If he is ready by Sunday then he will play.

“As for Mascherano, you have a big problem now in the press.

“There are too many websites, too many newspapers, too many radio and TV stations who have to compete every day.

“It seems sometimes you read news that is 15 days out of date.”

Martin Skrtel and Nabil El Zhar were due to arrive back in Liverpool today after injury cut short their stay in the Far East.

Skrtel suffered a hamstring problem against Thailand and El Zhar damaged knee ligaments.

Both will undergo scans at Melwood in order to reveal the extent of the damage.

Meanwhile, Real Madrid sporting director Miguel Pardeza revealed the Alonso deal is in limbo, but he still hopes to buy full-back Alvaro Arbeloa.

“From day one, Liverpool have asked for more than Madrid are ready to pay (for Alonso) and it’s very difficult to understand,” he said.

“But I’ve not lost hope that things can be resolved.

“With Arbeloa there was an option which, at the moment, has come to nothing.”

Fans Progress With Plans To Buy Liverpool

Time passes on in the efforts of Liverpool’s American owners, Tom Hicks and George Gillett, to mobilize funds to manage the mammoth £350 million debt.

The Royal Bank of Scotland and Wachovia are expected to grant the owners a further extension on the loans, which are set to expire tomorrow.

Meanwhile, according to a report in the Irish Independent, two groups of fans - Spirit of Shankly and ShareLiverpoolFC - formed due to dissatisfaction with the current owners, are hoping to realise their dream by purchasing a majority stake in the Merseyside club.

ShareLiverpoolFC is planning to raise £10m by selling shares at £500 on a one-person-one-share basis, and an additional £140m through the sale of additional loan stock to the fans. Once the £150m has been raised, the support groups plan to use these funds to bid for a majority stake in the club in order to gain control, and seek a further £100m from a commercial partner.

The ambitious fans plan to exchange the remaining debt £100m by making it a convertible loan stock in the club, which the banks would buy over a 20-year period.

ShareLiverpoolFC and Spirit of Shankly were formed 18 months ago after the supporters grew dissatisfied with Hicks and Gillett's running of the club.

Benitez Will Swoop For Silva If Valencia Cash In

The Liverpool manager, Rafael Benitez is ready to intensify his interest in Valencia's David Silva, his negotiating position enhanced by the Spanish club's diminishing prospects of selling their other prime asset, David Villa.

Valencia, a club in severe financial crisis, may be forced to reduce their initial £25m demand for Silva, which put Benitez off in May and the manager will be able to offer the entire amount up front if Real Madrid adhere to his own demands that their £30m-plus outlay on Xabi Alonso comes in one upfront payment, as did their £80m to Manchester United for Cristiano Ronaldo.

Valencia's hard initial negotiating position arose because Villa seemed destined to leave the Mestalla and there was a desire to keep Silva. But Barcelona's part-exchange move for Internazionale's Swedish striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic means that Villa may well not be leaving Spain. Samuel Eto'o's agent yesterday confirmed that the Cameroonian would be the makeweight in a deal for Ibrahimovic. "He will start working with Inter next week" said Josep Maria Mesalles.

The 23-year-old Silva can play wide, as a withdrawn striker or as an attacking midfielder and is not a straight replacement for Alonso. Valencia have been on the brink of bankruptcy all summer and will accept nothing less than a straight cash deal for him.

Where Alonso is concerned, Benitez is also holding out for a Madrid player to be included in the deal, with striker Alvaro Negredo still a possibility. If Real agree to include Negredo then the defender Alvaro Arbeloa would be likely to join Alonso in moving to the Bernabeu. Silva is reluctant to switch to England but will make an exception for Liverpool where he would be joining Spain team-mates Pepe Reina and Fernando Torres.

Alonso seems more likely than Javier Mascherano to leave, as the midfield uncertainties that have plagued Benitez all summer continue to drag on. Barcelona had coveted Mascherano and had wanted to deploy him in front of Kolo TourĂ©, but the £50m Liverpool would expect seems, as they had hoped, to have priced the European champions out of the market. The player's agent, Walter Tamer, has been sounding desperate over the last couple of days. Juventus's Christian Poulsen appears to be a cheaper option for Barcelona.

Real Madrid technical director, Miguel Pardeza, said yesterday that the club still held out hope they can persuade Liverpool to part with Alonso, though not at any price because the player would not sell many shirts.

Real's general director Jorge Valdano has ruled out new signings until the club starts offloading players. After confirming that Klaas van Huntelaar had turned down a move to Stuttgart because he had "other expectations", Valdano said: "Until some of the players leave it is going to be very difficult." Madrid had rather unrealistically hoped to bring in around €100m (£85.6m) with the sale of up to seven players, but stars such as Arjen Robben and Ruud van Nistelrooy have shown no interest in leaving.

Liverpool To Decide On Andrea Dossena To Napoli Move

Andrea Dossena is waiting for Liverpool to make a decision on his future, according to his agent Roberto La Florio.

The Azzurri have made an offer for the Italian left-back as they attempt to strengthen their back line. Liverpool need to respond, and La Florio is hoping for a good outcome.

"We are waiting. Napoli and Liverpool have to find an agreement," La Florio told

"Napoli came out of the blue with the offer to Liverpool and now the English club have to decide whether to allow Dossena to leave.

"If Liverpool allow it, then we are ready to deal with Napoli."

On Thursday, Napoli president Aurelio De Laurentiis confirmed an interest in the former Udinese man.

Liverpool Plotting Shock Swoop For Portsmouth's Peter Crouch

Liverpool are reported to be plotting a shock return to Anfield for Peter Crouch.

Crouch had looked set to join Tottenham Hotspur after rejecting the chance to move to Sunderland, but Spurs are supposedly having trouble raising the requisite finances.

According to The Daily Star, Rafael Benitez has asked to be kept informed of developments, and is pondering making a £12 million bid for the man he sold to Portsmouth last summer.

Crouch spent three years at Liverpool and was a regular in the first team until Fernando Torres' arrival from Atletico Madrid in the summer of 2007.

Fulham were also thought to be in the race, but they are unlikely to follow up their interest. It remains to be seen, however, whether Crouch would want to move back to Merseyside, where he is unlikely to be a first-choice player.

Reds Snap Up Sama

Liverpool have bolstered their academy ranks with the signing of German teenager Stephen Sama from Borussia Dortmund.

The 16-year-old defender has been snapped up before Dortmund could secure him on a professional contract.

He has penned a deal that ties him to Anfield until June 2012 and follows in the footsteps of Christopher Buchtmann, who also joined from the Bundesliga club.

However, Dortmund youth director Peter Wazinski believes Sama has a long way to go before he is the finished article and has told Liverpool he is not such an exciting prospect as Buchtmann.

"This time they did not look closely enough," Wazinski told Reviersport.

"Stephen was already a substitute last season, unlike Christopher Buchtmann was when he joined them.

"In terms of Stephen Sama, the transfer does not hurt us in any way, except that there is always a better moment to join another club than in the middle of pre-season."

Steven Gerrard's Relief After Being Cleared Of Affray

Liverpool FC captain Steven Gerrard spoke of his relief on Friday following his speedy acquittal from a charge of affray.

The jury cleared the midfielder of unjustly attacking a man in a bar after deliberating for just 70 minutes at Liverpool Crown Court.

Gerrard, 29, was greeted with cheers and shouts of "come on Rocky" outside the court following the four-day trial.

The Liverpool FC midfielder said: "Can I just say how pleased I am with today’s verdict.

"I’d like to put this case behind me.

"I’m really looking forward to the season ahead and concentrating on football.

"I’d like to say a big thank you to my legal team, my friends and family and to everyone at Liverpool Football Club for supporting me."

His boss, the Liverpool FC manager Rafa Benitez, also voiced his joy at the news.

Mr. Benitez, who is in Singapore ahead of their game against the national team there on Sunday, said: "We are really pleased. He is very important for us and he can now focus just on football.

"We are all pleased at the club and over here at the training camp. We have been supporting him all the time and were just waiting for the decision.

"Now he can concentrate just on football and hopefully play at the same level as last year."

Gerrard, of Formby, Merseyside, admitted hitting Marcus McGee, 34, but denied affray saying it was in self-defense.

The footballer, who is married to the model Alex Curran, had been at the Lounge Inn in Southport, Merseyside, on December 29 to celebrate Liverpool FC’s 5-1 demolition of Newcastle United hours earlier.

The Reds’ captain, who scored twice in the game, was enjoying a night out with a party of friends, including Anfield legend Kenny Dalglish, 58.

CCTV footage from the bar showed Gerrard and his friends drinking beer, downing shots and dancing around while chanting football songs.

But trouble flared at around 2am when the father-of-two wanted to change the music on the CD player.

Prosecutor David Turner QC told the jury of seven women and five men that Gerrard "lost it" after Marcus McGee, a member of another group who had been asked to organize the music that night, refused his request.

The prosecution painted him as a spoilt star who was accustomed to being idolized and getting what he wants.

Mr. Turner described his reaction to Mr. McGee’s refusal as a "huff" and said Mr. Gerrard punched the victim "with the style and speed of a professional boxer".

But Gerrard told the jury he was shocked by Mr. McGee’s attitude and wanted to smooth things over.

He told the court: "I asked Marcus what was the problem with the music machine and why he treated me like that.

"Very quickly he came off the bar stool and was in my face right by me."

He told his defense counsel, John Kelsey-Fry that he hit out at Mr. McGee in self-defense.

He said: "I firmly believed Marcus came towards me to hit me."

In reality, CCTV shows that, unknown to either the victim or the footballer, Mr. McGee was reacting to being elbowed by John Doran, 29, a school friend of Gerrard’s.

Gerrard described raising his left arm to grab the back of Mr. McGee’s jumper.

He said: "I grabbed the back of his jumper as he moved forward to me. When I had hold of Marcus, I remember swinging my right hand two or three times."

He said the incident took about four or five seconds before he was "pushed and pulled" away from Mr. McGee.

Gerrard apologized for what happened, telling the jury: "I am sorry about the whole incident."

After throwing the punches at Mr. McGee, Gerrard was pulled away by a barman to another part of the venue as some of his friends attacked Mr. McGee.

Five of them have admitted affray. They are Ian Smith, 19, of Hilary Avenue, John Doran, 29, of Woodlands Road, and Paul McGrattan, 31, of Linden Drive, all Huyton, and Accrington Stanley footballers Robert Grant, 19, of Enstone Avenue, Litherland, and Ian Dunbavin, 28, of Guildford Road, Southport.

Another friend, John McGrattan, 34, of Rimmer Avenue, Huyton, admitted threatening behaviour.

The six men will be sentenced at Liverpool Crown Court on August 7.

Gerrard Verdict Is A Boost To Benitez

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez was delighted his captain Steven Gerrard could now "focus on football" after being cleared of affray on Friday.

This has not been the smoothest of pre-seasons for Benitez, as injuries to Martin Skrtel and Nabil El Zhar forced the pair to return to England for treatment, while speculation continued around the futures of Xabi Alonso, Javier Mascherano and Alvaro Arbeloa.

Benitez was told of Gerrard's acquittal during a training session and said: "We are really pleased. He is very important for us and he can now focus just on football."

He added: "We are all pleased at the club and over here at the training camp.

"We have been supporting him all the time and were just waiting for the decision. Now he can concentrate just on football and hopefully play at the same level as last year."

As he prepared his side for Sunday's friendly against Singapore, Benitez was relieved that the cloud hanging over Gerrard has now been swept away after he was acquitted at Liverpool Crown Court following an incident in Southport on December 29 last year.

Gerrard has missed the Far East trip because of the week-long trial, and will be reunited with his team-mates next week when Liverpool return to the UK.

Benitez also confirmed that Real Madrid target Alonso was fit following an ankle injury and ready to play against Singapore.

Benitez, who also has Yossi Benayoun back from an ankle problem, said: "I am very happy to have Yossi and Xabi back. They are working very hard, the tempo of the session was fantastic and the fans really enjoyed it.

"We are trying to step up our training every day, especially for the international players. We had three teams playing against each other. It was good competition and pleasing for me to see."

Liverpool Legend Kenny Dalglish Praises Gerrard's Character In Court

Liverpool legend Kenny Dalglish has paid tribute to Steven Gerrard in a statement read out during his court case.

Gerrard is currently facing charges of causing affray, and he has received strong support from Dalglish.

The former Scottish international's statement was read out in court, and The Mirror quote it as saying, "I have known Steven Gerrard since he came to Liverpool FC as a 14 year old.

"He is not the archetypal footballer, he does not seek publicity. He does not like moving in movie star circles and does not measure his success by column inches in newspapers.

"In many ways he is different to what people think of as a superstar footballer. He likes to move in private circles.

"He accepts the fact that he is a talented footballer and he is very well paid for what he loves to do, playing football."

Dalglish continued, "Despite the fame and obvious wealth that comes with his level of success, he has not forgotten his roots or where he has come from. I believe those values have been instilled in him by his mum and dad, who I have also met and who are lovely people.

"He is a very respectful young man. He is a humble man and his personality could be described as quiet.

"Stevie receives a lot of grief for simply trying to be normal.”