Thursday, August 13, 2009

We Can Beat Anyone ... But We Need Luck On Our Side - Jamie Carragher

For all the training to do, money to spend and skill to have, it’s amazing that so much of what happens in football can be chalked up to luck.

It is on the pitch where players and fans pray most for such intervention, but even off it, Jamie Carragher for one, certainly laments the lack of luck Liverpool have had recently in finding young players who would go on to become household names, as they did during the club's golden era.

Gone are the days of Liverpool’s legendary chief scout, from 1967 to 1985, Geoff Twentyman.

A former Liverpool player, Twentyman was recruited by Bill Shankly and went on to unearth a host of world-famous stars that helped the Reds’ claim 18 league championships.

Twentyman worked tirelessly, travelling up and down the country in his trademark Cortina to write reports on young up-and-coming professionals such as Alan Hansen, Terry McDermott, Steve Nicol, Ian Rush, Phil Neal and Kevin Keegan, to name but a few.

Having passed away over five years ago at the age of 74, Twentyman left an incredible legend at Anfield. Here in his own restaurant celebrating the launch of the book Secret Diary of a Liverpool Scout – stories behind the signings that shaped the course of history,
Jamie Carragher believes the world will never see the likes of Twentyman again. “Where would Liverpool have been with out players like Hansen and Rush?” he says, in his first ever exclusive.

“The game is a lot more global now, so I think scouts have to look all over the world. So modern scouting has to be different now because the game has got a lot more global and you see clubs sending scouts all over the world. But it’s so different now - look at the prices clubs want for young players.

“The amount of great players that Geoff Twentyman unearthed was just something else. He made sure all the players he bought over were down to earth and had there feet on the ground. He could tell straight away if they were right for Liverpool.

“People say I can’t shut up about football, but Geoff Twentyman was just unbelievable. Like Rafa Benitez, who just talks about just football, Geoff just lived for the game and obviously loved the game and the club he also played for.

“The role of a scout is just as important as that of a manager. Although Geoff Twentyman is not a big a name as Bob Paisley and Shanks, I hope he gets some recognition outside of Liverpool for what he did, because he put peoples' minds at ease and you don’t want uncertainty at a football club. You want clear heads knowing that people are doing their jobs, although as players we always try our best to get on with it."

With the Reds' talent pool drying up, Carra can still point to an English club continuing a similar legacy to that of old Liverpool's - but it's not one many at Anfield want to spend too much time thinking about. “I've always respected Manchester United for bringing young kids in, and they should have respect for what Geoff did," insists the defender. "Some clubs are too big-headed but we are just working-class clubs.”

Carragher likes Liverpool's chances of contending for their first ever Premier League title just as they did last season, and again, he sees little to separate the top four clubs - with no mention of Manchester City.

“The top four are very evenly balanced and it’s rare that you’ll see one team easily beating the others," he says. "We know each other so well, we know who the danger men are, we try to stop them.

“You have the likes of Chelsea who have a new manager but the personnel hasn’t changed too much. The spine of their team’s as good as anyone else’s, and the likes of Man United and Arsenal are always going to test you to the limit.

“Big games are settled by small details but we are capable of beating anyone and we don’t fear anyone. We can go anywhere and win."

But then, there's that crucial element - from the 2005 Champions League final, to the 2007 edition, then to just five months ago in the quarter-finals. “You also need luck on your side and at times," insists Carra. "Like in Istanbul, luck was on our side, but at times we have not been so lucky: we didn’t have any luck in Athens and last year against Chelsea.”

The former England international confirms he will be fit for the start of the season to ease the pressure on Rafa's injury-hit back-line, but knowing that, at 31, he can't go on forever, he will be hopeful of a new Geoff Twentyman emerging, so that he may find a new Carragher, a new Gerrard, and if they're lucky, maybe a few more for good measure.

England Boss Fabio Capello Admits He’d Love To Clone Liverpool FC’s Steven Gerrard

THE KOP has a famous song about a Liverpool team containing 11 ‘Jamie Carraghers’ but Fabio Capello admits he’d like to clone the defender’s Anfield team-mate Steven Gerrard.

In the absence of a cloning machine, Fabio Capello will hand Ashley Young a chance to impress for England in their friendly with Holland tomorrow.

If Capello’s dreams were to become reality, he would simply have replaced Steven Gerrard with an exact replica when the Liverpool skipper pulled out with a minor groin injury.

Real life is not so simple, which is why Young will get another chance to face top quality opposition in the Amsterdam Arena after failing to impress against Germany last November.

The Aston Villa man has been picked since becoming the only negative point from an otherwise memorable evening in Berlin. But since Andorra provided the opposition in a six-goal rout in June, that doesn’t really count.

“I cannot clone Stevie,” observed the Italian.

“Every player has a different style and Ashley Young is really important because he is one of the English players who can dribble and take people on one-on-one.

“He has only played twice for me. The first time it was so-so. The second he played very well.

“Now he needs the confidence to perform against one of the best national sides in the world.”

As Capello seems to have mastered the art of generating the most from his players, confidence is the one thing Young should not be lacking as England face the only European side to have already qualified for next summer’s World Cup.

Not that such an impressive performance allows them to be rated alongside Euro 2008 winners Spain, the team Capello still regards as number one in the world despite their untimely Confederations Cup exit at the hands of the USA.

Still, Oranje represent a significant test for an England side whose only defeats under their impressive manager have come away from Wembley, against France and Spain.

“Holland do not have the same quality as Spain but they have had some really good results, so it is a really important test,” said Capello.

“It gives us an opportunity to understand what we will have to do if we play against a team with the same style in South Africa.”

The exit of Theo Walcott from training having played no meaningful part suggests he will not play in a match that takes place before the Premier League starts.

Rafa Frets Over Torres

Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez has admitted he has spoken to the Spain national team to ensure Fernando Torres does not run the risk of picking up an injury.

Torres is currently away with Spain for Wednesday's friendly with Macedonia with Benitez hoping he returns with no injury problems for the start of the Premier League season this weekend.

The Reds hit-man saw his campaign last term blighted by a series of injuries picked up on international duty and Benitez is keen to avoid a repeat of that situation.

Torres has endured a busy summer having featured for Spain at the Confederations Cup and Benitez is hoping to have the striker firing on all cylinders this season.

"We would like to take things carefully and ease him back in, but of course it is now out of control because he is with Spain," Benitez told The Mirror.

"It is hard to say where he is at, but he came back very late because he was with Spain in such an important tournament. I can say he has not had enough training and then he scores two goals.

"But equally I can I say he has had enough time and he misses three chances, and then you will have he has not had enough training and he is not fit.

"He has gone with the national team and we are talking with the staff to make sure they do the right things with him. That is all we can hope."

Pepe Reina Fears Liverpool Could Pay The Price After Selling £30m Xabi Alonso To Real Madrid

Pepe Reina fears that Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez will rue the departure of compatriot Xabi Alonso because the midfielder is virtually irreplaceable.

The Spain star sealed his protracted move to £30million Real Madrid last week and Benitez moved quickly to bring in £20m Italy international Albert Aquilani from Roma.

But the Reds No 1 is concerned that his side may struggle to compensate Alonso's absence in midfield this season, particularly with captain Steven Gerrard facing a race against time to be fit for Saturday's Barclays Premier League opener against Spurs, while new boy Aquilani has already been ruled out for the trip to White Hart Lane.

'It is very difficult to find a ­player like Xabi,' the goalkeeper said.

'Of the central midfielders in the world it is very difficult to find one as complete as Alonso. He is like a fabulous orchestra conductor on the pitch.

'He can do everything. He can play short passes, long passes, he heads it well and he is tactically very astute.'

Despite losing the services of his compatriot, Reina is still adamant that Liverpool are in with a serious shout to win an elusive Premier League title this term.

The Reds were blighted by inconsistent home form during their quest to prise the championship from the grasp of champions Manchester United, finishing runners-up.

But with United boss Sir Alex Ferguson losing key men Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez in the close season, Reina believes there is great expectation at Anfield.

'This year almost all the big sides have lost an ­important player,' he added.

'I believe Everton, Aston Villa or Manchester City could really make it exciting this season.'

Bad News For England Offers Timely Anfield Boost

Steven Gerrard’s recent withdrawal from the England squad will not prevent the talismanic midfielder from starting Liverpool’s game against Tottenham this weekend according to the Liverpool Daily Post.

Gerrard pulled out of tonight’s friendly with Holland due to a slight groin strain, despite training with the England squad on Monday. Capello recently suggested he would like to have played Gerrard, but in his absence Aston Villa star Ashley Young will be given an opportunity to shine.

The early indications suggest Gerrard will start the Premier League game at the weekend, giving Rafa Benitez a timely boost ahead of a crucial season for the Reds.

Gerrard’s teammates Jamie Carragher, Martin Skrtel and Daniel Agger are all major doubts for the game at White Hart Lane, while concerns remain over Fernando Torres’ fitness.

Kuyt & Benayoun Are Key Men For Liverpool This Season - David Fairclough

Former Liverpool striker David Fairclough is optimistic about his old club's chances of ending their 20-year wait for a league title, and feels that the experience of coming so close last season will stand them in good stead over the course of the coming campaign.

"There'd be no point in starting if we didn't think we could win the league," he told Sky Sports News.

"With the support Liverpool have anything's possible. Liverpool have shown down the years when they've been written off that they're the side that can come back better than anybody else."

Players such as Dirk Kuyt and Yossi Benayoun must also step forward and relieve some of the pressure to create and score goals from the shoulders of Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres, without whom the Reds struggled to score last season.

"One or two players have grown into their positions and also they've come on a ton because of their good form last season. Particularly Dirk Kuyt, Yossi Benayoun. They've got big parts to play I think," he concluded.

Lucas Leiva Targeting Spot In Brazil Squad For World Cup

Lucas Leiva has been the glimmer of light in an otherwise dark pre-season for Liverpool, but his showings on the pitch were not enough to earn him a place in the Brazil squad that will play Estonia this week.

However, the 22-year-old remains hopeful that he will soon make the cut into the national team and travel to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

"It's one year from the World Cup and I have the target of being in the squad," Lucas told the club's official website.

"I also have the target of playing more games at Liverpool.

"It could be a really good year for me."

The youngster touched upon his fitness and the Reds' hope of securing some silverware this season.

"It's the first full pre-season I've been able to do in England so this has given me more confidence and fitness," he said happily.

"When you play at a club like Liverpool you have to think about trophies because we're one of the biggest clubs in the world.

"I am looking forward to doing it this season.

"My first title in Europe would be great. When you are young you want to make history and I am here to try and help Liverpool Football Club create more history."

The Brazilian will be given some time to impress manager Rafael Benitez, since the club's latest acquisition, Alberto Aquilani, is out for two months following surgery.

Anfield Aces Up For The Cook

Liverpool footie stars are going to prove they can take the heat - by having a Masterchef-style cook off to see who the best chef is.

The competition is between Anfield buddies Steven Gerrard, Jamie Carragher and Fernando Torres, who has got the edge as his nickname is Nando.

The players have even recruited telly's Hell's Kitchen supremo and Michelin star chef Marco Pierre White.

October's final will be held in Jamie's city centre sports restaurant, with Marco adding expert comments and post-meal analysis.

And despite there being only a few days left until the team kick-off their Premier League season against Spurs on Sunday, there's only one thing on their minds.

An Anfield insider said: "The lads have all been having a bit of banter.

"Stevie, Carra and Nando are good mates and they agreed to do it as a bit of a laugh.

"They've all been practicing hard at home. Stevie keeps joking he's going to whip up a pan of Scouse while Nando and Carra want to do something a little fancy.

"Nando fancies himself as the favourite, he is always cooking at home for his missus and reckons his Spanish dishes will win over Marco and the other diners."