Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Dirk Kuyt Savours ‘Special’ Talent Of Steven Gerrard

In the most prosaic terms, Steven Gerrard’s goal for Liverpool against Bolton Wanderers on Saturday was enough to win a football match and earn his team three much-needed points. But, as has so often been the case in the career of a genuine sporting tour de force, Gerrard’s strike meant so much more than that.

It rendered criticism of his early-season form if not futile, then certainly misplaced. Gerrard may not have hit the heights in Liverpool’s opening fixtures, but with one majestic swipe of his right foot the midfield player again underlined his importance to a team who are utterly reliant on him.

“That’s why he’s the captain and, for me, the best midfielder in the world,” Dirk Kuyt, the Liverpool forward, said of his team-mate’s latest rescue act.

“Everybody expects that from him. If the team is in a difficult position, we expect something from him. He brings something special. Once again he did it for us against Bolton and we’re all really happy to have him.”

Perhaps the criticism that hurt Gerrard most after Liverpool’s defeat by Aston Villa eight days ago was that of his own manager, Rafael Benítez, who ordered his captain and his senior players to take more responsibility. Tellingly, and perhaps disappointingly for Gerrard himself, the censure did not come in the confines of the dressing room, it came in a post-match press conference, an uncharacteristic departure by the Spaniard.

Kuyt, though, says that Gerrard did not allow the situation to get to him. “Stevie didn’t worry about Villa,” the Dutchman said. “That’s why he’s such a good player. He is always looking forward to the next game. No matter if he’s playing bad or good, he always wants to play better in the next game. That shows what a good professional he is.” Jamie Carragher is in full agreement. “He has taken a bit of criticism this week and it’s never a clever thing to write Stevie off because even when there are times when he doesn’t play well, he will produce a goal like that,” the defender said.

Rafael Benitez Charged With Improper Conduct After Tottenham Outburst

Rafael Benitez could face a touchline ban after the Football Association charged the Liverpool manager for improper conduct over his criticism of referee Phil Dowd following his side’s 2-1 defeat at Tottenham on the opening day of the season.

Benitez stated after the game that “with this referee, it is impossible” to be given two penalties in an away game, as well as indicating his belief Dowd needed glasses during his post-match press conference, after the official waved away a late appeal from Andriy Voronin for a spot-kick. Steven Gerrard had earlier drawn Liverpool level from 12 yards following Heurelho Gomes’s foul on Glen Johnson.

The FA revealed it was investigating the incident on Aug 21 having requested “all available materials” of Benitez’s comments, including television footage and newspaper reports, and later wrote to the Spaniard to ask him to explain his remarks.

A statement released by the FA on Tuesday confirmed that investigation has resulted in a charge after he was found to have transgressed new directives, established in a meeting held before the start of the season, banning managers from calling into question a referee’s neutrality and integrity.

The statement added: “The charge relates to comments made about the match official immediately following the match at White Hart Lane. Benitez has until Sept 15, 2009 to respond.”

While the Spaniard could face a touchline ban for his comments, it is believed he may be let off with a fine and a warning as to his future conduct, though the FA, keen to enforce its Respect campaign, may choose to make an example of the Liverpool manager.

Gerrard Backs Quick-Fire Fishy Business At Anfield

Steven Gerrard has led a host of Europe’s top players in contributing and promoting a new book produced by the World Heart Foundation and UEFA.

Labelled ‘Eat for Goals’ the book aims to promote quick and healthy eating options amongst children and lists players’ favourite recipes including the Liverpool captain’s crunchy sea bream with herbs, Barcelona defender Carles Puyol's pasta with pesto and grilled vegetables and a power omelette nominated by Bayern Munich’s Miroslav Klose.

Former Manchester United star Ruud van Nistelrooy and ex-Arsenal hero Thierry Henry also lend their culinary tips to the recipe collection.

A total of 13 recipes are presented with the aim of educating youth and their families on the interdependency between a balanced healthy diet and performance.

Talking about the importance of the project Steven Gerrard stressed:

"Eat for Goals! shows young players and lovers of football how to cook and eat like champions."

Dutch star Ruud van Nistelrooy, added: "It's vital that children have a healthy lifestyle based on healthy food and exercise. I'm looking forward to cooking the recipesin Eat for Goals! with my children when they're older."

Euro Cup Vital To Keep Liverpool On Track

Liverpool’s shaky start to the season poses a fresh threat to the American ownership of the club.

Tom Hicks and George Gillett Junior's business model depends on Champions League qualification.

Just three weeks into a campaign which began with grand hopes of securing the title, key Anfield figures are gravely concerned about fending off the top four bids of Manchester City and Spurs.

And if they do fail to make that Champions League slot, the owners would come under intense pressure to sell off valuable assets.

That would put the futures of key players such as Fernando Torres, Pepe Reina and Javier Mascherano under the spotlight.

Liverpool have secured bank loans based on regular Champions League participation and the money raised from Euro campaigns is used to invest in the squad. That is worth up to £20million a season.

Hopes for a record £80m shirt sponsorship deal, which is due for renewal, will also be hit by Liverpool's poor start, as advertisers negotiate on the basis of elite Euro involvement for the next few years.

Most worrying for Kop fans is a deep split at the club about who is responsible for the lack of quality in the side.

The Americans' view is "don't blame us." Hicks and Gillett insist they have consistently provided millions to strengthen the squad - including £30m of their own money - and cannot be held responsible for imbalances within it.

They also argue the business model they have put in place is identical to Manchester United and Arsenal, where the budgets are based on regular Champions League involvement.

Manager Rafa Benitez has felt since the day he arrived at Anfield he has not had the same resources as United, Chelsea and Arsenal.

But Liverpool deny the fans' claims of 'missing millions' from summer transfer dealings. At least £7m of the budget was allocated to salary increases over the next year. And around £100m has been committed to new contracts over the next four years.

Twenty-seven backroom and coaching staff also left Anfield over the summer. Some were paid off but battles for unfair dismissal claims are ongoing.

Club sources also point to unpublicised but significant hidden costs such as agents and signing-on fees.

They also began last season 'in the red' to the tune of £9m in terms of transfer deals when they signed Albert Riera. That was balanced by the sale of Robbie Keane back to Spurs for an initial £12m.

But it underlines how the publicised 'ins and outs' column does not paint the full picture. Irate Liver-pool fans demand more funds for their manager, while paradoxically campaigning against the levels of debt.

Benitez did try to ship out more players to raise funds. But Ryan Babel, Riera, Andriy Voronin and Phillip Degen could not be shifted.

Ironically, Benitez's position is safest of all. The club can't afford to sack him as he would collect a £25m pay-off under his new five-year-deal. Also, no one on the board has the sole authority to take major decisions about the manager's position.

The whole scenario underlines Liverpool's tightrope walk since the Americans took over.

A season which started with dreams of securing the first title in 20 years is heading towards further confrontation between those who believe Benitez has been denied resources and owners who insist they have backed him as much as financially viable.

Caught in the middle are the fans, united in their desire to see an end to the American regime, but deeply divided on whether the manager should accept his share of the responsibility.

Liverpool: Just Another Day

Today, as we all know, is the final day of the summer transfer window as this closes at 5pm. Many clubs are a hive of activity as final reinforcements are added to squads, however Liverpool are not expected to be doing much on this day, if anything at all.

Most of the Premier League title rivals are all expected to be fairly quiet today as most of the business that they would've wanted to do has been done already.

I'm sure that Rafa would like to delve into the transfer market at least once more to strengthen the squad but it doesn't look like he'll have the finances to do this, as if he didn't have this over the past two months or so this isn't suddenly going to become available today is it?

In my honest opinion I'd have still liked another striker to arrive but on the whole, even if we might not have strengthened that much on last season we've not become that much weaker either, even if Xabi Alonso is proving a big miss at the moment. We have to wait for Alberto Aquilani to become fit to see just how much we're missing the Spaniard.

It would be a pleasant surprise if Rafa was able to conduct some business today but this isn't something that we're expecting really is it? You can also buy for the sake of buying and this isn't something we want.

Rafael Benitez Happy With Improvement In Injured Players

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez is delighted with the progress that his injured players have made in order to regain full fitness.

The Reds boss began by explaining that Fabio Aurelio will be back by the time the club host Burnley at Anfield on September 12.

"Fabio is back training and playing football," Benitez is quoted by The Liverpool Daily Post as saying.

"After the end of the international break I don’t think he will have any problems and he will be able to be involved in normal training sessions and be in the squad."

The former Valencia manager also indicated that Daniel Agger and Nabil El Zhar are on the road to recovery following back and knee injuries respectively.

"Daniel Agger is walking again after his back operation and Nabil El Zhar’s knee injury is also improving so that is very positive," he remarked.

The gaffer finally touched on the subject of his biggest signing of the summer, Alberto Aquilani, who had an ankle surgery in May and has spent the last three weeks at Melwood continuing his rehabilitation programme.

"Alberto is improving," said the Spaniard.

"We were talking before about six to eight weeks [on the sidelines] and after a few weeks his ankle is much better but he will need time.

"He’s in the swimming pool and in the gym and working with the physios but he’s not jogging yet."

The tactician of the Merseyside club did not reveal how long it will take for Aquilani to make a full recovery, but maintained that the player has shown improvement in his rehabilitation programme.

"We cannot put a date on things and it’s important to just see how he progresses," said 'Rafa'.

"We are checking on him regularly and he had a scan in the past week which showed he is much better.

"It’s just a case of keeping an eye on him every day."

The manager signed off by hinting that he expects big things out of the former Roma player.

"When he does start to play everyone will see what a clever player he is," the Spaniard concluded.

Dirk Kuyt: Liverpool Can't Worry About Arsenal, Chelsea & Manchester United

Four games into the season, and some pundits are already musing that Liverpool's dreams of bagging a maiden Premier League crown are all but shattered.

Rafael Benitez's men have kicked off the 2009-10 campaign in see-sawing fashion, with two losses (against Tottenham Hotspur and Aston Villa) and two wins (over Stoke City and Bolton Wanderers).

Meanwhile, their rivals are flourishing. Manchester United overcame their Burnley embarrassment to deal Arsenal their first setback of the season last weekend, whilst Chelsea are cruising at the summit.

But Dirk Kuyt isn't all that worried, and he believes the Reds must block out what's going on near the top of the table and concentrate on finding their rhythm.

"At this stage it is not important to look at where Chelsea, Man United or Arsenal are because we've got to think about our own game and the win at Bolton was very important after our bad start," he told The Guardian.

"We will be up there soon and we want to show that we belong at the top of the Premier League."

Furthermore, the Netherlands native is certain that all the big boys will suffer this season at the hands of the fast-improving - and hugely ambitious - mid-table teams.

"Chelsea are a top side, we knew that at the start of the season and we've seen that so far. But every team will struggle this season," Kuyt continued.

"Spurs have spent a lot of money and have had a really good start. Manchester City are up there as well and they will take points off teams.

"We just have to concentrate on ourselves, win our games and then see where we are in a couple of months."

Liverpool currently sit seventh in the standings, six points behind the leading pair of Chelsea and Tottenham.