Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Liverpool's Chances Of Winning The Title Were Harmed By The Transfer Window

I was on holiday in a rather remote region when the transfer window closed, so was kept waiting for excited news of frenetic late dealings. And waiting, and waiting, because of course, no one got excited as no remarkable late deals got done.

It leaves me with a real sense of regret, especially where Liverpool are concerned. Of course, I was acutely aware of the fact that they had no money to spend, but still in the back of my brain was a faint hope they had hoodwinked us all, and would go out and make a spectacular star signing that would have the Premier League buzzing.

Most of us can never be neutral when it comes to football, but were you able to be for a second, then it wouldn't be hard to see that Liverpool ending their 20 year wait for the title could only be good for the game in this country.

I believe that English football needs a powerful Liverpool winning trophies, and I think that deep down even Manchester United fans would concede that the lack of a real title threat from Merseyside for much of the past two decades diminishes the game - however slightly.

This was to be their season. Liverpool were within touching distance of the title last season, and would surely have become Champions had they been able to call on even a fraction of the firepower United enjoyed from the bench when games against the likes of Spurs, Aston Villa and Wigan late in the season started to slip away from them.

Rafael Benitez knew that too. The Anfield manager was painfully aware that while he had a team to compete with the best, his squad was too thin, and he didn't have the quality cover required for key positions. Even in March, he was planning to recruit those players.

But the financial crisis that has swept across the globe caught up with the Merseyside club this summer, and instead of investing in those players the manager thought would provide the final step to the title, Liverpool became a club that had to make a profit in the transfer market.

In these current financial conditions, that is no bad thing, and given the climate at the moment, it is difficult to argue that any organisation or individual should start spending money they don't have. And yet, I have a sense that Liverpool may just have been penny wise and pound foolish.

United, while remaining formidable will not be quite the force they were last season, and while Chelsea now have a top class manager and an enviable start to the campaign, they are an aging squad who were not much refreshed in the summer. Manchester City are still some time away from being title contenders, while Arsenal are probably still a little too inexperienced (though I do hesitate to say that.

Had Liverpool invested in a couple of match-winners from midfield and attack, then they would have gone into the season as favourites to win the Premier League. But they didn't, and managed to lose a key player in Xabi Alonso while they were at it.

I still think they can win the title, but now they will need the odds to fall in their favour, particularly where injuries are concerned. Even the normal amount of bad luck all clubs suffer will surely be too much for them to cope with, and should Steven Gerrard, Fernando Torres, Dirk Kuyt or Jamie Carragher have extended spells away from the team, then they will struggle.

The worst case scenario is even grimmer. If City remain within striking distance of the top four until the New Year, their muscle in the January transfer window - potential bans notwithstanding - will make them genuine contenders to break the established order. Then, Arsenal or perhaps an injury-dogged Liverpool will be vulnerable to missing out on crucial European income.

It is my belief that Benitez agrees with this assessment. He knows with the right backing he could have had a proper shot at the title this season, and he knows that his job was made much harder when that backing didn't materialise.

How much harder, only time will tell, but the Spaniard will not settle for second best for too long at Anfield, because he knows that his own position will be in jeopardy should Liverpool go another season without a trophy.

As I said, an end to the Reds' wait for the title will surely be a good thing for English football. It is just a shame the club didn't appear to recognise the glorious opportunity they surely had this summer to secure that elusive piece of silverware.

Carragher Defends Young Signings

Jamie Carragher has said scouting for young talent abroad is perfectly acceptable - as long as it is done within the rules.

The Liverpool defender, who came through the youth ranks on Merseyside alongside captain Steven Gerrard, believes provided young English players are given the chance to prove themselves, then bringing in foreign youngsters should be allowed.

Since Chelsea were banned from signing any players in the next two transfer windows after their swoop for former Lens striker Gael Kakuta, Manchester United and Manchester City have also been accused of tapping-up hot prospects.

Carragher feels it is up to the governing bodies to define what is allowed and what is breaking the rules.

"As long as the clubs aren't breaking the rules, there's not a lot that you can say," he told Sky Sports News.

"Those are the rules and if you can get players from abroad very cheap who are very good then you can't say no if you think it's going to improve your first-team in the future.

"But as long as the clubs aren't breaking the rules. I think it's up to Fifa or Uefa if they want to change the rules but as long as the clubs can hold their heads up high and know that they've done nothing wrong then that's the main thing."

The Reds fans' favourite also praised the youth set-up at Anfield, and said the Scouse core of the team that Liverpool currently have will always continue.

"The more people you bring in will obviously make it a little more difficult but I think the spirit and the quality that we've got at Liverpool, I'm sure it will come through in the end," he added.

"We've got it now (a Scouse core). I think hopefully so, we've still got it at the moment. Hopefully for a few more years and when me and Stevie finish, there'll be more coming through."

Liverpool Boss Rafa Benitez Insists Ryan Babel Going Nowhere

Rafa Benitez has dismissed any talk of Ryan Babel leaving Liverpool in the January transfer window to join Ajax on loan and called on the striker to prove himself at Anfield.

Babel has expressed a desire to return to Holland in order to improve his hopes of making the Dutch World Cup squad but Benitez maintained his international place could be secured while playing for the Reds.

'Ryan knows he cannot go now, so he has to impress,' said Benitez. 'He is a good player and we know he has talent. It's important for us to talk with him and see how he progresses over these months.

'With the World Cup at the end of the year the majority of our players will want to impress and if they do well in each training session they will have more chances.'

The Liverpool boss also responded to complaints from both Babel and Albert Riera about a lack of first-team football by calling on both players to do their talking on the pitch.

But Benitez insists he is happy with both players and sees the competition for starting places within Liverpool's squad as healthy.

'Albert and Ryan both want to play,' said Benitez. 'They play in the same position and so have to compete with each other, which is good for us.

'The message is very simple. On the pitch all of the players have to prove something.'

Liverpool FC Assistant Manager Sammy Lee Hails Return Of Fabio Aurelio

Liverpool assistant boss Sammy Lee has hailed the return to fitness of left-back Fabio Aurelio.

The Brazilian has been sidelined since he injured his knee in a freak accident while playing with his son in the close season.

He missed all the Reds’ friendly matches and has sat out their first four Premier League clashes.

But the 29-year-old is now back in full training at Melwood and is in line to make his comeback at home to Burnley on Saturday.

Aurelio’s return increases competition for places with youngster Emiliano Insua having been preferred at left-back to Italian Andrea Dossena so far this season.

“Fabio will be like a new signing for us,” Lee said.

“He wasn’t available for pre-season, but he’s coming back and hopefully we’ll have him chomping at the bit and competing for a place very shortly. Any team likes to have all of their players available. That brings its own problems of course because you have to pick a team from them, but we would prefer to have that problem than a situation where players are out injured

“Rafa has said on many occasions he is confident with the squad we have and we feel we can mount a challenge on all fronts.”

Meanwhile, Lee has leapt to the defence of Liverpool right-back Glen Johnson.

The £17million defender was criticised for his performance for England in Saturday’s 2-1 win over Slovenia, but Lee has been delighted with the impact Johnson has made at Anfield since he made the switch from Portsmouth.

The 25-year-old has added a new dimension to the Reds’ attacking play and has already helped himself to two goals in four appearances.

“Glen is a quality player in a quality team and I think he has added something to us,” Lee added.

“What we try to do in each and every area and department is recruit quality and we feel we have done with Glen.

“He has come here and has been willing to listen and learn. For someone who is already an established England international that’s great and long may it continue.”

Why Most Liverpool Fans Don't Care About England

Anyone tuning in to ITV1 late on Saturday afternoon will have been greeted by the sight of grown men sporting silly hats in a sea of similarly dressed people and empty red seats. This, apparently, was Wembley's pre-match atmosphere in all its glory ahead of England's friendly with Slovenia. The St George Cross hung from every ledge in the famous (new) stadium as the national side took to the field and will no doubt be out in force again on Wednesday night when Croatia visit the capital.

However, the nation's symbol does not fly proudly on the streets of Merseyside nor does it feature every other week on the world famous embankment situated on Walton Breck Road. Whilst devotees of the national side will point out that Anfield has been used in recent times for Three Lions’ friendlies, thus being filled with St George Crosses, the majority of Liverpool supporters have a lack of interest in all things England.

In the late seventies and early eighties, Union Jacks adorned terraces across Europe as the Reds reigned supreme on the continent. It was more a sign of cultural identity than anything else. Margaret Thatcher's iron grip on the country, especially in traditionally left-wing cities like Liverpool, combined with the English disease saw Kopites shed their national allegiances and adopt a separatist, club-only stance.

Another contributing factor is the traditional clientele who hang the national flag with pride at Wembley and beyond. Whilst the names of Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea are proudly emblazoned on St George Crosses, they are outnumbered by the likes of Bradford City, MK Dons and Peterborough United. The reason being that England's most ardent supporters come from the lower leagues. There is no correct reason for this but a common view is that it is the closest they will come to seeing top flight players at their peak

Somewhere in the middle of the national hysteria surrounding Euro '96, a new breed of England fans arrived; ones who will don the fancy dress and provide the FA's marketing department with the ideal unique selling point to entice more gullible masses to brand England. The fans inside Wembley on Saturday belted out their own renditions of 'Ring of Fire' and 'We're gonna bounce in a minute'. Interestingly, both originated from the upper echelons of the Kop and the latter is an overture to the chant for Liverpool's current number nine who incidentally is a Spaniard.

Fortunately, Wembley is not Anfield. There is more than one flag that has been waved to show support for Liverpool Football Club. Creativity, diversity and innovation are at the forefront of every matchday as supporters flood the terraces with colour and sound. There is certainly no need for a makeshift brass band to add an out-of-tune backing to ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ or any other chant for that matter.

Ajax Coach Martin Jol Baffled By Ryan Babel Rumours

Ajax coach Martin Jol has taken the time to react to the rumours linking the Amsterdam side with a loan move for Dutch international Ryan Babel from Liverpool in the upcoming winter transfer window.

The 22-year-old recently expressed his desire to play regular first team football and told Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf that he considers returning to Ajax on a temporary basis.

"I read the interview with Babel, but I am not sure what to think about it. I will not seriously consider loaning Babel from Liverpool until he calls me to discuss such a move. I will think about it if a loan-deal turns out to be a realistic opportunity," Jol quoted as saying by De Telegraaf.

It remains to be seen whether Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez will allow Babel to leave the club during the winter break, even on a temporary basis.

Carlsberg Sign Four-Year Extension To English Soccer Sponsorship

Carlsberg, long-term sponsors of English soccer giants Liverpool and a number of other Premier League clubs, have extended their sponsorship of the Football Association, the governing body of English soccer, for the next four years.

While serious doubts remain about Carlsberg's future at Liverpool, the company has signed an extension to the partnership that sees it the official beer of both the England team and the FA Cup and the lucrative position as exclusive beer pouring partner at Wembley, the national stadium. Carlsberg will also be title sponsor of the FA's Referees Programme.

"This is great news for Carlsberg UK, our customers, consumers and our employees," said Gareth Roberts, Carlsberg UK's director of sponsorship & media relations. "This clearly states our continued commitment to delivering unique and exclusive activity that supports the trade in challenging times. Carlsberg's reputation in sponsorship continues to go from strength to strength and with this new agreement in place, its established involvement with the Uefa European Championships and a number of high-profile Premier League clubs, Carlsberg can clearly boast a portfolio second to none."

The new deal will start in August 2010, at the end of the current four-year contract. it will take in the Euro 2012 and 2014 Fifa World Cup tournaments.

Jonathan Hill, the FA's outgoing commercial director, commented: "As reflected by their innovative advertising campaigns, Carlsberg are arguably the most pro-active and creative of beer brands. It's great that we will be able to continue to bring their energy to our top assets namely England, the FA Cup and Wembley Stadium – and now the key area of recruiting and retaining referees, to the benefit of the amateur game in particular."

Financial details behind the extension were not disclosed, but it is thought to be in line with previous contracts and worth around US$14 million per year.

Liverpool Facing £1million Bill fFor Crewe Youngster

Liverpool could have to pay more than £1million to sign teenager Max Clayton after complaints about an unofficial approach from his club Crewe.

The Anfield side are the latest Premier League giants to come under scrutiny for their behaviour in recruiting top young talent from smaller teams, after a passionate outburst from Gresty Road director of football Dario Gradi.

The veteran boss has been angered by what he claimed was - in effect - an attempt to "steal" the 15-year-old, and he hinted an official complaint to the FA could follow.

But by last night there had been no contact with Soho Square over the matter, and Liverpool will look to swiftly settle by offering what they consider a reasonable level of compensation.

Crewe could expect to get less than £100,000 if they went to a tribunal, and that left Gradi complaining: "The big clubs are stealing other people's players and you worry financially for the clubs the players are stolen from.

"What sort of compensation are we going to get for all the work that has gone into developing him? Any compensation is insignificant for the effort that's gone in."

But after the fall-out from the Chelsea affair, when the Blues were banned from making any signings for 18 months after being found guilty of an illegal approach to Lens for Gael Kakuta, the Anfield club are ready to offer much more than the minimum compensation figure.

Clayton is regarded as the best young prospect at the Cheshire club, who have produced the likes of Danny Murphy, Rob Jones, Dean Ashton and Seth Johnson through their youth system.

The talented youngster is about to turn 16 and, through a loophole in football rules, can give notice that he wants to leave for another club, despite being attached to Crewe since he was seven years old.

He is the son of former Crewe striker Paul Clayton, and his brother Harry is a first year scholar at Gresty Road. Liverpool have watched him for the past 18 months, and were linked with a £1.5million bid in 2008.

Gradi has become increasingly frustrated at the manner in which his club has lost young players from their famed youth academy.

Manchester United persuaded two players to join them from Crewe last season, while Stoke signed two teenagers this summer, and Everton even took a 12-year-old from the academy.

Liverpool, though, are aware of the current mood after complaints about Chelsea and Manchester United have highlighted an increasing trend in top clubs taking the best young players from much smaller rivals.

They will offer a deal where Crewe are given a rising fee depending on the youngster's success in progressing through the ranks at Anfield, and it could eventually top £1million.

All The Latest From Liverpool FC’s Academy

Liverpool under-18s failed to bounce back from last week’s defeat to Leicester and they suffered another loss at Nottingham Forest on Saturday.

After opening the FA Premier Academy League campaign with a victory Rodolfo Borrell’s side were beaten for a second time in succession when going down 2-0 at Nottingham Forest.

Without last year’s top scorer, Finnish striker Lauri Dalla Valle, through injury and also attacking midfielder Tom Ince Liverpool made little impression on the Forest backline in the one-sided first half.

The home side proved too strong, but after the break Liverpool improved and did find the net through defender Conor Coady, who was playing in a more advanced role than normal. But his effort was ruled out for a marginal offside decision.

Borrell said: “In the first half they were a bit stronger than us. They played long balls at times and went into the lead.

“In the second half we were better than them. We had more possession of the ball, and they tired a little.

“But we couldn’t score the goals that would have got us back (into the game). We did score one goal, which the referee said was offside. I wasn’t sure about it but from my position it was hard to see. At 2-1 it may have been different.

“But we are not looking for excuses. It’s time not to say a lot and we have just got to work hard and get ready for the next game.”

Liverpool will continue to put that hard work in on the training ground to get back on track this week. They take on Barnsley at the Kirkby Academy this Saturday (kick-off 11.30am) and will be desperate to return to winning ways after the disappointment of the past two weeks.

Borrell said: “We just need to get ready for the next game and continue to look forward. We need to work hard and improve. The players are doing this and hopefully we can improve.”

Liverpool will check on Dalle Valle to see if is able to return and provide a cutting edge.