Thursday, September 17, 2009

Madrid's Champions League Final A Big Prize For Liverpool FC Goalkeeper Pepe Reina

Pepe Reina was as surprised as anyone at Anfield when he saw the weekend headlines.

The Reds goalkeeper stood accused of writing off Liverpool’s hopes of Premier League glory.

After an interview given in his native tongue prior to the resounding win over Burnley, the Spaniard was quoted as saying the title “is not a realistic objective” this season.

However, it appears that something was clearly lost in translation.

Rather than being down in the dumps, Reina is bullish about what this Liverpool side is capable of achieving over the next eight months.

But the 27-year-old insists it would be foolish to burden his team-mates with any bold predictions.

“What I meant was that it’s unrealistic to be talking about winning trophies in September,” he said.

“I’m certainly not pessimistic. It’s just too soon to speak about anything like that and I prefer to wait.

“It’s impossible to win or lose anything at this time. You can only win things in May.

“What I wanted to say is that we have to go little by little, step by step and think game after game. Let’s not put ourselves under stupid pressure.”

After a difficult opening to the season, which saw defeats at the hands of Spurs and Aston Villa, Reina believes the Reds are finally finding their feet.

Back to back wins over Bolton and Burnley have boosted confidence ahead of tonight’s opening Champions League group clash with Debrecen at Anfield.

“It was a really good performance on Saturday and it was important to win in front of our fans after losing to Villa at home,” Reina said.

“A clean sheet and three points was very positive and now we have to keep working hard.

“With players coming back late in pre-season it was tough at the start of the season and it took time for us to get going.

“Now we have a run of matches without any interruptions it will be easier to prepare for every game.”

Reina has played his part in some memorable European campaigns since he arrived at Anfield from Villarreal in the summer of 2005.

And this season he has added motivation with next May’s final being played in his home city of Madrid.

“The Champions League is a competition all players love playing in and I’m really looking forward to getting started,” he said.

“It’s crucial to win the first game, even more so when we’re playing at Anfield. We’ll go out very motivated because whenever we play in front of our own fans we give our all so that we can reward their support with a win.

“We always go a long way in the Champions League and our objective is to play in the final at the Santiago Bernabeu. It’ll be hard but we’ve already played in two finals in this decade, and we want to finish it by playing in another.”

Debrecen have reached the group stage for the first time in their history. The Hungarian champions are expected to be the whipping boys of Group E, which also includes Lyon and Fiorentina, but Reina is wary of writing them off.

He said: “Debrecen are opponents who merit as much respect as Real Madrid or Barcelona.

“The fact they are in the Champions League speaks for itself – it means they are a good team.

“We’ll know everything there is to know about Debrecen because Rafa Benitez and his staff make sure we have all the information on our opponents so that we know their strengths and weaknesses before every match.

“They will come to defend and we have to be ready for a tough game.

“We’ll go out very focused, our attitude will be very positive and we’ll play with a determination to get the three points.”

Lucas: Rafa's Patience Has Saved My Liverpool Career

Brazilian Lucas believes that only the patience and indulgence of manager Rafa Benitez has saved his Anfield career.

The midfielder, who has finally begun to justify the faith shown by the Liverpool coach, explained yesterday that he suffered some dark times that could have shattered his confidence and forced him out of the club.

But even in his bleakest moments, Benitez supported him, and expressed the confidence that he had the talent to prove he can become one of the finest midfielders in world football.

Lucas has become an automatic choice at Anfield, and even the fans who used to boo him have begun to accept he could just be the man to replace the departed Xabi Alonso.

Yet as he lines up tonight against Hungarian side Debrecen in the opening round of Champions’ League side, Lucas explained that it wasn’t always that way.

“The manager has given me incredible support and confidence. If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be here at Liverpool any more,” the Brazil international conceded.

“There were times when the fans turned against me, and that made moments where I doubted myself. But he said he believed in me and my ability, he told me to keep going and get through it, and I took confidence from that.

“In the end, it made me a stronger person. I am mentally and physically stronger now after what has happened. I remember I played against Fulham last season and was booed, probably because I replaced Xabi for that game and the team didn’t play well.

“I was sent off against Everton too, and they were difficult times. But now I try to understand the fans, and I understand that you can sometimes play badly in football as well as play well.

“I scored an own goal at the start of the season against Aston Villa, but because I have confidence and the mental strength from the experience I have had, I knew that these things happen, you have to accept them and deal with them and keep working.”

Benitez has never had any doubts in the midfielder, and he believes that as an all-round package he has the potential to offer as much as anyone in the Premier League, and the talent to replace even a player as popular as Alonso.

Lucas was voted Brazil’s player of the season when he was just 19, and was made captain of his home town club, before starring for his country in World under-19 Championships and the Olympics.

Liverpool stole in to sign him just 24 hours before a Manchester United delegation was due to arrive in Brazil to confirm his signature, and the Anfield boss believes that he will eventually show just why he was regarded as the greatest young talent in that supremely talented footballing nation.

“What he has is an all round ability. He can shoot, head, pass, run, create and score. He is not a 10 out of 10 in any of those, but he is close to 10 in all, and when he puts them all together he has the capacity to be a very fine player,” Benitez said.

“I have never had any doubts about him. He was the best player in his entire country at 19, and it was just a question of him adapting to the pace and physical strength of the Premier League.”

Lucas has done that by putting on 4 kilos over the past two years, and now he is ready to take a step forward. “I have worked to put on the weight, and I feel I am getting better and better. I am happy and I want to be an important player in Liverpool’s history.”

Lucas Leiva Wants To Emulate Steven Gerrard At Liverpool

Liverpool's much-maligned midfielder Lucas Leiva believes that his good form so far this season shows how much he has improved during his time at Anfield, and he is hopeful that now he has a positive future ahead of him on Merseyside.

The Brazilian also feels that playing alongside some of the game's biggest stars means that he cannot fail to better himself in Rafa Benitez's side.

"I'm in my third season now and I'm playing more games," Lucas is reported by The Sun as saying.

"When you have players like Steven [Gerrard] and Javier Mascherano around, you can always learn and they can also help you."

And Lucas drew a direct comparison between himself and Gerrard, implying that the England star did not arrive in the Liverpool first team as a fully-formed superstar.

He said: "Steven, 10 years ago, started like me. But when you are focused and you work hard you can get a chance."

Fernando Torres: Liverpool FC Captain Steven Gerrard Is World's Best Player

Fernando Torres hailed Steven Gerrard the ‘greatest player in the world’ and insists: Liverpool would be lost without him.

Speaking ahead of the launch of his new book, Torres added he believes their inspirational skipper is ‘irreplaceable’ and has vowed to help land him a long overdue first ever Premiership winners medal - and the World Player of the Year Award.

Torres insists Gerrard is the heartbeat of the club and the key factor behind their European and domestic ambitions.

He said: “He is without doubt the greatest player I have ever played with. He has everything.

“At Liverpool, he is irreplaceable. Every big club has a standard bearer, a home-grown talent, someone with a lifelong commitment to the cause. “People come and go but he’s always there. It’s him and ten others. He’s everything to the side. That’s Steven Gerrard at Liverpool. I can’t even begin to imagine the place without him."

Standard Chartered Deal Offers Liverpool Prospect Of Stadium Move

Christian Purslow, the managing director of Liverpool, has vowed to invest the proceeds from the club’s record-equalling £80 million sponsorship deal with Standard Chartered, the London-based international bank, in team rebuilding and ruled out the prospect of income from the agreement being used to reduce debt.

As revealed in The Times on Saturday, Standard Chartered will replace Carlsberg as Liverpool’s main sponsor from July 2010, having tied up a deal worth £20 million per season, a figure that matches the most lucrative secured in football, Manchester United’s agreement with Aon, the insurers, which begins next season.

With the level of Liverpool’s debt estimated at £350 million, a figure disputed by Purslow, there had been fears that a significant portion of the revenue from Standard Chartered would be used to reduce the deficit built up by Tom Hicks and George Gillett Jr., the co-owners, after their purchase of the club in 2007. But Purslow said that this will not be the case.

“The fans will be pleased and relieved to know that Liverpool’s revenues, profits and income is the club’s,” Purslow said. “It stays in the club, it doesn’t go out of the club, its job is to support our football team and so I can assure you, as we drive forward our turnover, we will invest a sensible element in our wage bill and a sensible level of our profits in our transfers.”

Purslow added that heightened commercial activity must be the bringer of success on the pitch. “I hate words like ‘brand,’ ” he said. “I want us to be the best football team in the world and there is a pretty clear link between being the best team and having the best performance off the field.

“But I stress doing so in a way where we pick our spots and our partners carefully, and we never lose sight of why we are doing it and who we are doing it with. We are doing it for our football club and in a way that is consistent with our history and our soul.”

The lack of a new stadium has long been cited as a cause of Liverpool’s inability to maximise their commercial potential and having promised to have “a spade in the ground within 60 days” of their takeover, Hicks and Gillett have backtracked, arguing that the credit crunch has made plans to build a 60,000-capacity stadium in Stanley Park unfeasible. Purslow, though, remains confident that the dream will become a reality once lending for such projects becomes more affordable.

Tom Hicks Signals Era Of Stability At Anfield

Tom Hicks, the Liverpool co-owner, has joined the charm offensive after the signing of the most lucrative sponsorship deal in the club’s history by promising to cut debt levels at Anfield and claiming a new era of stability is under way.

The Texan businessman went as far as to compare Liverpool’s financial situation favourably with Manchester City, arguing that the business model at the City of Manchester City Stadium is “not sustainable”.

Hicks, who also revealed that Carlsberg will continue its association with Liverpool despite being ousted as the club’s main sponsor after the signing of an £80 million four-year agreement with Standard Chartered, the international bank, is the latest figure at Anfield to claim that Liverpool are in rude financial health, in the wake of similar statements by George Gillett Jr., his co-owner, and Christian Purslow, the managing director.

“You have to look at cashflow rather than accounting, and we intend to operate Liverpool where it has a very strong positive cashflow so we have the resources to be as competitive as possible on the pitch — that’s our commitment,” Hicks said. “Our debt levels are at a comfortable level and we are going to continue bringing it down. Our goal is to have less debt than any of the top clubs.

“We are seeing for the first time the real power of the brand and the power of a well-managed club. I feel very good about the entire club. The total sponsorship contracts should probably bring in £25-26 million of incremental revenue a year. It’s a huge development for the club.

“We have an existing contract with Carlsberg until the end of the season. Between now and the end of the season we will finalise new arrangements where we will retain the Carlsberg special sponsorship packages. They will be one of our key sponsors, just not on our shirts.”

Rafael Benítez, the Liverpool manager, hopes to add to his squad when the transfer window reopens in January, something of which Hicks is aware. “Knowing Benítez I suspect he’s got his eye on part of it,” Hicks said. “As we build our revenues, it gives us the ability to be more competitive on the pitch. Everything is very stable. I think the management situation at the club has dramatically improved. There is a real sense of optimism.”

While Liverpool, who met Debrecen at Anfield last night in the Champions League, spent modestly during the summer transfer window, City’s outlay was in excess of £120 million, a figure that Hicks says flies in the face of economic reality. “It’s not sustainable at City, they won’t continue to invest like that as it doesn’t make good economic sense,” he said. “Hopefully they will make the improvements they need to make and then run it more like a business. The smart clubs operate for the long term.”

Torres Exclusive: Day I Realised I'd Never Walk Alone

His head may have been in Madrid but his heart was already in Liverpool.

Even though Fernando Torres didn’t actually realise it, his fate was already sealed.

A flick of the arm, a fleeting connection with a defender jostling for the ball and the ripped skipper’s armband revealed his destiny. The words were clear: ‘We’ll Never Walk Alone’

It wasn’t a ‘come and get me plea’ to Rafa Benitez. Far from it. Instead, the words were meant to signify the bond that existed between Torres and his friends. It was their motto. A play on the words used in famous song adopted by Liverpool Football Club as their anthem.

His friends had the words tattooed on their forearm. Torres, aware of the controversy it would cause opted out so they gave him an armband with the words inscribed on the inside. Their secret – until a clash with a Real Sociedad defender on April 23, 2007 revealed them to the world.

“Destiny seemed to have decided that if I ever left Atletico Madrid it would be for Liverpool,” he said.

“It happened in San Sebastian, in northern Spain, when I was playing for Atletico Madrid against Real Sociedad. I was battling with a defender, and the captain’s armband I was wearing came loose and fell open.

“As it hung from my arm, you could see the message written on the inside, in English. We’ll Never Walk Alone. It wasn’t what I had intended but right there and then I became identified with Liverpool. I hadn’t planned for it, and a future at Anfield hadn’t even crossed my mind but that moment of chance. That accident came to symbolise the next big step in my career: my captaincy at Atletico gave way to the words that define Liverpool.

“All my best friends have the words tattooed on their arms. We were eating together once and they suggested that I do the same. I told them I couldn’t. ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ is a phrase so intimately linked to one of Europe’s biggest clubs, so clearly associated with Liverpool, that I didn’t think it was a good idea.

“I was an Atletico player and a rojiblanco through and through. They decided to give me a new captain’s armband for my birthday with the phrase on the inside so that, even if I wouldn’t get it tattooed on my arm, we would never walk alone.

“I gave the armband to the Atletico kit man, who kept it with the team’s shirts. When it slipped down that day against Sociedad, an eagle-eyed photographer snapped the picture and I was immediately linked to Liverpool.

“Maybe that day I took my first steps towards Anfield, or maybe it was because I already shared things with Liverpool. I identify with the values that define the club: hard work, struggle, humility, sacrifice, effort, tenacity, commitment, togetherness, unity, faith, the permanent desire to improve, to overcome all obstacles...Once a week Liverpool fans feel like the most important people on earth and make the players feel like it to. They give everything and they ask for nothing in return.

“Liverpool FC is a club that despite being used to winning never succumbs to the temptation to start cruising. If you play well the fans enjoy it, and if you play badly they help you get over it. The Liverpool family helped me off the pitch too. It’s as if you live in a neighbourhood where everyone knows you and everyone joins forces for the same cause: the team. Good people, honourable people, who have always got back on their feet however many times destiny has knocked them down. The harder things have been, the more united they have become.”

Torres was tracked by virtually every club in Europe. He wanted to play out his career at Atletico Madrid but eventually realised he must move to achieve his footballing dreams. When Liverpool came calling it provided him with a date with destiny.

He added: “Having turned down various proposals, Rafa Benitez’s call made me reflect and start to have doubts for the first time. I decided it was the right moment to leave and I asked Miguel-Angel Gil Marin, Atletico’s owner, to listen to Liverpool’s offer.

“I didn’t know that Liverpool was the most successful club in England. Since Rafa went to Anfield and took Spanish players with him I had got to know Liverpool better but I didn’t realise that. I thought they were some way behind the teams that I assumed dominated English football: Manchester United and Arsenal. I was surprised when I found out just how incredible their history was and how many titles they had won.

“Istanbul revealed Liverpool’s true spirit. The Spanish television channel Canal Plus broadcast a report about the history of the club after they had won their fifth European Cup in Turkey – about the tragedies at Heysel and Hillsborough, the connection between players and fans, the struggle against adversity.

“The commitment to overcome difficulties and stand tall, the ability to face up to every situation and beat it, it is reserved for true giants. Liverpool FC is a special and complete club, one that plays and fights, that gives everything for the people that follow it.

“I had heard the names that are most associated with Liverpool: Dalglish, Rush, Souness, Keegan, Owen, Fowler, McManaman, Hamann... As someone who has always followed those players who come through the ranks at their clubs, I was especially interested in a young lad from the youth team called Steven Gerrard.

“In the 1980s Liverpool were practically invincible. I was told that the European ban they suffered after Heysel made them stronger domestically, even though they had an important handicap with less of a presence on the international club stage. Rafa Benitez, who has changed things at the club and revived some of the old Liverpool philosophy, giving the club a global presence again."