Friday, September 25, 2009

Benitez Facing Struggle To Keep Pace As £20m Transfer Limit Revealed

Rafael Benitez’s struggle to keep pace with the Premier League elite is revealed in documents which suggest Liverpool's net summer spending will be locked at £20m until 2014 -- a figure which will also include wage increases accruing from contract renewals.

The figures, which suggest the manager must continue to sell before he can buy, are contained in a prospectus published in March by investment banks Rothschild and Merrill Lynch to attract potential investors.

The prospectus, which provides a sense of how desperately Liverpool's owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett need new finance, reveals the Americans were considering increasing the average ticket price by 8pc to help ease the club's debt problems. They were also seeking to raise £100m from investors and loans as pressure built to refinance a debt of £290m.

Gillett and Hicks paid £50m four months later, in July, to get a year's extension to the debt facility they have used to purchase and run the club since their takeover in February 2007.

This season they have secured a new £20m-a-year sponsorship deal with Standard Chartered Bank, a major improvement on the previous £14.6m Carlsberg deal and hope to retain a role for Carlsberg, the club revealed yesterday.

Yet the underlying lack of finance for Benitez remains a problem. It might not be as dire a position for the club as suggested by the banner unveiled by Liverpool fans before the Carling Cup tie with Leeds at Elland Road on Tuesday -- "We are the new Leeds" it read -- but Benitez is clearly limited in his options in the transfer market.

The section of the Rothschild/Merrill Lynch document relating to "player transfer payments" states: "Management believes that the normalised long-run level of new net player capital expenditure is £20m." The accompanying data suggests "long-run" means the next five years. This figure "will grow together with increases in media broadcasting revenues," the bankers promise.

Though revenues from British broadcasters are expected to drop, overseas rights should grow before 2014. This summer, the £30m sale of Xabi Alonso to Real Madrid helped offset the outlay on Glen Johnson and Alberto Aquilani.

The need to generate cash to finance future purchases next summer may make it more difficult to resist selling Javier Mascherano.

The Argentinian, who was yesterday cleared by the FA over the incident in which he appeared to swing a forearm at Leeds' Jermaine Beckford at Elland Road on Tuesday night, has been strongly linked with a move to Barcelona.

Liverpool FC Fans Put Off Sponsors, Says Managing Director

Despite Liverpool concluding a world record shirt sponsorship deal with Standard Chartered earlier this month - a partnership the bank put down to the club's huge global fan-base - managing director Christian Purslow has warned that those same fans could put off other sponsors.

There has been great discontent at Anfield over the club's management by owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett, which has manifested itself in a number of fan protests. However, Purslow has called on the fans to cease those protests, warning them that their actions harm the club's commercial development, and have made it more difficult to conclude deals.

"Specific protest action at games made the financial and commercial part of the development of LFC more difficult as it can put off potential sponsors and business partners if they think there will be hassle," said Purslow in a meeting with the Spirit of Shankly (SOS) group.

Meanwhile, the club has again stated its desire for outgoing shirt sponsor Carlsberg to remain a club partner. "We see lots of opportunities for Carlsberg to continue with us - as do they," said Liverpool commercial director Ian Ayre. "Fans think of it as part of our family."

Kuyt: Johnson One Of The Best

Striker Dirk Kuyt believes summer signing Glen Johnson has provided Liverpool with a different emphasis this season.

The England defender, who moved from Portsmouth in the summer, has probably been the Merseysiders' best player so far, scoring twice and providing a much-needed cutting edge from right-back.

Johnson, 25, may yet have to win over critics who are skeptical about his defensive strengths but there are no doubts over his ability as an attacking force.

"I think Glen has done really well," said Kuyt.

"He was a big signing for us but he has shown straight from the start that he is very important - both defensively and in attack.

"He has scored some very good goals and provided some assists. He is probably one of the best players in the team so far this season.

"He is still young and I think he will only get better and better."

Kuyt's fellow striker David Ngog is prepared to play a waiting game as he tries to force his way into the starting line-up.

Tuesday's Carling Cup match-winner at Leeds accepts he is behind Fernando Torres, Kuyt and probably even Andriy Voronin in the Anfield centre-forward pecking order.

However, he hopes scoring the only goal at Elland Road will have given manager Rafael Benitez another glimpse of his talents.

"I think I played okay. The intensity of the game made it difficult and I was very happy to score," said the 20-year-old, who joined Liverpool from Paris St Germain in the summer of 2008. "When you are a striker, scoring is always the best thing. That is our job and what we work for.

"Of course I know that I'm not going to play every game so when the coach gives me a chance, I want to do my best for the team and try to score.

"I know I have to be patient and all I can do is when I get a chance, try to take it and show the manager what I can do.

"I hope I have done that and shown the manager my qualities and that I can be another possibility in attack."

No FA Rap For Javier Mascherano

Javier Mascherano has escaped disciplinary action following his clash with Jermain Beckford at Elland Road on Tuesday night.

The Liverpool midfielder appeared to strike his Leeds opponent with his arm as they tangled during the Carling Cup third round tie, which the Reds won 1-0.

However, the contact has been deemed accidental and Mascherano will not face a ban for the incident.

Referee Alan Whiley claimed that he didn’t see the altercation but on viewing a replay decided he would not have penalised the Argentinian for his part in the incident.

Had it been viewed as a red card offence, Mascherano could have been hit with a three-match ban but is now free to face Hull City at Anfield in the Premier League on Saturday.

An FA spokesman said: “No further action will be taken against Javier Mascherano.”

Liverpool have also been handed a disciplinary boost by UEFA, who have banned Fiorentina’s Alberto Gilardino for two Champions League games.

It will rule the World Cup-winning striker out of the group game with Liverpool on Wednesday.

Gilardinho was sent off during the Viola’s opening game at Lyon, where they lost 1-0.

A statement on the Fiorentina’s website said: “UEFA’s disciplinary commission has given Alberto Gilardino a two-match suspension after his sending off against Lyon.

The player will be able to play on November 4 at the Artemio Franchi against Debrecen.”

Marking Needs To Change - Lawrenson

Former Liverpool defender and BBC pundit Mark Lawrenson says the Reds need to choose a defensive system which suits their players and the rigours of Premier League football.

Liverpool have often been criticised for employing a zonal making system when defending set-pieces and Lawrenson believes it is now time manager Rafa Benitez used a hybrid way of defending.

The former Republic of Ireland international, who made 332 appearances in his time in Liverpool, says a hybrid system is not too dissimilar to how the Reds defended when he graced the Anfield turf.

"You need a system which is a hybrid and means you have certain players in certain positions," Lawrenson told BBC Radio Merseyside.

"I remember in my day, Ronnie Whelan would mark the middle of the six-yard box and never pick anybody up - that was his job. Then we'd have two people on the post and the rest of us just picked our men up.

"Basically in many ways its fool-proof. If you mark your man and you stop him from getting the ball or you make it difficult for him, if you all do that job, it's very difficult for teams to score against you.

"Whereas nowadays, with the zonal thing, somebody just gets half a yard on the marker, and because of the way the balls are delivered into the box now, it's good night. It's a goal again.

"I do think it's a hybrid thing. If you're [Martin] Skrtel, [Daniel] Agger and [Jamie] Carragher, you mark their best headers of the ball and you make sure they don't get onto the ball. So I don't really get it.

"It's just a mixture of man marking and zonal and I think it can be done."

Despite having suffered two league defeats this season by Tottenham and Aston Villa, Lawrenson believes his former side can still challenge for the Premier League title.

"I think the top four teams Arsenal, Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester United - it may well be a season were you can afford to lose a couple more games," he continued. "I think that's the way it started, Chelsea apart.

"I think it looks like we're a little taken a back by Xabi Alonso leaving [to Real Madrid] and we started a bit sluggishly. But the results since have been very good."

Mystery Of The Ditched Rotation Policy At Liverpool

It was late Saturday night, and the two guys at the bar, who had enjoyed more than one or two scoops to celebrate Fernando Torres’s return to form, were creating their own version of a famous Two Ronnies sketch.

“Whatever happened to...” said one. “Baby Jane?” replied the other.

“No, no, whatever happened to...” the first bloke tried again, this time to be met by “the Likely Lads?”

“No, no”, he persisted,” whatever happened to”...”The Heroes?” came a last desperate reply.

“No, no” the first guy cried in exasperation, “Rotation! Rotation! Whatever happened to rotation?”

A fair question indeed. Just when exactly did Rafa Benitez metamorphose into Bill Shankly?

“Same as last season”, Shankly used to reply when asked to name his team for any particular game.

Before Tuesday night’s match, just 15 players had started for Rafa in the seven competitive games to date, and three of those had played just one game each, meaning that just 12 have borne the burden of these early season fixtures (I knew that Maths ‘O’ Level would show its worth one day).

This compares to 17 in the same period last season; and 19 and 17 in the first seven league games of the two previous seasons. So has Rafa had an epiphany, the ghost of Mark Lawrenson’s moustache appearing to him in chains, moaning “you should always play your best side”?

Or are there other dark forces at work, such as those that bend time at Old Trafford, so that otherwise fastidious referees become befuddled when looking at their own watches?

The answer, I suspect, is that he has been blown off course by, as Harold MacMillan put it, “events, dear boy, events”.

The loss of Alonso and the injuries to Aurelio, Aquilani and Agger (watch out Babel and Benayoun) have reduced the numbers at his disposal certainly, shrinking the pool of talent available.

This pool is of course shrunk even further by the evaporation known as Voronin, Degen and Dossena, whose status as fringe players must surely owe more to their haircuts than any aspiration to first team standing.

But the real reason why Rafa has chosen to ignore one of his most devout canons, the rotation of players to preserve their energy for later in the season, is the seismic ramifications of those two early defeats, immediately plunging us six points adrift of the Chelsea arrivistes.

For despite the obvious clich├ęs of it being a long season, plenty of points to play for etc., any further deficit incurred before we travel to Stamford Bridge a week on Sunday would put us at risk of being 10-12 points behind should our dire record at the Home of No History prior to last season return to haunt us.

Putting on a brave face in this situation would require the combined acting skills of John Gielgud and Ralph Richardson, aided by the entire staff of the BBC Make-up Department.

So while there may appear to be plenty of time available for us to claw our way back to the top, the reality is that Rafa has been unable to take the risks inherent in rotation, and has sensibly opted to delay any radical changes until the situation improves.

Our aim now must surely be to stay in contention until Christmas at the earliest, and reappraise the position then.

Anything less and it might not be just Goodnight from him, but quite possibly Goodnight from him.

Jamie Carragher Predicts Cool Anfield Reception For Man Utd’s Michael Owen

Jamie Carragher has told Michael Owen to expect a frosty reception when he returns to Anfield next month.

And the Liverpool defender admits he was taken aback by his former team-mate’s move to Manchester United in the summer.

Owen made the shock switch to Old Trafford after declining the opportunity to renew his contract with relegated Newcastle United.

There is no love lost between the two bitter North West rivals, with Owen the first player in recent memory to have played for United having earlier appeared regularly in Liverpool’s first team.

And Carragher said: “It was a bit of a surprise. Not because I had any doubts about Michael’s ability but it was just so out of the blue and it happened so quickly.

“One minute you are wondering where he will end up and the next he is at Old Trafford.”

United visit Anfield for the first time since Owen’s arrival when the two teams clash on October 25.

And Carragher believes the home support will make clear their displeasure at the striker’s perceived betrayal – despite expecting his former colleague to shrug off any abuse.

“Our fans are usually brilliant with former players but he might get a cool reception,” said Carragher. “That won’t bother him though.

“I can understand the fans point of view, he used to play for us and now he is at our big rivals so of course there will be some reaction. That’s football and Michael will know that.

“At the same time, Michael has got his own career to think about. He wants to play Champions League football and get back into the World Cup squad.

“The move gives him that opportunity. It will upset some fans but that’s football. He is a mate of mine so I suppose I have to wish him well but only to a certain extent.”

Agent: Lavezzi Happy At Napoli

Ezequiel Lavezzi's agent has insisted the striker is happy at Napoli after being linked with a move away from the club over the summer.

The Argentine claimed during the transfer window that Liverpool had lodged a bid for his services, although Rafa Benitez never confirmed his interest.

Napoli warned Lavezzi over his conduct and his relationship with manager Roberto Donadoni quickly improved.

There have nevertheless been suggestions that the striker could seek a winter departure from Napoli due to their lack of involvement in European competition.

However, Lavezzi's representative Alejandro Mazzoni maintains that the 24-year-old will not be going anywhere.

"Lavezzi doesn't have any problem with staying at Napoli because he is part of the project of the team and not playing in the Europa League will not be a problem.

"Ezequiel is OK. He got very well prepared in Austria and I think he will have a very good season together with his team."

Mazzoni admits Lavezzi is happy to be playing in his preferred centre-forward position under Donadoni.

"When he plays more as a striker he is more important so that's the place in which he should be," said Mazzoni.

"Between Lavezzi and Roberto Donadoni there is a good relationship because he asks him to play more as a striker."