Thursday, October 15, 2009

Liverpool Share Deal Talks Continue, Says Saudi Prince

Saudi Prince Faisal bin Fahd bin Abdulla has said his F6 company hopes to finalise talks over a major Liverpool share deal.

Speaking to the press as Liverpool co-owner George Gillett visited Riyadh, Prince Faisal said: "Our negotiations to buy shares in Liverpool are ongoing, meetings are taking place and we might be in the final stages in the coming days."

Gillett, who owns Liverpool along with fellow American Tom Hicks, was in Riyadh to discuss a project regarding the creation of Liverpool football academies around the region, Prince Faisal said.

In recent weeks, both parties have admitted that potential investment from Faisal has been firmly on their agenda.

Gillett and Hicks have been seeking new investment in the Anfield club after refinancing some of its debt during the summer.

The two met with Prince Sultan bin Fahd, president of the Saudi Youth Welfare organisation and chairman of the Saudi League.

"The purpose of the visit of the owner of Liverpool Football Club to Saudi Arabia is to understand the sports industry and to learn about the facilities and the potential of the main clubs in order to set up the Liverpool Academy in Saudi Arabia," Prince Faisal said.

The agreement between Liverpool and F6, a sports marketing and investment firm controlled by Faisal, would also provide opportunities for young Saudi players to train at the Anfield club, he said.

Sammy Lee: No International 'Hangover' For Liverpool

Liverpool assistant manager Sammy Lee has stressed the importance of the club's international players returning to training this week fully focused on their domestic duties.

A host of Reds stars have been representing their countries across the world during the international break and Lee maintains that their mindset must change quickly once they are back at the clubs' training centre at Melwood.

"The group that have been here at Melwood during the international break have been working very hard with a view to the Sunderland game, and when the other players return later this week, we have to make sure they kick in and are focused on a very important game," Lee told the club's official website.

"There is no window for us to have any kind of international hangover - we don't have that luxury."

Liverpool travel to Sunderland on Saturday, and Lee insists that the players must prepare well. Every game is massive for the Reds in a season when they are striving to end the long wait for a league title.

"It is difficult to prepare, but that is the nature of the game," the coach added.

"I think this is the third international break of the season already and it's something we've got to live with. We're not unique in this and other clubs have got the same problem.

"At this football club, every week is massive. The fact we're playing these matches just adds to that, but being 'Liverpool Football Club' means we're going to be in these type of games.

"It's been a mixed start to the season - there have been some good points and some bad.

"But it's still only October and we're going to be working very hard to ensure we're there or thereabouts come the end of the season in all competitions."

I Will Only Play For Spain If I Am 100 Per Cent - Fernando Torres

Fernando Torres has insisted that he will only play in Spain's final World Cup qualifier against Bosnia if he is 100 per cent fit and poured scorn on reports of a rift between Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez and the national team.

"I still have some discomfort and it will not be decided until Wednesday if I will play... Only if I'm OK I'll play," he told AS.

"The final decision depends on the coach. Along with the doctors, physios and myself, we decide what is best. Spain is qualified and this is not a time to take risks."

The striker pointed out that the absences of the likes of Cesc Fabregas, Carles Puyol and Xavi were in the best interests of the players, but he and Andres Iniesta had a chance to feature in the game and as a result stayed with the squad.

Daniel Guiza, Carlos Marchena and Xavi are all out through injury while Puyol is serving a suspension. Fabregas has been allowed to leave the squad for personal reasons.

"Xavi, [Carles] Puyol and Cesc have left because that was better for them. The coach decides. Andres and I are here because we have options to play."

"Rafa [Benitez] has been interested in my state, of course, because we have had a difficult month but he never pushed for me to leave."

"He spoke with doctors and they are in contact. I hope I am with amongst friends here. If I play, fine, if not, I have been very well cared for, working for Wednesday or for the weekend with my team [Liverpool]."

Aquilani Debut In Offing

Alberto Aquilani may make his Liverpool debut before the end of this month.

The Italian midfielder, a £20million summer signing to fill the gap in the Anfield squad left by Xabi Alonso, is finally allowed to kick a ball in training as his recovery from a knee operation continues.

Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez signed the Italy international, knowing he would not be able to play for a minimum of three months.

But Aquilani started ball work with the first-team squad last week and has stepped up his training since then.

Benitez will carefully monitor the 25-year-old's progress and he will not be considered for the clash with Manchester United at Anfield on Sunday week.

Aquilani has not played a competitive game since Arsenal beat his old club Roma in the Champions League in March.

Liverpool reserves have a match against Sunderland at home next Wednesday, and he may get a short run-out then. But there is a possibility that he could be used at some point during the Carling Cup tie at Arsenal on October 28.

Aquilani said: "When I am back, I hope I will show I am a player who can pass the ball well, get forward and score goals.

"I have not played football for a long time, so I know it will not be easy to produce my best straightaway. But I will be trying to do that.

"When you are not involved with the team, it is not a good feeling. But it is my ambition to score at the Kop end. I have thought about that a lot during my rehab period."

Captain Steven Gerrard has had treatment on Wednesday on the groin injury that forced his return from England duty and he is due to have a scan on the problem.

But Liverpool are confident he will be able to face Sunderland on Saturday.

Jamie Carragher Is Right To Stress The Importance Of Liverpool’s Next Three Games

It must be a long time since a trip to Sunderland was being described as part of a ‘massive’ week for Liverpool FC, but that’s how Jamie Carragher has portrayed the upcoming threesome against the Black Cats, Lyon and the boys from down the other end of the East Lancs Road.

Notwithstanding the tendency of footballers to attach great importance to a friendly against a Blue Square Conference side, such is their fear of being seen to drift off-message by their manager, you can see where Jamie’s coming from. A poor result at Sunderland, who looked a decent side at Old Trafford, and the suspension of disbelief that many are choosing to indulge with regard to our title hopes might be abruptly shattered, leaving us staring at the cold reality of another prematurely-ended Premier League quest.

That in turn would heap the pressure on for the visit of Lyon, with the possibility of another trophy going south should we fail to capitalise on home advantage.

And as for United, with the chance, albeit remote, that Michael Owen could pop up and score a deciding goal, well that just doesn’t bear thinking about.

Now you’d be forgiven for wondering what’s brought on this sudden anxiety over the possibility of this doomsday scenario taking place, and I can almost feel the metaphorical slapping of my cheeks as many of you urge me to snap out of it and take a cold bath. There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that things aren’t as bad as they seem, there’s a long way to go, yada yada yada.

Indeed, the last performance against Chelsea was by no means poor, and, as Rafa is constantly reminding us, games like this turn on small details such as Mascherano losing possession which led to their break downfield leading to Anelka’s opening goal.

But the return to our traditional reward from Stamford Bridge, after last season’s delight at smashing their unbeaten home record, was disappointing as it was a missed opportunity to reassert our right to sit at the top table.

We’ve lost all the difficult games so far this season, a stark contrast to last year, and no amount of stockpiling goals against the likes of Stoke, Burnley and Hull will offset that if we carry on looking that vulnerable in the big games.

So we can afford to lose a few more if we convert some of the last campaign’s draws into victories, but last season’s aberration whereby Man U won the title by beating up the small kids is unlikely to be repeated.

So if I’m to get my mojo back, I want to see the Reds really perform when the pressure’s on. That ability to rise to the occasion was evident in spades last season, and it can’t, or shouldn’t, disappear with the loss of one player.

Nor should its restoration be dependent on another’s return, or should I say arrival, from injury. We’ve yet to find that confidence which, stopping just short of arrogance, is essential to the ability to both control games and find the right moment to pick off opponents who have been manipulated where we want them.

We might be short of alternative options at present, but we won difficult games last season without Torres and Gerrard, never mind Alonso. When the players remember this, and regain last season’s conviction and commitment, then perhaps my disposition will improve along with our results.

Hopefully there’ll be many more ‘massive’ games to come; and they won’t be about scrabbling in to next season’s Champions League.

Liverpool FC Keep Fingers Crossed Ahead Of International Fixtures

Liverpool received a mixed medical bulletin yesterday as Rafael Benitez keeps his fingers crossed ahead of the latest round of international fixtures.

Steven Gerrard limped out of the morning’s England training session with a groin problem and will miss Wednesday night’s final World Cup qualifier against Belarus at Wembley.

But Fernando Torres has suffered no muscle damage after undergoing a scan on a similar problem sustained while playing for Spain over the weekend.

Gerrard was initially injured during England’s 1-0 defeat in Ukraine on Saturday, lasting only until half-time before being substituted by Fabio Capello.

The Liverpool skipper has now returned to Melwood for further treatment, and must already be considered a doubt for Saturday’s Premier League visit to Sunderland.

Capello said yesterday: “He didn’t finish training because the pain was the same as yesterday. He tried to practice in training but after 10 minutes had to stop.”

The injury to Gerrard will serve only to increase Benitez’s discontent with international breaks, particularly as this week’s double-header is made up of essentially meaningless games with England already through to next year’s finals in South Africa.

Benitez’s mood will not have been lifted by the allowed withdrawal of Wayne Rooney on Sunday morning, despite the Manchester United striker picking up no obvious injury in Ukraine.

However, there was better news for Benitez from the Spanish camp with Torres having resumed training.

The striker was substituted shortly after half-time of Spain’s 2-1 win against Armenia, and underwent a scan earlier this week which revealed no evidence of muscle damage.

But with Spain having also previously secured qualified for the World Cup, it is unlikely Torres will be risked when Vicente Del Bosque’s side wrap up their qualification campaign in Bosnia on Wednesday night.

Steven Gerrard Injury Fuels Rafael Benítez Frustration With Fabio Capello

Rafael Benítez is likely to seek an explanation from Steven Gerrard as to why he remained on international duty despite aggravating a groin problem against Ukraine on Saturday.

Gerrard finally withdrew from the England squad on Tuesday, after completing just 10 minutes of a gentle training session, the first time he has attempted to train since the weekend. He was escorted away by England physio Gary Lewin after complaining of suffering from pain, and was given permission to return to Liverpool.

However Gerrard will be at Wembley Stadium this evening, as one of the 55 players called up by Fabio Capello during the Italian's time in charge, and will sit with the likes of Michael Owen in an executive box set aside for the players.

That would suggest that Gerrard's groin injury is not too severe. He is certainly expected to be fit for Liverpool's Premier League game away to Sunderland on Saturday.

But if the midfielder is unable to play in that match, which is crucial to Benítez ahead of two even more important games, the Champions League double-header against Lyons, then the Spaniard will be annoyed and frustrated.

Benítez has clashed with Capello previously over Gerrard when the England manager insisted that the player report for on Tuesday that it had been Gerrard's decision to remain with England and receive treatment – unlike Wayne Rooney, who returned to Manchester United with a calf problem on Sunday after the squad returned from Ukraine.

"He stayed with us," Capello said of Gerrard. "We spoke after the game against Ukraine and he thought he'd be fit, perhaps for this game. He practised with us but, after 10 minutes, he felt it. It's not a big problem. He'll be fit in two or three days."

Asked whether he thought it was a mistake for Gerrard to have stayed with England, Capello said: "No, no. He decided to stay here. We asked him what he thought, and he thought he'd be fit. If he'd not been fit, he'd have gone home."

Benítez may be annoyed because it had appeared that Gerrard may not have started on Wednesday, with England planning a variation in formation and using wingers, so he was not necessarily required for Capello's squad for the 'dead rubber'.

Gerrard's possible absence would put a strain on Liverpool's resources as Javier Mascherano and Lucas are not due back from international duty until Friday.

Anfield Starlet Eager To Turn The Tables On United

Liverpool youngster Jay Spearing is too young to remember the last time the Kop tasted league title success and he admits Manchester United’s dominance of the Premier League has been a painful experience to bear for the Merseyside local.

The Wirral born midfielder also claims this season is the most important of his career, suggesting he has to show Rafa Benitez what he is capable of.

Spearing told Liverpool’s official website: “For a local lad, to win the league would feel even better, but it's what this team wants,”

“Any trophy is nice but the league is the one we've wanted for so long.

“I'm too young to remember the last time we won it. It was frustrating seeing United near the top all the time but in the past couple of years we've got closer. Hopefully this season or next our time will come.”

The youngster claimed he is having to adapt to top level football, admitting the tactical side of his game is the one most tested in the first team.

He added: “It's more tactical understanding than anything else. Rafa wants me to become a defensive midfielder and to understand the role and the positional side of things,”

“It's the heart of the team here because you've got to get forward if you can while protecting the back four. It's a key area that we look at a lot.

“You look at the positives and think about how you can change the game if you get on. There's no point sitting there thinking, 'I'm not going to get on'.

“It's exciting. If you don't get on, you just get ready for the next game and hopefully the chance will come.

“The coaches have told me I'll be involved a lot more this season. This season I've been on the bench a few times and it's a big progression. Last year I made the bench maybe two or three times. I've doubled that already and we're only in October.

“It's the most important season of my career so far. I'm involved with the first team every day now and the boss, Sammy Lee and the rest of the players are there looking at me every day.

“This is the season where I've got to show I'm here to stay and show what I can do.”

Anfield Spanification Reaches New High

Liverpool’s cultural ties with Spain appear to have reached a new high with news coming from Anfield that the club’s official television channel will provide a live broadcast of La Roja’s World Cup qualification match with Bosnia-Herzegovina for their subscribers.

With Spanish manager Rafael Benitez at the helm on Merseyside and striker Fernando Torres winning both hearts and minds with his dedication to the Reds’ Premier League and European ambitions it appears that the club have taken advantage of the region’s love affair with the Iberian peninsula.

Labeled "an exciting first for LFC TV" the club added: "This will no doubt delight many of our supporters in the UK who have taken a very close interest in the Spanish national team since Rafael Benitez arrived at Anfield. It demonstrates our desire to make LFC TV the best club channel in world football."

Liverpool FC Fan Takeover Talks To Take Place ‘In Months’

A supporters’ ‘buy-out’ plan to take over Liverpool FC today said they were hopeful of entering talks with Reds bosses within months.

Currently 16,000 people have pledged money to the ShareLFC project which was launched 18 months ago.

The scheme aims to wrestle back control of £500m-valued Liverpool from its controversial American owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett.

Today, ShareLFC said calculations had revealed cash promises could total as much as £60m.

And they are hopeful that another 4,000 people pledging money will give them enough financial muscle to start exploratory talks with Liverpool.

Initially, the plan for 100,000 fans to donate £5,000 was agreed to by around 7,000 Reds fans. But earlier this year, it was deemed too expensive and the sum was lowered to £500.

Rogan Taylor, director of the Football Industry Group at the University of Liverpool, and who is heading the scheme, said ShareLFC could enter talks within the next two months.

But with the financial picture at Anfield constantly changing, and suggestions of new investment from Saudis, nothing is certain.

Professor Taylor told the ECHO: “This scheme is not asleep, it is wide awake. The club is well aware of where our project is at.

“The important thing is gaining credibility and confidence, and we do feel the horizons are opening up.

“I am convinced that we are getting to the point where we can put forward a real proposition.

“At that point, our numbers could probably double.”

Overall, ShareLFC is looking to raise £120m equity from fans, £100m investment from a bank and another £100m from a commercial partner.

Whether the suggested £500m would have to be raised, or a lower value for Liverpool may be accepted by Hicks and Gillett, remains to be seen.

The ambitious ShareLFC plan, which has gained interest from 211 different countries, is supported by fans union Spirit Of Shankly.

The member-share scheme is based on a continental-style model, in which fans own a huge stake in the club, similar to the way Barcelona in Spain operate.