Saturday, November 07, 2009

Alex McLeish Understands Liverpool Counterpart Rafa Benitez's Situation

Aside from the Manchester United scalp, Liverpool are winless since late September - a feat Birmingham City manager Alex McLeish hopes won't be remedied when his side take on Rafael Benitez's Reds on Monday evening.

McLeish, however, empathises with Benitez over the situation that has engulfed Anfield.

Liverpool have fallen down the Premier League rankings; nine points behind Chelsea, they are also facing a likely Champions League exit following their inability to defeat Olympique Lyonnais.

McLeish compared his experience at Rangers to the one Rafa is currently going through. He told the official website of the Premier League: "I think Rafa Benitez is a smart guy who has been in the game a long time and knows the expectation levels at a club like Liverpool, the same as I did at Rangers.

"We are not daft. When you have some results that are against expectations of the fans and what people expect of Liverpool, then you are always going to be under pressure.

"I was no different with the Rangers job but you have just got to keep your focus, your dignity and keep working as best as you know in the game," concluded the Blues' boss.

Daniel Agger Wants Liverpool To Find Self-Belief Ahead Of Birmingham City Clash

Liverpool defender Daniel Agger is taking heart from the Reds' positive performance against Olympique Lyonnais this week, despite the disappointing result – a 1-1 draw placed the Merseysiders' hopes of progress in the Champions League in severe doubt.

"You get what you deserve in football and you have to look at closing the game down otherwise you get punished in the way we did in Lyon," he told the club's official website.

"Now we have just got to look forward to the Birmingham game to get going. If we keep playing with the effort we did in Lyon, we hope the situation will turn for us.

"It's always so difficult to accept when you lose two points in the manner we did so late in a game.

"We were all so disappointed. We might have controlled the game but it's no consolation; you've got to keep working hard until the last minute.

"But we have to keep believing. We have got to go into the next two games, make sure that we win them and then take it from there."

Liverpool welcome Birmingham City to Anfield on Monday night and Agger is expecting to be fit for the game after playing in Lyon.

He added: "Physically I feel okay. I wanted to play [in Lyon] and I do all I can to play in every match, as all the lads do here. But sometimes it's not going to happen."

Liverpool Planning Transfer Swoop For Dutch Midfield Star

Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez is looking at Hamburg’s Dutch midfielder Eljero Elia to help solve his Anfield crisis.

Benitez has sent scouts to watch the 22-year-old midfielder this season and is desperate to strengthen his squad, despite him being under pressure to save his job.

Under-fire Benitez has suggested agreeing a deal for Elia - who joined Hamburg from FC Twente for £7m in August - and then allowing him to stay in Germany until next summer as he is so keen to get him.

Elia has already broken into the Dutch national team and is being backed to be a regular in their World Cup line-up.

Reina: Champions League Exit Would Not Be A Disaster For Liverpool

Liverpool goalkeeper Pepe Reina has said that he does not believe an early European exit for the club would be a complete disaster.

Reina knows that his side must win their two remaining games and hope already-qualified Lyon can do them a favour against Italian side Fiorentina, but maintains that the Reds' rich European history makes up for this season's woes.

"I do not accept that not going through will be a disaster for the club," he said. "We have been in the Champions League now for several years, one failure is not a disaster.

"Not many teams have reached the semi-finals twice and two finals - including a title victory - in the last few seasons. It can happen again, we get closer to our real form with every game.

Any team would miss the quality of the players who are injured at the moment, but we have others who can play and who can produce the right performances to get us out of this mess."

Liverpool's next game in the tournament is a must-win trip to Debrecen on November 24, and Reina believes his team have to dig deep if they are going to pick themselves up.

"We must show heart, passion and belief," he added. "If anyone can do this, Liverpool can. But now it (qualification) is not in our own hands, it does not only depend on what we do.

"Now it is very, very difficult for us. But we must show strong character and fight right to the end. We know we have enough good players to sort this out."

Gerrard: LFC Has Exciting Kids At Academy

Steven Gerrard believes there are several exciting prospects at the Academy who could one day take the Premier League by storm.

Not since Gerrard broke on to the scene in 1998 has Liverpool produced a world-class star.

The skipper, though, thinks all that could soon change as the new-look Academy led by Frank McParland and Kenny Dalglish looks to get players into Rafa Benitez's first team.

He told FourFourTwo magazine: "Don't forget Stephen Warnock, who's been a great player for Blackburn and Villa. But yeah, it's true (players haven't come through).

"That's why there have been a lot of changes at the club recently, because we want to see another Robbie Fowler, another Michael Owen, another Jamie Carragher coming through.

"But I've had a couple of chats to Kenny since he's been back and he's very excited about certain players.

"I won't name them because that's pressure the kids don't need. Their only pressure should come from making sacrifices and pushing themselves hard to get into the first team."

Jamie Carragher Launches New Charity, The 23 Foundation

Reds star Jamie Carragher officially launched his new young people’s charity in Liverpool.

The Liverpool defender set up The 23 Foundation earlier this year to provide grants to young people on Merseyside.

The 23 Foundation, which takes its name from Carragher’s team shirt number, aims to give children a better chance in life.

The footballing star says he plans to give the proceeds from his Liverpool testimonial to the Foundation.

He said: “I was in Alder Hey as a child myself when I was first born and I hope The 23 Foundation can help children like people did for me when I was growing up.

“I’ve got my own kids and I don’t think there’s anything better than making a child happy.

“I was very fortunate to go to a good youth club and I’ve been very fortunate to be where I am playing for Liverpool.

“I’d like to think that maybe if I put something back, we’ll have someone else going on to play for Liverpool or Everton, or getting involved in other sports. There are a lot of youth clubs out there helping kids to keep fit and stay interested in sport.

“I want the charity to help those clubs buy equipment and keep kids off the streets.”

The LFC star invited friends to his Cafe Sports England restaurant yesterday to celebrate the start of the charity’s new website. The website will give fans the chance to find out more about the charity and bid for signed Liverpool FC memorabilia.

The 31-year-old footballer, who is from Bootle, said: “Hopefully we will try to raise £100,000 each year for the Foundation.

“We have set up the website so people can bid for things like signed pictures, which I will dedicate to them.

“This is my 14th season with Liverpool and a testimonial has been mentioned. I would like to look into arranging a testimonial game and everything would go to the charity.”

Fernando Torres Should Be Playing In Spain With The Rest Of The Best Players, Insists Former Liverpool Star Xabi Alonso

Xabi Alonso has risked angering the Liverpool fans who used to idolise him by claiming that Fernando Torres 'deserves' to play in Spain.

Alonso left Merseyside for Real Madrid in a £30million move this summer after telling Rafa Benitez that he wanted to join the Bernabeu revolution.

And now he hopes that former Atletico Madrid star Torres joins him in by returning across the Bay of Biscay.

'La Liga deserves players like Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaka and Lionel Messi,' Alonso told Sport magazine. 'Now we are only missing my good friend Fernando Torres.

'I hope to see him back in Spain one day, but I don't think he will come to Real Madrid. I think he has too big a heart for Atletico for that, sadly.'

Alonso insists he has no regrets about leaving Liverpool and says he has a clear conscience over the move, particularly after Rafa Benitez's botched attempt to offload him to Juventus a year before.

'It was a reason (the Juve episode), but not the only one,' said Alonso. 'I needed to start afresh.

'When I heard about the new Real Madrid project, I knew I wanted to be a part of it.

'Looking at the names in the squad, it makes you think that this is some kind of computer game. It is almost not realistic that you can have so many star players on the same team.

'I'm very happy to be back (in Spain) and enjoying every minute of it. I had five great years in Liverpool, but it is only healthy for every footballer to change environment after a period of time at the same club, so I'm very pleased I came here.

'Maybe some of the fans or people at the club don't agree or don't understand my motivations for leaving.

'But I think that I can look at myself in the mirror and know that I did everything possible for Liverpool, and I was committed throughout.

'I left Liverpool in a far better condition than when I came in 2004.'

Alonso insists that his relationship with Benitez was not as frosty as has been claimed and speaks glowingly of his compatriot.

'Rafa is a fantastic manager and also a fantastic person who understands management and how to motivate players,' he said. 'We still have a warm relationship and I think he respects my decision to try new challenges.

'We have a mutual respect for each other and we still have the same relationship as always.

'We had a good long talk before I left and I think we told each other what we needed to say before parting ways. I have always admitted Rafa and always will do.'

The former Real Sociedad player believes his time in England made him a better player, but he won't miss the food.

'I actually liked the British culture,' he said. 'I don't appreciate the cooking very much, but a lot of other aspects are great.

'The British are very kind people and they respect you for what you've achieved.

'I also like their humour and the whole culture surrounding football: so many fans go to away games, which is something you don't see very often in Spanish football.

'And the Liverpool fans are amazing. When you enter Anfield and they sing You'll Never Walk Alone, you get something that you will take with you for the rest of your life.'

I Will Never Regret Joining Liverpool

Xabi Alonso will never regret joining Liverpool in 2004, despite having the option to join his current club Real Madrid.

The Spanish international was coveted by the La Liga giants prior to leaving Real Sociedad, but chose to join the Premier League side instead.

The midfielder has great memories of his time at Anfield, and admits the fans will always hold a special place in his heart.

Alonso told Sport Magazine: “There was an opportunity for me to join Real Madrid, but it never got serious before I chose Liverpool.”

“I will never regret joining Liverpool because I learned a lot and developed as a footballer and experienced another country, a different lifestyle and a different league.”

“I have also matured, and have a stronger belief in my qualities.”

“I know what I can do and I don’t let anything from outside remove my focus, like earlier in my career.”

Alonso suggested he loved living in England and embraced the Scouse culture like it were his own.

He continued: “I actually like the British culture. I don’t appreciate the cooking very much, but a lot of other aspects are great.”

“The British are very kind people and they respect you for you’ve achieved. I also like their humour and the whole culture surrounding football – so many fans go to away games, which is not something you see very often in Spanish football.”

“And the Liverpool fans are amazing.”

“When you enter Anfield and they sing You’ll Never Walk Alone, you get something that you will take with you for the rest of your life.”

Xabi Alonso Saddened By Liverpool's Struggles In Champions League

Devastated is the word that Steven Gerrard used to describe how he felt when Xabi Alonso left Liverpool. It is a strong word. “Gutted” is trotted out routinely by footballers, but “devastated” cuts far deeper, revealing the kind of pain that has been all too apparent in the turbulent five-week spell that has turned Liverpool’s season into something already approaching a write-off.

There was a time in the opening weeks of this troubled season when Alonso’s departure to Real Madrid for £30 million was identified as the reason why Liverpool had receded from a title-challenging team into one that had lost four Barclays Premier League games by the middle of last month.

It is only as the results have worsened — one win, one draw and six defeats in the past eight games, leaving them out of the Carling Cup, all but out of the Champions League and nine points adrift in the Premier League — that the focus has shifted away from the gap in midfield and on to deeper, underlying problems.

It is a predicament that brought a sad look to Alonso’s face as he stopped to chat on the way out of the San Siro stadium on Tuesday evening. He had just produced a highly assured performance in Real’s 1-1 draw with AC Milan, but that did not stop him looking ahead to Liverpool’s date with Lyons the night after, backing them to invoke the spirit they have summoned so often in the Champions League — as they seemed to have done again until Lisandro López’s last-minute equaliser left them in need of a “miracle”, as Rafael Benítez conceded.

“It’s a difficult situation,” Alonso said. “They have had injuries, they’ve had some bizarre moments like the one at Sunderland [when Darren Bent’s winning goal bounced in off a stray beach ball]. Liverpool will always be in my mind. I keep in contact with my former team-mates, I look for their results and, whenever I can, I watch their games on TV.”

What of Gerrard’s claim that Alonso’s departure left the captain — and thus quite possibly the team — devastated? While the points in Lyons were frittered away in attack, where opportunities were wasted in the 1-1 draw, and defence, where Sotiris Kyrgiakos and Daniel Agger were dragged out of position before López’s goal, few could look at Liverpool’s midfield in recent weeks and claim that they are not missing Alonso. Quite apart from his range of passing, he brought a composure and a tactical discipline that have not been apparent in Javier Mascherano and Lucas Leiva.

“Everyone knows that in football, when things aren’t right, the best player is always the one who isn’t there, whether they’re injured, suspended or no longer at the club,” Alonso said. “They still have a lot of good players. Alberto Aquilani [the midfield player signed from Roma to replace him] will hopefully be fit soon.”

This is when the conversation turned to Benítez, with whom his relationship changed perceptibly during the 2007-08 campaign. After the manager tried and failed to replace him with Gareth Barry, Alonso went on to become an influential figure in last season’s title challenge but, the damage done, he was vigorous in pursuing the opportunity to join Real when the summer came.

It was an acrimonious split, but even if his name has become taboo around Anfield — it was not his choice that he did not publish an open letter to the supporters on the club’s website, as John Arne Riise and Luis García had upon leaving — Alonso backed Benítez to drag Liverpool out of their slump.

“I still have great respect for him,” Alonso said. “I’m very grateful to him for the five great years I had at Liverpool. Of course the situation isn’t the best right now, but he knows how to turn it around. It’s not the Liverpool way to sack a manager after a few bad results early in the season. He is the right man for the club. It wouldn’t be a good decision to change the manager. He’s a great manager.”

Those words will resonate with Liverpool’s supporters, as will the class with which they were delivered by a man who plans to return to Anfield one day to sit among them. At the San Siro on Tuesday his name was jeered by the Milanese in recognition of his role in Liverpool’s Champions League triumph in 2005 — although not quite so loudly as that of Jerzy Dudek, Real’s reserve goalkeeper.

Alonso is linked to Liverpool’s recent past, troubled by their present, but hopeful about their future.

'Disgrace' In Lyon Sparks £100m Reds Rescue Plan With Liverpool Nearing Champions League Exit

Liverpool's hierarchy are piecing together a £100million rescue package to try to turn round a season that has been branded 'a disgrace' by one of their own players.

Anfield bosses hope to have the cash injection in place by January and will be eager to avoid any delays after keeper Pepe Reina turned on his own team-mates and berated their Champions League failings.

A 1-1 draw in Lyon has left Liverpool staring at a costly group stage elimination and Reina fumed: 'Disgracefully, it is not in our hands any more - we need Lyon to get something at Fiorentina.'

As Liverpool braced themselves for a shortfall of up to £18m on their latest Champions League takings, it emerged they have been working feverishly behind the scenes to ensure there is no repeat next season.

Co-owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett have been courting potential investors in recent weeks and are now ready to press ahead with a rights issue of shares that would dilute their holding but, crucially, generate extra income of around £100m.

After being vilified by fans over alleged broken promises, the Americans view surrendering some of their power as a price worth paying for being able to kick-start their much-delayed stadium project and provide transfer funds for the January window

It is understood managing director Christian Purslow has already had negotiations with interested parties and that Hicks and Gillett, while retaining a majority stake, are prepared to reduce their holding to around 35 per cent each to secure the necessary investment.

The rights issue has echoes of David Moores' appointment as chairman 18 years ago, when he bought over 50 per cent of the club for £12m, and heaps even more pressure on manager Rafa Benitez.

While building a new ground a stone's throw away at Stanley Park remains the priority for Hicks and Gillett, they are acutely aware of their squad's shortcomings and keen to release transfer funds in the New Year.

Whether Benitez will be trusted with them evidently depends on what happens between now and then. The promise of new investment could give Hicks and Gillett the financial muscle needed to dispense with their under-fire manager, even at a cost of £20m in compensation.

It is bound to be given serious consideration if Liverpool continue to falter and risk missing out on the Champions League altogether next season. They will forfeit up to £18m if they fail to overhaul Fiorentina in the next few weeks and face being out of pocket by almost twice as much if they finish outside the Barclays Premier League's top four next May.

As an added concern, such a nightmare scenario would also cast doubt over the futures of key players such as Fernando Torres, Reina, Javier Mascherano and even Steven Gerrard. Torres, Reina and Mascherano all see the Champions League as an essential showcase for their talents, while Gerrard would be just as dismayed, even if he is unlikely to turn his back on his home club, at this late stage, after twice pulling out of moves to Chelsea.

A return of one win from eight games has surely put paid to Liverpool's title hopes, but Reina was just as perturbed by the way they have been left lagging five points behind Fiorentina in Group E, with just two games to go.

But he argued: 'We can handle the pressure. We can trust in ourselves, and we will turn this situation around - I am sure of that.' Ronnie Whelan blamed Benitez's transfer dealings for Liverpool's plight.

'I don't doubt Benitez's passion for Liverpool or his hunger to win for the fans, but his judgement in the transfer market has been awful and that's why the Kop will be watching Europa Cup games before too long,' said the former Liverpool midfielder.

Ex-Liverpool skipper Graeme Souness said: 'If Rafa had been at any other big club - Arsenal, Chelsea or Manchester United - he would not still be manager, because their supporters are not like Liverpool's. Liverpool fans are a bit more patient.'