Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Rafael Benítez Will Quit Liverpool If Fernando Torres Is Ever Sold

Rafael Benítez said last night that he would quit if Fernando Torres is sold against his will. Liverpool's £245m debt has led to questions about whether their US owners, Tom Hicks and George Gillett, would be tempted to sell, even if he was offered £100m for the striker.

"I'm confident it will never happen," the manager said. "If it did, I'd resign."

The financial situation at Liverpool means they struggle to compete at the top end of the market and Benítez admitted that that had led to him making mistakes. "When we have spent big, normally it's been very good business," he told The Times. "Torres, [Javier] Mascherano, [Pepe] Reina, [Xabi] Alonso.

"[Robbie Keane] is a good player but we had to sell him because he was not playing at the level we knew he could play. Ryan [Babel] was signed for the future and we are waiting for his improvement. He has to be more consistent. With the fringe players we needed to take a gamble on Bosmans and one-, two-million pound players. Some of these have not been good enough. It is a risk you have to accept when there is not too much money about."

Benítez also defended his signing of the Italian midfielder Alberto Aquilani, bought for £17m from Roma in the summer to replace Alonso, but only now reaching fitness after making his league debut in the recent draw with Birmingham.

"We can only buy one or two big, £20 million players a year," Benítez said. "If we want to have money available then we have to sell some players. We have to sell expensive and buy as cheaply as possible. Aquilani fit would be £20m to £30m. We checked with doctors and they said he would be out one, maybe two months. We have lost some time but I signed the player for five years, not five weeks.

"Xabi put in a transfer request," he added. "We had a professional and good relationship. Some people say the manager must put his arm around the player's shoulder. I don't know too many managers who do this. Some managers in England don't even see the training sessions."

Benítez now feels confident that Liverpool will begin to climb from seventh. "People are worried but the team will improve. When we have key players on the pitch we are as good as anyone. We have proved this in the past."

Steven Gerrard Ready To Start For Liverpool Against Manchester City

Steven Gerrard is confident of making his first Liverpool start for a month against Manchester City on Saturday after revealing an anti-inflammatory injection has alleviated the need for groin surgery.

The Liverpool captain had the injection almost two weeks ago in an attempt to avoid an operation on the adductor problem he suffered playing for England against Ukraine on 10 October. The 29-year-old felt no reaction to his comeback against Birmingham City last Monday other than fatigue, having replaced the hamstrung Albert Riera in the 45th minute, and missed England's friendly against Brazil to continue treatment with Liverpool's medical team.

While surgery has not been completely discounted, the threat has receded thanks to the latest injection and Gerrard expects to test his recovery against Mark Hughes's side at Anfield. Fernando Torres, Yossi Benayoun, Fábio Aurélio and Riera, however, will all miss the game through injury.

"I felt very tired after the game, as I wasn't really ready to return [against Birmingham] and I'd done very little training in the three weeks beforehand," Gerrard said. "It took me two or three days to recover from that game but I have spent the past week doing strengthening work but I'm feeling a lot better now. I'm looking forward to the weekend. There's no mental hurdle to cross.

"I've had a problem in my groin that has taken a while to get over but I'm just relieved the second injection seems to have done the trick. It's a case of so far so good and the aim now is to make sure I get a good week's training under my belt so I'm ready for the game with City."

The midfielder, who last started a game on 20 October against Lyon in the Champions League, admitted his frustration had been exacerbated by recent results. "Some of the lowest points in my career have come about when I have had to miss big games for Liverpool and England through injury," said Gerrard.

"It's never easy when you have to sit out games against Manchester United or trips away from home in the Champions League. If the lads are winning games and doing well, it makes the pain a bit easier so obviously the last couple of weeks have been extra frustrating. But I'm feeling good now, a lot stronger than before and it's just a question of getting my match sharpness back now. That is the most important thing."

Glen Johnson, who withdrew from England's last squad with a calf injury, and Daniel Agger, who felt a reaction to a recent back problem against Birmingham, are both expected to be available for the City game, as is David Ngog, who broke his nose on duty with France Under-21s. "We know Ngog has broken his nose but it's not serious," said Rafael Benítez.

The Liverpool manager also revealed Benayoun and Riera could return from hamstring tears ahead of the expected four-week recovery period, but holds little hope of Torres or Aurélio being fit for this weekend. Torres may not return until the Merseyside derby on 29 November as he rests a problem with a hernia while Aurélio remains hindered by the calf injury that deprived him of a first Brazil cap against England in Doha.

"Fernando Torres is training with the physios, so I don't think he'll be available," said Benítez. On the Brazilian full-back, he added: "It's a pity because he was waiting for this call for a long time, then when he got the opportunity he had a problem. He's improving but still has a little bit of a problem with his calf. It will be difficult for him to play against Man City."

Ian Rush: Javier Mascherano Needs To Ignore Transfer Speculation And Focus On Liverpool FC

So another weekend has passed with another story linking Javier Mascherano with a move to Barcelona.

It was good to read in the ECHO yesterday that Liverpool quickly dismissed the speculation, as he is an important player.

But the time has now come for Argentina’s captain to back up the faith many have shown in him with a string of top displays for the Reds at this most crucial period.

I don’t know where the stories are coming from and you tend to find they only emerge when a team is having a bad patch.

It doesn’t do any good, though, and you must hope it doesn’t prove too unsettling.

In my view, Barcelona are not a bigger club than Liverpool and he would do well to remember he was given a chance here when things were going badly for him.

Liverpool Youngster Martin Kelly Inspired By Glen Johnson

Liverpool defender Martin Kelly has revealed that his role model at Anfield is right-back Glen Johnson.

The 19-year-old deputised for Johnson in last month's defeat to Lyon and his similarities to the England international were noted by many observers.

"He's a great player - England's first-choice right-back. There's no one better to model yourself on. It's great to watch him and play with him in training," Kelly told the Reds' official website.

"I thought I did well against Lyon. It was my debut and there was pressure - it was my big chance. I thought I took it well.

"Rafa picks the team and there is a great squad here, but as long as I am in and around the squad and training with them, then it can only help me. If I keep working hard I hope I'll get another chance."

Unfortunately that game against Lyon ended in injury for Kelly, but he is keen to continue his development once his ankle problem has cleared after his latest setback.

"I came back but in my first training session I knocked it again. I went for a scan on Sunday and it showed I have a little strain on my ankle. It's another seven to 10 days," he explained.

"It's a setback but I've just got to work hard with the physios to try and get back as soon as possible.

"As a footballer you are going to get injuries. The thing that matters is how you come back from them.

"Obviously I was gutted with the timing of it."

"There's been a few injuries around the first team so I could have got another chance but I'm still young and hopefully when I'm back I'll have more chances to show what I can do."

Liverpool Need To Buy Low And Sell Big - Rafael Benitez

Rafael Benitez believes that Liverpool must buy relatively unknown players, train them, and sell them to make a profit and eventually reduce the club's mountain of debt.

The Merseysiders are said to be £245 million in the red, and the Kop boss has already threatened to resign if any stars go on sale during January. Instead, he has put forward a proposal that he believes will benefit the club in the long run.

"We can only buy one or two big, £20m players a year," Benitez said in The Times.

"If we want to have money available, then we have to sell some players.

"We have to sell expensive and buy as cheaply as possible."

Touching on the subject of his blockbuster summer signing, the Spaniard believes that Alberto Aquilani will provide value for money.

"Aquilani fit would be £20-30m," he said.

"We checked with doctors and they said he would be out one, maybe two months.

"We have lost some time, but I signed the player for five years, not five weeks. We needed to take the risk."

Rafa Plans To Double Up

Liverpool are planning a £15m double swoop for West Ham pair Matt Upson and Herita Ilunga.

Kop boss Rafa Benitez is already eyeing a £12m move for Hammers striker Carlton Cole, 26.

But the Londoners are holding out for around £20m for the England star which is likely to stretch the Reds’ budget too far.

Benitez will go back to the East End for Upson, 30, and Ilunga, 27, if he fails to prise Cole away.

The Spaniard is aware of the Hammers’ financial difficulties and knows a £15m fee could be hard for them to resist.

Benitez is a massive fan of Upson and was heavily linked with a swoop for the England centre-back this summer.

And he tried to hijack the Hammers’ move to make Ilunga’s loan from Toulouse permanent.

The left-back position has been a problem area for Liverpool since John Arne Riise’s move to Roma.

Steven Gerrard And Jamie Carragher Risk Film Row

Liverpool have risked a furore over a film starring Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher that portrays Sir Alex Ferguson, the Manchester United manager, as a whisky-guzzling drunk and Gary Neville, the club’s captain, as a rat who “hates Scousers”.

Gerrard and Carragher were joined by Rafael Benítez, the Merseyside club’s manager, at the premiere of Fifteen Minutes That Shook The World in Liverpool on Monday evening.

The 43-minute film is a darkly humorous, fictional account of the events that inspired Liverpool’s fightback against AC Milan in the Champions League final in Istanbul in May 2005, when they came from 3-0 down at half-time to win on penalties.

But while the movie — which includes cameos from Gerrard and Carragher, the Liverpool captain and vice-captain respectively — was intended to be light-hearted and firmly tongue-in-cheek, it remains to be seen what United make of it.

In one scene, a Ferguson parody called McTaggart rings a Neville lookalike, wearing a United No 2 shirt bearing the name “Rat Boy” on the back, to celebrate Liverpool trailing Milan by three goals.

“Rat Boy”, whose features were digitally enhanced to make him more ratlike, responds by singing about how he “hates Scousers”, an ironic nod to the song that United fans chant about Neville’s widely perceived dislike of Liverpool.

When word comes through that Liverpool have drawn level, McTaggart is seen swigging furiously from a bottle of Scotch, which has the words “Manager of the Month but not as good as Bob Paisley” on it. He then tries to put his head in a noose only to be thwarted when the gum bubble he blows explodes over his face.

United declined to comment yesterday, but Ferguson and Neville are likely to be unimpressed, not least because of the involvement of Gerrard and Carragher and others at Anfield, even though they would not have been aware of the full extent of the content.

Ferguson did not react well the previous time a club tried to poke fun at United. He described Manchester City as a “small club with a small mentality”, arrogant, cocky and stupid for the “Welcome to Manchester” poster they erected in the summer after Carlos Tévez’s move to the club from Old Trafford.

Liverpool fans, though, will doubtless view the film as it was intended — a bit of fun — even if the timing of its release may raise a few eyebrows, coming as it has only days before Benítez’s team face Manchester City in the Barclays Premier League and Debrecen in the Champions League, games that could define their season.

Ferguson and Neville are by no means the only ones sent up in the film. Benítez, who is played by Neil Fitzmaurice, the actor and comedian, tells his players in the dressing room at half-time that “the whole damn world will take the p***, go on that pitch you shower of pigs and make it our day.” Of Dietmar Hamann, the former Liverpool player who also has a cameo in the film, Fitzmaurice’s Benítez says: “But what is Hamann, what has he got, he smokes, he drinks, he uses pot, but he will shine.”

Djimi Traoré, the former Liverpool defender, is brought into the dressing room in a box by Sami Hyypia, at which point Gerrard says, “Djimi, that’s the best you’ve been in the box all night,” while Carragher, when pressed by Benítez for his thoughts, can utter only the Scouse phrase: “I’m still chocka.” Gerrard adds that he “won’t be able to show my face” around his home town of Huyton if Liverpool do not stage a comeback.

The film was written by Dave Kirby, the Liverpool playwright, and will shortly go on general release at selected cinemas — although presumably not in Manchester — before being released on DVD in time for Christmas.

Rafael Benítez went to the premiere of Fifteen Minutes That Shook the World on Monday night and laughed at the lampooning depiction of himself at half-time in Istanbul (Tony Evans writes). Yet the events in the dressing room at the Atatürk Stadium are so bizarre that fiction does not do them justice. Nor does Benítez need sending up. He repeats the story with wide-eyed humour.

The Liverpool manager rose from the bench with AC Milan leading 2-0. “I was thinking what to say,” he said. “Then Milan scored again.”

Benítez took off Djimi Traoré and sent on Dietmar Hamann. “Then I spoke,” he said. “For eight minutes. In English.” With the officials calling them back on the pitch, Benítez was told that Steve Finnan was injured.

Traoré was retrieved from the showers while Finnan pleaded to stay on. Benítez drew up his team. “I had Hamann, Finnan was still on and I added Traoré back,” he said, laughing. Someone pointed out he was sending out 12 men. “So I rubbed out both full backs,” he said. “It left ten men.”

With a bit of help, Benítez sent 11 on to the pitch, Liverpool came back to 3-3 and won on penalties. File under “great team-talks”.

Barcelona Will Never Spend £40m On Liverpool's Javier Mascherano

Went past the Mercedes garage yesterday. Big, shiny car in the window, apparently the best model in its class that money can buy. So went inside, and offered a quarter of the asking price, because I reckoned that car wanted to come home with me. Know what happened?

Yep, I was slung out on my ear. Which is more or less the scenario when Barcelona made the call to Anfield about the services of Javier Mascherano last summer. Which is why you must forgive me for greeting the latest round of speculation over the Argentine's future with a degree of cynicism.

I don't doubt that the player's agent has spoken to officials at Barca, and I don't doubt the player himself would quite fancy a spell in the Catalan sunshine. Hell, I wouldn't mind it myself.

In fact, they wouldn't even spend £15million on a defensive midfielder. And when you consider that Mascherano cost Liverpool £18million AND his value has increased significantly since then, all talk of an imminent move is wild speculation in the extreme.

That is not to say, of course, that Mascherano won't sulk and pout until he engineers some sort of confrontation that could result in his exit. But that will not come until the end of the season at the earliest. He has three years left on a contract, and Liverpool will not accept less than they paid for him.

In fact, they will demand twice or even three times what they paid for him. That is the economics of the situation, and no end of wishing or fantasising will change that. Nor will it get me that Mercedes. Instead, I'm stuck with a company car that you have to get out and push when you come to a hill.

Liverpool FC Academy Seek Revenge Against Wolverhampton Wanderers In FA Youth Cup

Liverpool under-18s will get the chance to gain speedy revenge on Wolverhampton Wanderers after being drawn at home against them in the third round of the FA Youth Cup.

Rodolfo Borrell’s side lost 2-1 after a goal five minutes from time gave Wolves the points in the FA Premier Academy League on Saturday. Liverpool will be keen to make amends after being handed a tie at Anfield against the Midlanders in Saturday’s FA Youth Cup third round draw.

It will be the Spanish coach’s first taste of the prestigious youth tournament since he took over the running of the U18s in the summer reshuffle at the Kirkby Academy.

But three-time winners Liverpool have a fine recent record in the Youth Cup to defend. They won the trophy back-to-back in 2006 and 2007. And they were beaten finalists in May while also reaching the fifth round before defeat to Sunderland last year.

Several of last year’s side who beat Leeds, Bristol Rovers, Chelsea, Bolton and Birmingham City to reach the final against Arsenal will still be eligible for the U18s competition this time around.

The likes of last season’s top scorer, Finnish striker Lauri Dalle Valle – who is currently out injured – German youth international Christopher Buchtmann, defender Andre Wisdom, Tom Ince, Adam Pepper, Conor Coady, Karl Clair and James Ellison are some of the players still eligible to feature again in this season’s tournament after being involved in last season’s run to the final.

Benitez: Some Of These Players Have Not Been Good Enough For Us

Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez has admitted to making errors in the transfer market but suggested he had to take risks because of the precarious financial situation at Anfield.

With the club struggling in the Premier League and their Champions League participation hanging by a thread, Benitez defiantly defended the job he has done at the club, and claimed when all of his players returned from injury, fans would see the best of them.

Benitez told the Times: “There is a massive difference between five years ago and now,”

“The name of the club round the world is at the same level as it was in the 1980s. It’s a fantastic achievement.”

“Everybody talks about Liverpool in a good way. And we will get better.”

He added: “People are worried,”

“But the team will improve. When we have key players on the pitch we are as good as anyone. We have proved this in the past.”

On his transfer record at the club, which of late has been criticised by some, the Spaniard claimed his hands were tied by the club’s fragile finances.

Benitez continued: “We can only buy one or two big, £20 million players a year,”

“If we want to have money available, then we have to sell some players. We have to sell expensive and buy as cheaply as possible.”

“Aquilani fit would be £20-30 million. We checked with doctors and they said he would be out one, maybe two months. We have lost some time, but I signed the player for five years, not five weeks. We needed to take the risk.”

“When we have spent big, normally it’s been very good business,”

“Torres, Mascherano, Reina, Alonso. Keane is a good player but we had to sell him because he was not playing at the level we knew he could play. Ryan [Babel] was signed for the future and we are waiting for his improvement. He has to be more consistent.”

“With the fringe players, we needed to take a gamble on Bosmans and one, two million-pound players. Some of these players have not been good enough for us. It is a risk you have to accept when there is not too much money about.”

Rafa Benitez Defends His Liverpool Record

Rafael Benitez has strongly defended his managerial style as questions are being asked about him following Liverpool's current run of one win out of nine.

He said in Champions Magazine: "You cannot win trophies if you are cautious. I have won titles not because I am cautious, but because I have a clear idea of what to do.

"Sometimes we attack, sometimes we wait, and sometimes we counter-attack. Two seasons ago, we scored 119 goals, more than any other team, so we are an attacking team.

"Last season we scored 77, nine more than Manchester United who won the league, so we are an attacking team.

"You need balance. If you don't concede too many because you are well-organised, people say you are defensive."

Asked if Liverpool are more attack-minded this season, he said: "We are more or less doing the same, we're offensive and scoring goals. People think we are more offensive because Glen Johnson is an attacking full-back.

"But the attempts on goal last year and this are similar. The difference is accuracy. We are scoring more goals this year, because we are more precise."

Former Teammate Claims Liverpool Have Signed A Potential World Beater

Liverpool have signed one of the best players in the world according to Alberto Aquilani’s former teammate Francesco Totti.

The Italian forward claims his ex-Roma teammate will be a huge success at Anfield despite only featuring in two substitute appearances for Rafa Benitez’s side.

The 25-year-old was brought to the Premier League in the summer as a direct replacement for the Real Madrid bound Xabi Alonso, and Totti suggests his compatriot and friend has all the talent to be a huge asset alongside Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres.

Totti is quoted by the Daily Mail saying: “Alberto is an incredibly talented player, with great technique and an excellent understanding of the game.”

“He also has a powerful shot with both feet – he really is a complete midfielder.”

“Alberto can play in any position in the middle of the park really, either a bit forward or a few steps behind.”

“The advantage he has is that he really understands the game and has great vision - he is dynamic and can make the last pass or try to score himself.”

“Here at Roma, with our 4-2-3-1 strategy, he was playing in front of the defence next to Daniele De Rossi or David Pizarro, but also as an attacking midfielder just off me. I think he can do very well in a 4-4-2 as well.”

Totti added: “He has been unlucky with injuries so far but I believe he will do really well in England. We are really good friends. We keep in touch even now that he has left us.”

“He is elegant and smart - these are his main characteristics. Potentially he is one of the best in the world.”