Thursday, November 19, 2009

Future Is Bright For Liverpool - Rafael Benitez

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez believes that the future of the club is secure with regard to the burgeoning talent among the youth players who are set to break into the senior squad.

The 'Rafalution' of the Reds continued during the summer, when the Spaniard instigated an overhaul in the system and structure of the club's youth and reserve set-up.

"The players can see the difference and I am sure it will be easier for them to progress," Benitez told the club's official website.

"It is always important to develop your own players. Local players have passion and desire and I think that is the key if you want to be consistent and stay at the top of the table - you have to produce your own players.

"When you make changes it can take time, but we all have the same plan, everybody is following it and we try to do the same things here at Melwood and at the Academy."

When asked if he foresaw a bright future for the Merseysiders, the former Valencia manager answered: "Yes, I think so. I am sure."

Liverpool Manager Rafael Benítez Could Sell Quartet To Balance Books

Rafael Benítez may be forced to part with as many as four senior international squad members in the January transfer window as he attempts to trim Liverpool’s wage bill and balance the Anfield books.

Ryan Babel, Andrea Dossena, Andriy Voronin and Philipp Degen will all be sacrificed should suitable offers arrive, even though there are currently no guarantees that Benítez will be granted the revenue generated by their departures to reinvest into the Liverpool team.

The Spaniard has seen his team’s Premier League and Champions League challenges falter under the weight of an extensive injury list, highlighting the paucity of resources available to him after two consecutive summers of little net outlay on the playing staff.

Yet the financial restrictions at Anfield are such that Benítez will be forced to endure the last six months of the campaign with a squad depleted still further unless he can find suitable reinforcements on loan.

Dossena, an £8 million signing from Udinese last year, has found his playing time severely restricted by the emergence of Emiliano Insua as Liverpool’s first-choice left-back and will return to his native Italy in January in the hope of securing a place in Marcello Lippi’s World Cup squad.

Napoli, who came close to signing him in the summer, remain interested, but the club’s president, Aurelio De Laurentiis, is unwilling to fund a permanent deal until next summer. It is likely Liverpool would have to make a contribution to the player’s wages should he agree a loan return to Italy.

Voronin, though he has signally failed to impress in England, remains well-regarded in Germany after an impressive loan spell with Hertha Berlin last season, and several clubs are believed to be ready to offer him a return to the Bundesliga.

Degen, too, a free transfer signing from Borussia Dortmund, is likely to head to Germany in search of the regular appearances which would guarantee him a ticket to South Africa. Both are believed to be on around £40,000-a-week at Anfield, a figure most German sides would struggle to match.

Babel insisted earlier this week that he sees his future at Anfield but the Dutch international has also admitted in the past that he would consider a return to his old club Ajax to safeguard his World Cup place, though any such move is unlikely to be permanent.

Benítez will be hoping several of his highly-regarded youngsters will be able to fill the breach, though uncertainty continues to cloud the futures of Nathan Eccleston – the young striker recently handed his first-team debut – after he rejected a contract extension last week amid reported interest from several Premier League clubs, and Lauri Dalla Valle, a Finnish prospect believed to be discontent with his lack of progress through the club’s ranks.

The Liverpool manager, though, will at least be able to count on Steven Gerrard, Glen Johnson and Daniel Agger for Saturday's crucial game with Manchester City, with the return of his captain particularly pleasing. “The second injection [in my groin] seems to have done the trick,” said Gerrard. “I’m feeling a lot better, a lot stronger and now I just have to get my match sharpness back.”

Liverpool Manager Rafael Benítez Admits Premier League Title Is Preferred Prize

Liverpool manager Rafael Benítez would rather win the Premier League trophy than another Champions League title.

Following a disappointing start to the season which has seen them lose five league games already, many are ruling Liverpool out of the title race this term.

Nevertheless, Benítez, who brought the Champions League trophy to Anfield in 2005, is desperate to claim the domestic crown.

He told The Times : "Anyone who knows me knows that I want to win every trophy, every game.

"But if you ask me what I prefer, I will say the Premier League.

"If I do not win the title, I'm sure I'd be so disappointed maybe I would have this feeling [of failure]."

Many saw last term as a great chance for Liverpool to challenge for the Premier League title, but Benítez saw his plans scuppered when he failed to bring Gareth Barry to Liverpool.

And he believes the season would have turned out differently - possibly even with his ultimate goal reached - had Barry moved to Anfield.

"You never know," he said. "Football is a funny game.

"The plan was for Barry to play on the left and feed the ball to Robbie Keane, who would play up front with Fernando Torres.

"This blueprint had to be scrapped. The collateral damage was Keane, who signed from Tottenham Hotspur before the Barry deal had been done.

"When we wanted to sign Barry, we were sure we were signing a good player with a very good mentality and the quality to play in the Premier League. The priority was Barry, then Keane."

Rafael Benitez: When Door Was Shut On Gareth Barry

On Saturday afternoon, just before 12.45, a big-spending manager will take his seat in the dugout at Anfield aware that his side is desperate for a victory to ease the mounting pressure. Defeat will bring an avalanche of criticism. Yes, Mark Hughes could be in for a torrid afternoon if his Manchester City side is beaten by Liverpool.

Rafael Benítez knows that a win is essential, too.

Both managers have raised expectations for their clubs this year. Hughes lifted hopes with a £140 million spending spree. His Liverpool counterpart inspired his team to a flying finish to the previous Barclays Premier League season, when they fell just short of delivering the title to Anfield for the first time since 1990.

City is in sixth place in the table, a point above Liverpool. Both managers could come to rue their poor start to the season but will Benítez have bigger regrets on Saturday? There, in the sky blue of City, will be Gareth Barry, the man coveted by the Liverpool manager last year. Barry was the key to a new-look side at Anfield, one that never took shape after the midfield player stayed at Aston Villa, then moved to City in the summer.

Would Liverpool have won the league last season if Barry had signed? It is a question that Benítez must have mulled over a thousand times. He gives a deep sigh, so heavy that it is audible when the tape is played back.

“You never know,” he said slowly. “Football is a funny game. The plan was for Barry to play on the left and feed the ball to Robbie Keane, who would play up front with Fernando Torres. This blueprint had to be scrapped. The collateral damage was Keane, who signed from Tottenham Hotspur before the Barry deal had been done.

“When we wanted to sign Barry, we were sure we were signing a good player with a very good mentality and the quality to play in the Premier League. The priority was Barry, then Keane.”

Against a chaotic backdrop of politicking and finger-pointing at Anfield, Benítez’s priorities were ignored. Keane was the collateral damage but there were wider disappointments for the manager.

“We were looking to the future because we knew we needed three or four English players in the squad [for the Champions League],” Benítez said. “We knew there were rule changes and we needed English players and we were trying to get there early.

“The only way to do that was to sell [foreign] players and bring money in to sign English players. But the main thing about Barry is that he can play in three positions. To sign Barry would have been a very good addition for the team.”

Those who believed Benítez to be innately negative were surprised this season when he signed Glen Johnson as an attacking full back, but the manager has been looking for positive contributions from his defence for a long time. Here, too, he saw Barry as an option. “If you wanted to be more offensive, you could use Barry as a left full back and he would still be controlling the game because he’s good with the ball,” Benítez said. “He could play as a winger. Not a winger just to beat players but one with good delivery, good crosses, good possession.

“That was the idea. Everything was perfect. Good player, good mentality and English.”

The plan had gone awry and a new system was needed to put in its place. Using Steven Gerrard as a second striker compromised Keane’s role. Benítez acted decisively, sending Keane back to White Hart Lane after a mere six months at Anfield.

Would the Ireland striker have been a success in tandem with Barry? “Keane was a very good signing and everybody knew that he was a goal threat,” Benítez said. “He did not settle down in our team for different reasons and we needed to do something, so we did it quickly. With other players around it would have been easier for Keane. We played a different way.”

In trying to build his sides, Benítez attempts to balance the conflicting demands of domestic and continental football. The manager’s critics claim that he is more concerned with Europe, but Benítez sees his success in the Champions League as a natural consequence of his ability as a tactician. “Europe and England are totally different styles of football,” he said. “You can manage tactically better in Europe. You have plan against plan and you can adjust teams depending on your position.

“In England it is direct football all the time. It is more difficult. There are no tactics to deal with a goalkick from the ‘keeper or a punt that goes half the pitch. The only way is to challenge for the first ball, win the second ball. That is a massive difference in terms of tactics.

“The tempo is higher in England because it’s more direct football. It’s difficult to control. The English teams that have quality and strong and physical players are difficult to play against.

“Teams like Chelsea who are big, strong and also have quality can cope in the league and the Champions League.

“Manchester United is the same. They have Fletcher and Carrick, big, strong players, and they also have Rooney and Berbatov, who play with quality. The balance is not easy. You can find this balance spending some money.

“If you want to win here, you need stronger and quicker players. The stronger and quicker players who have quality cost money.”

Ron Gourlay, the chief executive at Stamford Bridge, said that it would take two European Cups in the next five years for Chelsea to become a big club. Benítez has delivered one to Anfield and reached another final.

However, would he consider his time at Liverpool a failure if he failed to deliver a title? “Anyone who knows me knows that I want to win every trophy, every game,” he said. “But if you ask me what I prefer, I will say the Premier League.

“If I do not win the title, I’m sure I’d be so disappointed maybe I would have this feeling [of failure],” he said. “But in football you have to compete against other teams. In the Premier League, you see clubs with big, big money, big stadiums. It’s easier if you have money to spend. But we have to deal with the money we have and cannot judge other teams.”

For this season, expectations may need to be lowered. Progression in the Champions League looks unlikely and a title challenge would need a run of form of heroic proportions. How would Benítez feel about slumming it in the Europa League? “It’s not easy to accept the situation,” he said. “But it’s not the end of the world. We must keep going. We’ll approach it with the right mentality and try to win.”

For now, getting the season back on track is simply a matter of seeing off City.

“For me it’s three points in the next game,” he said. “It’s the best way to be closer [to the top]. I have confidence that the team is better than people think, the squad is better than people think. If we win one or two games, we will gain confidence and you will see the players playing better.”

What Benítez said about his strikers.

Peter Crouch He is a fantastic boy and very clever, but he knew that Torres was the first choice and it would be more difficult for him.

Craig Bellamy He was different. He is a different kind of striker. He was in the position that Gerrard took, a second striker. Craig is a winner. With his mentality, to be on the bench is not an issue.

Michael Owen I couldn’t change his mind about going to Real. Two years later we had a conversation about the possibility of returning but he decided to go to Newcastle. He scores goals. This time round, I had a better goalscorer.

Spain v England is nightmare final scenario

One man unaffected by the excitement of the run-up to the World Cup is Rafael Benítez. Rather than looking forward to a festival of football in South Africa next year, the Liverpool manager is filled with dread.

“I’m really worried about a final between Spain and England,” he said. “All my players will be in it.”

The comment is said half in jest but there are some real concerns. Liverpool are suffering from the knock-on effects of a South African tournament, after Spain took part in the Confederations Cup during the summer.

“We are paying for the Confederations Cup,” he said. “The Spanish players came back late. If Spain- England is the final next year, it will be more difficult for us to prepare for the season.”

The timing of international matches is also an annoyance for Benítez. It will be better, he suggests, when the move is made from the present Wednesday and Saturday fixtures to 24 hours earlier.

“It will be better if international games are played on Tuesday and Friday,” he said. “It makes a big difference for all the top sides who have 10, 15 players involved in international football.

“Sometimes they arrive back on Friday so it’s really difficult because you cannot train with them. Then you have to play on Saturday morning sometimes. It is something that has to change. There are too many international games.”

Can Benítez imagine himself managing a national side? “I get asked that all the time in Spain,” he said. “Maybe in the future. I am happy here and like the day-to-day involvement. I prefer to stay here.”

What if the job meant that he was able to stay here? England? He laughed. “Maybe,” he said. “If I improve my English.”

Liverpool FC Commercial Chief Explains Motorsport Backing

Ian Ayre, the commercial director of English soccer club Liverpool, has explained the club's decision to back a racing team in the fast-growing Superleague Formula series.

Superleague Formula, which launched in 2008, features motorsport teams backed by professional soccer clubs, including the likes of AC Milan, Atletico Madrid and Flamengo. The 2009 season ended earlier this month, with Liverpool's representative team beating Tottenham Hotspur to the championship in front of huge crowds at Spanish circuit Jarama.

"It's important for this club to win things," explained Ayre. "Anything that represents us successfully as a football club is important. We've got a great team and a great driver and for the last two seasons we've been very successful in Superleague Formula. The pinnacle of that was winning the championship and winning it well. We had our Madrid supporters' club there and for all these fans it was a great day. I was there alongside other members of our team and it's great to see how the interest is building. About 30,000 people turned up, so it's clearly growing as a sport and an event."

The agreement is likely to continue for the foreseeable future, adds Ayre. "We're contracted to stay involved for several more years and it looks like an exciting proposition. They're expanding where they race and are talking about places in the Middle East and Asia. These are areas where we're very big as a football club so it's a great synergy and a great fit," he said.

Ayre was also keen to stress that involvement in Superleague Formula is a financial opportunity for the club, rather than a burden. "There are two things, for me. The first is us licensing our club logos and brand to Superleague. They have a similar arrangement with a lot of other teams. This is a financial opportunity for the club.

"The second thing, which is perhaps more important, is that it spreads the awareness of our football club. Superleague races in markets that perhaps we don't go to very often as a football club. It attracts a different type of audience and means motor racing fans who perhaps aren't big football supporters become attracted to Liverpool. By the same token, established Liverpool fans can see a bit of motor racing and have a good day out. It's a family event with great access. They have a pit walk and you can walk along the grid as they are preparing for the race."

Liverpool’s Faith In Controversial Serbian Healer Pays Off

Yossi Benayoun and Albert Riera are in contention for a surprise return to the Liverpool squad for Saturday’s clash with Manchester City after some controversial therapy.

They have been treated by a Serbian physiotherapist credited with accelerating recovery from injury with the use of placenta cells.

Benayoun and Riera had been expected to be sidelined for up to five weeks after suffering torn hamstrings during Liverpool’s 2-2 draw against Birmingham City at Anfield 11 days ago.

But the midfielders have now been given an outside chance of facing City at Anfield this weekend after making unexpected progress with their injuries after visiting Mariana Kovacevic in Belgrade. Israeli midfielder Benayoun said: “I am feeling better already. My hope now is that I will be fit in one week, two at the most. ”

Kovacevic has sprung to prominence following Arsenal forward Robin van Persie’s revelation that he would be visiting her Belgrade clinic in an attempt to boost his recovery from an ankle injury suffered while playing for Holland against Italy at the weekend.

Dutch team-mate Orlando Engelaar had recommended Kovacevic to Van Persie after making a quicker than expected recovery from injury after being subjected to her innovative methods earlier this year.

The injection of horse placenta on to the affected area is claimed to speed up the recovery process and, while it is not known whether Benayoun and Riera have been subjected to that treatment, both have returned to Liverpool ahead of schedule with their rehabilitation.

David Ngog, the French forward, is expected to be fit to face City, despite suffering a broken nose while training with France Under-21s this week.

Ngog, whose last outing for Liverpool ended in controversy amid accusations that he dived to win a penalty against Birmingham, will be able to take his place in the squad for City’s visit, according to manager Rafael Benítez.

Benítez said: “Ngog has broken his nose, so we will have to see how he is before the weekend, but we think he is going to be OK. It is not too serious.”

Liverpool face a crucial week with the visit of City followed by the Champions League trip to Hungary to tackle Debrecen, where even a victory may not be enough to save Benitez’s team from elimination.

Benítez said: “This is the start of an important week for us.”

Eintracht Frankfurt Can't Afford Voronin

Eintracht Frankfurt manager Michael Skibbe admits the club might be priced out of a move for Andriy Voronin.

The Liverpool striker has been linked with a move away from Anfield after failing to establish himself in the Reds first team, with manager Rafael Benitez preferring David Ngog as back-up for star forward Fernando Torres.

Voronin spent a season on loan at Hertha Berlin last term, scoring 11 times in 20 appearances, and has previously played for Borussia Monchengladbach, Mainz 05, Koln and Bayer Leverkusen in Germany.

However, a move to Eintracht looks unlikely as Skibbe revealed the club would find it difficult to afford the Ukrainian, despite a lack of options up front.

"We have a shortage up front following the injuries to Ioannis Amanatidis and Martin Fenin," he said.

"But I really do not think we are in a financial position to be able to afford a player like Andriy Voronin. I really do not think so."

Liverpool Sign 14-year-old Luton Town Forward Dave Moli

Liverpool have paid an undisclosed fee for the Luton youngster Dave Moli. The 14-year-old forward had been part of the Hatters' under-15 side but will now move with his family to Merseyside, where he will continue his schooling and train at the Reds' academy.

Luton reported another Premier League club to the Football Association for making an illegal approach for the player, but Liverpool's approach through the Blue Square Premier club has been accepted.

Luton's youth development officer, Gregg Broughton, said: "We never like to lose talented players, but it is important that we do not stand in the way of young players' development."

Liverpool have intensified their search for young players following a restructuring of the reserve and academy set-up, and the manager, Rafael Benítez, is impressed by the changes that have been made.

The Spaniard said: "It is much better now. The players can see the difference and I am sure it will be easier for them to progress. It is always important to develop your own players. Local players have passion and desire and I think that is the key if you want to be consistent and stay at the top – you have to produce your own players.

"When you make changes it can take time, but we all have the same plan, everybody is following it and we try to do the same things here at Melwood [the first-team training complex] and at the academy."

Rodolfo Borrell, the under-18s coach, and José Segura, the academy technical manager, who joined from Barcelona in July and May respectively, are two of several new arrivals at the club's youth complex at Kirkby this year, and the manager feels the changes are helping to drive the academy forward.

Benítez said: "They are doing well, but we didn't bring in just these two coaches. We brought in more people and changed staff. When you talk with agents, or people who are involved with coaching or watching the academy, everyone says it has changed a lot."

Alonso: It's Logical I Miss Liverpool

Xabi Alonso has admitted he misses Liverpool but urged the club to move on because he is happy with life at Real Madrid.

The Spaniard’s departure has coincided with Liverpool’s woeful form in the Premier League and Champions League and although he was flattered by Steven Gerrard’s recent comments that suggested he was devastated by Alonso leaving, the former Real Sociedad star is happy at the Bernabeu.

Alonso is quoted by the Sun: “I want to thank Stevie for his kind words but life goes on.”

“It's logical I miss Liverpool.”

“I lived there five years and saw what football means to the supporters.”

“I've still got friends there. It was an unforgettable experience and I'll always have the club in my heart.”

“But I'm so happy at Real Madrid and I hope to do some important things here.”