Sunday, January 10, 2010

Rafael Benitez Insists He Is Staying Put And Planning Summer Signings For Liverpool

Contrary to speculation linking Rafa Benitez to other clubs, the Liverpool manager insists he's remaining at Anfield for the long-haul and has already started masterminding a summer spending.

The Spaniard has been linked to Real Madrid and Inter Milan and was reportedly disappointed not to have funds available to spend in the January transfer window. However, he adamant he’s going no where.

"When I decided to sign a new contract less than a year ago it was because I wanted to stay. I gave my word and I want to fight and I will fight until the end," he told the Daily Mirror.

"At this moment we have to do the best for the club [Liverpool] and this means accepting the situation and trying to do our best.

"We have people who are monitoring every player. We will try to do something now but we also have to think about the future - we have to keep improving the squad."

Boss: We'll Train Hard

Rafa Benitez insists his players will continue to train hard over the coming days despite Sunday's clash with Spurs being postponed.

The squad will now be expected to turn its attention to Wednesday's FA Cup replay with Reading.

Benitez told "We were really disappointed it was called off because the players were in a good mood for the game and were really focused in training, but we have to accept the situation.

"We know we have a busy schedule now and we have the Europa League, so we have to do it (reschedule) as quickly as possible.

"We will continue training with maybe one day off, but we need to look at the next game in the FA Cup.

"It's very clear here in England that you have to approach each Cup game thinking it's a final. This is the way we'll do it."

Ryan Babel And Maxi Rodriguez Moves Frozen For Now

Rafa Benitez has reiterated his desire not to sell Ryan Babel during the transfer window – as Liverpool’s bid to land Maxi Rodriguez hit a slight stumbling block.

The Holland forward was the subject of £9m bid from Birmingham City this week that was hastily rebuffed by Benitez, who first stated his intention to keep Babel after the 1-1 FA Cup draw at Reading seven days ago.

Though he has found chances to shine limited during the current campaign, Benitez – whose side face a blank weekend after arctic conditions claimed tomorrow’s scheduled Anfield date with Tottenham – is not keen to part with Babel.

That’s why the manager will resist any further overtures for a player he brought to the club from Ajax in the summer of 2007.

“Always you have to listen to offers for players as that is part of the way football is going but the player wants to stay,” said Benitez.

“If Ryan plays to the level that we know he can, I will be very pleased. It’s very clear for us, we will train with the players every day and have them ready for the next game. You always have to think about what is best for the club.”

Benitez had hoped to be in a position to unveil Rodriguez yesterday but he is now being forced to be patient, as the Argentine wide man tries to thrash out a deal for money that he is owed by Atletico Madrid.

It should not be a fatal blow to the Reds’ ambitions of landing him but it is not an ideal situation for them to be in by any means.

“We are talking with Atletico,” said Benitez. “We have an agreement and we will see what happens but I cannot talk too much, as he is not our player.

“All I will say is that he is a player with experience of international football with Argentina and can score goals but, still, he is not our player. He has some problems with them and we have to wait.”

Dominic King: Rafa Benitez Should Not Have To Manage Liverpool FC's Debt

Ryan Babel has found his name the subject of debate on numerous occasions this season and that was again the case in the opening week of the new year.

This time, though, rather than sparking chatter about why he can look a world beater one moment but a bungling novice the next, the interest Birmingham City showed in Babel opened a completely different can of worms.

When news emerged that Birmingham, flush with cash following Carson Yeung’s takeover, wanted to make a marquee signing and felt they could do so with a £9m bid for Babel, the vast majority of Liverpool supporters immediately thought: “take it.”

After all, the Holland forward has flattered to deceive more times than many would care to mention, the fee looked enticing and represented a reasonable return on Liverpool’s initial outlay to Ajax in the summer of 2007.

Liverpool, however, had other ideas. Their valuation of Babel – who, remember, is still a current international, only just turned 23 and capable of producing extravagant moments of skill – is closer to £12m; they have no intentions of selling on the cheap.

On the surface, that is a totally plausible argument; good businesses do not sell commodities for prices lower than they have in mind and, furthermore, why would Babel be offloaded to a place where he could come back to haunt the Reds?

But scratch beneath the surface and there is another reason Rafa Benitez was anything but interested in talking terms with Alex McLeish, one that has set the alarms bells ringing loudly on the Kop and beyond.

While Liverpool are crying out for investment in their playing staff, had they cashed in on Babel, Benitez’s best hopes of spending a figure in excess of £9m this month would be to invest in a lottery ticket and hope all six numbers come up.

In the others words, the money would have been swallowed up to help finance the £240m debt the club is trying to manage; club insiders insist that is not the case and the deficit is manageable but critics of Tom Hicks and George Gillett will beg to differ.

True, it’s worth remembering the January window is capricious and top quality players – the type who would provide an injection of star quality Liverpool require – are not freely available; if they are, invariably clubs will have to pay over the odds.

Still it is hugely disappointing, to put it mildly, that Benitez will be limited to bringing just Maxi Rodriguez in for £1.5m when he also desperately needs experienced cover at right-back for the stricken Glen Johnson.

If he is unable to bring in a specialist for that area – and it is looking all the more likely – it will be hard to escape the feeling that Liverpool’s main aim for the next few years will be debt reduction rather than trophy gathering.

Something desperately needs to change; while many see a new stadium or a redeveloped Anfield being key to transforming Liverpool’s financial fortunes, isn’t there a case to be made for investing in the one facet that should always take priority – the team?

Just say the Reds miss out on qualifying for the Champions League this season and, heaven forbid, some of the star players are sold to make up the shortfall in revenue they would normally receive from rubbing shoulders with the best in Europe.

Slowly but surely, Liverpool would find it harder and harder to keep pace with the likes of Arsenal, Chelsea and the two Manchester clubs, to the point where European football might slip off the landscape completely.

What would the point be in having a sparkling new stadium, then, if the standard of football on offer was way below what has become the norm during the past six years and the big names were out of reach?

The next five months will go a long way to shaping Liverpool’s future and if Benitez feels it is best to hang on to Babel, who might just turn a couple of games with the kind of moments he produced against Lyon and West Ham, then the decision not to sell is right.

Yet what is not right is the fact a club with the Liverpool’s history and pedigree is being forced to rummage around for bargains with nothing other than loose change; expectation and realisation, sadly, do not go hand in hand.

Benitez Eyeing Move For Wolves Defender Stearman

Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez has been checking on Wolves’ versatile defender Richard Stearman.

Benitez wants cover for injured right back Glen Johnson and Stearman can play in that position and at centre half.

Stearman, 22, is a former England under-21 international and has been one of the success stories of Wolves season in the Premier League.

Benitez will have to ship out misfit defender Andrea Dossena first and is hopeful of getting rid of him and then Stearman is on his agenda.

John Aldridge: This Is A Pivotal Four Months In Liverpool FC’s History

The next four months are the biggest in Liverpool’s history.

The implications if we don’t get into the Champions League are massive.

If we don’t finish in the top four it will be very difficult to attract top players and we might struggle to hold on to our key stars.

This really is a pivotal time for the club. Manchester City are pulling out all the stops to get into the top four and if we fail to make it then it could be difficult to force our way back in.

To compete financially we need a new stadium with 60,000 every week so it was pleasing to hear work is finally due to start in Stanley Park by April.

If come the end of the season the foundations are being put in and we’re secured fourth place then things will look rosy. But if the coming months don’t work out we’ll find ourselves in a dreadful situation.

Supporters are now starting to see what a state the club is in financially.

The situation with Ryan Babel just underlines it. If you got offered £9million for Babel and knew you would be able to use that cash to strengthen the squad then you would bite their hand off.

But the fact is Rafa Benitez knows that money wouldn’t be his to spend. The interest payments to the banks to finance the debts are massive and it would simply be swallowed up.

If Rafa wouldn’t be able to replace him then he is right to keep hold of a player who can maybe make an impact off the bench.

It was good to see the manager getting rid of some dead wood this week.

Andrea Dossena tried his best but just wasn’t good enough to play for Liverpool.

However, I’ll always thank him for that goal he scored against Manchester United last season. He paid back a chunk of his fee with that strike!

Andriy Voronin also looks to be on his way and hopefully Philipp Degen will follow him.

That will bring some money in but apart from Maxi Rodriguez it looks like the boss won’t be able to buy anyone else.

There’s a chunk of the Alberto Aquilani deal to be paid to Roma this month so maybe some of the cash coming in is being used for that.

It’s a sign of the times with Liverpool having to look for cheap buys, free transfers and loans.

Rodriguez has got a great pedigree and could be a bargain, but people said that about Voronin and Degen so let’s wait and see.

West Ham United's Matthew Upson On Liverpool Shortlist

Following the sale of Andrea Dossena to Napoli, combined with the injury to regular right-back Glen Johnson, Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez is expected to make an addition to his defensive ranks, and The Times claim that a deal for Matthew Upson could be made imminently.

West Ham United manager Gianfranco Zola, however, is keen to keep hold of his regular stars, so should Benitez stand firm on a transfer for Upson, he may have to pen a large cheque.

Zola recently told the Mirror: "I know I have good players in my team and it is normal that teams are looking for them. I am confident we can keep our best players.

"I don't think we have had enquiries so far. I haven't been told so. I am confident I can keep them here.

"I don't deal with these things (transfers). I am just dealing with the players we have and I try to make them happy to stay here."

Liverpool have also been linked with moves for Hammers stars Carlton Cole and Scott Parker.

Pacheco: My Debt To Nando

Daniel Pacheco claims he couldn't have a better role model to learn from than Fernando Torres.

The former Barca teenager got the chance to play in the first team with El Nino against Fiorentina and Wolves and would love to repeat that experience in the near future.

"For a young Spanish boy it's amazing to play alongside Fernando," Pacheco told

"He is one of the best strikers in the world - probably the best. To play with him you can learn so much.

"I look up to Fernando a lot. He has scored a lot of goals for this club and Spain and I hope to do the same one day.

"He always tries to help me and give me advice and I'd like to say a big thank-you to him because I'm learning from the best."

John Aldridge: Liverpool Must Learn Lessons From Past In FA Cup Replay

We were very poor at Reading last Saturday but we should finish the job in Wednesday’s replay at Anfield.

Sometimes in the Cup you get days like that but the main thing is we got away with it.

You can’t take anything for granted and we’ve been shocked at home by lower league clubs a few times before so the warning signs are there.

The Barnsley defeat sticks out and we also under-estimated non-league Havant.

It’s crucial we prepare properly, treat Reading with respect and do a professional job.

I heard Jamie Carragher talking about how he wants his kids to have a day out at Wembley watching him play.

A trip to the capital is long overdue and it’s a huge carrot for the players.

We couldn’t ask any more than a home tie with Burnley in the fifth round so if we get past Reading there’s a golden opportunity to progress to the last 16.

Lucas Leiva Still Loving His Bola-coaster Ride

The Bola de Ouro is to Brazil what the FWA Footballer of the Year is to England, an award which recognises a player’s class, consistency and durability.

When you look back at a list of the past winners since its inception in 1973, fittingly it has been given to some of the game’s greatest talents, men whose names will stand the test of time.

Zico was a dual winner, as was Falcao, while others to be named the top performer in Brazil’s National Championship include luminaries such as Romario, Careca and Kaka.

And more recently, Carlos Tevez and Robinho can add their names to the roll of honour.

Clearly, those who choose the award at the Brazilian magazine Placar know what makes a special footballer, so it may surprise some to learn the 2006 recipient was a player who has spent much of the past two years fending off criticism.

The man in question is, of course, Lucas.

No matter that he was the youngest, aged just 19, to win the Bola de Ouro or how several of Europe’s biggest clubs wanted to sign him, some will always have a myopic view of him.

In recent weeks, however, it seems a wider audience have started to warm to the talents that thrust him into limelight four years ago – spot the irony in that Lucas’ performances have been red hot in temperatures as far removed from the Copacabana as possible.

Pick of the bunch, undoubtedly, was his effort at Villa Park 10 days ago, when he relished the responsibility of being Liverpool’s midfield gremlin, constantly breaking up Aston Villa moves with confidence and composure.

For Rafa Benitez, though, there is nothing startling about what Lucas has been doing for much of this campaign; when signing him from Gremio in 2007, the Reds’ manager knew he had brought someone to the club who, with time, would blossom.

Had the elements not intervened, Lucas would have had a key role to fill against Tottenham Hotspur tomorrow but while Benitez is frustrated that contest has fallen foul of the elements, he actually feels a weekend off may do the young man some good.

Lucas has played in each of Liverpool’s 20 Premier League game so far, as well as the vast majority of Champions League and cup games, and Benitez is anxious he catches breath before the business end of the campaign.

Should he do that, Benitez is adamant the man from Dourados will be even more effective and take his form up to a level that will have any remaining terrace detractors hastily re-evaluating their opinions of Lucas, who celebrates his 23rd birthday today.

“Lucas is improving all the time,” said Benitez. “It is obvious that if he has play every single game, it will be really difficult because our idea is to play him sometimes but also give him a break, as he we have Mascherano, Aquilani and Gerrard.

“But circumstances have meant that he has played almost every game; if we can manage the situation and we have some more players back, it will do him good if we can give him a break; it is hard to play so many games.

“If he gets that break, he will come back even better. I know he can improve so much more. When I was talking about him before he signed, I was telling people that we were signing the captain of Gremio – and he was only 19.

“That means something. You do not captain teams in Brazil at such a level at that age if you are not a strong character or someone with a very good mentality. Hopefully he will continue to grow with us.

“He is going to be a very important player for us in the future. The lads love him because he trains really well, he is always chatting, always working hard. They know he is a very good professional and a very good lad.”

Not to mention a very good player. Consistent and committed, it would not be wrong to say that energetic, redoubtable performance at Villa was his best since arriving at Anfield yet, much to Benitez’s bewilderment, some observers were scornful in print.

“Everybody with some idea about football can see that in the last three games, he has been the one controlling midfield and trying to hold the team together,” said Benitez, who has always given Lucas his unconditional support.

“We have a lot of players with an offensive mentality, but still Lucas was there in the middle, doing a fantastic job for the team. I was really surprised, then, to hear some people still give him criticism. Our fans have been choosing him as the man of the match, though, and that says everything.”

They have also shown their appreciation vocally, something that has registered with the player; Lucas has the foundations to really blossom in 2010 yet, typically, his sole priority is ensuring the team’s fortunes improve and nothing else.

“It is special when the Kop sings your name. Now I have a good relationship with them, but the most important thing is about what is best for Liverpool, not for me.”

Liverpool: Rafa's Views On Ins And Outs

Ryan Babel's proposed move to Birmingham doesn't look like it'll happen but there are still question marks about his Liverpool future. Rafa says that the Dutchman rejected a move to St Andrews however the Spaniard doesn't want him to move anyway, as he explained:

'I have not said that Ryan has to leave the club. We received an offer for the player and he said that he did not want to leave the club.

'Therefore we rejected the offer. He is a good player and he works hard, I want him in the squad.'

Andrea Dossena, who has now left the Reds, and Andriy Voronin, who is expected to move to Russia, are different matters though and the Reds Boss is happy for them to leave, as he also explained:

'The Voronin deal is nearing completion but both he and Dossena are different to Babel. They were not playing many matches and wanted to play regularly elsewhere.'

Rafa has admitted that a few issues need to be finalised with Maxi Rodriguez but the Argentina international is getting close to a move to Anfield from Atletico Madrid.