Thursday, January 14, 2010

Maxi Rodriguez Arrives In Anfield

Argentina international Maxi Rodriguez is close to completing his move to Liverpool after arriving in the city today.

Rodriguez is scheduled to have a medical before signing an 18-month contract.

The winger will watch Liverpool’s FA Cup third-round replay against Reading at Anfield before returning to Spain to tie up the final details of his departure from Atletico Madrid.

Rodriguez, 29, still has to agree his pay-off from Atletico but could be back in England by the weekend to figure in the squad that will travel to Stoke on Saturday.

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez had hoped the £1.5million deal could have been completed last week, but the former Newell's Old Boys and Espanyol player was unable to finalise the details of his departure.

The arrival of Rodriguez - a close friend and international team-mate of Reds midfielder Javier Mascherano - will follow the departures from Anfield of Andrea Dossena to Napoli and Andriy Voronin to Dinamo Moscow.

Those two deals have brought in funds totalling £6.5million, and Ryan Babel's name could soon be added to the list of departures now Benitez has been assured that he can have the potential £10million fee to strengthen his squad during this transfer window.

Benitez had previously been told to wait until the summer before spending on new additions.

Reds Deny Chamakh Deal

Liverpool today rubbished suggestions they have signed Marouane Chamakh in a £25m deal.

It is no secret the Reds are in the race to sign the 26-year-old striker from Bordeaux, along with several other clubs but they are still waiting to hear whether their bid to land him has been successful.

Chamakh is available on a Bosman in June and has indicated that he will make a decision on his future by the end of the current transfer window.

But Liverpool have not tried to steal a march on their rivals by offering him a £12m signing on fee or a contract reported to be worth more than £60,000 a week.

That would equate to a deal worth more than £100,000 per week for a player who is currently earns around a tenth of that figure in Ligue 1.

Liverpool are intent on exercising prudence and are simply interested in individuals who want to enhance their medal collection rather than swelling their bank balance.

Liverpool FC Confirm New Investors Hopes But Deny They Would Sell Stars Like Torres And Gerrard

Liverpool Managing Director Christian Purslow today confirmed the club could have new investors within the next few months – as he insisted top stars like Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard would never be sold.

Purslow revealed he is now deep into the process of whittling down potential interested parties – of which there are several.

If successful that could ultimately involve part ownership with current American joint club owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett – or even someone completely buying them out.

The Reds supremo who took over from Rick Parry last year, spoke following the resignation on Monday of director Tom Hicks Jr., son of co-owner Tom Hicks, after an email row with a fan.

He insisted all money recouped in the January transfer window would be available to manager Rafa Benitez to invest in replacements.

Purslow’s firm declaration that players like Torres and Gerrard would be going nowhere followed weekend newspaper headlines which claimed Benitez had acknowledged the duo might one day have to be sold.

Benitez was known to be very angry with the way he was represented over Torres and club captain Steven Gerrard – and Purslow completely dismissed the notion of Liverpool ever being a “selling club”.

The former city banker and lifelong Liverpool fan told the ECHO: “Nothing could be further from the truth than reports which suggested the club would choose to sell its star footballers.

“The idea that we would ever wish to sell our top players is completely against the interests of this club.

“In fact our key priority since the summer has been to secure our senior players on long term improved contracts, because we remain of the view that our starting eleven compares with anybody in the Premier League.

“Our plan – and what we are working on – is to try and improve the team; not to be so stupid as to reduce the quality of our squad.

“The suggestion in any way that we would sell players in order to pay down debt or pay money to our owners is preposterous. Neither is true. Neither is possible.

“Any proceeds we generate from the sale of players can only go into our player account for the recruitment of new players.

“It’s in the public domain that the owners have been looking to bring new investors in to the club to pay down the club’s existing debts – which are today about £237m – by way of issuing new shares which would dilute their shareholding in the club. That process is ongoing.

“The debt we have today is obviously serviced by the club in terms of interest and bank fees and if we reduce our debt then clearly those interest charges and bank fees will reduce.”

Liverpool fans, led by supporters group the Spirit of Shankly, have long since campaigned for Hicks and Gillett to leave the club and sell it to new owners.

On the prospect of new investment, Purslow said: “Inevitably when you run an investment process of this kind in the early stages many, many people have a look.

“Much of the challenge in these processes is to sort out the serious and the real interest from people who are unlikely to make an investment.

“I think it’s fair to say as we now move into the New Year that we are whittling down the interest to a smaller number – maybe a handful of serious groups who are interested in investing in Liverpool. And in the coming couple of months our job is to sort those into ultimately an investor that makes sense for everyone concerned.”

He stressed: “Provided all goes well, there is a serious possibility of new fresh investment into Liverpool Football Club within the foreseeable future.

“There are no guarantees – we are operating in an environment where, as everybody knows outside football and in football, it hasn’t been the most active investment market for the last 18 months. But largely because of the quality of Liverpool Football Club, both as a club and as a business, we haven’t had problems in attracting interest.

“However, the devil is always in the detail and in coming months our job is to get somebody over the line that makes sense for all concerned.

“That could be part ownership or it could be complete ownership.”

Purslow is continuing his efforts to get the club’s new stadium dreams back on track – and insists the success of that dream is critical to Liverpool’s continued future as a European giant – one which can finally realise its full potential. He is both confident and determined to make a new stadium a reality.

He said: “The stadium is absolutely central to the club’s strategic development because with a new stadium comes a transformation in the financial resources of Liverpool that can be ploughed back into the core of our activity - which is our playing squad.
“The good news is that all potential investors are attracted to Liverpool by the prospect of building a new stadium and participating in the transformation in the value of the club associated with that project.

“Also positive is the fact that late last year, the bank market was essentially shut. It’s now very much open for business and a number of banks are very interested in financing our new stadium.

“However, a condition of all those banks’ interest is that in the first instance, we have brought new investment into the club.

“So I see it as a two step process – new investment in the next couple of months which reduces our existing debt to a very low level, to enable us then to push on with discussions with banks about financing the stadium.

“It’s that stadium which holds the key to us transforming our fortunes both economically and in football terms.

“It’s too early to name names but rest assured I want the fans to feel fully informed and when we home in on a small number of parties, subject to normal confidentiality provisions, I hope to be able to give people more of an update in the next month or two.”

Asked if he understood the continuing frustrations of the fans and what his message to them was, he said: “Don’t forget, I’m a fan and I desperately want to help the club move to the next level as soon as possible.

“In fact that’s why I’m here – for no other reason.

“While we are looking for new investment, the important thing is that we run the business as well as possible. The football and the business side must work seamlessly together in a co-ordinated way and ensure we are giving the football side of Liverpool everything it needs.

“As a fan I believe we must stay behind the team, keep positive and believe that with all our star players on the pitch in the second half of the campaign we might well be looking back on a very successful end of season from where we sit today. That’s my true hope and belief – we have every opportunity to do that.”

Asked about the January transfer window which has been the subject of much speculation and debate, he said: “The position is that January in general is not a high priority time for Rafa in terms of player acquisitions. That is largely because of the lack of availability of top quality players.

“We have taken the opportunity in the window to move out a couple of players (Dossena and Voronin) who weren’t playing frequently and we are looking at one or two replacement players.

“The key point is we will not sell a footballer if we can’t find a better or equal replacement.

“At the same time we are totally focused on results; wanting to have a successful second half of the season and we would not want to leave our squad short compared to where we are today.

“So I don’t rule out the possibility that we do sell another player – but only if the manger is happy he’s found a comparable player or better. And if not, we wont sell any of our players - because we don’t want to be short.”

He added: “The money brought in from player sales in January and which might yet be brought in will not be going to pay off debt.

“It cannot and it will not.

“Money we generate by selling footballers goes straight into our player account to be used to replace those players in the transfer market.

“The overall message right now as we head into 2010 is that, slowly but surely on the strategic side, we are making progress towards finding new investment which is the key to unlocking a new stadium. And that stadium is the single event that will transform the financial prospects of Liverpool.

“Meantime I hope and believe we are running our club sensibly, with a total focus on the business of Liverpool supporting our manager and the football operations.

“From my perspective if we have opportunities in January to make positive changes then great. If not we will wait until summer when there’s a much more active transfer market.”

Purlsow is now seven months into his role - during which time Anfield’s Kirkdale-born Commercial Director Ian Ayre pulled off the biggest shirt sponsorship deal in British football history – an agreement with Standard Chartered Bank worth £80m.

Purslow reflected: “Obviously the most important aspect of any club is how we are doing on the field and I don’t think any of us had expected the first half of the season that we have had.

“That said, I’m very confident now that the vast majority of our players are fit and well, we’ll see a transformation in our results in the second half of the season.

“But in terms of the business side of Liverpool, day to day things could not have gone better.

“Commercially, I think the business is better than I expected and performing better than I expected.

“And obviously my number one priority remains the strategic issue of bringing in new investment – and that is probably about where I would have expected it to be.

“Going into the New Year I hoped that the initial process would have identified a smaller group of serious people who are interested in investing in Liverpool – and that’s where we are today.

“While there can be no guarantees, I am confident and optimistic that in the next couple of months one of them will be brought to fruition.

“The process of bringing in new investment and reducing our current debt will create a context whereby we can seriously get back on track the stadium project.

“That project remains my key priority, because it is that which holds the key to transforming the club’s financial position."

Rafa Hopeful Over Johnson

Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez insists Glen Johnson is making good progress from his knee injury.

Johnson suffered a knee ligament problem during his side's 1-0 win over Aston Villa at the end of December.

Reports have suggested that the injury could sideline Johnson for up to three months, with Liverpool initially suggesting the England right-back would be back in action in a month.

Benitez is refusing to put a timescale on the former Chelsea and Portsmouth star's return to action, but is happy with his recovery to date.

"I was watching him yesterday and he seems okay," said Benitez.

"It's a question of time. He's progressing but we have to wait."

Fan Group Accuses Liverpool Of 'Self-Destruction' Over Naming Rights Issue

Liverpool bosses have been accused of committing an act of "self-destruction" after confirming that the club are looking to leave their Anfield legacy behind and sell the naming rights for the new stadium at Stanley Park.

The club's commercial director, Ian Ayre, recently told UK that it would be "crazy" for the Merseyside giants not to cash in by securing a stadium sponsor, but a section of the fans disagree.

According to The Daily Mail, the secretary of the German Reds official supporters' club, Graham Agg, said: "The whole idea of leaving Anfield and knocking it down is the biggest act of self-destruction the club could ever consider.

"Can you imagine the Nou Camp or Bernabeu being bulldozed by Barcelona or Real Madrid, or Inter Milan leaving the San Siro?

"You’re talking about football’s cathedrals, and Anfield is one of them. There is too much heritage, history and tradition for it all to be thrown away.

"I just can’t imagine going to somewhere like the Budweiser Stadium to support Liverpool, and I’m sure there are plenty who feel the same way."

Work is set to begin on the new stadium once £120 million has been raised, and it is believed that this sum will be secured in the next two months.

Liverpool Boss Rafa Benitez Given Green Light To Spend Cash From Ryan Babel Sale

Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez has been assured by the club's board that any money raised by the sale of Ryan Babel will be his to use in the transfer market this month, according to a report from The Times.

The Reds' policy this transfer window has been to move high-earning players deemed surplus to requirements out of the club.

Andriy Voronin has departed to Dinamo Moscow with Andrea Dossena leaving for Napoli in deals together worth £6 million.

It was then felt the wisest thing to do would be to retain funds until the summer, when higher-quality players should be available on the market.

It is believed that part of this plan involved hanging on to Babel until the end of the season because he would be difficult to replace, but The Times indicates that the player could now leave.

Benitez would then be handed the money raised from the sale to use immediately, should a suitable replacement be available.

Liverpool are believed to value Babel at around £11m. Birmingham City were reported last week as having had a bid of £9m for the forward rejected.

Reds Starlet Delight At Deal

Liverpool youngster Nathan Eccleston has expressed his delight at signing a new long-term contract at Anfield.

The 19-year-old Manchester-born starlet would have been out of contact in the summer, but is now committed to the club until 2013.

Eccleston made his first-team debut against Arsenal in the Carling Cup this season before coming off the bench in the league at Fulham.

Red boss Rafa Benitez is keen to retain the club's brightest youngsters and believes with hard work that Eccleston can be a 'player' with his talent.

Eccleston is delighted to have been given first-team opportunities this season and hopes more hard work will result in further appearances.

"I'm really excited about my new deal. It's a good club," he told "The boss is happy with my progress this season.

"He's given me my chance and hopefully I'll get more chances in the future. I've got to keep working hard in training and impressing that way.

"If there's injuries like that time I can be given even more of a chance. Overall I'm looking to get more first-team experience."

Eccleston has been linked with a move to the Championship to gain more first-team football and he would be interested in a loan move.

"If it's the case that I might not be looking to play more games for Liverpool then another option is to go out on loan," he continued.

"I'm still a young player and I need to gain experience in games.

"If I'm to break into Liverpool's first team I need to have been in the Championship to gain experience. It's a good level of football.

"If I can show that I can succeed in the Championship then I can come back and be more able to play with the first-teamers."

Liverpool are packed with attacking talent and Eccleston admits Spain international Fernando Torres is a great player to learn from.

"Torres? What more can I say really? It's great training with Fernando," he concluded.

"It's good to watch and learn from a player like him. I'm looking to increase my experience in any shape or form.

"He doesn't speak a lot of English, but by not saying things with words he kind of shows you in training. He does it by example."

McDermott: No Liverpool FC Bid For Federici

Reading insist they have had no contact from Liverpool over Adam Federici despite reports last week linking the keeper with a £2million move to Anfield.

Royals’ caretaker manager Brian McDermott said that his 24-year-old keeper won’t be affected by the speculation when the two teams meet in an FA Cup third-round replay tonight.

McDermott said: “He’s fine. He spoke to me and said ‘are you going to sell me to Liverpool?’, but I’ve heard nothing.

“He’s a good young goalkeeper and it’s good for our younger players that the big four are looking at them.

“We’ve been blessed here with goalkeepers. We’ve got Ben Hamer, who was player of the year at Brentford last season, Mikkel Andersen, who is doing well at Bristol Rovers and Alex McCarthy at Yeovil.”

McDermott is confident of keeping hold of his first-team squad in the January transfer window.

He added that he had heard nothing from Sheffield United over the availability of Alex Pearce.

Manager Kevin Blackwell sees Pearce as an ideal replacement for Blades star Matthew Kilgallon, who looks set to move to Everton at the end of the season.

After making 11 consecutive appearances for Royals this season, Pearce was dropped by McDermott in favour of Matt Mills for the visit of Liverpool on January 2.

Sources told the Reading Post that United have made an informal enquiry for the 21-year-old, but McDermott refuted any suggestions that Pearce would be sold.

“I’ve heard nothing as far as players in the team are concerned,” claimed McDermott.

“I’m not planning on losing players. Some of the players not quite in the squad right now may go out on loan. I think that’s something we need to look at as we had 26 out there the other day.”

Sir John Madejski has yet to update McDermott on the manager’s situation, but it is widely anticipated that he will be named as Brendan Rodgers’ successor.

McDermott continued: “I’ve literally been told just to look after team affairs. That’s what I’ve been doing and nothing has been said since.

“That’s okay with me. I’m fine with that. Whether that’s okay with the fans I don’t know. I think at some point things will come to a head because they have to. It’s a natural thing.

“I spoke to the chairman on Tuesday and he asked me if it was okay if he could come on the bus on the way home from the Liverpool game.

“And I said chairman you can do what you like. That is not a problem!”

McDermott also rubbished rumours of the team being picked by himself and director of football Nick Hammond, calling it “complete nonsense”.

Finally, director of football Nick Hammond has also rubbished reports that dynamic midfielder Marek Matejovsky is on his way out of Madejski Stadium.

Liverpool FC Young Gun Stephen Darby Ready To Learn The Hard Way

Second chances in football, if they happen to arrive, are priceless. Few know that better than Stephen Darby.

While Rafa Benitez was relieved to escape the Madejski Stadium safe in the knowledge Liverpool would have another opportunity to secure a place in the FA Cup fourth round, it was a bittersweet evening for Darby.

On one hand, there was the inevitable sense of frustration; he, like his team-mates, wanted to negotiate the first hurdle on the road to Wembley without trouble, to sail through into the draw with a performance to build on the win at Aston Villa.

There is no disputing Liverpool were horribly off colour 10 days ago against Reading, a pale shadow of the team that performed with such conviction and confidence in the Midlands.

From a personal viewpoint, though, Darby can look back on that game with great satisfaction; thrust into the limelight for the first time since making a costly slip against Fiorentina in the Champions League, his determination to atone was instantly evident. Spurred on by the encouragement he had received from Jamie Carragher, Steven Gerrard and “too many others to mention” in the days and weeks since, Darby was Liverpool’s star man on January 2, embodying defiance in that 1-1 draw.

With Glen Johnson sidelined for at least another four weeks due to damaged medial ligaments, Benitez has a gap to fill on the right side of his defence and Darby – who led Liverpool to FA Youth Cup success in 2007 – is anxious to stake his claim.

Above all, however, Darby wants to show Benitez the faith he placed in him was not misplaced; the 22-year-old appreciates how other managers might have closed the door once and for all after such a costly error, and he will not let his second chance go without a fight.

“It was just so pleasing that the manager had the confidence to put me back in,” said Darby.

“The FA Cup is a massive competition. We knew not to underestimate Reading and that it was going to be a difficult game. But it was a massive confidence boost for me, as it shows that if you work hard and keep you head down, the manager is willing to throw you in. Everyone had something to say and gave me advice but it was a question of showing I was mentally strong.

“You have to keep the right attitude. Fiorentina was a tough learning curve. I had to take the positive from that game, try and make the incident make me a better player, keep your focus and keep working hard. You have to be your own worst critic if you want to improve.”

Improvement is certainly something Liverpool need to do during the second half of the campaign and performances as powder puff as the one they served up against the Royals must become a thing of the past. Still, turning a negative into a positive, at least Liverpool are still in the FA Cup, and, all things being equal, they should have far too much firepower on home soil this evening.

Fresh and raring to go after seeing Sunday’s scheduled game against Tottenham postponed, Darby says the there is a motivation within the group to embark on a winning spree – starting against Reading.

“We just want to try and get a run of games together to build confidence and it was just frustrating that we never had chance to do that at the weekend; at least training wasn’t disrupted too much,” said Darby.

“Obviously there are good sides and bad sides to missing a weekend but the one plus is that we have had a bit more time to prepare for Reading; we’ve had chance to put right the things that did not go so well in the first place. Reading showed that they are a good side and they gave us a tough game at their place – it was a typical FA Cup tie – but we have got the quality and ability to go through. Hopefully we can do the job here. They haven’t just got one threat; they work well together as a side and, as they showed in the first game, they put us under a lot of pressure. We know what to expect and we’ll be ready to make sure we get the right result.”

Indeed, one result could set them on the road to Wembley. And having won the junior version, Darby is eager to repeat the feat in the senior competition.

“It would mean everything,” he said. “Having watched the FA Cup on TV, you know how huge the competition is and to be a part of a team that won it would be something else, the biggest team in the world in the biggest competition. We want to give a trophy to the fans.”

Liverpool FC’s Motorsport Investment Doubles For 2010

Superleague Formula, the motorsport series won by a team representing Liverpool FC in 2009, will have twice the number of races in 2010 as in 2009, meaning the likes of Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur will be competing over 12 weekends.

Britain, Germany and Spain will each feature two rounds, with six new circuits on the schedule. One of those is Silverstone, which will host the season opener over the first weekend of April.

Superleague Formula seeks to combine soccer and motorsport with teams backed by professional soccer clubs. In 2009, Liverpool narrowly beat Tottenham Hotspur to the title, ahead of the likes of AC Milan, Porto and AS Roma.

The competition has been a popular innnovation with players at the clubs. When Liverpool's Spanish driver Adrian Valles visited Anfield and Liverpool's training ground in November, the club's manager Rafa Benitez admitted: "It was great that Adrian could join us on Monday and see Anfield for himself. I know the players were looking forward to meeting him as most have an interest in cars and have been following Liverpool's progress in Superleague Formula all season."

Valles will seek to defend his title for Liverpool in the newly expanded series in 2010. "There is a great mix of circuits with some existing and ex-F1 venues supplemented by regional tracks which are ideal given their location," said Superleague Formula competition director Robin Webb. "We are still looking at one or two non-European rounds at the end of the year. We are getting offers from outside of Europe, and our two major targets are the Middle East and South America. With more established drivers also taking an interest in Superleague, I'm confident 2010 will prove a vintage season."