Monday, January 18, 2010

Liverpool Owners Split On Rafael Benitez

News of the World claims that Liverpool's owners, Tom Hicks and George Gillett, are divided on the subject of Rafael Benitez's future at the club.

The manager's position has come under increasing scrutiny in recent weeks - and especially since the Reds' humiliating defeat to Reading in the FA Cup on Wednesday.

Saturday's stalemate at Stoke City has only served to turn up the heat on the Spaniard, who is losing the favour of the fans with each passing disappointment on the pitch.

However, it is believed that the Kop board can do nothing for the time being, as the owners are at odds over whether or not Benitez should be given time to turn things around.

Hicks has voiced his support for the under-fire gaffer on numerous occasions this season, but it would appear that his partner - with whom he shares a frosty relationship - holds a different view.

An unnamed source is quoted as saying: "George Gillett believes the warnings about giving the manager a new five-year deal last season have proven true. He feels he was railroaded into making that decision and the team is now suffering because of it.

"At the very least, he believes the board should be having a healthy debate about the manager's position but it's evident Liverpool have backed themselves into a corner by publicly insisting it's not even up for discussion."

Beardsley Urges Liverpool To Stick With Benitez

Former Anfield star Peter Beardsley believes Liverpool should stick by under-pressure manager Rafael Benitez.

And he insists the Spanish boss, who has signed more than 100 players in his five years on Merseyside, is the best man for the job even if Liverpool do not finish in the top four at the end of the season.

Beardsley puts most of Liverpool's woes this season down to injuries to their most influential players, Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard.

Beardsley said: "He's (Benitez) signed a lot of players but look at most teams in the world. If they lost their stars then they would struggle. If you lost Rooney out of Manchester United's team they would struggle.

"The criticism is a bit over the top. I would definitely stick with him. What have they got to lose? It's only going to be the same players I would imagine for whoever takes over anyway. I would give him to the summer definitely and beyond then because he has done a brilliant job at Liverpool.

"They were really close last season to winning the league. When you look at the Premier League as a whole this season most of the top teams have lost three, four or five games which is unusual.

"He has got the respect of the players. In the main, most of the fans want him to stay.''

If the board decides Benitez, whose side drew at Stoke on Saturday after exiting the FA Cup against Reading in midweek, should lose his job, however, Beardsley believes Kop legend Kenny Dalglish would be the perfect man to take over.

Dalglish currently is working with the academy and Beardsley, speaking on Radio 5 Live's Sportsweek programme, said: "If they were to make a change that would be the perfect change. He (Dalglish) knows the club inside out. He and Sammy Lee get on like a house on fire so there wouldn't need to be wholesale changes. But at the moment I wouldn't do anything.''

Beardsley also believes there is no chance Gerrard, who was on the brink of joining Chelsea in 2005, will leave his hometown club.

He said: "When he turned down the Chelsea thing I think he committed himself to Liverpool for life and I genuinely believe he'll be there for life.''

Rafa Benítez Deserves The Chance To Overachieve With Liverpool Again

It is always hard to tell much from Rafael Benitez's manner, so guarded is he in public, but those who see a dead man walking must have felt a burst of schadenfreude when he emerged for his Friday press conference clutching his notes.

A Nixon-style resignation speech? No, a Clinton-style apology.

That simple assumption of responsibility, that simple act of modest contrition, punctured some of the mounting hysteria and bloodlust.

This is a man who is not doing his job very well, a man who used to do his job very well indeed less than a year ago. Is it entirely heretical to suggest that Benítez might deserve a chance to put right the mess he has made of this season?

This kind of hysteria is ultimately driven by results, but they have been bad for a while. Suddenly we have reached the tipping point.

The ex-players are wheeled out to pronounce the death sentence but, when it comes to running a multi-million pound football club, do they have credibility? Ronnie Whelan has not managed for eight years but when he did it was Southend and some clubs in Cyprus and Greece. Jason McAteer? He was sacked as John Barnes' assistant at Tranmere this season. Not exactly judges with gravitas.

What about the supporters? There has been fierce loyalty to Benítez at Anfield over the years, especially when he has taken on Tom Hicks and George Gillett. Now a significant portion of the support has turned on Benítez.

It is easy to pour empty flattery on to Liverpool fans, but really they are not much different to football fans the country over. More active than many in taking a direct interest in how the club is run on every level, sure, but still prone to shouting one thing at the final whistle and thinking another when reflecting in the pub.

The mentality of the pack, the mass, the herd develops its own momentum and, from the outside, it is hard to see Benítez surviving beyond the end of the season. This is a real pity because Benítez – eccentric, political, stubborn and vindictive as he can be – is a man who has been overachieving ever since he arrived at Anfield.

Take this rather imperfect analogy: Benítez as a Formula 1 driver. He comes in and starts driving for a team that has a resonant name, a history full of great deeds, fresh memories of famous victories. The problem is, the car isn't good enough. The owner's not putting the money in, the marketing guys can't get the lucrative sponsorship deals and the engineers are complacent.

Still, Benítez drives out of his skin. Race after race, he squeezes every last bit of juice out of this failing car and delivers some famous victories. Then, bang, he loses it. Perhaps it was the persistent technical disasters, that prompted it, but suddenly he is suffused with self doubt: he can't pick the racing line, he breaks too early or too late. He's struggling just to finish, let alone compete.

Now what do you do? Fire the driver? The car is still worse than its rivals – worse and getting worse. For one bad season in which he has failed to overachieve again? You need a special combination of ambition and patience to succeed driving in this team – a combination that is rare enough.

For a start, Liverpool will not sack Benítez before the end of the season (barring open player revolt or a truly comical series of results). Who next? Jose Mourinho? Guus Hiddink? Great drivers but are they going to risk their reputation getting into this car, with its huge expectation but poor performance?

The silver in the trophy cabinet can skew your perspective of a football club. If you are brutally objective about Liverpool, they look like a club equipped for the 20th century not the 21st. Compare them to one of their potential usurpers in the top four, Tottenham Hotspur, who they host at Anfield on Wednesday. It's not a flattering one.

Spurs have not won an away game against the big four since they won in the League Cup at Anfield in November 1998 – that's no away win in 65 attempts. Historically, Liverpool are the superior club. But you look at the future and there is only one club pointing in remotely the right direction.

Tottenham turned a profit last year. The diggers are in at their new training ground at Bulls Cross in Enfield, which will be one of the very best in the world. Planning permission is in for a new 60,000 stadium – the only significant debt the club will take on will be directly linked to the stadium.

If the success of Arsenal's move to the Emirates (the corporate dollar pays: 20 per cent of supporters generate 80 per cent of the earnings) is any guide, Spurs will be able to service that debt with ease.

Liverpool's huge interest payments mean that their parent company made a £42.6 million loss in the last financial year. The new stadium in Stanley Park was supposed to be finished by 2012 but remains in limbo, waiting for global economic recovery.

Their debt stands at £240 million but without a hike in match day or commercial revenue, or substantial outside investment, they will spend all profits servicing it, rather than playing catch up on the field. To get Liverpool pointing in the right direction, Christian Purslow, the chief executive, has to turn a tanker in a canal.

On the pitch, Spurs have a squad full of young hungry internationals with a high market value. Even more importantly, they have some of the most promising academy players in the country: John Bostock, Dean Parrett, Andros Townsend and Ryan Mason should all break into the first team in the next few years.

Liverpool have three world class players (Gerrard, Reina, Torres) and a motley crew of the not-quite-first-rate and the definitely-second-rate. The academy has not produced a player deemed fit for Liverpool since Gerrard and seemingly will not any time soon.

Benítez has certainly been one of the main architects of this season's eyesore, but he is also responsible for the construction of some of this club's finest recent monuments.

Dealing with controversial owners and dwindling revenues, Benítez has proved he can get this club punching above its weight. He deserves another round, a chance to put right the mistakes he has made.

Benitez Grateful For Fan's Support

Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez has told the club's fans he "will be fighting until the end" after a 1-1 draw at Stoke which means he remains under pressure.

Benitez had to dismiss claims that captain Steven Gerrard had been involved in a dressing-room row with his assistant Mauricio Pellegrino at half-time during last Wednesday's FA Cup humiliation at the hands of Reading.

He said: "There was nothing there, nothing."

But he is still being confronted with claims that Gerrard wants out, that Fernando Torres will follow and that he is only in a job because joint owners Tom Hicks - his main supporter - and George Gillett cannot agree on the way forward.

Benitez privately believes he is safe this season and is planning for a summer transfer spree. By then new money should be in the club.

All the Liverpool manager can do until then is hope his players continue to fight and the majority of fans still give him their backing. And he had those crumbs of comfort at Stoke.

Benitez saw another last-gasp goal - this time from Robert Huth - rob him of a victory Sotirios Kyrgiakos' first goal for the club appeared to have given Liverpool in a grimly-fought, turgid match.

He said: "We were very good in terms of character, and effort. That is what I wanted to see from them.

"I am also pleased for the fans because we had to give them something.

"I can see some light at the end of the tunnel. I was pleased to see the players showing the reaction you expect from them.

"We are missing five top players, so I was really pleased with the way the other players reacted on the pitch."

He added: "It was special for me to hear the fans singing my name in such circumstances. I decide to stay here (last season) because of the fans, they know I will be fighting until the end.

"It is a difficult time, but everyone has to show character, the manager, the staff, everyone. The fans show the same, they are behind the team and that is the main thing for us.

"The players worked very hard, and they showed their disappointment after the game after having two penalties denied them. I have to be pleased with their response.

"Their positive reaction is something we have to maintain for the future.

"We knew it would be a difficult game with the ball in the air a lot. Every throw-in, free-kick and corner meant that Stoke would put the ball into our box.

"You have to be very strong in defence to cope with that, and we were."

Liverpool face Spurs at Anfield on Wednesday in what will be another night of nerves and intrigue. Benitez said: "We have important games coming up now, but if we work like we did at Stoke then I know we can improve our results. With that character we can beat anyone.

"The players beforehand were talking of taking more responsibility, they wanted to show that we are united as a team so that is why they introduced the huddle again before the match. It is not something we normally do.

"We showed that we can stick together, everyone could see that. I was pleased with the team effort, and pleased with the performance."

Utility man Fabio Aurelio underlined the squad's feelings, saying: "I thought the attitude of everyone was really good after the bad moment the team is having. We have to fight in every game.

"We can take confidence from this performance. We don't have our stars but we have to go with what we have. We all have to take responsibility and work hard.

"We need to put on a good performance for our fans on Wednesday. They were fantastic again for us at Stoke and got behind us from the beginning to the end."

Legend Eyes Davies Swoop

Liverpool icon John Aldridge has urged manager Rafa Benitez to move for Bolton Wanderers captain Kevin Davies.

Aldridge says Liverpool need a centre-forward to cover for injured ace Fernando Torres.

He told the Liverpool Echo: "We have to get another striker in and if money is tight Benitez might have to be canny.

"Someone like Kevin Davies from Bolton would do a job. He's strong, can hold the ball up and put himself about a bit.

We might have to sell (Ryan) Babel to strengthen but that wouldn't be a bad thing."

Club Debts Could Lead To European Ban

Liverpool and Manchester United would be banned from the Champions League if Michel Platini’s “Financial Fair Play” criteria for European club competitions were introduced, according to senior sources within Uefa. Manchester City and Chelsea would also be at risk, despite their owners having paid off their debts recently.

Rules governing the amount of debt clubs can accrue are being discussed within Uefa committees and though they are far from fixed, and at least three years away from being implemented, it is clear that many of Europe’s biggest clubs would fall foul of the criteria being proposed by Platini, the Uefa president. His guiding principle is that over a period of time clubs cannot spend more than they earn.

“Manchester United and Liverpool would be barred from the Champions League and the Europa Cup because they have debts piled directly on the club as a result of their owners’ takeovers,” a Uefa executive told The Sunday Times.

“Chelsea and Manchester City would fail to meet the requirements because we want to prevent a situation where you can overspend a great deal, then inject cash to balance the budget at the end of the season. Arsenal would qualify. They make more than they spend, including debt repayments. So do Tottenham.”

However, it is not just English clubs that would be affected. Some of Europe’s most celebrated clubs have built up huge debts and they too face exclusion from the Champions League. “As things stand, Real Madrid would fail and Inter Milan. But for now it’s all theory, based around a principle that needs to be made into something workable,” the source said.

Debt in English football has been highlighted again because United’s new financial figures, released last week, showed they made an annual profit of £48.2m only thanks to the £80m summer sale of Cristiano Ronaldo, inset. United paid £41.9m in interest in the year on debts that are now above £700m. Chelsea’s most recent figures showed a £44.4m loss, while City’s showed they lost £92m. Both those clubs’ owners have wiped out debts in excess of £300m to clean up their balance sheets. Liverpool’s debts are £240m-plus. Arsenal have £297m of debt, but this was acquired mainly for building Emirates stadium, now a cash cow that helps fuel profits. Arsenal’s repayments are easily serviced.

England’s Big Four plus City can take solace in that Uefa’s plans are far from complete. Even Uefa officials are uncertain whether rules will be applied retrospectively. “That might not be possible,” the source said. All clubs will have to meet requirements to balance income and spending, but grey areas and loopholes will remain.

Uefa’s only public statement on the subject so far is nebulous, saying there is an “obligation for clubs whose turnover is over a certain threshold, over a period of time, to balance their books or break even”.

The rules will be framed by an independent 11-man Club Financial Control Panel, chaired by the former prime minister of Belgium, Jean-Luc Dehaene. The aim is to introduce the rules in the 2013-14 season. Most of the CFCP, and Platini, accept that debt is not to be outlawed per se, but want it to be manageable if it is on a club’s books.

Uefa insiders are aware that if it banned most of the biggest clubs from its competition there would be a danger of a breakaway league. They also accept that its rules are susceptible to legal challenges. For now, there are three more years of work before proposals turn to rules.

Mascherano - We Are Cursed

Liverpool midfielder Javier Mascherano thinks his team are cursed following their draw against Stoke on Saturday.

The Reds were undone by a late equaliser from Robert Huth at the Britannia Stadium, having taken the lead through Greek defender Sotirios Kyrgiakos in the 57th minute.

In a week when they also crashed out of the FA Cup after a home defeat to Reading, Mascherano is beginning to feel like there is a spell on the Anfield club.

"It seems like we are cursed in terms of injuries and letting in incredible goals in the last minutes of games," he said in The People.

"The situation is enough to get anyone down, but this team is going to keep going forward because of the spirit and history of the club.

"It is normal that we are being criticised - we are all to blame for going out of the Champions League and FA Cup."

Manager Rafa Benitez has come under severe pressure following a dreadful season for the Reds, which has already seen them slip out of the title race in the Premier League.

However, Argentina international Mascherano says the whole team must take collective responsibility for their bad form of late.

"We share the credit when things go well and the blame when things go badly," he added.

"Rafa has a difficult job because this season key players are getting injured, which would upset the plans of any coach.

"Torres (Fernando) and Gerrard (Steven) are fundamental for us and any team would miss them.

"It is true we are not in certain competitions now but there are still things to resolve.

"Being champions of the first Europa League sounds good and getting into the top four after all the problems we have had, anyone of us would sign up for that now.

"They are the objectives and nobody is going to drop their guard, because it is impossible to do so with our manager.

"We have to sort out the problems and win. For once, I'd prefer to get the points over the level of our performance."

Ryan Babel Angers Liverpool By Rejecting Sunderland Swap Deal With Kenwyne Jones

Liverpool's out-of-favour Ryan Babel is reportedly ready to infuriate manager Rafael Benitez by rejecting a transfer to Sunderland, which would have seen striker Kenwyne Jones move the other way.

Babel’s future at Anfield remains the subject of much speculation with Birmingham City believed to have failed with a bid for the Dutchman while a range of other clubs including Marseille, Besiktas and Fiorentina have also been linked with the 23-year-old.

The former Ajax man was also left out of Saturday's squad to face Stoke City, despite injuries to Yossi Benayoun, Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard, a move which is likely to further intensify speculation surrounding his future.

The Sunday People now reports that Babel is ready to reject a move to Sunderland in a deal which would have seen striker Jones switch to Anfield.

The tabloid claims Babel is “reluctant to go to Wearside” a decision which is unlikely to impress manager Benitez who, according to the report, is keen to sign Jones as cover for the injured Fernando Torres.

Playing At Atletico Madrid Was The Best Stage In My Career - Maxi Rodriguez

Former Atletico Madrid winger Maxi Rodriguez has spoken emotionally about his switch from the Vicente Calderon to English Premier League side Liverpool, saying that his time with Los Colchoneros was the most enjoyable period of his career.

The Argentine completed his move to Anfield last week and made his debut for Rafa Benitez’s side in the 1-1 draw with Stoke City on Saturday afternoon.

The 29-year old held back tears for the majority of the press conference in which he bid farewell to Spanish football, and was appreciative of how the Atletico Madrid had allowed him to develop.

Speaking frankly, Maxi said, “I would like to thank Enrique [Cerezo, club president] and the entire club. I find it difficult to speak, because I spent years here and it was very nice to spend the best years of my career where I felt at home.

“It was many years and I want to repeat that this club always treated me very well through good times and bad times.”

The former Espanyol star, who moved to the capital club in the summer of 2005, also spoke of his move to Merseyside, and added that it was a tough decision to move on.

He stated, “It was difficult, but I have always liked challenges. It is a new experience and I will probably spend my last years as a professional in Europe at Liverpool.

“Hopefully I can enjoy it to the fullest and give the same performance that I gave with Atletico Madrid.”