Thursday, March 04, 2010

Jan Molby Expects A Fit Fernando Torres To Galvanise Liverpool's Push For Fourth Place

Liverpool stars Fernando Torres, Yossi Benayoun and Glen Johnson will have a major impact on the club's season when they are fully fit once more, according to former Reds midfielder Jan Molby.

Molby expects Torres and Johnson to be keen to build form and fitness ahead of this summer's World Cup, although he has some doubts as to whether Rafael Benitez will want to disrupt his side's current defensive solidity by reintroducing Johnson at right-back.

"Torres and Johnson will certainly want to be fit and flying in time for the World Cup and players of their quality will always make an impact," Molby told the Reds' official website.

"Benayoun and Torres are already back in the first-team, but the problem is when do you put Johnson back in? Obviously he's got to return to full fitness first, but what will his comeback do to the way we've been playing recently? Glen loves to attack, so his return could alter the approach of our defence.

"However, in saying that, the centre-backs will have gained a lot of confidence from our recent clean sheets, so maybe we could be at the stage where we can deploy two attacking full-backs and see how it goes. Glen could also be an option for a wide midfield role."

The Dane does expect Torres to provide a major lift after being affected by injury for so much of the current campaign.

"It's not just the fact he lifts our team and crowd, he also has an effect on the opposition," Molby added.

"The last thing any opposition want to see is Fernando Torres on the teamsheet, whether he's starting or a sub.

"He has an impact all round, but of course when you've missed the amount of matches he has with injury, you need a little bit of time to find your feet again.

"It was no surprise he came back and scored a goal on Sunday against Blackburn because that's what he does, but in terms of his overall play he'll need a little bit more time to find his best form.

"We can't afford to lose him again - we have to keep our fingers crossed he can stay fit for the remainder of the season."

Liverpool striker Torres Favours Barcelona Move If He Leaves Anfield

According to Spanish newspaper Sport, Liverpool striker Fernando Torres is keen on a move to Catalan giants Barcelona, if he is forced to leave Anfield.

Sport suggests that Liverpool may have to sell their prized assets, including Torres in order to help repay the club's large financial debt. Although both Chelsea and Manchester City have been linked with the 25 year-old, Torres reportedly would prefer a move to Barcelona.

Sport discounts the possibility of a transfer to Real Madrid, given Torres' loyalty to his former club Atletico Madrid. But the Liverpool striker apparently feels "a great sympathy" for Barcelona and "wouldn't hesitate a single moment" to move to the Nou Camp.

During his time at Atletico Madrid, Barcelona president Joan Laporta "was flirting" with the signing of Torres, according to Sport.

"El Nino" has been outstanding since moving to Anfield in 2007 and has scored 13 goals in 21 matches for Liverpool so far this season.

Inter To Sign Liverpool's Steven Gerrard When Jose Mourinho Extends Deal - Report

Inter coach Jose Mourinho is expected to sign a new deal and then make a fresh bid for Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard, according to Il Corriere Dello Sport.

Club president Massimo Moratti is keen on extending the Special One's contract from 2012 to 2013, and his salary will jump from €11 million to €13 million per annum as part of the new terms.

Once Inter are certain of Mourinho's stay, they will provide the funds he needs to strengthen the squad. First on the list will be Gerrard, who was linked with the club last summer.

But the England international has always made it clear he is not interested in leaving his hometown club.

However, failure to qualify for the Champions League could prompt him to reconsider his Anfield future.

Liverpool's Fábio Aurélio May Be Out For Three Weeks, Says Rafael Benítez

Liverpool manager Rafael Benítez believes defender Fábio Aurélio could be sidelined for three weeks with a thigh problem.

The Brazilian was forced off midway through the first half of Sunday's victory over Blackburn after straining quadriceps in his right leg.

Aurélio has not had the best luck with injuries, having missed the start of the season after sustaining an unusual knee problem in a kickabout with his children during the summer.

Since then he has struggled with a few niggling injuries but appeared to be ready for a longer run in the team before this latest setback as Benítez was keen for young left-back Emiliano Insua to have a break.

"It's not good news and we think he is going to be out for maybe another two or three weeks – Fábio has had really bad luck," said Benítez.

"It all began at the start of the season, when he suffered the injury during the summer with his family, and it's like there has been something every month since then.

"It is a shame because he is a top footballer and a really nice person but him being out leaves us with a problem because we wanted to play him, so we could give Insua a rest.

"Emiliano is a good young player and has benefited from being involved in so many games but he has been playing a lot recently.

"We needed Fábio so he could help the team and also help Insua. His injury is bad news for both of them."

With right-back Glen Johnson on the verge of a first-team comeback it seemed Benítez's injury worries were over until Martin Skrtel broke his foot in last week's Europa League tie in Romania and Daniel Agger injured a knee against Blackburn.

There is, at least, some encouraging news concerning the Denmark centre-back: "We will continue to watch Daniel," Benítez told the Liverpool Echo. "We are glad that it is nothing serious but whether he is available for Wigan (on Monday) depends on his progression in the next few days."

Gerrard Proud To Be Captain

Steven Gerrard insists the England captaincy has not been tainted by John Terry and that players must still earn the right to wear the armband.

With new captain Rio Ferdinand injured, Gerrard will skipper England against Egypt tonight in the first international since Capello stripped Terry of the role.

There has been debate over whether the captaincy still holds the same prestige after Terry lost the armband because of his alleged affair with the ex-girlfriend of Wayne Bridge.

Manager Fabio Capello has questioned how the captaincy is viewed in England, claiming being a leader is more important than being the skipper and that Italian and Spanish teams simply appoint the oldest or most-capped player.

But Gerrard still believes leading one’s country is the ultimate achievement. “I don’t think we make too much of the captaincy,” said Gerrard. To be captain of England is a very proud feeling. Every kid dreams of being England captain. I was no different. I don’t really care what other countries think about the captaincy."

“You have to earn the right to be England captain. It would be disrespecting the captaincy to get it as the oldest or most-capped player. It’s massive over here and rightly so. I don’t have any doubts about the captaincy, not at all."

“When Fabio told me I was captain for the Egypt game, I was delighted and I am looking forward to leading the boys out. The spotlight’s not just on the captain, it’s on every single player – more so the closer you get to the World Cup."

“The manager has taken the decision to take the captaincy off John and, as another player, you have to respect his decision. I expect JT to be himself, a very good player and a majestic leader out there. Even if he hasn’t got the armband, I expect him to be a captain in the dressing room and out on the pitch."

Albert Riera Facing Uncertain Liverpool Future

Albert Riera is facing an uncertain Anfield future – as Pepe Reina agreed to extend his Liverpool FC career.

Riera has not even made the bench for the last two games after some under-par performances following his return from six weeks out with a hamstring problem in January.

With Yossi Benayoun fit again, the arrival of Maxi Rodriguez increasing competition and Ryan Babel back in favour, Riera has slipped down Rafael Benitez’s pecking order.

Having been strongly linked with a return to Spain last summer, the winger has been hampered by niggling injury and loss of form, and so far making only 15 appearances.

That lack of action threatening Riera’s place at this year’s World Cup, with the 27-year-old absent from the Spain squad for tonight’s glamour friendly in France.

And Riera will also have a fight to avoid being moved on from Anfield at the end of the season as Benitez looks to shake up his squad after an underwhelming campaign.

Keegan Honoured By Shankly Award

Kevin Keegan labelled Bill Shankly his “inspiration” after being presented with the award that commemorated the legendary manager's legacy.

Given a magnificent ovation by a capacity crowd in the Crowne Plaza as he made his way onto the stage, it was clear a poignant night for one of Liverpool's greatest players.

Sitting with old sparring partners Tommy Smith, Ian Callaghan, Chris Lawler and Ron Yeats, watching old footage of his playing days and Shankly speaking struck a chord.

Shankly was a father figure to Keegan, whom he signed from Scunthorpe in 1971 and it was clear to see the man who made the Reds number seven jersey famous was humbled.

"It's a great honour," said Keegan. "Watching the clips of this guy made us all very emotional. He would have been nearly 97 this year, had he still been with us.

"He was an inspiration to me from the day I first walked into the club. When he left, for me, a little a bit of the club died because he meant that much to everyone.

"It was a very special night and receiving the award made me very proud, particularly when you see some of the people who have won it in the past."

Keegan followed Shankly into management after his glorious playing career ended but, when asked by Master of Ceremonies Ray Stubbs what pointers he took from his mentor, his reply was predictably sharp and witty.

"Not enough of the winning, that's for sure, but you can't have everything!" said Keegan, who now spends his time working as ESPN's main pundit.

"He respected players, he treated them properly and he always made it clear that the fans were always the most important things about the club.

"Players come and go - look at the table I was sat on. We have all long since left but the club will always be there because of those fans. That's what makes it so great."

Hillsborough Panel Views Archive

The group set up to study previously secret documents relating to the Hillsborough tragedy saw for themselves on Tuesday the scale of the archive they are set to examine.

The Hillsborough Independent Panel is overseeing the public disclosure of archives held by the emergency services, the city council and other public bodies in Sheffield.

The documents relate to the disaster in April 1989 when 96 Liverpool fans died in a crush at Hillsborough Stadium after going to see their team play Nottingham Forest in an FA Cup semi-final.

The panel, chaired by the Bishop of Liverpool, the Rt Rev James Jones, was set up last year after the 20th anniversary of the tragedy.

The group visited the archives in Sheffield to look at where the documents are being held and to talk to staff involved in the project.

The bishop said the archive of around 600 boxes of material was "daunting" in its size but he praised the work which has already been done to bring it together and organise it.

The seven members are broadcaster Peter Sissons; public information expert Christine Gifford; TV producer and researcher Katy Jones; Paul Leighton, former deputy chief constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland; academic criminologist Professor Phil Scraton; Bill Kirkup, former associate medical director at the Department of Health; and archivist Sarah Tyacke.

After his initial look at the documents, the bishop said: "The reason we're doing this is because this is the principal purpose of the panel, which is to oversee the maximum possible disclosure of the documents which are contained in the Sheffield archive.

"This today was our first opportunity of walking through the archive and seeing the shelves of material."

He said: "It's a very large archive.

"I'm very impressed by the way the archive has been kept.

"This is a three-star archive which speaks of the excellence of the service here."

He added: "It is daunting and that's when you realise you need a team. There's no one person that can do this."

The panel convened for the first time in Liverpool earlier this month when it met representatives of Hillsborough victims' families.

The bishop said the panel's tasks were to ensure the maximum public disclosure of the documents and to write a report detailing their contents.

The group will complete the task by making recommendations about a national archive of the Hillsborough documents.

The bishop has said they would "leave no stone unturned" in their search for the truth, which included holding meetings with South Yorkshire Police.

Lord Justice Taylor's inquiry into the disaster, which reported in 1990, criticised senior police officers on duty at the match for a "failure of control" and recommended the introduction of all-seater stadiums.

But the families have continued to call for further inquiries into the deaths.

The bishop said today: "We've got two years in which to do this work.

"The next time we meet will be to establish the protocol of how we will actually access this material.

"Today has enabled us to get some sense of the size of the operation and to meet some key staff."

Some people have estimated the number of documents in the Hillsborough archive could total around two million.

Later, the panel visited South Yorkshire Police HQ where it met with chief constable Meredydd Hughes and other senior officers.

The bishop said the meeting had been very useful and he believed the families of those who died could be reassured the force was giving its full co-operation to the process.

He said: "The panel was greatly encouraged by the initiative the chief constable has already taken in depositing his whole archive with the Sheffield archive."

The bishop added: "I think the people of Sheffield, as well as people in Liverpool and people in Nottingham, can be assured the chief constable has given his word he will co-operate fully with the purpose of the panel which is the maximum possible public disclosure of the documents in the Sheffield archive."

The bishop said the day in Sheffield had been very productive, especially in terms of forging relationships between the various people who have co-operated to put the archive together. He said the good relationship between the group and South Yorkshire Police was clearly very important.

The panel will meet again next month, he said.

Mr. Hughes said: "It was encouraging to meet the Hillsborough Independent Panel here in Sheffield. The members were keen to ensure that it is well understood by all that they are not a new inquiry into the disaster.

"I was pleased to have the opportunity to brief them on the work already carried out by South Yorkshire Police and our local partners.

"Since March last year we have all been steadily bringing together our remaining files and documents to ensure the archives here in Sheffield are as complete as possible.

"The establishment of the panel, the recruitment of the archivists and the growing recognition of the scale of this undertaking, both locally and nationally, means that interested parties and the public generally are gaining an insight as to just how long this process will take.

"We will create a public archive of documents for the historians of the future as well as the stakeholders of today - all of whom will be able to judge the events of Hillsborough for themselves."

Liverpool Fans Take Anti-Gillett And Hicks Campaign To Billboards

Liverpool FC fans campaigning against the club’s American owners have taken their protest to the streets.

A number of billboards have sprung up on major routes into the city, calling for the resignation of Tom Hicks and George Gillett.

The posters, the brainchild of supporters union Spirit Of Shankly (SOS), are emblazoned with the message: “Tom and George, Debt, Lies, Cowboys. Not welcome here.”

Around five are thought to have been rolled out so far, with another five expected to complete a total of 10.

They are located prominently in Prescot Road, at its junction with Green Lane; Vauxhall Road, in Kirkdale; and Derby Road, near Sandhills Lane.

One is set to be erected at Lime Street station taxi rank, with another predicted for Queen Square bus station in coming days.

SOS spokesman Jay McKenna said: “The message is to remind people Hicks and Gillett are not welcome here.

“It educates about what we think they are doing to our club and the feedback so far is very positive.”

The group also moved to end growing speculation that a joint Liverpool and Manchester United fan protest could take place outside Old Trafford when the teams meet on March 21.

A recent report in a Manchester newspaper suggested supporters were seriously considering joining forces and had held secret meetings to protest against their respective American owners, and their tactics of saddling both clubs with debt.

The matter was discussed at last weekend’s SOS AGM, during which the matter was unequivocally ruled out.

The SOS spokesman added: “There will be no joint protest. It is not something which would be workable.

“We will be discussing ways of moving forward and how we can stand together.”

Considering the hostile rivalry which still exists between both clubs, the idea immediately prompted raised eyebrows among fans.

But due to the animosity between supporters, and despite some reports to the contrary, the issue has never been seriously entertained.

Liverpool fans are likely to attend a Football Supporters Federation event in London tomorrow entitled Sit Down, Shut Up: Are Football Supporters Discriminated Against?