Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Alan Hansen: Whoever Invests In Liverpool Had Better Have Deep Pockets

Whatever the outcome of the proposed investment in Liverpool, somebody has to come in and save them because it is clearly crunch time in terms of the club's history.

The mere fact that Fernando Torres chose to speak about the need for "four or five top-class" players to be signed by the club will be a worry for Liverpool supporters because, in a perfect world, he would have said nothing and simply got on with the job.

But it isn't just about signing new players. The most important thing for the club is the building of a new stadium with a greater capacity to generate greater revenue. Without this, it becomes so much more difficult for Liverpool to compete with all of their rivals.

It would be fantastic for Liverpool if they could tempt a figure with a bottomless pit of money to invest at Anfield, like Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al-Nahyan has at Manchester City. That would solve all of Liverpool's problems at a stroke.

That is the dream scenario, but if it doesn't happen, the new investors will have to throw some serious money at the club merely to get Liverpool on a level footing with the rest.

On the pitch, things are not looking great because it looks as though they are going to miss out on Champions League qualification.

To qualify, they are going to have to win 95 per cent of their remaining games this season and they don't look capable of doing that.

If they fail, that's when the problems could really start. I don't know about the intentions of Torres or Steven Gerrard, but if you are in the top 100 players in the world, you want to play in the Champions League because it is the only place to be.

If Liverpool are not in the Champions League, will they accept missing out as a one-off or fear it happening season after season? Should either of them decide to leave, it would leave an enormous hole that would be impossible to fill.

All Liverpool can do is hope that, if they miss out on the Champions League place, either Tottenham or Aston Villa claim fourth because once Manchester City get a taste for it, they will spend the money on new players which will make it harder and harder for Liverpool to compete.

The fact that we are even talking about Liverpool battling it out for fourth spot, 12 months and a day since they won 4-1 at Manchester United, shows just how far they have fallen.

A year ago, you would say that Liverpool's best XI could beat anybody, but you cannot say that this season.

I really expected Liverpool to challenge for the title on the basis of their performances in the closing weeks of last season, but they have not kicked on and performances have patently been not good enough.

So this is the problem facing whoever comes in with new investment. It is a big task of anybody to expect them to find the money for a new ground and a new team.

It has been 20 years since Liverpool won the league. If it goes another five years and the club slips into mediocrity, then you are not only asking for trouble, you are likely to get it.

That is why the next few months are so crucial. If the new investment arrives, then the club will have to either back manager Rafael Benítez to the hilt in the summer or he will have to go. At the moment, you would have to say that the outcome of that one is 50-50.

Results speak for themselves and, too often this season, they haven't been good enough.

Prior to the 2-0 win against United at Anfield in October, there was a sense that the fans were on the verge of turning.

The same was said after the defeat at Wigan last Monday, so this week's games against Lille on Thursday and United on Sunday are absolutely crucial for Benítez and for Liverpool.

Pepe Reina Urges Liverpool To Repeat Portsmouth Performance Against Lille And Manchester United

Liverpool goalkeeper Pepe Reina has urged his team-mates to produce a repeat performance of their display against Portsmouth in their next games against Lille and Manchester United as they aim to salvage their season.

The Merseysiders brushed Pompey aside at Anfield courtesy of a Fernando Torres brace as well as goals by Ryan Babel and a first in English football for Alberto Aquilani.

Speaking to ESPN after the game, the Spaniard paid tribute to Liverpool’s display, in particular the six minutes spell in the first half when the Reds scored three times.

“Monday night was a must-win game for us, fortunately we did it, we performed really well and let’s hope we can do it on Thursday [against Lille in the Europa League] again,” he said.

“When the team is playing well you know we can score at any minute. It was a good period of time, we were incredible what we have to do is make sure we repeat that on Thursday and Sunday.”

The shot-stopper also confessed that Liverpool have fully deserved the criticism that has come their way this season but insisted they remain a quality side.

“We deserved some criticism, obviously things aren’t going the way we want,” he added.

“We know that the squad is more or less the same as last season. We can perform, we can play good football, we have to prove it.”

Goalscorer Alberto Aquilani bagged the man of the match champagne, on a rare start for the Merseysiders, and admitted he was delighted to grab his first goal for the club, adding: “I am very happy today because we won the game. We need to win a lot of games to get in the top four and this is the first.”

Benitez: I Had No Doubts

Rafa Benitez claims he never doubted Liverpool's potential to produce the kind of football witnessed against Portsmouth.

The Reds thumped Avram Grant's strugglers 4-1 on Monday with a performance reminiscent of last year's run-in.

Benitez said: "You know we've had too many injuries to important players this season. We've had Johnson, Gerrard, Agger, Torres, Yossi and Aurelio injured.

"These are players with quality and when you put them all together and they're fully fit then the team will play much better.

"We saw against Portsmouth three or four of these players together and you saw good play.

"We're still in a difficult situation but if we can play at this level we know we can beat anyone.

"After the defeat at Wigan the players knew they needed to improve and play well. I said after Lille that we lost but the players worked really hard.

"At Anfield we knew we could do it with the fans behind us and as soon as we scored the first goal you could see the team enjoying it."

Benitez added: "I am really focused on trying to do my job and doing the best I can for my team and the fans who were singing my name. I try to stay focused and win games."

Babel Wants Anfield Stay

Liverpool winger Ryan Babel is delighted to have earned a run in the side and insists his future belongs at Anfield.

Babel scored in the Reds' 4-1 win over Portsmouth on Monday night in what was his fourth start in six consecutive games in Rafa Benitez's side.

After early promise in a Reds shirt following his arrival from Ajax in 2007, the Dutchman has struggled to establish himself at Anfield since last season.

Speculation linking the 23-year-old with a return to his homeland mounts each transfer window, but Babel now has fresh hopes of a bright future at Liverpool.

"I was always happy at Liverpool," Babel told the club's official website.

"Slowly I'm feeling stronger. Hopefully now I can continue to get stronger. With every game you'll start to see the best of me.

"Obviously you're always frustrated when you can't show people what you can do - but that's not just me, that's every player.

"But that's the past and now I want to go forward here at Liverpool," added Babel, who has scored twice since his recent return to Benitez's first team.

The comfortable Anfield win over Pompey was the perfect response to back-to-back 1-0 defeats away from home to Wigan and French side Lille respectively.

Babel believes an early breakthrough against Avram Grant's side was key to their comfort, and he is hoping the Reds can take confidence from their performance into their next two games against Lille and Manchester United.

"These three points are very important but now this passion and the way we played in defence and attack is the basis of how we have to play in the remaining games," added Babel.

"I think we had a point to prove in terms of getting a result. I don't think the performance at Lille was as bad as some people think but here we definitely showed character and passion, and hopefully we can now look forward.

"If you can score an early goal then the confidence raises straight away. Then when a second comes everyone in the team feels confident and can play in a more relaxed way.

"It would definitely be nice to win at Old Trafford like last year but, first of all, hopefully Thursday will be good and then we'll go to Old Trafford full of confidence."

Kop Goal Delights Aquilani

Midfielder Alberto Aquilani is delighted to have got off the mark for Liverpool in front of the Kop end.

The Italian has failed to live up to his reported £20million price tag since arriving from Roma last summer, with a string of injuries and poor form hampering his progress.

The 25-year-old was handed a rare start in Liverpool's 4-1 win over Portsmouth on Monday, and he rewarded boss Rafa Benitez with a well-taken first-half goal.

The goal visibly gave Aquilani renewed confidence and, upon completing the 90 minutes, the midfielder was left beaming in delight with his goal and the result.

"I feel really good because I've scored my first goal after a really long time. I'm also really happy because of the result - we needed that," he told the club's official website.

"The goal is even more special because I scored it in front of the Kop. I said when I arrived in Liverpool that I wanted to score in front of the Kop and that moment has arrived."

The win moved the Reds into fifth position, but Benitez has his work cut out if he is to steer the team to fourth place having played more games than their nearest rivals.

Aquilani is aware of the task they face, but he believes the win and performance against Pompey is a step in the right direction ahead of Lille on Thursday and Manchester United on Sunday.

"I think I played well but I have to take it step by step. Today (Monday) was a good day and now we look to the next game," said the Italian.

"Above all, the big thing was that we played well and won. We have to take things step by step now. We can only think about Sunday after Thursday.

"Can I do better? Everyone can do better. Fernando (Torres) made things easy. He is a special player, you easily play with him and Stevie (Gerrard).

"We need to win a lot of games to get into the top four and this is the first," he added.

"It has been a difficult season for me because I have had a lot of injuries but now I feel fit and am right to play. I had chance against Portsmouth and I had to take it.

"Most of all, I am happy because we won. We won 4-1 and it was a really good performance, one that we really needed."

Steven Gerrard Avoids FA Punishment After Clash With Michael Brown

Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard will not face action from the Football Association following his clash with Portsmouth midfielder Michael Brown.

It is understood the FA sought clarification from referee Stuart Attwell after Gerrard appeared to catch Brown with his forearm during the 4-1 win for Rafael Benitez's men at Anfield.

Attwell saw the incident at the time and spoke to Gerrard after awarding Portsmouth a free-kick, with the FA following guidelines not to punish players retrospectively if the match official sees the alleged offence.

The news will no doubt come as a welcome relief to Gerrard who, only a week ago, escaped punishment despite television pictures suggested he made an offensive gesture towards referee Andre Marriner in the defeat at Wigan.

Following the game at Anfield, Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez insisted his player had nothing to answer for.

"’I don’t think so,’’ said the Spaniard when asked if he was worried about retrospective action against his captain.”I haven’t seen it but I was asking and I think it was nothing.’’

Victory against Portsmouth meant Liverpool bounced back from back-to-back defeats, against Wigan and Lille in the Europa League, with the return leg against the French side on Thursday.

"We knew that it was a must-win game," said goalkeeper Jose Reina. "Fortunately we did it and performed really well. Hopefully we can do it again on Thursday.

"When the team is playing well, we can score at any time. For the 10 minutes we were incredible."

Kelly: Pompey Win A Sign

Martin Kelly reflected on Liverpool's 4-1 demolition of Portsmouth and declared: 'There's a lot more to come from us.'

The Reds cruised to a comprehensive Anfield victory courtesy of a Fernando Torres brace and strikes from Alberto Aquilani and Ryan Babel - and Kelly is confident the goal glut is a sign Rafael Benitez's side are ready to return to top form.

"We've showed it against Portsmouth that we have got good performances in us and there is a lot more to come," said the defender.

"It has been tough but you get that in football. We've pulled through it together and we've just kept working hard in training.

"It's getting towards the end of the season now but we just take it one game at a time. So we'll concentrate on the next one which is Lille on Thursday."

Kelly was introduced as a second-half substitute against Pompey to make his first Barclays Premier League appearance.

Having already figured in Europe for Liverpool this season, the 19-year-old is eager to continue his push for more first-team action.

"I've enjoyed it, it's been a long time coming," said Kelly. "I enjoyed it to come on and it was a special moment for me.

"I think if the manager gives you a chance, you've got to play as well as you can and you can't look out of place or the next thing you know your chance has gone. You've got to take your chances."

Liverpool FC: Christian Purslow Is At Anfield ‘To Sell The Club, Not Run It’

According to a Liverpool MP, Liverpool FC managing director Christian Purslow has stated on three separate occasions that he "is there to sell the club, not to run it."

Walton MP Peter Kilfoyle was speaking in an interview with the Liverpool Echo. He covered a wide range of subjects, and was heavily critical of the club's owners, Tom Hicks and George Gillett, but his claims about Purslow's role are the most intriguing.

Purslow has been well-received by most Liverpool fans, despite the general dissatisfaction with the club's ownership. He has negotiated a number of lucrative commercial deals since arriving at Anfield, including an £80 million record shirt sponsorship with Standard Chartered, in a deal that sees the club significantly improve its previous agreement with Carlsberg.

"I've got no idea who runs the club since Rick Parry left," the Echo quotes Kilfoyle as saying. "Christian Purslow is a managing director, he's not the chief executive. As far as I'm aware, and what he has told me three times, is he is there to sell the club, not to run it. Running a football club is a hell of a lot different from being a banker, which is what he is. He is there to sell the club – that's what he's there for, that's what he is employed to do."

The Echo added that Liverpool did not confirm or deny the comments attributed to Purslow, who has previously admitted the club must find £100 million by the summer to satisfy its agreement with its banks, and has targeted Easter as a deadline for new investment. According to widespread reports, Hicks and Gillett have been offered more than £100 million by the Rhone Group for a 40 per cent stake in the Anfield club.

Lawrenson: Benitez Must Be Shown The Door

Liverpool FC legend Mark Lawrenson believes Rafa Benitez’s six year tenure at Anfield should come to an end after this season even if the club finish inside the Premier League’s top four.

The former Anfield stalwart suggests Liverpool FC have gone backwards under Rafa Benitez, and the Spaniard’s record in the transfer market, particular those in the £10 million bracket, has been poor. Lawrenson dismisses the idea that the club’s American owners have played a crucial role in Liverpool FC’s demise; instead singling out Benitez’s “revolving door transfer policy”.

Lawrenson believes the Liverpool FC side Rafa Benitez inherited from Gerrard Houllier is now better than the one he has constructed, suggesting the likes of Lucas Leiva, Emiliano Insua and Dirk Kuyt are not good enough for a side that have won five European Cups.

The Liverpool FC hero told “Rafa Benitez must be shown the door at Liverpool at the end of the season.”

“It is time for change and the Spaniard should go, even if Liverpool somehow manage to finish in the top four.”

“Benitez has had six years at Anfield and, if anything, the club has gone backwards during his reign.”

Despite winning the European Cup in his first season, Lawrenson suggests Liverpool FC have gone backwards under Rafa Benitez.

The former Anfield stalwart continued: “Benitez’s record in signing players around the £10million mark is appalling.”

“Look at the likes of Albert Rieira. Decent in his first season, but has flattered to deceive. Dirk Kuyt works hard, looks decent in a good team, but decent isn’t enough for the five-time champions of Europe. Emiliano Insua looks like little boy lost. Lucas will never be a top player.”

“Frankly, you can go right through Rafa’s team and most of them are found wanting.”

“Just compare the Liverpool side that lost to Wigan and now Lille to Gerard Houllier’s team in his final game in charge, a 1-1 draw with Newcastle in May 2004.”

“This was the final line-up: Dudek, Finnan, Carragher, Hyypia, Riise, Murphy, Hamann, Gerrard, Kewell, Heskey, Owen. You cannot tell me that team, that squad of players, would not have beaten the Liverpool team which lost at Wigan. So, in six years in charge, Benitez has gone backwards.”

“It’s ridiculous to suggest that the Spaniard has not had money to spend, either. He’s had a lot of money. In fact, there’s been a revolving door transfer policy at Anfield.”

“Benitez spent £18m on a right-back, Glen Johnson, in the summer. Good player, but Liverpool needed another striker. That’s bad judgement.”

“Alberto Aquilani is supposed to have cost £20m and replaced Xabi Alonso. Has it worked? No chance.”

“So please spare us the sob stories about no money. Yes, the feud between the Americans has been a distraction, but it comes down to the manager and the players he has brought in and allowed to go.”

“The supporters have been fiercely loyal throughout. They have been remarkable, in fact. But I went to Wigan on Monday night as a spectator.”

“I sat with a group of fans who go home and away and now even they have turned. They won’t go again while Benitez stays in charge. Liverpool needed to really go for it at Wigan. To get that fourth spot, they need to get results away from home.”

“While I’ve always been a Benitez supporter and great defender of his, even for a large part this season, the time has come for change. And it should come even if Liverpool scrape into fourth.”

“Even if the Anfield men pull off a remarkable end to the season and scrape in, this season has taught us that Benitez has had his time. He’s had six years and now, after going backwards, it’s time for change.”

“Whether that change comes because Liverpool decide he has go, or Benitez gets offered another job at Real Madrid or Juventus, enough is enough.”