Sunday, May 23, 2010

Rafael Benitez Defends His Liverpool Record And Expresses Renewed Desire To Stay At Club

Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez has defended his Anfield record and said he would like to remain at the club if possible.

His comments came in an interview with Guillem Balague in the Daily Mirror where Benitez said that heavy criticism of his Anfield record was undeserved.

Barring an impressive second-place finish last season Liverpool have yet to top the dizzy heights of 2005 when Benitez led them to victory in the Champions League and topped things off with an FA Cup win in 2006.

He said: “There is this legend that Liverpool hasn’t won many trophies, which we have failed in that aspect. Well, Chelsea and Manchester United have won 10 trophies in the six years I’ve been in Liverpool; Arsenal, Spurs and Portsmouth one.

“Liverpool? Four trophies and we have played in three finals. Liverpool have been competitive”.

Benitez revealed his desire to tough it out at Anfield and feels that his successes at the club are not reported fairly given the comparative resources he has had to spend.

“Does Liverpool have to win the league, as everybody demands, every year?” he asked.

And in an apparent sideswipe at the club hierarchy Benitez rued the limitations on managerial powers in England and the lack of transfer funds that meant he missed targets such as Gareth Barry and Dani Alves.

Benitez said: “Does the manager have absolute power in England?

“No, it depends on a budget and on the executive director that negotiates the signings of players.

“And it depends on the money you have and the intelligence with which you operate in the marketplace. Look at the wages picked up by the players on Chelsea or Manchester United’s substitutes’ bench: Obi Mikel, Owen, Kalou, Berbatov, Carrick could be on £4million a year!

“When Portsmouth offered Peter Crouch more money than we were paying him and promised him a starting place, it became very complicated for us to keep hold of him.

“Some people say I have spent £280m. But we have spent £220m on players and generated £160m in player sales. That is the equivalent of a £60m net spend over six years: in other words, £10m spent per year.”

Gerrard Shrugs Off Transfer Talk To Focus On England

Steven Gerrard has vowed that his focus will be only on England during the World Cup and not his Liverpool future.

The midfielder goes into the finals in South Africa amid speculation about his Anfield career - just as he did four years ago at Germany 2006.

"Yes I was distracted then. I was going back to my hotel room and driving myself mad," said the 29-year-old.

"This time round I won't make the same mistake. I guarantee everyone my focus is on doing well for England."

Gerrard is also aware that this summer's tournament may represent one of his last chances to win something with England, and he is determined to maximize the opportunity.

That means blocking out transfer speculation, and also forgetting the disappointment of Liverpool's seventh-placed finish in the Premier League.

Speaking from England's training camp in Austria, Gerrard said: "Liverpool's season wasn't good enough. As a squad and a team we underachieved and we are not happy about it.

"But now I am here with England and the training has started I think it is important to park club issues and focus on the job in hand for England.

"If people want to speculate about my future, that's up to them. I cannot control that; I can only control what I am thinking myself.

"What is important to me now is the World Cup and focusing only on the World Cup.

"I have to realize that I am coming up to 30 years of age and these big tournaments only come round once every four years so maybe this is going to be my last one.

"I have to be mindful of that, make the most of it and do well."

And Gerrard indicated that England's preparations in Austria are going according to plan.

"I am fine and training with no problems. I am excited and really looking forward to the World Cup and hopefully I can remain fit and push on and do well.

"I am not really noticing much difference with the altitude. Training has been very intense, very sharp. The boys are excited and spirits are high and we need to keep that going."

As for their chances of winning the World Cup, Gerrard believes England coach Fabio Capello is creating the right environment for success.

"Fabio has been here for a couple of years so we have had time to get used to his ideas and know what he wants," added Gerrard.

"There is still a bit more time to prepare and make sure we are all ready for the tournament.

"The manager has a winning mentality and slowly he has instilled that into the players.

"During qualifying we played well, but we still have to improve a bit if we are to be successful at the World Cup.

"But things are going well and moving along really, really well."

England returns from Austria for a friendly against Mexico at Wembley on Monday.

They will then head back to their training base at Irdning two days later before playing their final pre-World Cup friendly against Japan in nearby Graz on 30 May.

England open their World Cup campaign on 12 June against USA.

Milan Jovanovic Happy To Ignore European Elite For Life At Liverpool

Milan Jovanovic insists he has no reservations about turning down some of Europe's biggest clubs to join Liverpool on a Bosman free transfer, despite the doubts surrounding the futures of manager Rafael Benítez and several key players.

The Serbia international, now with Standard Liege, who has signed a pre-contract at Anfield and will be confirmed as a Liverpool player on June 1, said: "They might have had a poor season, but Liverpool is still Liverpool.

"I really see this as the place where I want to be. The thought of playing at Anfield is an incredible inspiration for me."

Jovanovic will join Jonjo Shelvey, a £1.75 million capture from Charlton, and Rangers defender Danny Wilson, who is expected to complete his £2 million move in the coming days, as Benítez begins to rebuild his squad.

Unity Key For Liverpool FC To Rise Again

The sentences were short but the sentiment was clear: as Jamie Carragher spoke about his return to England duty, talk began to move forward.

“I can’t wait to get back to Liverpool, get back together again and try to put it right,” he said.

“I want the people who want to be there to come back. If they don’t, no problem. Nobody is bigger than Liverpool Football Club.”

And so the fightback begins. Another week has passed with speculation raging about the futures of Javier Mascherano, Fernando Torres and, to a certain extent, Steven Gerrard, the three men whose sales could raise an enormous windfall for the Reds.

Throw in a story which saw Pepe Reina linked with Arsenal and Albert Riera’s latest outburst and it’s clear to see why the perception that Liverpool are vulnerable is growing and why some players might be tempted to consider their options.

First of all, it must be stressed the story regarding Reina is absurd; there is no way he would consider jumping ship just weeks after he has committed his future to Anfield for the next six years.

Another tale that, to put it mildly, raised eyebrows was the suggestion Manchester City were ready to offer Liverpool £40m plus Emmanuel Adebayor and Stephen Ireland for Torres and Gerrard.

That sounds an attractive business deal, doesn’t it? One player whose mood changes like the wind, another who was told by his manager to “get his head right” and an amount of cash that can best be described as pocket change for the oil-rich club for Liverpool’s two finest players, the side with whom they will be competing for a Champions League spot next year.

It simply doesn’t add up but, sadly, such stories will become commonplace this summer, due to the state of flux in which Liverpool find themselves – vultures are circling and the club’s critics are expecting the star names to begin an exodus to more stable destinations.

Perhaps the most significant quotes were attributed to Mascherano, who, of course, was a target for Barcelona 12 months ago; read between the lines of the words that follow and you can see, possibly, he is hankering for a return to a Spanish speaking culture.

“I have no problem living in Liverpool,” he said. “But my wife and daughters deserve to enjoy each day to the full and live their lives, but they have to be home all day.

“My wife doesn’t speak a word of English, so she depends 100 per cent on me. I live here with them. That’s my world, that’s my life.”

In this city, though, many people’s lives revolve around Liverpool Football Club; their moods are affected by results each weekend and many have found the past 12 months almost intolerable.

These supporters deserve some respite from the misery Tom Hicks and George Gillett have induced, they deserve to see a team proud to play in Red and committed.

Carragher, not for the first time, is right; if there are people who do not want to be on the journey next season, wish them well, thank them for their service – unless they go by the name of Riera – then move on.

The next 12 months could easily be as hard as the season just gone and Liverpool’s rivals for a top four place are all going to strengthen their squads before the big kick-off on August 13.

For Liverpool to emerge from the doldrums, every single player, all the management and coaching staff, as well as the officials at the top are going to have to pull in the same direction – in other words, there is no room for selfishness, sulking or personal agendas.

Should certain individuals decide Liverpool is no longer for them, or they get a better offer from elsewhere, what more can be done?

Of course, it would be painful to see any of those who are idolised by the Kop playing in different colours next year but it can’t prove to be distractive: for Liverpool to have a chance of upholding their tradition, there must be a return to old-fashioned values of spirit and togetherness.

Those who no longer have the appetite for a fight know precisely where the door is.

Ryan Babel Injury Scare Threatens World Cup For Liverpoool FC’s Holland Star

Ryan Babel will discover today whether his World Cup dreams have been shattered at the last moment.

The Liverpool forward was taken to hospital in Austria last night to undergo a scan on his hamstring he damaged yesterday in Holland’s pre-World Cup training camp.

Babel was inconsolable as he was helped into a people carrier by his close friend, Arsenal striker Robin van Persie, and it is understood the Dutch fear the injury is bad.

If Babel – who featured in all bar two of Liverpool’s final 23 games – has torn his hamstring, he could be sidelined for anything between six and eight weeks and that would rule him out of the reckoning for Holland’s final 23-man squad.

Results of the scans will not be known until some point today but, even if it proves to be a minor strain, Babel will already face a race to be fit for Holland’s opening Group E game against Denmark in Johannesburg on June 14.

Should Babel be denied the opportunity to go to the World Cup, it would be the second time injury has cost him the chance to play in a major international tournament.

Back in 2008, the 23-year-old was poised to go to Austria and Switzerland for the European Championships but suffered an ankle problem in the build-up and was forced to stay at home.

While Babel is keeping his fingers crossed that he receives good news, one man who would love to have the opportunity to be involved in a World Cup is Yossi Benayoun.

Despite being capped 78 times by Israel, he has never come close to featuring in a major tournament and Benayoun, who is tipping England to go close in South Africa, fears his dream may never come true.

“I’m not saying this only because I am in England, but I do believe England is the favourites,” he said. “They have very good players and I think Capello has got them playing very well.

“I hope I get to play in a major tournament. I just hope I still have time because I will be 34 (by the time of the next World Cup). We were very disappointed this time because we felt the group gave us a good chance to qualify but we didn’t play well enough. I will be 32 at the next European Championships, so hopefully I will be able to help Israel qualify for those and then the 2014 World Cup.”

Reds Want City Defender

Rafa Benitez is looking to make a summer move for Manchester City defender Micah Richards.

The Liverpool boss is hoping to bring in the 21-year-old by offering him the carrot of regular first-team football and a way back into the England set up.

The Anfield manager is hoping to get cash injection this summer to help bring in new additions but given the precarious financial state the Merseyside club finds itself in Rafa may have to sell before he can buy.

Micah Richards has found his first-team chances limited of late and as a result has fallen down Fabio Capello's pecking order.

Even though Liverpool did not manage to secure a Champions League spot, the chance of a move to Anfield and the chance to re-ignite his career may tempt Richards, who can usefully play effectively both at right-back and in the centre of defence.

For that reason Benitez considers him one of his top summer targets.

LFC To Bring Adriano Back To Europe?

Reports coming out of Italy say that Liverpool have joined Arsenal and Roma in trying to bring former Inter striker Adriano back to Europe.

The Brazilian will be available on a free transfer, although his wages are expected to be very significant.

There also remain doubts over his state of mind, which saw him leave Inter for a return to first club Flamengo in 2009.

Sampdoria Defender Reto Ziegler Tipped For Surprise Premier League Return With Liverpool If They Can Meet £8.5m Asking Price

Reto Ziegler could be poised for a surprise Premier League return with Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez seeing the Sampdoria man as a solution to his problems at left-back.

Benitez reportedly covets the former Tottenham Hotspur player’s versatility since Ziegler is also an effective attacker who can be deployed as a left winger.

Reports of the move first surfaced in the Italian press, but the Daily Mail adds that Benitez faces competition from a several European clubs and a price tag of £8.5 million could put Liverpool out of the running.

New Juventus boss Luigi Del Neri, who has just left Sampdoria, is apparently keen to take Ziegler with him to Turin. Atletico Madrid and Fiorentina are also said to have had talks with the player's agent.

Since leaving Tottenham Hotspur three years ago, 24-year-old Ziegler has grown in stature at Sampdoria after unremarkable loan stints at Hamburg SV and Wigan Athletic.

The former Grasshoppers Zurich player initially impressed at White Hart Lane under Jacques Santini and Martin Jol in his first season, walking away with a young player of the year award at only 18.

Ziegler moved to the Bundesliga in the summer of 2005 and featured in 11 league and three UEFA Cup games but was criticised by manager Thomas Doll for his poor attitude.

A further loan move to Wigan during the 2005-2006 season saw five Premier League starts and some solid yet unspectacular performances.

Ziegler returned to Spurs for the 2006-2007 season but only featured in four games and first joined Sampdoria on loan in January 2007.

He cemented a first-team place during the 2009-10 season and is now first-choice left back at the Stadio Luigi Ferraris.

Bayern Munich Beat Reserves

A late goal condemned Liverpool Reserves to an undeserved 1-0 defeat against Bayern Munich in the RUHR.2010 Cup in Germany on Friday night.

The inexperienced Reds dominated their illustrious opponents but fell to a solitary goal seven minutes from time.

A win against AC Milan on Saturday would still see them progress from the group - as could a draw if other results are favourable.

Gaffer John McMahon said: "We dominated Bayern. I'd say we had six really good chances to their two, but we were beaten by a sucker punch near the end.

"The positives are that we're one of the youngest teams here, but looking around I'd say we are one of the best.

"It's also great experience for this young team because they are playing against different types of football teams and different cultures."

The Reserves won their first game of the U19 tournament against Schalke 1-0 thanks to a Daniel Ayala header.