Monday, June 07, 2010

Tom Hicks And George Gillett Are Impeding The 'Fresh Start' Liverpool Badly Needs

Even before the paperwork had been signed, the mobile phones of a number of senior figures at Liverpool had started to trill.

As lawyers at Anfield were agreeing the final details of the £6 million severance package which would end Rafael Benítez’s six-year reign as manager, the vultures had started to circle.

Each call brought notification from the agent of another manager eager to throw his hat into the ring as a contender to succeed the Spaniard, each conversation designed to help each client gain a crucial advantage in the race for the most high-profile job likely to come on the domestic market this summer

To those conducting the search – Christian Purslow, the club’s managing director, and Kenny Dalglish, the Academy ambassador whose name still echoes from the Kop — such enthusiasm, such interest even before the die was cast is evidence that Liverpool remains the sort of job no ambitious, self-confident manager can turn down.

It is not hard to see why. Benítez lost his job because he guided the club to 19 defeats last season on their way to a seventh-place league finish.

They were eliminated from the Champions League at the group stage, knocked out of the FA Cup by Reading. The Spaniard is no tough act to follow.

In such circumstances, the breed of man who turns their hand to management will see only the tantalising prospect of glory. A manager who rebuilds Liverpool will see his reputation buffed, his prospects improved and his place in history at a club with a longer memory than most secured. To the victor, the spoils.

The outstanding favourite, of course, will not have instructed his agent to make such a phone-call. Roy Hodgson has no need to advertise his wares. His achievements — most recently at Fulham, but at various stages on his nomadic journey through the game — speak for themselves, as do his contacts.

He has already been spoken of inside Anfield as the sort of statesmanlike, reserved, respected figure who can return a club which has lost its path to the 'Liverpool Way', that undefinable set of values which once made it great.

His style is diametrically opposed to that of his predecessor, on and off the pitch, his taste for politicking absent, just what is required at a crucial, sensitive juncture in Liverpool’s history.

Hodgson seems an ideal candidate to offer Liverpool the “fresh start” which Martin Broughton, the club’s chairman, insisted was required in the statement which confirmed Benítez’s exit.

Yet, regardless of who should follow in the Spaniard’s footsteps, there can be no fresh start for the club while Tom Hicks and George Gillett remain in situ at Anfield.

There will be no end to the concerns of the Royal Bank of Scotland, increasingly frustrated with the Americans’ apparent unrealistic asking price of an asset they have vowed to sell, and there will be no end to the concerns of the club’s most valuable assets, the faces of its quest for worldwide monetisation that the £237 million debt the Americans have laden onto Liverpool precludes competing in the transfer market and thus on the pitch.

Whoever the new manager should be, Steven Gerrard, the new England captain, remains undecided on his future, while Fernando Torres, Yossi Benayoun and Javier Mascherano are similarly unsettled. They will decide whether they stick or twist not because of who is sitting in the dugout but because of how much money the new manager is granted to spend to bring in more players of their own class.

Should they leave, the club’s supporters will watch with interest how much of the £130 million or so their sales may raise is pumped back into the squad.

It was that issue which proved particularly thorny in the discussions between Benítez and his board which convinced the club to offer him a severance deal. It may be that his insistence that he be granted all funds raised cost him a job he desperately hoped to retain.

There can be no guarantees, at this stage, that a new manager will be offered different rules of engagement to his predecessor.

Benítez’s reign has already been written off in some quarters as an anticlimax — or worse — which endured for so long only by virtue of the lingering gratitude felt by supporters for the miracle of Istanbul.

Should there be no change in the root cause of Liverpool’s decline, though, in two, five or 10 years’ time, it may have started to look like the dying breaths of a golden age.

No manager, no matter how talented, will be able to reverse the decline which seems inexorable under the club’s current ownership. Should Dalglish and Purslow, too, endure, they may find that when it comes to replace the replacement, their phones lie silent.

Henry Winter: Kenny Dalglish The Perfect Man To Lead Liverpool's Search For New Manager

Those who claim he has been out of the game too long ignore that this is a man obsessed with football, who watches countless televised matches and was a fixture in the Anfield directors' box last season. Doing what is best for Liverpool comes as naturally to Dalglish as breathing.

Having played under three giants of the dugout in Jock Stein, Bob Paisley and Alex Ferguson, Dalglish knows the art and science of management.

Having steered Liverpool and Blackburn Rovers to the title, Dalglish is perfectly attuned to the qualities required to make a good manager, although the modern era demands a sharper media savviness than the Scot has always shown.

As he ponders how to reinvigorate this distinguished club's immediate fortunes, Dalglish should also consider putting in place deep foundations, almost sanctioning a return to the old Boot Room philosophy of nurturing from within.

One candidate immediately presents himself, a leader without armband in the dressing room whom respected people within Anfield believe has the potential to manage there one day.

Jamie Carragher is getting "badged up'', in dressing room parlance, having completed the Uefa B work and aiming for his A licence next summer.

He willingly admits that one of the reasons why he returned from self-imposed England exile was to absorb lessons from Fabio Capello, "the standout manager in world football over the past 10 years''.

Talking before England flew out to South Africa, Carragher added: "Of course I will pick things up from Mr. Capello.''

He has worked under Rafa Benítez and Gerard Houllier, has seen at close hand the pressure that England managers suffer and yet he is undaunted by the myriad challenges of management. Some observers will argue that Carragher needs to move away, to learn the ropes at a smaller club but there is another route.

If Liverpool appointed somebody like Roy Hodgson, bringing some welcome calm, then at some point Carragher could become involved on the coaching staff.

He's 32, having his testimonial on September 4 and probably has two seasons left at Premier League level. Simply by being in close proximity to Hodgson, even Martin O'Neill or some such experienced successor to Benítez, Carragher would inevitably accelerate his journey from pupil to master.

Whatever road he takes into management, Carragher's life will always be intertwined with Liverpool. "I'm just so emotionally involved in it,'' Carragher added. Just like Dalglish, Liverpool's managerial kingmaker who must also nurture a prince.

Liverpool Chiefs Plan Raid To Lure David Moyes

In the wake of Rafa Benitez’s departure from Liverpool last week, the boss of bitter Mersey rivals Everton has emerged as a surprise target as replacement

David Moyes is the shock name on Liverpool’s shortlist to replace the sacked Rafa Benitez.

Anfield managing director Christian Purslow who, together with Liverpool legend Kenny Dalglish, has been entrusted with the responsibility of finding a new Kop boss, is a big admirer of Moyes’ work in his eight years with neighbours Everton.

It is believed that Moyes is aware of Liverpool’s interest as the red half of Merseyside attempt to pull off a coup which would stun football.

Moyes, though, is deeply loyal to Everton and has a good working relationship with chairman Bill Kenwright. Only a few weeks ago he told Sunday Express Sport that any new investors would be better choosing Everton than pumping money into Anfield.

Despite that, Moyes is still in Liverpool’s thoughts as they attempt to resurrect their fortunes after a disastrous last season in Benitez’s six-year reign.

The Spaniard was dismissed on Thursday but is expected to be named as Inter Milan’s successor to Jose Mourinho this week. Hesitation saw Benitez miss out on the Juventus job but it is believed that he is now ready to say yes to Inter.

It is understood that owner Massimo Moratti has been influenced by lobbying from some of the team’s Argentinian contingent, which includes Javier Zanetti, Walter Samuel and Diego Milito.

Fellow Argentinian Mauricio Pellegrino, Benitez’s number two at Anfield, who will join him at the San Siro and is admired by the players, has been pushing his boss’s case.

With Liverpool having to pay up to £6million to part company with Benitez, American co-owners George Gillett and Tom Hicks are reluctant to pay a big compensation package to land his successor. The exception would be Moyes.

If they are unsuccessful in their audacious attempt to move the Scot across Stanley Park, Liverpool will move on to other targets, who include Fulham’s Roy Hodgson, Aston Villa’s Martin O’Neill and Marcello Lippi, the Italy manager. Lippi leaves his job after the World Cup and any approach wouldn’t be restricted by compensation issues.

Many Anfield observers believe that Liverpool have the answer to their managerial problems within their own ranks in kingmaker Dalglish. He would bring back the old boot-room habits which served the club so well in their halcyon days of the sixties, seventies and eighties.

Close friends believe Dalglish, who resigned as Liverpool boss through stress 19 years ago, has unfinished business at Anfield and would love the challenge of replacing Benitez.

He has agreed to take charge until Liverpool find a new man but wouldn’t say no to a tap on his own shoulder over a permanent stay.

Rafael Benitez Set For Inter Milan Talks

Former Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez is poised to hold talks with Champions League winners Inter Milan next week.

Inter are looking for a new manager after Jose Mourinho, who also won Serie A and the Italian Cup last season, left to take over at Real Madrid.

Benitez left Liverpool by mutual consent on Thursday after six years at the helm at Anfield.

"That is the direction and in the next few days we will see and decide," said Inter president Massimo Moratti.

"I can only speak well of him because he is very good.

"It's also important that he has always done well in Europe: to continue to get joy from the Champions League is our aim," Moratti added in an interview with Italian newspaper Corriere dello Sport.

The 50-year-old has a strong track record in European football, having won the Champions League with Liverpool in 2005 and the Uefa Cup with Valencia in 2004.

But he would have big shoes to fill at Inter, with Mourinho winning the league in both seasons he was at the club, not to mention securing the Champions League and Italian Cup last season.

And before Mourinho's spell at the club, Inter won three consecutive titles under Roberto Mancini.

Benitez was strongly linked with a move to Juventus, but since his departure from Anfield he has become the subject of speculation suggesting a move to the San Siro is imminent.

Liverpool To Consult Senior Players In Search For New Boss

Following the departure of Rafa Benitez, the hunt is on for a new manager at Liverpool, and according to the Sunday Mirror, the Anfield outfit is set to consult with some of their most senior players in the quest for a new boss.

The newspaper said that "growing disillusionment inside the Anfield dressing room during Benitez’s final months in charge has prompted the club to gauge the opinion of several senior players."

According to the Mirror, those players include England boys Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher, as well as Spaniards Fernando Torres and Pepe Reina.

Liverpool ambassador Kenny Dalglish and chief executive Christian Purslow have been tasked with finding a new manager.

And the decision to give the club's top players a role in that decision could well be a bid to keep them at the club, amid growing speculation that they could follow Benitez out of Anfield.

Hiddink And Rijkaard Rule Out Reds

The agent of Turkey manager Guus Hiddink has dismissed reports linking the Dutchman with the vacacy at Liverpool.

Rafa Benitez left the Reds post on Thursday by mutual consent after six years at the helm.

But, Cees van Nieuwenhuizen told BBC Sport that former Chelsea boss Hiddink would not be turning his back on Turkey having only recently taken up the post.

"Guus has shown over the years that he is loyal to agreements that he signed," Van Nieuwenhuizen said. "There is no reason why he would change such behaviour.

"Guus just started two weeks ago in Turkey and as much as he likes the Premier League and as much as he respects Liverpool as a legendary club with a great future ahead, a switch would be hardly doable.

"I know, never say never and especially in football this is true, but for me this is an impossible thought."

BBC Sport also spoke to representatives of both Croatia manager Slaven Bilic and former Barcelona boss Frank Rijkaard.

Bilic's agent and brother Domagoj admitted the Liverpool job was appealing, saying: "An offer has not come - not yet anyway - so we will not discuss it. But if any offer does come we will of course discuss it."

Rijkaard's agent Perry Overmeers was less enthusiastic, however, saying that his client would honour his current deal with Turkish side Galatasaray.

"Rumours linking Frank to Liverpool are just that, rumours," Overmeers said.

"Frank is the type of person who likes to fulfil his obligations and he has one year left on his contract with Galatasaray."

Sky Sports sources also understand that Tottenham boss Harry Redknapp has emerged as a shock contender to take over at Anfield.

Liverpool legend Kenny Dalglish and managing director Christian Purslow have been charged with the task of identifying and selecting a replacement.

Dalglish knows Redknapp well having brought his son Jamie to Anfield in January 1991 when he was at the helm of the five-time European champions and the two families have been close ever since.

Manchester City Ready To Make Fernando Torres World's Richest Footballer

Manchester City are prepared to make Fernando Torres the world richest footballer in an attempt to bring the Liverpool striker to Eastlands.

However according to ESPN, Torres will turn down the offer in favour of a move to Premier League champions Chelsea.

One of the men at the centre of secret talks about a possible move has disclosed that while City are ready to outbid Chelsea, Torres wants to be playing Champions League football next season.

The source also told ESPN that "City were ready to offer Fernando Torres a huge contract, and by that I mean the biggest for any footballer anywhere in the world.

"But Torres said 'no', he was not interested."

No formal contract offer can be agreed though as City have not agreed a fee with Liverpool for the Spaniard, but any deal could see Torres earn more than £200,000 a week plus image rights and bonuses.

The source continued by saying that negotiations were underway behind the scenes at Chelsea who have also made Torres aware of their interest.

While managerless Liverpool are looking to hold out for £70 million for Torres, Chelsea believe that a more realistic price of £50 million should be enough to take the striker to Stamford Bridge.

Mascherano Keen To Follow Benitez To Inter

Javier Mascherano has dropped a bombshell by admitting that he wants to follow Rafa Benitez to Inter Milan.

The Argentina captain, in South Africa preparing for the World Cup, believes his former Liverpool manager would be a perfect replacement for Jose Mourinho at the San Siro. And Mascherano hinted that he would also like to ply his trade in Serie A.

The midfielder has been stalling on a new contract while chaos has reigned at Anfield over the past three months.

And with Benitez set to meet Inter president Massimo Moratti in the next 48 hours – just days after being sacked by Liverpool – Mascherano said: “Only Benitez could take the place of a coach like Mourinho.

“He is a great coach. He has charisma, personality, a winning mentality.

“Moreover, he will find himself brilliantly in Italy because of the tactical game.

“Rafa studies everything on the table and directs the team from the bench like an orchestra conductor.

“Inter have made a good choice.

“After Mourinho, he is the only man capable of ­continuing Inter’s winning run.”

Liverpool will save £2million if Benitez joins Inter, with the Spaniard’s compensation package set to rise from £4m to £6m if he is still out of work at the end of the summer.

Mascherano appeared to send out an instant come-and-get-me plea when he added: “At the moment I really know little about my future.

“But, of course, with Benitez at Liverpool I experienced three ­incredible years.

“His football is my football.”

Gerrard Makes Pledge To Prince

New England skipper Steven Gerrard has assured Prince William the Three Lions will be ready to roar when their World Cup campaign begins against the United States next Saturday.

Prince William spoke to the squad, who are still coming to terms with the loss of captain Rio Ferdinand to a knee injury, on Saturday via video-link to offer them best wishes ahead of the tournament.

Yet optimism among Fabio Capello's squad is still high and Gerrard said: "We're very disappointed about Rio but by the time that first game comes around I'm sure the team will be fit and ready to win."

He added: "We are really excited. We have been given a super training camp at which to prepare. The guys are working hard to make sure they are fit and ready."

Capello also told Prince William that Gerrard would be Ferdinand's replacement as skipper, with the Liverpool star admitting he had mixed feelings about the situation given his joy has come at the central defender's expense.

"It's fantastic for me to be able lead the country in the World Cup," said Gerrard.

"But obviously I'd rather that Rio was here fit and available so it's mixed emotions at the minute."

Greame Souness: It Will Cost £1 Billion To Put Right Rafa's Mess

Greame Souness last night revealed he fears for the future of his beloved Liverpool in the aftermath of the Rafa Benitez era.

Hardman Souey, who won five league ­titles, three European Cups and four League Cups in his seven-year stay at Anfield, reckons the decisions Liverpool make in the next three months may well define their next 25 years.

In a no-holds-barred interview with the Daily Star Sunday, Souness said: “That’s how critical the current situation is for the club.

“Right now it sits teetering on arguably the most crucial tipping point of its entire history and I fear for its very future.

“The bigger picture is finding new owners who can put the club back on a sound financial footing but it’s also crucial they find a safe pair of hands to take over the team from Rafa Benitez.”

Souness, signed by Bob Paisley in January 1978 and one of the brilliant side that ­included Alan Hansen, Kenny Dalglish and Ian Rush, is worried due to all the behind-the-scenes in-fighting between co-owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett that has sullied the club’s reputation.

But all the aggro of the past two years means attracting a top boss may not be an easy thing to do.

And Souness warned: “Who the club would like and who they’ll end up getting could be two very different things.

“For the first time since the Bill Shankly era, the Liverpool hot-seat isn’t a job that all the big managers would want. In fact, most of them wouldn’t touch it.

“The club is in debt, their squad of players is poor, they don’t have a major stadium, they won’t be playing Champions League football next year and there’s no guarantee that Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres won’t leave this summer.”

And the man who bossed Liverpool between 1991 and 1994, reckons the money needed to get the club back on track will be an astronomical sum.

He said: “Putting the club back on an even keel, securing the future and ensuring that they challenge for domestic and European honours on a regular basis is a job that could cost nearly a billion pounds.

“They need to spend at least £100million to buy players good enough to challenge for the Premier League next year and the Champions League the season after that.

“After that they need around £300m to clear the club’s debts and at least another £400m to build a new stadium.

“All that money needs to be found in the next two to three years and if Liverpool doesn’t find investors with sufficiently deep pockets, they’ll be dead in the water.

“The new manager who comes in will want his own players but the only way he’ll have any sort of a transfer fund to play around with will be if he sells players like Gerrard and Torres and gets exaggerated figures for them.

“And even if he wants to keep them, the matter might be out of his hands because the club may have to sell them to balance the books or the players themselves may be determined to leave a sinking ship.”
Souness also believes Gerrard and Torres will know in their hearts that the present squad simply is not good enough.

TV pundit Souness, 57, said: “Gerrard and Torres have been training all season with that squad of players and they’ll know that the majority of them simply aren’t good enough to be part of a team capable of winning a major trophy.

“Gerrard is 30 and doesn’t have many more years left to win the medals he covets, while Torres is in the prime of his career at 26 and about to put himself in the biggest shop window of all – the World Cup. He may end up winning a World Cup medal and after a high like that the thought of going back to a troubled club like Liverpool, where he won’t have players like Xavi, Iniesta or Villa to play with, isn’t one he’ll have a lot of enthusiasm for.”

And in a pop at Benitez and his flawed transfer dealings, he rapped: “It’s an indictment of Rafa Benitez’s six years at the club that the team should be so reliant on just two players.

“I don’t think it’s any big surprise he was fired ­because the thing that defines your time at a football club is how many good players you bring into the club – and Rafa simply didn’t sign enough of them.

“He was there six years and made a net spend of around £140m but only signed two players who I would regard as truly world class – Fernando Torres and Jose Reina.

“To have spent the kind of money he has and only come up with two players is an awful indictment and ultimately doomed him.

“When you look at the squad now, I think it’s actually worse off than it was when he first took it over.

“For a start, Steven Gerrard is six years older and, had it not been for Gerrard, I think Benitez would have gone before now because Liverpool were almost a one-man team for a long time.

“They won the European Cup without being in the top ten teams in Europe at the time, so they were lucky to win it really.

“That success brought him a lot of good grace but were it not for the fact that Liverpool fans are the best and most loyal in the world, he would have gone before now.

“His successor has a huge job on his hands. Finishing seventh this season was seen as a disaster.

“The very future of Liverpool Football Club is at stake and whether it’s a bleak one or a hopeful one may well be determined in the next three months.”