Sunday, July 18, 2010

Sammy Lee’s Place At Liverpool FC Is Safe – Roy Hodgson

Roy Hodgson confirmed Sammy Lee’s place on Liverpool FC’s backroom staff is secure – as he spoke of the peril that awaits the Reds in the Europa League.

With men such as first-team coach Mauricio Pelligrino and goalkeeping coach Xavi Valero following former boss Rafa Benitez out of Anfield last month, Hodgson is expected to make a number of new appointments.

But one man he is not thinking of replacing is Anfield stalwart Lee, who has played a key role in helping Hodgson settle into his new role during the early days of his reign.

It remains to be seen what position Lee will fill, but Hodgson recognizes both the passion he has for the club and the respect he has from the players, and is anxious to keep tapping into the 51-year-old’s knowledge.

“Sammy will stay here for the foreseeable future, absolutely – as long as he wants to be here,” said Hodgson, who takes charge of his first game as Liverpool manager against Al Hilal.

“I have no intention of letting him go and if he wants to stay with us, he is more than welcome. I haven’t made decisions on any (other positions) yet.”

Lee, who won two European Cups and three league championships during his playing career at Anfield, returned to the club in May 2008 when Benitez appointed him to the role of assistant manager.

He had previously been manager of Bolton Wanderers where, ironically, he took charge of game in the UEFA Cup against FC Rabotnicki of Macedonia – the side Liverpool could face in their Europa League qualifier in 12 days’ time.

The other option is for Liverpool to play FC Mika from Armenia, but either option means Liverpool will have a gruelling journey and Hodgson knows that the trip will be fraught with problems.

“It is every bit as difficult as I was expecting,” said Hodgson. “In this qualifying stage there are a lot of teams from countries that you don’t know well. There are teams that we are not going to know well, either. They are not the teams that reach the latter stages of these competitions.

“What I do know is that Rabotnicki are in Europe every year. I don’t know so much about Mika from Armenia but I do know the place.

“I managed a game in Armenia with the Finnish national team and I do know that we are going to get two very tough games.

“It is up to us now to get as much information as we can in what is a very limited period of time. But that is what we will try to do.”

Tus Zefik, the Rabotnicki assistant coach whose side lead 1-0 following Thursday night’s first leg, said: “I wished for Liverpool, my favourite club since I was a kid.

“Realistically, the chances of beating Liverpool are minimal but I’ll be more than happy with the knowledge that if we defeat Mika we will welcome to Macedonia one of the best clubs ever to have played here.”

Hodgson Isists Torres And Gerrard Are Staying

Roy Hodgson has held face-to-face talks with Fernando Torres and club captain Steven Gerrard to tell the Liverpool pair they are not for sale.

Hodgson, whose first competitive fixture in charge will be a Europa League third qualifying round first-leg tie against either FK Rabotnicki or FC Mika at Anfield on July 29, met Gerrard on Merseyside before flying to Spain for talks with Torres earlier this week.

Both Gerrard and Torres have given little public indication of their intentions, despite long-term speculation linking the pair with moves away from Liverpool following the club's failure to secure Champions League football this season.

With Chelsea and Manchester City courting Torres, Hodgson admitted he had made it clear to the Spain striker he had no intention of allowing him to leave Anfield.

Hodgson said: "I have met with Fernando. It was a pleasant conversation that took place where he is holidaying after the World Cup.

"As far as we are concerned, Fernando Torres is a Liverpool player. We want him to remain a Liverpool player and he is not for sale. We are not welcoming any offers for him because we want to keep him."

"I left him in the company of our chief executive (Christian Purslow) to come here (Liverpool's training camp in Switzerland)," Hodgson added. "You would have to speak to Christian to find out how that particular conversation went.

"My talk was not that long because I had to get here for the training camp. It was purely on football matters -- the World Cup, how he did, how his injury is and how much I am looking forward to working with him."

Gerrard has continued to figure high on Real Madrid's most-wanted list, but Hodgson insisted that the midfielder's future remained at Anfield.

Gerrard reports back for training next week, but will not be travelling to the team's Swiss base.

"What we haven't had is a club come in and say, 'We want to buy Steven Gerrard.' As far as I am concerned, Steven is not for sale. I made that clear to him," said Hodgson.

"I completely support the club policy -- we want him, we need him at Liverpool and we want to build a team around the good players that we have. We don't want to sell them and start again.

"I have tried to contact Javier Mascherano. I have left him voice messages and sent him texts but have had no reply. To be fair to him, that's not unusual because he's had a tough World Cup and I believe he's gone back to Argentina. It's not always easy to get in touch with people.

"I have tried to reach him to make it clear I am happy to talk with him at his convenience."

Liverpool's pairing with Macedonian outfit Rabotnicki or Armenian club Mika leaves Hodgson and his players with the prospect of a difficult journey to eastern Europe for the second leg on August 5, 10 days before the Premier League opener at home to Arsenal.

Their opponents will be confirmed next week after the conclusion of the second qualifying round. Rabotnicki hold the edge in their tie with Mika after a 1-0 victory in the first leg.

Victory would put Liverpool through to a play-off round -- along with the likes of Man City and Aston Villa -- for a place in the group stages.

"We know we will get two tough games," Hodgson said. "We also have to get as many of our players as fit as we can for the first leg, but we already know the four players involved in the World Cup final won't be involved in these games."

Javier Mascherano's Future At Liverpool Is Uncertain, Says Roy Hodgson

Liverpool manager Roy Hodgson has appealed to midfielder Javier Mascherano to get in touch to discuss his Anfield future.

Hodgson cast further uncertainty over the Argentina captain's Anfield career when he conceded that he had been unable to contact him since he took charge more than a fortnight ago.

Mascherano, 26, has been linked with a move to European champions Inter Milan this summer and his agent has described the potential of such a move as a ''dream''.

''I have tried to contact Javier. I have left him voice messages and sent him texts but had no reply," Hodgson said.

''To be fair to him, that's not unusual because he's had a tough World Cup and I believe he's gone back to Argentina.

''It's not always easy to get in touch with people. I have tried to reach him to make clear I am happy to talk with him at his convenience.''

Mascherano is contracted to Liverpool until 2012 and any deal could cost a club such as Inter as much as £30 million.

Lucas Leiva: I Want To Stay At Anfield Despite The Criticism

Although he admits he can't fathom why so much criticism has been thrown in his direction with regards to his performances, Lucas Leiva says he is happy to remain at Liverpool this summer.

The 23-year-old midfielder has been tipped to follow former manager Rafael Benitez to Inter Milan, after being constantly sniped at for his displays by some sections of the Anfield support.

However, the Brazil international insists he has no temptation to abandon ship and feels after putting in some solid performances last season he can go one better with the Reds this time around.

"I'm happy in Liverpool and looking forward to my fourth season," he told the Press Association.

"I hope I stay. I'm happy to play for Liverpool and to improve my performances, as I did last season. I'm not here to try to prove critics wrong. I'm here to prove myself to the manager and my team-mates.

"That's the most important thing. I don't know why people criticize me so much but I just try to be positive and be strong. I know I had a good season last season and hope it will be even better this season.

"I have to keep going and show the manager that I can play and have the quality that he expects."

Lucas is currently at the club's training camp in Switzerland and his first impressions of new manager Roy Hodgson, who arrived in the Anfield dug-out this summer after leaving Fulham, have been positive.

"He [Roy Hodgson] seems to be very good as a coach, good with the tactical side of the game," he added.

"He will help everyone, but for me he has a lot of experience, he has worked with big players at big clubs so his experience will help in giving me advice to help improve my game.

"I am confident we [Liverpool] will have a better season. When there are lots of changes new motivation comes through and I think we can do better. We will do better."

Liverpool Winger Albert Riera Set For Move To Olympiakos

Olympiakos are determined to prise Liverpool winger Albert Riera away from Anfield, according to

The Spaniard’s future with the north west club has been uncertain ever since he fell out with former Reds manager Rafael Benitez.

Riera has since been linked with the likes of Spartak Moscow but Olympiakos have seemingly emerged as the favourites for the Spaniard's signature with reports suggesting vice-president Sokrates Kominakis is in England for talks.

Liverpool are said to be asking for around £4.2 million for the Spanish winger but reports imply the Greek outfit are only planning to offer £3.4m.

Dirk Kuyt’s Reputation Enhanced After Excellent World Cup

While the World Cup final was not the classic encounter many hoped it would be, some of the reaction to Holland’s performance has been staggering.

They were never going to be able to beat Spain playing a similar brand of football, so what was wrong with their coach Bert van Marwijk coming up with a game plan that was designed on stifling?

It would appear, though, that Holland are destined to become pantomime villains in this country with the perception being they are snarling, vicious bunch who can only flourish with force.

Nonsense, of course. You don’t reach the latter stages of these tournaments unless you have outstanding players and Holland showed they have many who can be classed as such – including Anfield’s own, Dirk Kuyt.

He might have endured an evening to forget trying to shackle Sergio Ramos in the final but, prior to that, Kuyt’s displays – notably in the semi-final against Uruguay – had been outstanding.

Once he has had chance to recharge his batteries, Kuyt will return to Liverpool’s squad to again play a major role in the team.

Hopefully it won’t be long before he experiences the other side of the coin when a cup is up for grabs.

Liverpool FC Need A New Lucky Number Seven

In the grand scheme of things, the news which filtered through about Milan Jovanovic earlier this week did not grab headlines or trigger huge debate.

Nor should it. After all, Liverpool simply announced their new Serbian striker had been assigned the number 10 jersey ahead of the forthcoming Premier League campaign and, with so many other topics dominating the agenda, this was just an aside.

But pause for a moment and think again; Jovanovic has actually taken charge of one the Reds’ most iconic numbers, the shirt that men such as Barnes and Molby, McDermott and Toshack made famous.

Wearing number 10 traditionally means you have a licence to thrill or the chance to excite – cast your mind back to the exploits of another distinguished possessor of said shirt, Luis Garcia.

Though he may have infuriated some, he was always likely to conjure up something out of nothing – he was, as the song so famously declared, “five feet seven of football heaven”.

Clearly, then, Jovanovic has much to live up to but, even at this early stage, it is fair to say he will be more of a success than its previous derided incumbent, Andriy Voronin.

Hearing the news that number 10 has been assigned, however, brought a similar theme sharply back into focus and increased a sense of bewilderment.

Consider this: the most famous shirt in Liverpool’s rich history remains in mothballs, awaiting someone to bring it back to life.

Roy Hodgson might have a lengthy task list to work his way through at the moment but somewhere on his sheet of things to do must be unearthing a little box of tricks.

Think about it. Generations of Liverpool supporters were brought up on the exploits of Ian Callaghan, Kevin Keegan, Kenny Dalglish and Peter Beardsley, men who remain giants in the club’s history; they were inspirations and played the game in the manner it should be.

Yet since Beardsley crossed Stanley Park in 1991, there has only been one player – Steve McManaman – who upheld the tradition; look at some of the others who have been bestowed the ultimate honour and all you will see is a trail of disappointment.

Dean Saunders never had that something special. Nigel Clough started brightly but faltered badly; Vladimir Smicer’s best moment came when he switched to number 11; Harry Kewell could have been a great but flattered to deceive, while Robbie Keane’s four month stint can best be described as an unsuccessful experiment.

“When I came to Liverpool, Kenny gave me his number seven shirt,” Beardsley recalled recently. “What bigger compliment is there than that?

“When you wore it back then, you were a god. The number seven shirt is something special.”

It still is – it just needs someone to come along and restore it to former glories; Beardsley’s choice for the perfect candidate was Steven Gerrard but the skipper’s preference has long been for number eight; that, remember, was his one request when rebuffing Chelsea’s advances and committing to Liverpool in 2004.

Moving Fernando Torres from number nine, meanwhile, is an absolute no-go, as if ever a player was tailor-made to follow in the steps of those great predators Hunt, Rush and Fowler then it is the new World Cup winner; provided he remains at Anfield, he will continue to play as a Liverpool number nine is expected.

If he had a proper number seven behind him, with Gerrard providing the ammunition to both, the future on the field might not be as bleak as many are predicting it will be.

One of the things that supporters wants to see this season is Liverpool play with verve and panache and bring Anfield to life again; think of all those games you sat through during the past 12 months that were devoid of life, soul and creativity.

“Our task is to keep hold of the very good players that we have here and complement them with some other very good ones, who will help us achieve our goals,” Hodgson said shortly after settling into the hot seat.

“We are not going to achieve our goals on organization alone – we are going to do that by having very good players. I have got to keep the quality of players that it should be at Liverpool Football Club.

“We have to keep the traditions of a good work ethic, players sweating blood for the shirt and never letting the fans down.”

Those characteristics were synonymous with men who gave the number seven shirt its mystique; Callaghan, Keegan, Dalglish, Beardsley and McManaman all wore that jersey with pride – wouldn’t it be nice to think someone to follow their lead might be just around the corner?

Roy Hodgson Runs The Rule Over Liverpool Youngsters In First Pre-Season Friendly Against Al Hilal

The Grand Resort Hotel and Spa, situated at the foot of the Alps in the picturesque Swiss town of Bad Ragaz, is the last word in luxury.

Perfectly manicured lawns, elegant staff and magnificent facilities – some rooms are so big they even have their own sauna – it is the kind of establishment you would expect Premier League footballers to stay in; the prices, you can imagine, are not for those of a sensitive disposition.

For those unaccustomed to such trappings, The Grand Resort could easily prove something of distraction and it would be understandable if some of the younger members of Liverpool’s travelling squad felt overwhelmed by these opulent surrounds.

In a funny way, though, all the amenities that are on offer to the Reds here could be educational; for while some enjoy all the spin-offs that come from being on the books of a Premier League team, they don’t necessarily want to put in the work to make it happen.

With that in mind, then, Roy Hodgson will be watching intently as his reign as Liverpool manager begins with a friendly against the Saudi Arabian champions Al Hilal, across the border in Austria.

Given the Reds’ A-listers are resting weary limbs following their exploits at the World Cup finals, opportunity knocks for novices such as Martin Kelly and Steven Irwin, Thomas Ince, Nathan Eccleston, Stephen Darby and Jonjo Shelvey.

Hodgson has an open mind as to what to expect against Al Hilal – who are managed by Eric Gerets and have already played two friendlies – but the one thing he does want to see is players scraping, fighting and stretching every sinew to show they can play a part in the future.

A game in the Europa League, after all, is just around the corner and as Steven Gerrard, Jamie Carragher and Dirk Kuyt will not be match fit for the first leg on July 29, some of these young men could find themselves involved against either FC Rabotnicki or Mika. Hodgson said: “I would love to start off with a win but it might be too much to ask.

“If I wanted my first game as Liverpool manager to be a winning one, I would not have chosen to play a team of Al Hilal’s quality with what is basically a Liverpool reserve team.

“I have got to be realistic.

“I am not going to make any statements that people think I should be making. I will only expect to start winning games when I think the Liverpool team resembles something like it should be.

“The game against Al Hilal is an opportunity for some of those players who have probably never been given a chance before. They might find it hard to get another chance when the top players come back.

“But, at the same time, it is a chance for them to try and do something. I will be very interested to see how it unfolds. I will be very happy if we win but if we don’t, I won’t be in a position where I will be losing sleep.”

That might be true but, clearly, Hodgson would be a little more relaxed had just a little bit longer to prepare for that first competitive fixture 12 days from now; with that in mind, the fixtures against Al Hilal, FC Grasshopper and Kaiserslautern assume a different dimension.

“What has made things problematic is the fact we have to play competitive football on July 29,” said Hodgson. “The draw has not been kind to us in terms of the opponents we will face and where we have got to travel to.

“But we will get a team out and we will do the best that we can. And this is a chance for them to stake a claim – that’s what these games are for. I’m sure these players won’t let the club down and they will work very hard.

“They will give their all to show they deserve to wear this Liverpool shirt. Our fans can rest assured that these players won’t let them down but, at the same time, you can’t set a barrier that you know people won’t be able to jump over.

“That’s what we are tending to do with these three matches. We are setting the barrier so high with the quality of the opposition we are playing, it would be unfair to ask a 17-year-old, like Thomas Ince, to do.”

Ince’s presence in the travelling party is something that has left Hodgson doing a double take, as it wasn’t very long ago that he was coaching his father in Italy, when Liverpool’s former captain played for Inter Milan.

“That bothers me,” Hodgson said with a wry smile. “I can’t pretend to be 40 any longer. I remember Thomas back in 1995, as a small boy running around, kicking balls in his Dad’s apartment. He made sure Paul didn’t get too much piece after training.

“He probably did his best to make sure Paul stayed fit! But I have been impressed with him. He is a talented young man; in an ideal world, you wouldn’t be thrusting him into matches of this calibre but, who knows? It might be very good for him.”

As it will be for Hodgson; there is only so much a manager can ascertain from coaching sessions on the training ground and there is little doubt a contest against a side the new boss has a great respect for will serve a purpose.

Slowly but surely Hodgson is becoming attuned to life at Anfield and after the 90 minutes with Al Hilal are over, he will know even more.

“Things have been very good so far,” said Hodgson. “We are staying in an exceptional place, a marvellous hotel with wonderful training facilities. The players are working very hard with the new fitness regime.

“It is a young, inexperienced squad but they are working very hard. In the two and a half weeks I have been pushing them, I have been very satisfied with what I have seen.”