Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Liverpool FC Now Up Against Time And Tide After Washout In Austria

Austria is a country that’s produced famous actors, revered composers and distinguished sportsmen but never a pioneering meteorologist – now we know why.

Occasionally when you travel to small towns with small grounds, you see things that do not add up and that was again the case in the picturesque Austrian outpost of Altach on Saturday, where Roy Hodgson was supposed to launch his Liverpool career.

It was clear to see from the filthy, heavy grey clouds that formed over the Alps early in the afternoon that rain was on the way yet that did not stop the local fire brigade soaking the playing surface at the Cashpoint Arena with gallons of water before kick-off. Bizarre.

So once the heavens opened, quickly forming huge puddles and saturating the pitch, it was inevitable Liverpool’s game with Saudi Arabian champions Al Hilal would be abandoned without a ball being kicked.

“We gave it our best shot,” said Hodgson. “I thought the people from Al Hilal were very good and we did everything we could to try and get the game on. But you can’t beat the elements and you can’t play football on a waterlogged pitch.

“To play football, you have got to have a pitch that you can play football on. There was no pitch to play football on here. We didn’t have the game called off because we were worried about picking up injuries. It was called off because it was impossible to play.”

Though some were quick to recognize the irony that Hodgson’s reign was literally starting under a cloud, just as Rafa Benitez’s reign had ended under one, there were no long faces in the Liverpool camp – if anything, the opposite was true.

The most bizarre sight of all was a portly local gentleman trying to shield his considerable frame from the elements with the tiniest pink umbrella, his doomed efforts leaving Hodgson, head of sports science Peter Bruckner and many of the Reds’ entourage chuckling.

Hodgson, however, will know there will be no time for laughs in the next few weeks, as he begins the serious business of reshaping a squad that must play its first competitive fixture in 10 days and has to challenge for a Champions League spot once again.
Emiliano Insua has gone to Fiorentina, Olympiakos want Albert Riera, Damien Plessis and Nabil El Zhar will be ushered through the exit door too – ditto disgraced keeper Charles Itandje – and then there is the small matter of Javier Mascherano.

To say Hodgson has been diplomatic in the way he has spoken on this issue is putting it mildly but the longer Mascherano keeps ducking Hodgson’s calls and ignoring his text messages, the quicker he will alienate himself from those who support him.

Better players than the Argentine have left Liverpool in the past and if he really wants to move to Inter, the quicker he hands in a transfer request, the better – there is absolutely no room on this journey for sulkers or those pursuing their own agendas.

Quite simply, the pace around Liverpool now is going to be frantic, as Hodgson tries to implement his ideology on the team, make new signings and welcome back those who have been on World Cup duty; he doesn’t need to be bothered by other distractions.

Some, of course, may say the Europa League is a distraction and listening to Hodgson speak in the tunnel of the Cashpoint Arena, as co-owner George Gillett hovered in the background, it’s clear the fixture against either FC Rabotnicki or FC Mika is something he could have done without.

Steven Gerrard, Glen Johnson and Jamie Carragher might be returning to training at Melwood this week but none will be fit to play on July 29; Pepe Reina and Dirk Kuyt will still be on holiday, while its unlikely Daniel Agger or new boy Milan Jovanovic will be ready, either.

“The sports science people tell me it would be very foolhardy to use players who have only been training for three or four days or who have come off the back of a World Cup,” Hodgson said. “To risk them early on would affect us later on down the road.

“Their advice is: ‘Do not use these players.’ If we have enough players to put a team out without them, that is another question, so we will have to wait and see. Things (signings) can happen before July 29 but there’s no point me speculating on that.”

It’s likely players like Martin Kelly, Stephen Darby and Laurie Dalle Valle – a Finnish striker with a keen eye for goal – will get a chance to shine in Macedonia or Armenia, which is why the rain in Altach could not have come at a worse time.

Hodgson was anxious to see what they could do against decent opposition – Al Hilal are one of the strongest teams in the Middle East and are managed by Eric Gerets, the Belgian who once led Marseille to victory at Anfield.

“We are here with a group of players, very few of whom have played in Liverpool’s first-team,” said Hodgson. “They are a group who have been on the fringes or who have never even seen first-team football. We will have (another) 13 players back at Anfield soon. We will start training (with those) on July 25. So I see this training camp for what it is. It’s a chance for me to get to know some of the younger players and give them a chance to show what they can do.

“So this was a major disappointment, for the fans in particular who had come this far to see us play and a major disappointment for the young players. They were building up to their first game in the first team and they would have gone to bed dreaming of success.

“I could see how anxious they were to play and the concentration on their faces. But we have got two more games. All that has happened is they have their début postponed.”

Hodgson Stays Calm Over Mascherano's Future

Liverpool boss Roy Hodgson has insisted he is not concerned about the future of Javier Mascherano as the midfielder continues to enjoy his post-World Cup break.

Mascherano is being link with Inter Milan, where he would be reunited with Rafael Benitez, and has admitted to taking Italian lessons. But Hodgson believes the Argentina international will remain at Anfield.

Hodgson has placed a call to Mascherano, but has not heard anything back.

"He doesn't need to make contact with me,'' said Hodgson.”I've made contact with him telling him I'm looking forward to seeing him in training when he returns from his holiday but I did make the point in the voicemail that I didn't expect him to contact me.

"I just wanted him to know that I had been in touch and that I was thinking of him. I didn't ask him to call me back. I don't have a lot to say to him, to be honest, other than 'welcome back'.''

Liverpool New Boy Jonjo Shelvey Keen To Make Immediate Impact At Anfield

Jonjo Shelvey is relishing his first pre-season at Liverpool and is keen to show Reds' fans what he can do.

The 18-year-old England youth international moved to Anfield from Charlton Athletic at the end of last season and is now away in Switzerland preparing for the new Premier League campaign.

He is also enjoying the step-up in intensity in training that being at Anfield involves.

"Being at Liverpool is what every kid dreams of. When I was in school and in the playground I used to pretend to be players like Steven Gerrard, so it's unreal to think I'll be training with these players day in and day out," he told his new club's official website.

"At Charlton training was just shooting and five-a-sides and I was getting home at 1pm. At Liverpool we're not getting home till 2pm or 3pm and that's what I needed.

I needed to be somewhere where I could learn about the game because it got to the point where I wasn't learning at Charlton. I'm glad to be around the best people you could possibly be around.

"I'm really excited and can't wait for the season to start now. I want to get at least 20 games under my belt this season so I can start getting myself into it.

"I am confident; you have to be. When you are 18 years of age and you are getting thrown into games at Anfield then you can't have any fear. You have to go and do what you do."

While he is finding everything at Liverpool more demanding that it was in south London, Shelvey has his family to provide essential support as he settles in on Merseyside.

"Obviously it's a different lifestyle compared to being at Charlton," he said.

"The training is harder, everyone is a top quality professional, so it's totally different. It's different but I'm enjoying it. It's hard but I'm coping with it and it's good to be here.

"I thought I would find it a lot harder but I've had a lot of help from the club. I have my mum and dad coming up which makes it a lot easier. My dad comes up on a Monday and Tuesday and then I'll take him to Lime Street station on a Wednesday morning before training.

"My mum then comes up and she'll be there when I get home, which is great because she loves to cook.

"It still hasn't really sunk in now that I could be playing in the Premier League week in and week out. It's unreal."

Shelvey also tipped off Reds fans as to what to expect from him in a Liverpool shirt, and admitted that the excitement about potentially making his debut was intense.

"I'm an all-action player," he explained.

"I can defend, although I'd rather be bombing on to score goals and create things. I used to play in the hole behind the striker at Charlton but I prefer to play in central midfield to dictate the play.

"From watching the Premier League on the television you seem to get a lot more time and space on the ball compared to League One and that will suit me.

"I may be a West Ham fan but when you watch Liverpool on the television and hear the crowd singing it gives you goose-pimples. It will be amazing to play there. I can't wait. I'll probably faint before I walk out.

"I just can't wait to show the fans what I can do."

Hodgson Makes Signing A Left-Back His Priority

Argentina international Emiliano Insua is on the verge of leaving Liverpool and signing for Fiorentina as Reds boss Roy Hodgson steps up his search for a new left-back.

Fabio Aurelio was released earlier in the summer, leaving Hodgson without a senior left-back.

The former Fulham boss said: "We're short and that is going to be one of the priorities. We need to find a replacement for Emiliano and Fabio. That's one job we'll have to do.

"As far as we understand, the deal (for Insua) has been completed between the clubs and his agent is sorting out personal terms. Maybe it was the right time for him to move on."

Liverpool FC Target Loic Remy Set For Talks With Nice

Nice president Gilbert Stellardo has revealed he will hold a meeting today with Loic Remy as the hitman bids to complete a move to England.

Liverpool, Tottenham and West Ham are all reported to be interested in the France international although the Hammers appear to be in pole position.

However, the sticking point remains West Ham’s desire to pay any transfer fee in four annual installments, while the Ligue 1 club is asking for the cash upfront.

“For the moment it’s the same status quo, but if Liverpool make an offer things will be done swiftly,” Stellardo said.

“The amount (offered by West Ham) suits me but not the payment method.

“West Ham wants to buy Loic because they think he could rapidly be worth 10million euros more if he plays in England. They don’t want us to pay the full sum all at once.”

Remy is one of France’s hottest talents and the 23-year-old scored 15 goals in 33 appearances last season.

Roy On Academy Starlet

Roy Hodgson has spoken warmly about the favourable impression made by 17-year-old Tom Ince during the training camp in Switzerland.

A product of the Academy, Ince has found himself promoted from the U18 squad straight into training with the first team, and he could see some action in our first pre-season game against Swiss outfit Grasshoppers on Wednesday.

Hodgson coached Tom's father and former Liverpool captain Paul Ince at Inter Milan, and the boss joked: "That bothers me because 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 peace 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."

New Masseur Is Simply Red

Liverpool have given themselves the best possible chance of hitting the right notes on the field this season - by employing the original lead guitarist from Simply Red.

Part-time masseur Sylvan Richardson has joined up with the club's new-look medical team at Melwood and is currently with the squad in Switzerland helping to prepare the players for 2010-11.

Having left United fan Mick Hucknall after two years and two albums, Richardson took his career along a different path - but the squad in Bad Ragaz haven't been slow in reminding the new recruit about his past life.

"They have been giving me a lot of stick," he said. "Especially Sammy Lee. I am a professional producer and musician but I was always interested in medicine, and when I left the band in 1987, that's the path I went down.

"To work for Liverpool is a great honour and when I got the call I was really excited.

"My role is to prepare the players and deal with their recovery after training. I am used to working with top athletes and so am very much looking forward to this opportunity."

Duo Star In France

There was joy for Daniel Pacheco and Chris Mavinga after the pair helped Spain and France get off to a winning start in the UEFA U19 European Championships in France.

Pacheco played for 89 minutes as Spain came from behind to beat Croatia 2-1 in their opening game thanks to goals from Thiago Alcántara and Rodri.

Meanwhile, Mavinga played the full 90 minutes as France produced a brilliant display to thrash Holland 4-1.

Cedric Bakambu scored twice and Gael Kakuta and an own goal from Bruno Martins completed the rout.

Both sides are in action again on Wednesday with Spain taking on Portugal at 3pm and France facing Austria at 6pm.

The tournament runs until July 30, and there are two groups of four teams. The group winners and runners-up will progress to the semi-final.