Saturday, July 24, 2010

Hodgson Targets More Signings

Liverpool manager Roy Hodgson hopes new signing Danny Wilson is just the first of many young players with "exceptional talent" he will be able to bring to the club.

While the focus, naturally, has been on assessing the strengths of the first team, bringing in players of the quality of Joe Cole and working to secure the commitment of senior players, Hodgson is well aware he has to have one eye on the future.

Wilson fits into the latter category, with the 18-year-old having signed a three-year contract after Liverpool agreed a deal which could be worth up to £5million with Rangers.

Hodgson has been working with a mainly reserve side at the club's Switzerland training camp because of delayed holidays for those players involved at the World Cup and so has seen first hand Liverpool's potential up-and-coming stars.

His first match in charge last night saw a team with only three first-team regulars - Lucas Leiva, Alberto Aquilani and David Ngog - draw 0-0 with Grasshoppers.

"In tandem with what we're doing with the first team, we've got to have our eyes and ears alert to any young talent that could be future stars," said the Reds boss.

"The earlier we get them into the club the better. Against Grasshoppers we saw young players like Nathan Eccleston and David Amoo, young players who showed they've got exceptional talent.

"We need more players of that type of quality. Danny Wilson is certainly one and I'm very pleased we've brought him into the club."

Liverpool's Attack Rivals Barcelona - Robben

Arjen Robben says that Liverpool's acquisition of Joe Cole puts their attack on the same level as Spanish champions Barcelona and claims Chelsea made a huge mistake in letting the midfielder go.

Robben, who played at Stamford Bridge for three years from 2004, has high praise for Roy Hodgson's men and says Cole will flourish in his new surroundings.

"With a front three of Steven Gerrard, Fernando Torres and Cole I think Liverpool will be a real force in the Premier League,'' Robben told the Daily Star. "Last year was a freak year, but if those three click I can see them seriously challenging for the title.

"You look at those as a front three and you struggle to find a better front three in Europe - and I include Barcelona's in that."

Given Barcelona's frontline currently consists of Lionel Messi, David Villa and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, some may disagree, but Robben rates Cole as one of the best players in the world and thinks he can make a difference at Anfield.

"I read Gerrard's words about Joe being as good as Messi on the ball and I couldn't agree more,'' he said. ''After training with him for so long I can tell you some of the things he can do with a football are as good as anything I have ever seen.

"If Joe is now played in a more central position he will score and create a lot of goals, I see him as a real runner for player of the season. He is not just about tricks, though his vision is fantastic. The chances he will create for Torres will help Liverpool to have a trophy-winning season."

The Dutch winger also claims Cole's motive for moving was not the £90,000-a-week contract he signed with Liverpool and says Chelsea will be kicking themselves that they allowed him to walk away on a free.

"I think it was a big mistake of Chelsea's letting Joe go, and I am sure the fans feel the same way. At 28 even with his injuries Joe must still be a £15 million-pound player in the current market,'' he added. "I am sure Chelsea didn't want to sell him, he has already come out and said there are political reasons behind the move and I am sure we will hear more on that when he is ready.

"He loved London, he loved the Chelsea fans, and he loved the club so something must have really upset him for him to reject Chelsea's offer. I know Joe and the decision would have definitely been a footballing one and not a money one."

Hernanes: Liverpool & Man United Chase Dazzling £8.4M Brazilian Playmaker

Interest is mounting for Brazilian hot property Hernanes who is strongly linked with a move to Italy but has also attracted the interest of a number of Premier League sides. Liverpool are the latest club to be linked with the playmaker in the Brazilian press with claims that Roy Hodgson will step up his chase for the talented South American by financing the move with the sale of a number of fringe players and Javier Mascherano. However, despite having his fingers burnt by Brazilian midfield flops Anderson and Kleberson, Sir Alex Ferguson is also a keen admirer and for £8.4m should not be too costly for Manchester United.

The 25-year-old’s full name is Anderson Hernanes de Carvalho Andrade Lima and he currently plies his trade for Sao Paulo in his homeland. The club currently sit 12th in the Brazilian top flight, 9 points behind leaders Corinthians which is very disappointing following last season’s 3rd place finish and winning the title in 2008.

Hernanes has been linked to the likes of AC Milan, Lazio and Palermo but the Italian clubs have struggled to raise the fee Sao Paulo are demanding. His agent Joseph Lee told La Repubblica: “There is an offer from Lazio and it is serious and I know that Sao Paolo is considering in the coming days and will decide what to do.”

Palermo’s director of sport Walter Sabatini has also declared his club’s interest. He told “Hernanes is very expensive but very good. If he doesn’t arrive, it will not be a cost issue because (chairman, Maurizio) Zamparini has no type of embarrassment in spending money, he could do that easily and has no problems doing so.

“We’ll see. For now we have not made any offer for the Brazilian.”

The player himself has spoken of his love for Serie A but the financial lure of the Premier League and the status of Manchester United and Liverpool could sway the Brazilian to our shores. Hernanes revealed to the Gazzetta dello Sport, “I’m a player who loves to think on the pitch.”

“I understood that in every player there’s the time to evaluate and do the best things. My best qualities are probably dribbling with the ball and my hard shot.

“The comparison with Pirlo is very good, it definitely pleases me. He’s a complete player, probably the best midfielder in the world.”

Both Liverpool and Manchester United are looking for a midfield schemer to dictate their team’s tempo with the Red Devils main man Paul Scholes not getting any younger. Michael Carrick has also fallen down the pecking order at the club after a disappointing time last season so the need for fresh quality is paramount. Roy Hodgson is facing the same situation as Rafa Benitez did last season in so much as there is no-one at the club able to link defence to attack after the sale of Xabi Alonso. Alberto Aquilani prefers to play in an advanced position as does Steven Gerrard, so Hernanes could be ideal as a deep lying playmaker able to pick up the ball from the back four and recycle the ball around midfield and launch attacks.

Hernanes has been touted as a readymade replacement for Real Madrid star Kaka at the San Siro after impressing in Brazil. He is far from a carbon copy of Kaka but has his own attributes; technically he is regarded as one of the best in his homeland especially as he is equally adept with both feet. He is an excellent passer both short and long plus is very difficult to shake off the ball which is integral to any success he’d have with either Manchester United or Liverpool in the Premier League.

The 25-year-old is also extremely versatile and has played on both flanks as well as centrally as either and attacking or defensive midfielder. Unlike some Brazilians Hernanes is very much a team player and not one to over elaborate when a simple pass is available. His work rate is another plus point which explains why he is so highly regarded. He would be able to adapt comfortably to either the slow pace of Serie A or the quicker pace of the Premier League. Hernanes is one of those players like his idol Pirlo who seems to have time on the ball whatever his position and that will appeal to both Sir Alex Ferguson and Roy Hodgson who feel his quality would be ideal for the 2010/11 campaign.

The Times report of the Top 50 rising stars of world football rated Hernanes the best prospect back last January and it’s easy to see why. The attacking midfielder came through the Sao Paulo youth academy breaking into the first team in 2005 when he made 16 league appearances (6 starts) and scored 3 goals. The following season he was loaned out to Santo Andre where he made a further 22 league appearances (7 starts) and scored 6 goals. However, it was in 2007 when Hernanes came to the fore for Sao Paulo making 31 league appearances (29 starts) as his club won the Brazilian title before retaining the trophy in 2008. The 2nd title win resulted in Hernanes winning the Brazilian footballer of the year title and led to his first and only cap for his country in a 1-0 friendly win v Sweden in March 2008.

Hernanes also played for Brazil at the 2008 Beijing Olympics where he won a bronze medal. Despite only playing 112 league matches for his club (94 starts) and scoring 18 goals, Hernanes has attracted the interest from the likes of Barcelona but where he’d fit into a side brimming with playmakers is debatable. He would however, have a great chance of becoming a regular at either Anfield or Old Trafford but Liverpool and Manchester United face huge competition from Serie A.

This season Hernanes has made 8 league appearances (7 starts) while scoring once. He has been in a rich vein of form in the Copa Libertadores where he scored in both legs of the quarter-final win over Cruzeiro. The Brazilian has shown he is the man for the big occasion and with Manchester United facing another exciting Champions League campaign Hernanes has shown he can excel in the South American equivalent.

Hernanes would be a great acquisition for Roy Hodgson’s Liverpool as he could fill a number of roles within the squad. Joe Cole may have arrived but he is more of an attacking player while signing arguably the best player playing in Brazil could prove to be a masterstroke. The likes of Cole, Hernanes and Steven Gerrard would surely provide Fernando Torres with the ammunition to surge up the table.

Alternatively, with Manchester United’s Paul Scholes coming towards the end of his career, Sir Alex could integrate Hernanes slowly into the Manchester United team allowing the Brazilian to adapt to the demands of the Premier League. At £8.4m he would not prove too costly for either Liverpool or the Red Devils although they may struggle to see off the Serie A competition. One thing’s for certain Brazil’s next big export will be a global name once he moves to Europe.

Liverpool Will Only Make Loan Offer For AC Milan Striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar

Liverpool manager Roy Hodgson does want to add Klaas-Jan Huntelaar to his squad at Anfield, but is only prepared to take the striker on loan from AC Milan, according to a report from The Sun.

The Serie A side has apparently put a £14 million price tag on the Dutchman as far as the Reds are concerned, but Hodgson is much more interested in a temporary deal.

Transfer cash is limited at Anfield this summer, but a loan could still cost the Merseysiders £2m in fees.

Should the player do well in England, a permanent deal could then be on the cards, particularly if Liverpool's financial worries ease.

The 26-year-old has apparently been told that he has no future at the San Siro, with Rossoneri president Adriano Galliani last week stating that Huntelaar was about to join a Premier League side.

Danny Wilson Can Join Ranks Of Liverpool FC's Scottish Legends

Alex Raisbeck, Billy Liddell, Matt Busby, Bill Shankly, Tommy Lawrence, Ian St John, Ron Yeats, Kenny Dalglish, Graeme Souness, Alan Hansen, Steve Nicol.

When trawling through the annals of Liverpool Football Club and its unique history, it is hard to avoid the incredible influence Scotsmen have had on the club.

From the club’s first ever game, played by a team of Scotsmen which would eventually be labelled “The Team of the Macs”, through the great sides of Tom Watson, Shankly and Dalglish, the Scottish touch has been an almost permanent feature.

Danny Wilson will be hoping to follow in the footsteps of his illustrious countrymen.

The 18-year-old put the finishing touches to his protracted switch from Rangers this week, with Liverpool paying an initial £2 million (rising to £5m depending on appearances and achievements) for the youngster’s services.

And no sooner had he put pen to paper on a three-year contract at Anfield, than the Livingston-born central defender was setting his sights on emulating perhaps the greatest Scot ever to pull on a Red shirt – Kenny Dalglish.

“I was aware of the Scottish link before I signed,” said Wilson, “Kenny Dalglish is one of the best players Scotland have ever produced and, as a Scotsman, to come to a club where he played and did so well is a great thing.

“I spoke to him after I signed and he wished me the best of luck. He is a legend in Scotland and I hope to follow in his footsteps and have some success like he had here.”

Of course, if Wilson was to achieve even half of what ‘King Kenny’ did during his 14 trophy-laden years on Merseyside, then Liverpool fans would be laughing.

But, having only turned 18 in December, and despite boasting just a handful of senior appearances for Rangers, the early signs are promising. Wilson, it seems, is the real deal.

Indeed, his cool, composed and calculated approach has already drawn tentative comparisons with another great Anfield Scot, Alan Hansen.

“Danny is left-footed and has great vision, capable of playing long, accurate passes out of defence.” says Graeme MacPherson, who covers Rangers for the Glasgow Herald.

“He is always comfortable with the ball at his feet and is pretty quick too. He certainly reminds me of Alan Hansen, given that he rarely looks flustered, and likes having the ball at his feet.

“A few people have already made that comparison.”

No pressure then!

But though Wilson boasts little more than a handful of senior appearances, he also possesses a confidence and mental toughness which is rare for a lad of his age.

MacPherson says: “Off the field, he is very articulate and seems to have his head screwed on for such a young guy.”

He’d have to really; his rise has been nothing short of remarkable.

Having been given his senior Rangers debut in a League Cup tie with Dundee back in October, Wilson – who only turned 18 in December – soon found himself thrown in at the deep end by Gers boss Walter Smith, as injuries to Madjid Bougherra left a hole in the centre of his defence.

His first start came in a testing Champions League tie in Romania against Unirea Urziceni – who would, later in the season give Liverpool a decent game in the Europa League – and, in a rain-swept Bucharest, the rookie was arguably Rangers’ stand-out performer.

His appearance made him the youngest ever to appear in the Champions League for the club.

He would go on to make 24 appearances (scoring once, with a towering header against Hearts) as Rangers cruised to the domestic 'treble', forming a strong partnership with former Everton man David Weir, and in May he was named Scotland’s PFA Young Player of the Year.

His move to Liverpool, just ten months after making his senior debut, represents the next step in what has been a whirlwind rise to prominence.

“I’m very proud,” says Wilson, “At the start of last season, I would have settled for just making my debut.

“At the end of the season when the awards came around and people were nice enough to give me their votes, it gave me a massive confidence boost.

“I think it gave me a good introduction to football and I hope to carry that through the rest of my career and be successful whenever I can.”

Roy Hodgson will be hoping so too. It has been a while since Liverpool have had a Scotsman over whom they can get genuinely excited, but if Wilson is as good as his word, that may just be about to change.

Jay Spearing Out To Catch Liverpool FC Boss Roy Hodgson’s Eye

Jay Spearing insists the prospect of catching Roy Hodgson's eye was a driving factor behind the impressive performance of Liverpool's starlets in the friendly draw with Grasshoppers.

A youthful Reds side, with an average age of just 20, played out a goalless encounter with the Swiss outfit in the new manager's first game on Wednesday following a week of intense training in Bad Ragaz.

Spearing feels the benefits of daily double sessions were evident against Grasshoppers as the young Reds tried to make an early impression.

“When a new manager comes in, every single one of us have got to try and impress and listen to what he's got to say,” he said. “That's what we tried to do and hopefully it worked.

“Right from the goalkeepers to the forwards, everybody worked very hard and it showed in the things we did. The lads put in a great effort and I am looking forward to Saturday now.”

Spearing skippered the team for the final 30 minutes against Grasshoppers and added: “As a Liverpool lad, it was a dream for me to captain the side and I have to say thanks to Lucas for passing the armband on. Hopefully it won't be the last time.”

Dr Brukner Aims To Make A Big Difference At Liverpool FC

Versatility is often said to be a key attribute in the modern game and when Liverpool appointed Peter Brukner they gained more than just a top doctor.

Best-selling author, respected media pundit, manager of the Australia's Athletics team for the Sydney Olympics, pioneer in his field and internet sensation, there is much more to the affable Brukner than meets the eye.

He has crammed an awful lot into – and made a huge success of – his 58 years but now, after initially hesitating about leaving his life Down Under, he cannot wait to get started on revolutionising Liverpool's approach to sports science and sports medicine.

“It's not something I had planned and it came completely out of the blue,” said Brukner, who was appointed to his all-encompassing role in March. “I was contacted by Liverpool and initially I said come back in 18 months time.

“I've got four kids (Julia, Charlie, Joe and Bill) and my youngest still has 18 months left in school. My wife, Diana, and I vaguely thought about coming over here after that but never did anything specific about it as we had a very good life in Australia.

“But Liverpool were persistent and I guess what attracted me was the challenge, the opportunity to oversee the full medical outfit rather than just being the team doctor. I've always felt that the English Premier League was just a little bit behind in its approach.

“By that I mean injury management and injury prevention. It's something I had picked up from the guys at the Socceroos; the reason they always enjoyed coming back was because they knew they were going to get some good treatment.”

Before accepting Liverpool's offer, Brukner had been the Australian football team's doctor, a role he started in 2006 and ended after the recent World Cup; former Reds winger Harry Kewell is one of many who sing his praises.

“I always felt that I would love to get my hands on a Premier League club and I thought I would be able to make a difference,” Brukner continued. “If I didn't think I could make a difference, I wouldn't be here. It's all about the challenge.

“The other thing was the faith that the club had in me. Christian Purslow and, at the time, Rafa (Benitez) were very keen. I think it was quite a radical step to get someone in to completely overhaul the department.

“They had put a lot more financial resources into the sports medicine and sports science department.

“They have supported me in increasing the staff and improving the equipment. They were very supportive so, with that, I thought I've got the challenge, let's have a crack at it.”

Had he so desired, Brukner could have continued enjoying his life in Melbourne; that is where his Sports Medicine Clinic, the biggest of its kind in the world, is based – 60 people currently work there – and he also had an interesting side line in the media.

Aside from penning a weekly column about injuries in Australian Rules Football for the Melbourne Age, he was also a pundit at one time for the radio station ABC (the equivalent of the BBC) and had co-written a hugely successful book on sports medicine.

He has always had passion for, though, and was club doctor at the AFL sides Melbourne and Collingwood but his biggest and most demanding challenge, without doubt, was when he was placed in in charge of Australia's athletes at the millennium Olympics.

“It was good fun,” he recalls with a smile. “I actually had Cathy (Freeman's) gold medal in my pocket for about three hours after she had won the 400 metres. I've been lucky to enjoy a fantastic career and had some fantastic opportunities.”

This, clearly, is another. Liverpool endured a terrible time with fitness issues last season and, at one point, it seemed as if a week never went by without someone tweaking a hamstring, pulling a calf or stretching a groin.

Turning that trend is not going to happen overnight but Brukner, who has made a number of appointments to his department including the former Simply Red guitarist turned masseur Sylvan Richardson, is confident that this new campaign will see a fitter Liverpool squad.

“There are two aspects to it,” he explained. “We will be judged by the success of the team as well. But specifically our performance indicators are the number of what we regard as preventable injuries, soft tissue ones like hamstrings and groins.

“If someone comes along, kicks a player in the shin and breaks their leg, there's nothing we can do about that! But we believe that with proper conditioning we can reduce the number of muscle injuries and other such problems.

“Maybe it is going to take a year or two to get everything in place that we really want to but ultimately that is the aim. Everything has been great so far and everyone has been incredibly welcoming. We have changed a lot of things and people have been very accepting of that change.

“I've brought a lot of new staff in like the head of fitness Darren Burgess, who was with me at the Socceroos, and head physiotherapist Phil Coles. A lot of people had left with Rafa so that gave us an opportunity to bring in some high quality staff.

“We've got a fantastic group of people here and one of the big qualities is that they all work well together. The medical and fitness department have got to be a team within a team – all you need is one person who is doing it for other reasons and it can go wrong.

“We've all got to communicate really well, so we meet every morning and then I will go and tell the manager what is going on. It's going to be good.”

Coalition Government Says Hillsborough Panel Future Is Secure

The future of the Hillsborough panel was today confirmed by the government.

Home secretary Theresa May ended weeks of speculation that the committee formed to probe the hidden files on the tragedy could be under threat.

She revealed the work of the panel would continue and not be scaled down in a statement in the House of Commons today.

It ended fears the project was among the schemes being considered for the axe by the new coalition government to save money.

Walton MP Steve Rotheram and Garston MP Maria Eagle both previously expressed doubts to the ECHO the new Tory/Lib Dem alliance were as committed to the hidden files project as the previous Labour government.

But, in a statement to Westminster, Mrs May said: “The panel has the government’s full support in achieving maximum possible disclosure of the records, initially to the Hillsborough families and then publicly.

“No changes are to be made either to the panel’s terms of reference or to its membership, which both remain as previously published.

“My meetings with the Bishop of Liverpool have confirmed to me both the importance of the panel’s work and the diligence and professionalism with which is it carrying out its duty, and I am happy to confirm it will continue with our full support.”

The bishop, the Right Reverend James Jones, called the announcement “crucial” in the step towards publication of hundreds of thousands of papers.

He said the promise showed the government viewed the panel’s work as “more important to party politics”.

He told the ECHO: “This is a statement of backing from a new government, a pledge we will be given the funding to deliver what the panel set out to do when it was formed five months ago.

“When I took the job of chairing the panel, I was never in doubt it would continue its work, no matter who won the upcoming election.

“In fact, I would never have taken on such a responsibility if I thought I would not be able to complete it.”

Eight experts are now sifting through documents relating to the tragedy, in which 96 Liverpool FC fans lost their lives in Sheffield.

It is expected to be another 18 months until the first documents are made public, probably in 2012.

The papers being studied include those from South Yorkshire police, the regional fire and ambulance services, Sheffield Wednesday FC and Sheffield council.

Also being scrutinised are files from West Midlands police, Lord Justice Taylor’s public inquiry papers and Lord Justice Stuart Smith’s inquiry research.

Some of the panel’s work could take place in Liverpool and Sheffield.