Sunday, July 25, 2010

Hodgson To Defy Medical Advice On World Cup Stars

Roy Hodgson admits he'll have to fight with his medical staff for the right to use his World Cup stars in Liverpool's opening Europa League matches starting next week.

Liverpool begin their competitive season in Macedonia on Thursday - 18 days before their first Premier League game - as they face FK Rabotnicki in the third qualifying round of Europe's second-tier competition.

Hodgson has not yet been able to work with all his players because those that played in the World Cup were granted a later summer break. Players involved in the latter stages in South Africa have not returned to training while England's Steven Gerrard, Jamie Carragher and Glen Johnson only got back this week and have missed pre-season camp in Switzerland.

Hodgson has been advised that those players should not be considered for the trip to Skopje but the 62-year-old - who launched Fulham's run to the final at the same stage of the competition last season - wants to find middle ground.

Hodgson told the club's website: "It's a little bit of a fight with them to some extent, in order to try and get them to free up more senior players, because their view is very clear that all of these players who are coming back to Melwood just after the World Cup shouldn't play in either of the two games. My point of view is that I want to go through in the competition and I might need some of these players, so there's a lot of compromise.

"I fully respect their opinion and in an ideal world I wouldn't even for one minute discuss it with them and I would take it at face value. If our first game was on August 15, I'd take it on face value that they don't want me to use these players in any friendly matches, and instead continue working with them and build up their level of fitness. But of course we've got official matches now and that's the difference.''

The return leg against Rabotnicki takes place the following week, on August 5. Liverpool find themselves having to qualify for the Europa League after finishing a disappointing seventh in the Premier League last season.

Hodgson will take a first look at new signing Milan Jovanovic in a friendly against German side Kaiserslautern on Saturday. The Serbia international joined the Reds for training last week following the end of his World Cup break. Greece defender Sotirios Krygiakos is also set to start.

Hodgson said: "They did take part in the World Cup and came back a little later and I think we need to be a bit more careful with them than with some of the younger players. But having said that, I think they can play and they will be happy to play. They will start the game and we'll see how long we can keep them on for.''

Roy Hodgson Issues Challenge To Alberto Aquilani

Roy Hodgson has assured Alberto Aquilani that he still has a golden opportunity to show he can play a successful role in the new Anfield era despite his injury jinx striking again.

The Italian’s first season on Merseyside was a huge anti-climax, with a succession of injuries and two debilitating viruses preventing him from showing his best form.

And frustratingly for Aquilani he has picked up a knock that has required him to leave Liverpool’s Swiss training camp and ruled him out of this afternoon’s friendly with Kaiserslautern in Germany.

Though there were a couple of highlights, namely goals against Atletico Madrid and Portsmouth, Aquilani never engaged top gear last season and some wondered whether Liverpool would offload him.

Hodgson, however, has made it clear that will not be the case and the manager is looking forward to working with Aquilani and coaxing the kind of form out of him that he used to show so regularly for AS Roma.

“There has never been any question about Alberto’s talents,” Hodgson insisted. “It is obvious for all to see that he is a gifted footballer.

“What has been the major disappointment for him is that he arrived here with an injury that took an awfully long time to clear up.

“It was only really towards the end of the season when he started to show anything like the kind of form you would have expected from the outset and that will have frustrated him.

“He has got to use this pre-season to put all those disappointments behind him and get his confidence up but what I have seen during the last three weeks has been encouraging.

“You can see every day he is working hard to improve his fitness. He clearly wants to get back to the levels he was showing before he came here and that is a positive sign.”

As encouraging as that appraisal might be, there is no doubt Aquilani still has to prove he can cope with the physical demands of the Premier League. During the game with FC Grasshopper in Zug, the £17m man seemed to lose confidence for a spell after being on the receiving end of a heavy tackle and eventually faded.

Hodgson, though, has put the performance into perspective, as he revealed Aquilani is trying hard to build himself up and has been encouraged by what he has seen.

“We have to remember that it is going to take some time to get to where we want him,” said Hodgson. “We must not ask too much from him too soon.

“I would rather be putting him on the field and taking him off too early rather than keeping him on five or 10 minutes too long, which would mean he misses a training session in the future.

“We have done a lot of tactical work but most of the work that we have been doing has been with the Australian fitness people. We are really only scratching the surface.

“But in that scratching the surface, Alberto has come out of it very well, as has Lucas, who is really the only person who can say he is a genuine Liverpool regular.”

Riera Joins Olympiakos On Four-Year Deal

Spanish winger Albert Riera completed his move from Liverpool to Olympiakos Pireaus on Friday after passing a medical and signing a four-year contract with the Greek club.

"During the last two years at Liverpool, I didn't win any titles, so that's why I took the decision to come to Olympiakos; to win titles," said the 28-year-old at a news conference.

"I have come to Olympiakos at the right time," added Riera, whose brother, Sito, also plays in Greece for Panionios.

"I hope to help the team become one of the 10 best sides in Europe."

Local media reported the deal would cost 20 million euros ($26 million), with the player earning around 2.7 million euros per season and Liverpool receiving 4 million euros up front and an additional 2 million if Olympiakos win the title this season.

The Spaniard joined Liverpool for 12 million euros two years ago from Espanyol. After a promising start at the club he faded into the first team fringes and was frozen out after criticising previous manager Rafa Benitez.

Marcell Jansen Named As Liverpool's Latest Transfer Target At Left-Back

Liverpool are being linked with versatile German international Marcell Jansen as manager Roy Hodgson continues his search for a new starting left-back.

The 24-year-old has played in several positions during a career that has been solely in the Bundesliga so far, and is employed as a midfielder as much as a defender by current club Hamburg.

But Hodgson, who has extensive connections throughout the central European domestic leagues, is thought to have been tipped off that Jansen would welcome a regular role in defence - and is keen on joining Liverpool.

Jansen's capture could also help to allay the lingering fears of some of the Anfield faithful that there is a distinct lack of quality back-up to Inter Milan-bound defensive midfielder Javier Mascherano.

Hodgson has already been linked with Chelsea's Ashley Cole and former Spurs defender Reto Ziegler as he steps up his search for more left-sided players.

And while Cole is an unrealistic target, it is thought Reds officials have already contacted Sampdoria and Ziegler's own representatives to sound out the possibly of a move.

However, before making any official bids, Hodgson is keen to weigh up a move for Jansen in an attempt to play off the two clubs against each other and getting them to drop their asking prices.

Both players are expected to command fees in the region of £8million, and may use Liverpool's desperate need for a left-back to maximise their value.

Earlier this week, Hodgson admitted the squad is "short" and that finding a starting left-back would be "one of the priorities".

"We need to find a replacement for Emiliano [Insua] and Fabio [Aurelio]. That is one job we will have to do," he added.

City Will Not Consider Selling Bridge To Liverpool

ESPNsoccernet has been told that Wayne Bridge has been assured his future remains at Eastlands despite the imminent arrival of left-back Aleksandr Kolarov and rumoured interest from Liverpool.

City will spend £17 million on Serbian defender Kolarov and the deal has led to speculation linking the 29-year-old Bridge with a move to Liverpool, as new boss Roy Hodgson is on the lookout for a new left back after the departures of Emiliano Insua and Fabio Aurelio.

However, Bridge, who declined to be included in England's World Cup squad because of a well-publicised fall-out with John Terry, naturally has sought clarification about his future with Manchester City and has been told he will not be sold.

''Wayne Bridge has been told by Manchester City that he is not for sale, that the manager wants two players for every position,'' a source told Soccernet. "That's fine by Wayne who is very happy at Manchester City with three years left on his current contract, having been there for one-and-a-half years already.''

Liverpool are still likely to push to sign the experienced defender, who may ultimately grow tired of finding himself in a similar position to the one that drove him out of Chelsea, and the source maintained that a move could yet happen.

''We all know in football that the situation can change,'' he said. ''If Liverpool are serious, and get some money in by selling one of their big stars, they could make an offer for Wayne, and who knows then if the situation changes."

Fiorentina 'On Track' To Sign Emiliano Insua From Liverpool - Sporting Director Pantaleo Corvino

Fiorentina sporting director Pantaleo Corvino has told the press that the club is "on track" to sign Liverpool left-back Emiliano Insua. Earlier on Friday, it was reported the contract is on the verge of being finalised.

"Insua? There are plenty of negotiations as we continue to achieve our objectives. To definitely close [the deal] takes the signatures of three parties. We are on track," he told mediaset.

"[Midfielder Stafano] Guberti or another external arrival? For us it's already a sacrifice to keep the same squad we had last season in addition to those that have already arrived.

"It's also true that there are still 40 days left in the market and Fiorentina will pay attention to any opportunities that arise."

Meanwhile, Corvino also explained the decision to appoint Sinisa Mihajlovic as tactician following the departure of Cesare Prandelli to lead the Italian national team.

"Mihajlovic was a choice based on the quality of his work. Our group after five years [with Prandelli] needed new motivation and Maihajlovic could bring his natural experience as a winner," he concluded.

Milan Chief Adriano Galliani Insists Klaas-Jan Huntelaar Is Staying At Milan Amid Liverpool Reports

Milan CEO Adriano Galliani has echoed Klaas-Jan Huntelaar's agent Arnold Oosterveer, who insists his client will not abscond from the Italian club amid reports Liverpool are working on a loan deal for him.

"Huntelaar? He will stay with us," Galliani told La Gazzetta dello Sport.

That response came after Oosterveer said he had not received information from Liverpool or Milan in relation to a transfer.

"There is nothing new on Klaas. For now he will remain with Milan," the agent told

Huntelaar has been tipped to leave Milan after reports in England claimed he was seen in Manchester.

That was followed up by a Liverpool link, with Roy Hodgson reportedly keen on a loan deal.

On Thursday, Italian reports claimed Huntelaar would be used in a swap for Ryan Babel.

Ngog Committed To Reds

David Ngog today spoke of his determination to play a part in ensuring Roy Hodgson's debut season at the Anfield helm is a successful one.

The French striker enjoyed a productive 2009-10 campaign, in which he netted eight goals - a tally he is eager to improve on this time around.

And though the press rumour mill continues to turn, Ngog is fully committed to helping Liverpool challenge for silverware.

He told "I am a Liverpool player. I want to be involved in the first team at Liverpool.

"The club had a difficult season last year, but I want to prove we can get back into the top four. I am confident about this.

"I know speculation is part of football and we have to deal with it. If we bring in new players, it is good for the team.

"My confidence is good. Now I have to do my job and give my best for the team.

"I enjoying playing for the club and they have given me a lot of things. I am more experienced now and I want to be involved, play as many games as I can and score goals to help the team win."

Meanwhile, Ngog believes the arrival of Joe Cole will add an extra dimension to Liverpool's attack in 2010-11.

"It's really good. He is a good player and will help us to be better," he said.

"We lost Yossi, but Joe is a good player to replace him and it's good news for Liverpool.

"He has quality, is very technical, is a quick passer and has good skills too. With his experience at Chelsea, I think he can bring a lot to Liverpool."

Liverpool FC’s Ship Must Set Sail Without Sulks In Tow

Compare and contrast. While Joe Cole spent the first 48 hours of his Liverpool career beaming from ear-to-ear, Albert Riera could be spotted brooding in the background.

Spending time at close quarters with the Liverpool squad that travelled to Switzerland this week presented an opportunity to decipher the dynamics of the group and watch their interaction with new boss Roy Hodgson.

Admittedly, a number of the players who were in Bad Ragaz are going to find it difficult to force their way into Hodgson’s plans and some, like Philipp Degen, have already been told that it would be for the best if they find new clubs.

A dramatic overhaul will take place at Anfield this summer and while it is vital Hodgson brings in the right players – landing Cole on a free transfer could, in time, prove to be a stroke of genius – just as important will be the identity of who gets shipped out.

The exodus, of course, has already begun.

Yossi Benayoun departed before Hodgson arrived but soured the impression some had of him with a needless attack on Rafa Benitez, while Riera will soon follow Emiliano Insua and Fabio Aurelio out of the club.

While there were never any problems with the latter pair, the same could not be said about the temperamental Riera, who made the cardinal sin of publicising problems in the dressing room in March and brought shame on himself when clashing with one of the club’s young players.

Next on Hodgson’s list of things to do is deal with the potential drama that might surround Javier Mascherano; there is no disputing that he is a good player but Liverpool simply cannot afford to have him hanging around sulking if he does not want to be here.

“We would like to make some changes,” said Hodgson, as he chatted about his plans for the future.

“Every manager who comes into a new club wants to bring in new players, players who are fresh and anxious to make as good an impression as he is.

“I didn’t want to run the risk of maybe a player who hasn’t had as many chances as he would like maybe becoming disenchanted again, as that brings the atmosphere down.

"The atmosphere is very important.

"We have to bring a good atmosphere back to the club.

“That will come from training and matches at Anfield.

“We need to get back that Liverpool atmosphere that we have known and I have experienced to my cost over the years.

"We have to get away from the feeling that everything is not right.”

What wasn’t right, however, was the fact Mascherano has apparently not responded to the phone call and text message he received from his new manager; Hodgson stressed it was not a problem, that he did not expect him to ring back, but let’s just examine some basics.

Common courtesy demands you acknowledge when somebody gets in touch with you; manners cost nothing and surely Mascherano has not been so busy that it has been impossible to find the time to speak for two minutes?

If he wants to go to Inter, the move will happen much more smoothly provided he is open and honest with Hodgson and Liverpool’s board; there is no point hiding behind agents or going to ground, as that simply exacerbates problems.

Quite simply, there can be no repeats of the sulking that followed last summer’s aborted move to Barcelona, for if Liverpool are going to push for a Champions League spot once again, they are going to need a united squad.

At times last season, that was not the case and it was only on the road and rail trek to Madrid that you got the sense there was real bonding; indeed, something Mascherano said lifted the lid on how individualistic some can be.

“It was a good trip, we were talking too much together!

You have to take the positives and now I know my team-mates a little bit better,” he said at the time – that coming from a man who had been a Liverpool player for three seasons.

The football season is one, long grind and only the squads who have real unity thrive when the going gets tough; Hodgson, to his credit, is trying to restore some old fashioned values and having a clear out might work a treat.