Saturday, September 11, 2010

Fernando Torres Hoping To Make The Right Headlines At Birmingham City

It was the snapshot that perhaps signalled the beginning of the end for Rafael Benitez.

The number on the electronic scoreboard read ‘9’, and it meant Fernando Torres was being hauled off despite Liverpool, still in the hunt for Champions League qualification, having been pegged back to 1-1 by Birmingham City with 25 minutes still remaining.

There was an audible gasp among the travelling supporters, a confused hush in the commentary box, a momentary pause among the Liverpool players.

Then the camera swiftly panned to Steven Gerrard, whose brief shake of the head summed up the feelings of many.

The Anfield outfit would not go on to win the game and Torres would play only once more in a season that ended in disappointment, disillusionment and a departure for Benitez.

Now Liverpool return to St Andrews on Sunday for the first time since that damaging April draw with the fitness of their Spanish striker still high on the agenda.

However, rather than the seemingly haphazard approach towards the end of the Benitez era that almost certainly cost Torres his best form at the subsequent World Cup in South Africa, there appears to be a more methodical, cautious approach among the Liverpool sports science team.

Torres has started two games for Liverpool this season since recovering from an adductor problem, ending a four-month goal drought with the winner against West Bromwich Albion a fortnight ago.

He then scored twice for Spain in their Euro 2012 qualifying victory in Liechtenstein but was an unused substitute in his country’s glamour friendly in Argentina on Tuesday evening.

And Hodgson admits Liverpool have no intention of over-exerting Torres in the coming months.

“I think he will be able to play three games in seven or eight days,” says the Liverpool manager. “But if you can spare your players, you want to do that. He is as capable as anyone of doing it. But how fair is it to ask players to do that on a regular basis? It would be tough.

“The thing about Fernando is that he went to the World Cup with an injury, played throughout without being fully fit and we are anxious now to make sure through this season that he will be fully fit. When he is fully fit, he will be able to play three times a week.

“But I am hoping that won’t happen because if I am having to do that, week after week, I will lose players like I did at Fulham. You just can’t ask them to take on that work load at the level we are talking about.”

Sunday will be the latest chance for Liverpool to address the poor away form that has seen them register just one Premier League victory on their travels this calendar year.

They were soundly beaten at Manchester City last month with the Anfield outfit sitting 13th in the embryonic top-flight standings.

But Hodgson will not make any assessment on how well his side are

“I know how many points we have but I don’t know what that means in terms of the table,” he says. “I think tables are of no interest until at least 10 games have been played.

“Then you start looking to see how big a gap there is between yourself and the top teams or between yourself and the bottom teams. I don’t think you worry about that after three games.

“The program plays a big part in that and we’ve already played Arsenal at home and Manchester City away.

“Injuries play a part as well when teams don’t have their best team available early on but will do soon. After 10 games I will start worrying about the table but until then I’ll worry more about performances and results.”

Liverpool Prepare Bid For Spanish Wonderkid

Liverpool is reportedly preparing a bid for Spanish wonderkid Inigo Ruiz de Galarreta.

The Athletic Bilbao teenager has been linked with the cream of Europe after making his first senior appearance in pre-season, and the Basque club are readying themselves for an offer from Liverpool boss Roy Hodgson.

17-year-old De Galarretsa is thought to have been scouted by the Reds last season whilst playing for the youth team, with the player's vision and technique thought to be his biggest assets.

Bilbao boss Joaquin Caparros has high expectations for the player following his first team chance this summer, and the player is expected to be involved at La Liga level at some stage in the opening months of the season.

Spanish giants Barcelona are also thought to be keen on the player, but Tutto Mercato Web reports that Los Leones are bracing themselves for a potential from either Chelsea or Liverpool.

The Merseyside outfit is thought to be favourites thanks to the level of Spanish players at the Anfield club.

Liverpool have invested heavily in youth players over the past summer, with Jonjo Shelvey, Raheem Sterling and Suso three starlets making their names at the Melwood academy. De Galarreta would add to the crop of youngsters, although the Hodgson will have to fight if he's to land the player for the Reds.

Liverpool Youngster Jonjo Shelvey 'Honoured' By Anfield Debut

Liverpool starlet Jonjo Shelvey has revealed it was a "great honour" to play at Anfield for the first time in Jamie Carragher's testimonial.

Shelvey, 18, featured as the club celebrated the career of its veteran defender last weekend. While Carragher can boast a 20-year affiliation with the Reds, the ex-Charlton Athletic man is only just starting to make his mark since arriving this summer.

Speaking to Liverpool's official website, he revealed his pride at making his bow at the famous stadium.

"It was a great honour to play at Anfield in Jamie Carragher's testimonial. I'll be getting the shirt I wore on the day framed," Shelvey stated.

"You hear about the crowd and I've sat in the directors' box for a few games, but to actually be out there on the pitch, hearing the Kop - it's something that words can't describe. It is an unreal experience."

Liverpool FC To Back Roy Hodgson's Search For A New Striker

Liverpool will give Roy Hodgson every financial assistance if he chooses to pursue another striker when the transfer window re-opens on January 1.

The Reds received more than £20m for Javier Mascherano when they sold him to Barcelona last month and were subsequently able to bring in Paul Konchesky and Raul Meireles before deadline day.

An intensive search to bring in a forward though, came to no avail, PSV Eindhoven’s Ola Toivonen was regarded as being too similar to the players they already have and their attempts to lure Bayern Munich’s Mario Gomez on loan were rebuffed.

Hodgson, whose side return to Premier League duty on Sunday with a difficult assignment at Birmingham City, is happy to spend the next three months with David Ngog and Ryan Babel as Fernando Torres’ understudies.

But if he decides that changes need to be made in the New Year, Liverpool have made it clear they will back his judgement and there are still funds in place for the manager.

As Hodgson points out, though, finding a player of the sufficient quality who is available – and can make a difference – is a task that is easier said than done.

“I wasn’t too disappointed (that he never signed a striker) as, quite frankly, I don’t think there was a great choice of centre-forwards out there – we didn’t see much movement,” Hodgson explained.

“There are a lot of clubs chasing a particular type of player and, at the minute, that player doesn’t exist in many copies.

“The money that we would have needed to sign that type came to the club very late. Only after we had received the Mascherano money could we have done a transfer at a high enough level.

“I would have been a little concerned that we were jumping into something without researching it and, quite frankly, I didn’t see the players out there that made me want to spend.

“I prefer to put my weight behind David Ngog, Ryan Babel, who has never really been given a chance as a striker. We have good players who can operate behind a lone striker.

“Until Christmas, we will have ample quality and possibilities to see us through that period. In the mean time, we will have chance to do thorough scouting. So maybe then if money was available in January, we would be able to take a look at the situation once again.”

The Reds have not beaten Birmingham in the Premier League since running out comfortable 3-0 winners in May 2004 but have recorded victories in both the FA Cup and Carling Cup in the intervening years.

Yet if they are to rectify the league statistic, Hodgson has warned his side will need to be at the top of their game.

“I think Birmingham will be strong this year,” said Hodgson. “They showed what a good team they are last season and their home form was extremely good.

“We know that Sunday’s match will be a very stern test. They will want to win, we will want to win and that’s how it should be. That’s what makes it such a fascinating league.”

Hodgson Rubbishes Van der Vaart Claims

Liverpool boss Roy Hodgson has rejected claims by Rafael van der Vaart that he tried to sign the Dutch midfielder, insisting such stories are 'very irritating'.

Van der Vaart joined the Reds' Champions League-chasing rivals Tottenham on transfer deadline day in a deal worth £8 million. The former Real Madrid man later claimed on Sky Sports News: "Liverpool was interested, Bayern were never interested, but you have to have a good feeling and this manager gave me a good feeling and I am really happy to be going to Spurs."

Hodgson told a very different story on Friday though, revealing he was offered Van der Vaart by the player's agent. And, having already captured Joe Cole, the Liverpool boss saw no need to add another 'in the hole' type of attacker.

"No, that's not true," Hodgson said of Van der Vaart's claim on the official Liverpool website. "Those stories can get very irritating.

"An agent rings you up to ask if you want to sign Van der Vaart, you say 'no' and then the next minute you're one of the clubs that want to sign him.

"I apologize to Van der Vaart if his agent gave him another story. I think he's a very good player, but he's not the profile of the player we were looking for.

"When it came up I said, 'no, we have players in his position.'"

Roy Hodgson Denies The Club’s Takeover Saga Is Affecting His Squad

Roy Hodgson insists speculation regarding Liverpool's ownership is having no impact on the team’s performance.

Current Anfield proprietors Tom Hicks and George Gillett have until October 6 to repay the £237 million debt to the Royal Bank of Scotland.

Despite a number of interested parties during the summer, including Chinese businessman Kenny Huang, the American owners are still no closer to selling the club before the deadline.

Hodgson has admitted he is being kept informed over the ongoing saga and concedes the responsibility of finding new investment is a difficult task.

"I am kept abreast but I don't keep abreast [of the current situation]," Hodgson told reporters.

"The people dealing with it, who have a tough job on their hands, are kind enough to keep me informed if anything is happening."

The takeover speculation overshadowed much of Liverpool's pre-season but Hodgson believes the off-field problems are not affecting his squad.

“I have a job to do here and frankly it doesn't affect us that deeply in our day-to-day work; the players come and train, we work hard, we get paid,” he added.

"It is a major issue for the club I know but it is something we at Melwood [Liverpool's training ground] can't actually do anything about and I can only, like the rest of the club, wait and hope a solution is found which everyone finds satisfactory.

"I can't say it is a distraction and I don't think I've seen any distraction with any of the work on the field or the games we have played.

"It is an area where we at ground level can do nothing other than keep playing, keep doing our best and hoping the solution is found which everyone at the club finds acceptable."

Roy Rejects England Job Talk

Roy Hodgson today insisted he has no desire to take over the England job once Fabio Capello steps down in 2012.

The Italian's announcement earlier this week that he will leave the FA after the next European Championships has prompted speculation over who will be his successor.

Hodgson's name has been mentioned in some sections of the media - but the man himself has no desire to be considered.

He told reporters: "My job is at Liverpool Football Club and I'm very happy with my job.

"I would like to make it very clear that I intend to make no comments whatsoever on the England national team other than to congratulate them on their last two matches.

"I'm really looking forward to my job here, so I don't understand the questions and have no comment to make."

Famine Could Turn To A Feast At Liverpool’s Academy

Jamie Carragher’s autobiography is widely recognized as one of the most honest football books published in recent years and a passage on youth team football is particularly candid.

Liverpool’s longest-serving player, understandably, has forthright views on the Academy system, given that he was one of the last high profile graduates to break from the trainee ranks into the Reds’ first team.

His ascension came during a golden period when, to name a few, Steve McManaman, Robbie Fowler, David Thompson, Dominic Matteo, Stephen Wright, Michael Owen, Steven Gerrard and Stephen Warnock all became valued members of the senior set up.

Aside from Carragher, four of the above were genuinely world-class (in Gerrard’s case you can say emphatically that he still is) but, for much of the past decade, the conveyor belt had ground to a worrying halt and has shown no sign of cranking back into life.

“We’ve had 10 years without a single top young player coming through,” Carragher wrote. “I have to believe class will tell in the end, that if you are good enough you’ll make it. We must encourage our boys to believe it’s come through the ranks and develop as I did.”

Whisper it quietly but there are signs that the famine may soon be followed by something of a feast; while it would be folly to start building up the promising crop of novices currently housed at Kirkby, the reasons for genuine optimism are understandable.

In this age of over-inflated transfer fees, protracted deals, shortages in the talent pool and reluctance of clubs to sell, the onus, more than ever, is for clubs to start producing youngsters who are good enough to play at the highest level.

It is easier said than done, of course. A lot of managers in the Premier League simply don’t have the patience to put young men in their team who might need a dozen games to get adjusted to the pace and another dozen to make their mark.

The demands for results are instant and as a consequence those who, given some time, might be good enough have suffered, finding their way into the first team blocked by expensive imports who have not, in truth, been any better.

You get the feeling, however, that things are changing with Liverpool. The Academy, now being run smoothly and successfully by Frank McParland, is flourishing and in the past 16 months the changes to the look and feel of the base have been total.

Facilities have improved dramatically – there are two new Astroturf pitches, one indoor, the other outdoor – the place feels fresh thanks to some decoration and the atmosphere is filled with optimism and confidence.

No wonder. Martin Kelly, Jay Spearing and Stephen Darby have proved that by hanging in opportunity will knock and, of that trio, Kelly has attracted most attention, thanks in part to a Man-of-the-Match display against Lyon in the Champions League last October.

In the age groups below them, though, there are several young men who – provided they apply themselves properly and look up to the example of Gerrard and Carragher – might yet take over their mantle in the future.

Raheem Sterling is the name on most lips and everything he is doing at the moment is creating the kind of buzz around clubs that only happens every so often; without putting too much pressure on him, it would be best just to say he is doing all that is asked of him and more.

Yet he is not a one-off. Jack Robinson and John Flanagan are two full-backs who are acquitting themselves with great credit, the Spanish striker Fernando Suso has been described as “a real player” while the Portuguese whizzkid Toni Silva has also earned rave reviews.

While it is an encouraging state of affairs, enthusiasm has to be tempered because the hardest part now awaits them; getting from Kirkby to Melwood is one thing – getting from Kirkby to the first team is another all together.

But it can be done. There is a will on the Kop, in Roy Hodgson’s office, among the first team pool and around the Academy for someone to break through and follow the lead of Gerrard and Carragher, McManaman and Fowler.

Mistakes of the past are being rectified and, with the right investment, the wait for the next bright young thing could soon be over.

RAF Veterans Launch Fundraising Appeal In Liverpool

Royal Air Force veterans will launch a seven-day fundraising appeal to support the welfare of comrades from conflicts past and present.

Armed with collection tins, supporters aim to raise hundreds of pounds for their ongoing Wings Appeal.

Lord Mayor Cllr Hazel Williams joined organizer Philip Southern and other veterans to mark the annual appeal at Liverpool town hall.

Mr. Southern said: “We are raising funds for past and present service personnel, to support their welfare.

“There are servicemen who were injured in Afghanistan and Iraq and are in need of help.

“The losses in recent months show how much we must support welfare work.

“We have already raised £2,217 for the Wings Appeal this year and we are hopeful that the next week of fundraising will see us into the £3,000 bracket.”

Fundraisers include Royal Air Force Association branch chairman Alan Deakins, secretary Bob Draper and Larry Taylor (DFC).

Two of the ex-servicemen are aged 89 and 90.

Mr. Southern added: “We have already raised £2,217 for the Wings Appeal this year and we are hopeful that the next week of fundraising will see us into the £3,000 bracket.

“Because of our age, we can only do what we can but we hope people dig deep.”