Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Fernando Torres' Faith Is Being Tested By The Ongoing Liverpool Ownership Saga

Once again, Fernando Torres left St Andrews on Sunday trailing confusion and consternation in his wake.

Last season, Steven Gerrard was not alone in scratching his head in bafflement as to why Rafael Benítez did not allow Torres to finish Liverpool’s game with Birmingham. This weekend, he would have been forgiven for asking why the 26 year-old seemingly failed to start it.

To Jamie Redknapp, pontificating in Sky’s studio, the reason was obvious: Torres has simply lost the sprinkling of stardust which, for three years, has helped lift Liverpool above the ordinary. After a poor World Cup, the striker is shorn of confidence. His performance, said Redknapp, was “diabolical”.

An exaggeration, of course, and one dismissed out of hand by Roy Hodgson. The Liverpool manager, adamant that he is “not at all concerned” by Torres’s early-season displays, blames the Spaniard’s physical conditioning, insisting his travails are explained by his late return to pre-season training.

Neither rationale, though, captures the fears of Liverpool fans over the man viewed by the Kop as the club’s talisman. Torres is lacking form and fitness. The lingering doubt is whether he is beginning to lose faith, too.

It would be easy to assume that Torres, despite his pledge of allegiance to Liverpool this summer, is present at Anfield in body, if not in spirit, that the club’s inability to compete has affected his desire.

The Spaniard has made no secret of the fact he hoped to see at least four high-calibre arrivals this summer and two significant departures. Yet the arrival of Hodgson has hardly heralded a new dawn on the pitch and, off it, the men identified by Torres – and Pepe Reina – as the primary obstacles to Liverpool’s rebirth remain in situ.

“We did not spend much money in the summer,” said Reina. “We are just asking for a little bit. Unfortunately it is going to be like this for a little while until we sort out the [ownership].”

Torres, it is fair to assume, shares his disillusionment. The two Spaniards know Liverpool will not compete for trophies until Tom Hicks and George Gillett are gone. The longer they cling on, the longer the wait. Torres, certainly, does not possess infinite patience.

However, the most rational explanation for his poor displays is the one proffered by Hodgson – that he is, essentially, a month behind his team-mates in his preparations for the campaign – and supported by Kenny Dalglish recently.

“He has been through a lot,” said the former Liverpool manager. “He had a lot of injuries last year and even in the World Cup final he was injured. He has come back and only played two or three games, but still scored the winner against West Brom. He might have had a bad day, but he is not a bad player.”

There remains a question, though, over whether Torres will be in any position to prove that this season. His summer in South Africa was his third in a row featuring an international tournament and he has not been granted an extended rest since 2007. It is no surprise the injuries are not only mounting, but beginning to take their toll.

The Spaniard’s struggle says more about his team than it does about him. Liverpool’s midfield remains static, their full-backs tethered. Gerrard finds himself starved of the ball. They no longer press the opposition when not in possession, but retreat to their own box. The long passes from defence are aimless.

Hodgson, then, may well be right to suggest that he has weightier concerns than Torres. The Liverpool manager knows he must right the wrongs the Spaniard sees all around him if he is not to lose faith.

John Aldridge: Liverpool FC Must Take Europa League Seriously

It is widely recognized that finishing fourth is more important than winning the Europa League but Liverpool can't afford to treat the opportunity of lifting some silverware lightly.

So even though Thursday night's game with Steaua Bucharest does not capture the imagination, Liverpool have got to send out the right message and make a positive start to life in Group K.

I've no doubt Roy Hodgson will make some changes and he has enough options at the back to be able to give his first choice back four a bit of time off to recharge the batteries.

You wouldn't be surprised if Fabio Aurelio, Daniel Agger, Sotirios Kyrgiakos and Martin Kelly started and I'd expect David Ngog to take over from Fernando Torres up front.

Equally, the manager might be thinking of giving Brad Jones his first taste of playing for Liverpool and let Pepe Reina recover from his heroics at Birmingham City.

Reina was outstanding at St Andrews and those saves from Cameron Jerome and James McFadden will have done wonders for his confidence.

But, if we could get two or three goals up with 20 minutes left, what I would really like to see is a few of the young kids we are hearing so much about have a little run out.

Nothing would give fans more pleasure than to see a glimpse of Raheem Sterling, Fernando Suso or if Dani Pacheco was given 90 minutes.

The only way these kids will develop and learn is if they mix with better, seasoned players; Manchester United do it, as have others, so why don't we?

Why Fernando Torres Must Leave Liverpool

Former Liverpool and Tottenham midfielder Jamie Redknapp launched a scathing attack on Fernando Torres after another inept performance on Sunday against Birmingham City.

"Terrible," "diabolical," "sloppy" and "lethargic" were some of the words used by the Sky pundit, but a critique that must have had many football fans nodding in agreement with was that the Spaniard looked "fed up."

He struck a forlorn figure lying on the ground in agony at the end of Spain's triumphant World Cup final, and the pain of his adductor injury was likely exacerbated by the realization that had been so sorely below the level of his teammates in South Africa.

And although Torres hit the winner against West Bromwich Albion last week, he is still looking desperately out of sorts.

There is no doubting that Torres is an exceptional talent. His record of 57 goals in 82 games for Liverpool, 26 goals in 81 games for Spain and 82 in 214 for Atletico Madrid speaks for itself.

And it his natural goal-scoring ability that attracted the attentions of the likes of Barcelona and Chelsea in a summer rife with transfer speculation about his future.

When Torres opted to stay at Liverpool, the relief of Reds players, coaches and fans alike was palpable.

Upon reflection, though, Torres may not have made the wisest decision for himself, and Liverpool could soon well realize that, particularly in their current financial predicament, they would have been better off cashing in on the marksman for a handsome sum.

But can a player go from being magnificent to mediocre in such a short time?

Well actually, he can.

The life of a footballer is short. And while natural ability doesn't disappear, many a player has found out that when rust sets in to his game, the road to decline can be remarkably steep.

They say a change is as good as a rest, and that is particularly pertinent for footballers.

Tottenham striker Jermain Defoe is a good example of how a change at the right time can help restore a footballer's confidence and set his career back on track.

In the 2007/2008 season, Defoe was extremely frustrated at being behind Robbie Keane and Dimitar Berbatov in the Spurs pecking order. And while many Tottenham fans were livid when he was sold to Portsmouth in the January transfer window, (and even more livid when he scored against Spurs at Fratton Park) he reaped the benefits of a move away, and he has returned to Tottenham a far more accomplished player (although it still sometimes appears like he was born offside.)

Another Tottenham player also provides the opposite example - of what not to do when your career starts to wobble.

Darren Anderton was a phenomenal right winger, and after joining Spurs from Portsmouth in 1992, he soon became a vital player for the north Londoners and cemented his place in the England team.

Granted, persistent injuries were a huge factor in his slide, which began in 1995, but staying at Spurs for 12 years certainly didn't help him, despite managing to win a surprising amount of England caps (30).

Anderton needed to turn his back on White Hart Lane. He was linked with both Liverpool and Manchester United, and a move could have done wonders for his career.

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger recently offloaded one of the biggest talents he has bought in his time at the club.

And while the sale of Eduardo was sad for many Gunners fans, the managerial maestro surely realized that whether he liked it or not, the Croatian's horrific injury had for all intents and purposes ended his Arsenal career, due to timing rather than any frailties in his game, and he needed to move for the sake of his football.

And two goals in five games for Shakhtar Donetsk seems to be vindicating Eduardo’s and Wenger's decision.

Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson came to similar conclusions regarding Diego Forlan and Gerard Pique. Although the pair didn't suffer any serious injuries, Ferguson realized that while both players were excellent prospects, they would quite probably thrive at a different destination in ways they wouldn't do at Old Trafford – just how much they would thrive was surely even beyond Ferguson's wildest dreams.

It might be more psychological than anything else, but a simple change can rejuvenate a player's career, particularly those injury-prone talents.

Different surroundings could do a world of good for Torres, and help him rediscover some of that class with which he was he was turning everything he touched into gold not so long ago.

And El Nino should think long and hard about whether he wants to do a Defoe or Eduardo, or be another Darren 'Shaggy-turned-Shoddy' Anderton.

January isn't too far away.

Liverpool Legend Dalglish Tips Torres To Bounce Back Against Manchester United

Kenny Dalglish has sprung to the defence of Liverpool's under-fire striker Fernando Torres, following his disappointing performance at Birmingham City.

Liverpool drew a blank at St Andrews on Sunday, drawing 0-0 with Birmingham in an uninspiring display by the Reds.

Spanish striker Fernando Torres has come in for particular criticism with former Liverpool midfielder Jamie Redknapp branding his display "diabolical" and Ray Clemence calling 'El Nino' "a shadow of his former self."

However, Anfield legend Dalglish, now a club ambassador, told Talksport that although Torres had suffered a bad day at the office against Birmingham, he is likely to bounce back against arch-rivals Manchester United at the weekend.

Dalglish said, “I don't think Fernando would think it was one of his better games but certainly he came as close as anybody in the Liverpool team to score a goal.

"He's been through a lot, he had a lot of injuries last year and even in the World Cup final he was injured. He's come back this year and I think he's only played two or three games but he scored one against West Brom.

"He might have a bad day but he's not a bad player. There's no one anywhere who wouldn't have him in the side.

"It might have been a bad day at the office for Fernando but he's a really good guy, he’s a real quality player and I'm sure he'll be looking forward already to Manchester United on Sunday. He's not got a bad record there."

Torres has been an enormous success at Liverpool since joining from Atletico Madrid in 2007 and has scored an average of more than a goal every two games during his time at Anfield so far. Last season Torres scored an impressive 22 goals, despite injuries restricting him to only 32 appearances for Liverpool.

Pepe Reina Calls For Patience From Supporters

Liverpool goalkeeper Pepe Reina has requested patience from supporters as the club settles after a summer of financial worries.

Debt-ridden owners George Gillett and Tom Hicks failed to flog the side after they fell £351.4 million into the red. With the financial situation curtailing manager Roy Hodgson's plans to bolster a squad missing Javier Mascherano, their goalkeeper has called for a conservative outlook.

Reina said: "We have to make sure that people don't think of winning the league or being in the top four already at this moment.

"It is going to take a while. We have got to get used to the new players and then the system.

"There are many good teams and our target is to be up there but we have to be realistic.

"Is a Champions League spot realistic this season? I don't know. We will find out at the end of the season what we can achieve.

"Of course, we have to challenge for being up there. Maybe it will take a while."

He added: "No-one has patience nowadays. We are just asking for a little bit.

"We did not spend much money and in football to compete with the others sometimes it is important to do it.

"We couldn't. We sold some players and we used the money for buying some others.

"It's going to be like this for a little while until we sort out the (owners) situation.

"All we believe is that we have to win the next game and game and after game and don't think about the end of the season.

"We just have to concentrate on the next game and take it from there.

"April and May is the time to talk about targets."

Agent Rejects Benzema Rumours

Karim Benzema's agent has played down speculation linking his client with a move away from Real Madrid.

Having found first-team football hard to come by since moving to Spain last summer, reports have suggested the striker could soon be leaving Real.

Rumours throughout the summer claimed he was attracting interest from England, with the likes of Manchester United and Manchester City said to be keen.

Benzema eventually saw out the transfer window at the Bernabeu, though, in the hope that he could force his way into Jose Mourinho's plans.

That remains his stance at present, with no thought given to a possible switch elsewhere in the January transfer window.

With that in mind, his representative has sought to bring about an end to the ongoing speculation.

"The future of Karim Benzema will be at Real Madrid," Karim Djaziri told calciomercato.com.

"Are Juventus, Manchester United and Liverpool close to a deal? I categorically deny these rumours.

"He is a Real Madrid player and will remain a Real Madrid player."

Liverpool FC’s Liver Bird Trademark Challenged

A businessman has launched a bid to reverse a decision by European authorities to give Liverpool FC a trademark on the Liver Bird.

Alfie Hincks, who runs a maritime training company, has applied to have the Anfield club’s claim on the famous symbol struck out.

The 45-year-old, who lives in Fazakerley, said the symbol belongs to the city and should not be allowed to be “privatized”.

Mr. Hincks has amassed more than 100 pages of evidence showing how the famous symbol is in “common use” across the city.

Liverpool have always maintained they wanted the trademark to help clamp down on counterfeit football merchandise.

Earlier this month, the Post revealed how the Anfield club was successful in its bid to get the trademark, when it did a deal with Liverpool council so both could apply for different trademarks.

The club was granted a trademark by the Trade Marks and Designs Registration Office of the European Union (TMDREU).

The council is seeking its own trademark through the UK’s Intellectual Property Office.

Town hall officials said the deal would mean the club could crack down on bootleggers.

But Mr Hincks said: “The Liver Bird is used by a whole array of companies, shops, community groups and schools.

“It is in common use and belongs to the people of Liverpool, and has done since the city was given its coat of arms in 1797.

“No one should be allowed to privatize it.”

Mr. Hincks’s application to the TMDREU to have the club’s trademark cancelled will cost him 700 euros. A Liverpool spokesman said: “Our position was always to solely seek to protect our specific version of the Liver Bird and stop its use in counterfeit merchandise.

“We never intended to challenge the usage by the council or other charity or community groups of their version of the Liver Bird.”

The club filed its registration with TMDREU in January and the trademark, covering Europe, was granted in July.

The trademark covers a whole host of materials from clothing and kits to keyrings, and is valid until 2020.

Krisztian Adorjan Seals Liverpool Under-18s Victory Over Derby

Krisztian Adorjan proved the match-winner as his goal was enough to see Liverpool fight back to beat Derby County 3-2 at the Kirkby Academy on Saturday.

Rodolfo Borrell’s youngsters kept up their unbeaten start to the FA Premier Academy League season with goals from Toni Silva, Matty Regan and Adorjan helping them edge an exciting contest.

Liverpool have started the season playing some good football with their attacking talent to the fore.

England under-19s striker Michael Ngoo had another while Silva and Hungarian forward Adorjan capped fine performances with goals and Raheem Sterling also played his part in the victory.

Derby took the lead after 12 minutes with a superb 25-yard effort from Alex Witham flying past Liverpool keeper Jamie Stephens.

Silva could only find the side-netting after going round goalkeeper Mats Morch as Liverpool pressed for an equaliser.

Liverpool finally made the breakthrough 10 minutes before half-time.

Ngoo won possession on the right and from his cross Silva coolly slotted home into an empty net.

Liverpool went ahead in injury time at the end of the first. Captain Conor Coady was superbly denied as Morch pushed his long-range effort over the bar. But from the corner Regan headed home despite screams from the visitors that the ball didn’t cross the line.

The referee took exception to Derby’s protests and sent off Aaron Cole for dissent.

On 51 minutes Adorjan sealed the points with a fine left footed strike.

The visitors gave themselves a chance of a point when Callum Ball beat Stephens after the keeper’s clearance fell to him but Liverpool held on.

Liverpool FC Ladies Aim For Big Time With Women’s Super League

The Liverpool FC Ladies’ hotel on the edge of Madrid was an apt location for their pre-season trip to the Spanish capital because for the moment they are on the periphery of the global game.

However with the creation of a new domestic league, the female Reds and women’s football are hoping to move closer to centre stage than ever before.

Financially backed by the Football Association and broadcaster ESPN, hope is the Women’s FA Super League provides a watershed moment for a side of the sport which has to fight for exposure and shrug off stigma in equal measure.

Liverpool are one of eight clubs who successfully bid for a two-year license to be in the elite division and will carry the aspirations of all of those involved in the game as the two-year funding from football’s governing body, matched by each parent club to the tune of up to £70,000 per season, drives the dream from March next year.

The loss Robbie Johnson’s ladies suffered at the hands of their Atletico Madrid counterparts in a friendly on Saturday will be of little significance to the Anfield side if they can ultimately make the Super League a success.

Anything less than a positive return for the engaging Johnson, his side and the band of enthusiastic and dedicated backroom staff, as well as all clubs involved in the venture, would be nothing short of cruel.

But regardless of their ambitions the project needs support and in defeat to the Feminas of Atletico, whose new campaign is only a couple of weeks away, there emerged a core group of players talented and skilful enough to entice fans to part with their cash to watch the ladies in Red regularly.

A reported crowd of near 1,700 lined the stands at the Campo Municipal de Deportes Alberto Ruiz over the weekend to witness Liverpool remain in contention for an hour before perishing in the unforgiving early evening heat, 5-2.

The lure of a visiting side from Anfield certainly played its part in the healthy crowd and gathering of local TV crews but the Spanish have clearly taken to the women’s game faster than on these shores with the approach to the national sport no doubt a factor.

English fans are fed on the power and pace of the Premier League, but as Liverpool striker Cheryl Foster explains, the women’s approach is based on technique and patient passing, aspects of the game which feature prominently in La Liga.

“I think the most important thing is people don’t approach the women’s game with a mindset that we are like the men”, she said.

“The comparison of men’s and women’s tennis often gets used in our case because the game is maybe a little slower but we are perhaps more tactical. But there’s still going to be goals, chances and mistakes.”

Johnson, who spent 15 years as a coach with Liverpool’s youth teams and helped nurture the talents of Michael Owen, Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher, added: “There’s a lot less of an ability to play the ball long. Many of the girls can’t drive the ball long so they have a tendency to keep the ball tighter.

“But because I’ve been ingrained in the Liverpool Way, if you like, then teaching the girls to play in a certain manner comes automatically to me.”

Johnson admits his move away from schooling the potential stars of the men’s senior side to building the women’s team, along with Andy Williams as his assistant, was an essentially smooth transition based purely on the game, not gender.

“It was one of football mentalities”, he said.

“When I came I said to the girls I was going to coach them as players, not as girls. It was a learning experience for me and I’m sure it was for them. I’ve always worked with players who have the ethos of running as fast as they can because otherwise someone would run past them.

“The biggest problem for me was understanding where the girls were in the pyramid and how much they knew about the game. There were very common football terms the girls did not understand. We are certainly improving every season. Last year we won the league by 10 clear points but this season we are effectively moving up from the Championship, straight into the Champions League if you like. Arsenal and Everton have been the dominant force for so many years in the Premier League but being in their shadow is not something I worry about. If we improve our stock and they stand still then we get closer to them, that is all we’ve been concentrating on.”

Unfortunately dedicating themselves full-time to the cause is not an option for the side with the players balancing studies or jobs with their playing duties at present.

Foster, a PE teacher in Chester, believes their part-time status warrants the same level of respect they have when representing Liverpool FC.

“At the end of the day, everyone here is either working or a student who trains on top of that. People need to respect that fact and the immense commitment in the women’s game.

“Wearing the badge does bring great expectations with it, whether it’s the senior men, youth teams or the women, Liverpool has a great history you always making sure we are doing our best and doing the shirt proud. It’s a fantastic club and we are very grateful for all their support. We feel more and more part of the club each year as women’s football develops.”

Foster, the club’s leading scorer last season with 22, is Wales’ all time leading appearance holder and agrees for the Super League to truly find that crossover appeal, a star must be unearthed.

England international Kelly Smith would have been that high profile player the league could have used, says 29-year-old Foster, but she has been drawn to the professional set-up in America.

“Kelly Smith has gone to America, she would’ve been that icon the Super League is looking for. But there will be someone who emerges from this new division as that star who can hopefully raise the profile of the game beyond where it is now. A player who sets the world alight, but the rollercoaster has already started.”

The eight teams who make up the Women’s Super League are Arsenal, Birmingham City, Bristol Academy, Chelsea, Doncaster Rovers, Everton, Lincoln and Liverpool.