Friday, May 18, 2012

Liverpool Put Pep Guardiola At Top Of Wishlist For New Manager

Liverpool have wasted little time in the search for Kenny Dalglish's successor by drawing up a wishlist headed by Pep Guardiola and Fabio Capello, and have already approached Roberto Martínez at Wigan Athletic, Swansea City's Brendan Rodgers and André Villas-Boas within 24 hours of bringing the Anfield legend's reign to an end.

Fenway Sports Group, the club's owners, received permission to hold talks with Martínez from the Wigan chairman, Dave Whelan, as their wide-ranging approach to identifying Liverpool's next manager became apparent a day after Dalglish's exit. Unlike Whelan, Swansea has not cleared the way for Rodgers to meet Liverpool as yet but is expected to do so. Villas‑Boas is also in the frame for the Liverpool job but John W Henry and Tom Werner, the principal owner and the chairman at Anfield respectively, intend to assess several candidates as they finalise a shortlist. Martínez, Rodgers and Villas‑Boas are by no means the only coaches under consideration. The ideal candidates are Guardiola and Capello but Liverpool's prospects of landing the outgoing Barcelona coach and former England manager are understood to be remote. Guardiola has previously stated his intention to take a sabbatical from the game following a trophy-laden but draining spell at the Camp Nou, while Capello is keen on the Chelsea job. Borussia Dortmund's Jürgen Klopp and Marseille's Didier Deschamp are also thought to be under consideration.

Martínez does not have the title-winning experience that forms part of FSG's criteria but he will get the opportunity to convince Liverpool's owners that he can fit into the new management structure they intend to install at Anfield. Whelan said: "We played there [at Liverpool] about two months ago. There's no heart at the club. It's a bit disturbing when you think a club like Liverpool is functioning without a heart. I mentioned that to Roberto and I think there's no heart beating at Liverpool. I think the sooner they get a heart the better. I don't know Roberto's feelings about Liverpool, I think he's going there with an open mind. I would love to keep Roberto, he's a great manager."

Liverpool's managing director, Ian Ayre, claimed the selection of Dalglish's successor represented the most critical in the club's recent history. He also insisted Anfield remains an attraction for the finest managers in the game. FSG are being advised on the process by "highly regarded people within football", according to Ayre, who revealed the next manager must work under a new management structure at Anfield. Damien Comolli's former role as director of football is to be fragmented this summer although the new manager will continue to have an influence on transfers.

Liverpool face a third season outside the Champions League next term and Uefa's financial fair play rules, which require clubs throughout Europe to break even, come into effect in 2013‑14. The failure to mount a challenge to the top four this season, and FSG's doubts over Dalglish's ability to deliver one next year, cost him his job despite winning the Carling Cup and reaching the FA Cup final.

Asked if Liverpool had made a more important appointment than the one now confronting Henry and Werner, Ayre said: "No. It's absolutely critical that we get it right and we move forward. The Champions League is where the football club has to be. When John and Tom arrived, they said they wanted to win. They mean winning and being in that competition. They want to be winning the league. It won't happen overnight. Nobody is kidding themselves. But you have got to be heading in that direction."

Replacements for Comolli – with his old job to be divided between its administrative, scouting and negotiating functions – Graham Bartlett, the former commercial director, and the head of communications Ian Cotton are expected in the next fortnight. The managerial search, said Ayre, who recently had his contract extended at Liverpool, is based "on a whole range of things, from experience and ability, methodology, style of play, character traits. As we've seen in the past it is not just about the football. It is about how controlling some are compared to others. There's a particular process that fits part of the plan we are trying to put together. It has to be a manager who fits in all of that."

Ayre's "controlling" comment would appear to rule out Rafael Benítez from a Liverpool return, the former manager having been given control over all football operations in his final contract.

David Dein, the former vice-chairman of Arsenal, was spotted at several matches with Liverpool officials towards the end of the season but Ayre refused to confirm who is advising Henry and Werner. Villas-Boas, Klopp and Deschamps all meet the criteria of younger title-winning coaches but, having again failed to qualify for the Champions League, and appointed from Fulham (Roy Hodgson) and within (Dalglish) for its last two managers, Ayre denies Liverpool are struggling to entice the most coveted coaches.

Ayre added: "Liverpool still gets everyone excited and interested. We may have lost our way a little in terms of performances but it is still one of the biggest football clubs in the world. It still has a huge fan base. It has also got a good solid business foundation. It has got good owners who are committed. A lot of that doesn't exist in a lot of other football clubs. If you are a manager at that level or you are a manager aspiring to get there, I still think this is one of the biggest jobs in world football.

"I am under no illusion that we can go and find a top-class manager to come to this football club, for all the reasons I have stated. I do not think we are in a situation where the very experienced, very capable, very driven managers who people would want to see here do not want to come."

Reds To Speak With Martinez

Wigan chairman Dave Whelan has confirmed that Liverpool have been given permission to discuss their managerial vacancy with Roberto Martinez.

The Reds took the decision to part with Anfield legend Kenny Dalglish on Wednesday.

He helped the club to Carling Cup glory in 2011/12, but paid the price for a disappointing eighth-place finish in the Premier League.

Having freed up the position, Liverpool announced that they would not be rushing their recruitment process.

They made it clear that it was their intention to find the 'right candidate of the right quality'.

The Anfield board have, however, wasted no time in making an approach to top-flight rivals Wigan for Martinez.

Martinez has also been linked with Aston Villa in the wake of Alex McLeish's departure, but Latics chairman Whelan has attempted to quash those rumours.

He believes his manager is destined for big things and has maintained that he would not stand in the Spaniard's way if a bigger club came calling.

Liverpool consider Martinez, who has helped to cement Wigan as a Premier League outfit, as an ideal candidate to guide them forward and Whelan concedes that he may be about to part with the services of a highly-rated young coach.

"When they phoned me, I was actually with Roberto and having a meeting about what to do next season," he told Sky Sports News HD.

"I have always said that when a big club comes he will have permission to talk to them - and Liverpool, they don't come any bigger than Liverpool.

"When Liverpool sacked Kenny, I thought that Liverpool would be knocking on the door and sure enough they are.

"I gave him permission and he will be talking to them soon. I don't know when, but it will be quite soon."

Whelan admits he would like to keep Martinez at the DW Stadium and continue with their productive working relationship, but he understands why Liverpool have identified him as a leading candidate for their hot-seat.

He added: "For Wigan Athletic, I would love to keep him. For Roberto, he has the opportunity to go and manage a massive club in Liverpool. The decision will be entirely Roberto's.

"We did speak about Liverpool. Liverpool have undergone some changes in the last two years, massive changes, and I still think they have to settle down as a football club.

"When we have been there playing them, there is no heart in the club at present. It's a little bit disturbing when you think that a football club as big as Liverpool is functioning without a heart. I mentioned that to Roberto.

"We have to sit and wait and see what Roberto decides."

Sky Sports sources understand that Martinez is one of a number of candidates Liverpool are considering for the role, but is the first to be contacted.

Barnes Backs Villas-Boas For Liverpool Post

Liverpool legend John Barnes believes Andre Villas-Boas would be a "fantastic" replacement for Kenny Dalglish, and thinks whoever becomes the next Reds manager will be helped by the foundations laid by the outgoing Scot.

Dalglish was sacked by the club's owners on Tuesday after guiding Liverpool to their worst Premier League finish in 18 years and the speculation about who will replace him has begun in earnest.

Former Chelsea manager Villas-Boas, who was removed from his post earlier this season following a turbulent spell at Stamford Bridge, has emerged as an early favourite for the vacant Anfield hotseat, while the likes of Swansea's Brendan Rodgers and Wigan's Roberto Martinez have also been linked.

And Barnes, who won eight trophies during a successful ten-year spell on Merseyside, believes that, in Liverpool, Villas-Boas would find a club better suited to his management style than Chelsea.

"Andre Villas-Boas is a fantastic manager but he wasn't given the support from the Chelsea players, which meant what happened at Chelsea happened," Barnes told ESPN.

"Coming to Liverpool, it would be a different circumstance, because the problem he had at Chelsea was handling the older players and he wouldn't have that problem at Liverpool because there aren't as many older players, and the older players would probably have more respect for the club to do whatever the manager says.

"I think he would be a fantastic manager and still is a fantastic manager... Andre Villas-Boas was a good manager at the wrong time for Chelsea. Under different circumstances at the right time, he could have been very successful."

Barnes admitted he was surprised by news of Dalglish's departure from the club but is confident that Liverpool's future is bright because of the groundwork put in by the Scot.

"It was a bit of a shock but once the rumours start you know the inevitability of what's actually going to happen," Barnes said. "I feel a bit sorry for Kenny because I think with him Liverpool would definitely have improved on the last year.

"The new manager coming in will come in to a better Liverpool but I'm sure had Kenny stayed that would have been apparent anyway. It is a shock but we have to look forward and hopefully get a man in who is going to be given the support of the fans and the time by the fans and the owners to keep Liverpool heading in the right direction.

"I think had Kenny stayed, Liverpool would have improved and I think a new manager coming in will improve Liverpool. In terms of the players he signed who had not done it at the start, they have shown a marked improvement. I'm hoping for big things from [Jordan] Henderson, [Andy] Carroll and [Stewart] Downing next season and I'm sure they will produce. Unfortunately for Kenny, he won't be there to oversee it."

Carragher: Liverpool Must Be Patient In Pursuit Of Premier League Title

Jamie Carragher has told Liverpool’s fans and owners that whoever replaces Kenny Dalglish the club are in no position to challenge for the Premier league title.

It is now 22 years since Liverpool won their 18th, and last title, and the club has just endured its equal lowest finish in that time, eighth. Carragher, who has played in 16 of those seasons, said: “We've only challenged for the title a couple of times in my time, which is obviously not what we'd like, and not good enough for us, but at the moment I don't think the title is in everyone's mind.

“I don't think we're the type of team that could just go out and spend £200m like Manchester City or Chelsea can, and you've virtually guaranteed yourself a good chance of winning the title. I think we have to build a little bit slower than that. Let's try and get back in that top four, then once you cement your place there, you go again, as we did with Gerard Houllier and Rafa Benitez. We were in the Champions League for a couple of years and then had that tilt at the title and just fell short. At the moment the task is to try and get back into that top four.”

Carragher said Dalglish’s dismissal saddened, but did not surprise him, because of the rumours anticipating it. “In the domestic cup competitions we've had a fantastic season, but in the league we all know it was a disappointment,” he said. “Obviously you have to respect the owners and the decisions they make. They felt that was in the best interests of the club, so you have to go along with the decision. I'm disappointed for Kenny because he loves the club passionately. It was a sad day for him.”

Carragher was speaking at ITV Sport’s Euro 2012 launch and he got an early taste of what working alongside Roy Keane would be like when the former Manchester United midfielder said of Dalglish’s exit: “I think he deserved a bit more time. There were a lot of changes at the club last year. I think you need to look at the senior players at Liverpool and say…’its well and good saying Kenny was the greatest, come Saturday afternoon I don’t think some of you showed it enough how great he was’. It’s strange isn’t it? Everyone has a lot of good things to say about a manager when he is gone, but they don’t do it when he’s there.”

To be fair to Carragher he admitted: “I think the new players have had some unfair criticism. They're still trying to understand what the club's about. The players who have been there a long time like myself should get a little bit more criticism really because we know the standards required and we haven't lived up to that expectation. It's the squad that hasn't done it for Kenny really, but the manager carries the can.”

Whoever takes over will have to work in Dalglish’s long shadow, a factor which haunted perception of his predecessor Roy Hodgson. “That's part of managing Liverpool,” said Carragher, “it's one of the biggest jobs around and a lot of pressure comes with that, even in pre-season. You know, we didn't win any games in pre-season under Kenny and I had people on the phone asking what was going on. That's Liverpool. That's the pressure of being a manager or player at Liverpool. You're expected to win every week.”

Ayre - No Reds Crisis

Liverpool managing director Ian Ayre insists there is no crisis at Anfield in the aftermath of Kenny Dalglish's departure.

Dalglish was axed as manager on Wednesday after 16 months in charge during his second tenure as boss.

It means Liverpool are currently without a manager and a director of football following Damien Comolli's sacking last month.

The changes going on at Anfield has led to suggestions that Liverpool are in disarray on and off the field, but, Ayre insists there is no turmoil or crisis at the club.

"There is this idea of some kind of turmoil going on here because we are making changes. To implement a plan and to achieve a plan you have to have changes," Ayre told Sky Sports News.

"There is certainly no crisis or turmoil here.

"There are difficult decisions to be made and there are difficult things to be managed, but they are being managed and they are being done.

"Just as much as where we have had a short period of people leaving club, we are going to go through a period, very quickly, a period where people are arriving at the club and that will be exciting and interesting and taking that plan forward."

Gerrard Focused On England

Steven Gerrard is sad to have seen his 'idol' Kenny Dalglish depart the Liverpool hot-seat, but says his priority is country not club at present.

Dalglish was removed from the Anfield managerial post on Wednesday following a disappointing Premier League campaign.

He was sacked after holding talks with Reds owners Fenway Sports Group, with it their belief that a change in approach is required.

Dalglish will always be considered a legend on the red half of Merseyside, regardless of his dismissal, and Gerrard has echoed the sentiments of many in expressing his sorrow at how things ended.

He is, however, focused on events with England right now, with new national coach Roy Hodgson confirming that he will skipper the Three Lions at Euro 2012 this summer.

"The last 24 hours have been a rollercoaster for me," Gerrard told Liverpool's official website.

"I am very sad to see Kenny leave our club. He is my idol and will always be my idol and I would like to express my thanks and appreciation for what he has done for my career.

"My focus now is on doing my best for England in the European Championships and then returning to Liverpool for a new season where we will look to build on the progress of the last 18 months and be competitive at the business end of the Premier League."

Suarez Dreams Of Spain Switch

Liverpool striker Luis Suarez admits he is dreaming of a switch to Spain.

The 25-year-old, who joined the Reds in a £23million deal from Dutch side Ajax in January 2011, says he would like to test himself in La Liga at some point of his career.

Uruguay international Suarez believes it is one of the top three domestic leagues, alongside the Premier League and Serie A, in world football.

"I hope to play in Spain in the future, because together with the English and Italian leagues, they are the best in the world," he told readers of Spanish website in a Twitter webchat.

"Any player would dream of playing there."

Martin Skrtel Could Follow Dalglish Out Of Liverpool

Having decided to part company with Kenny Dalglish, Liverpool now face the very real possibility that some players could look to leave with defender Martin Skrtel considering his future.

The centre-back, who was awarded the Liverpool player of the year, has revealed that he wants to know if the clubs ambitions will match his own after a difficult league campaign.

Liverpool has qualified for the Europe League through the Carling Cup, but their league form was poor throughout and they eventually finished in eighth place.

Skrtel's agent has made it clear that while he has not handed in a transfer request he will be considering his future over the summer as he would like to be playing in the Champions League.

"You cannot say Liverpool won’t play in the Champions League. It is a big club and because they haven’t made it this year doesn’t mean they would not next,” Karol Csonto told the Liverpool Echo.

“There are expectations on both sides, though. Some changes have been made at the club and the player wants to know what the aims and ambitions are.

“We want to discuss with Liverpool what they want and, of course, we will discuss the issue of Martin’s new contract.”

Skrtel's current contract does not run out until the summer of 2014 and Liverpool will be keen to keep hold of the 27-year-old after an impressive campaign alongside Daniel Agger.

The pair formed a good partnership at the heart of the Liverpool defence and Skrtel has seemingly improved each year since moving from Zenit St Petersburg for £6.5million in January 2008.