29 November 2007

Benítez makes his point but owners remain distant

got to get me those white windbreakers...


Anfield backed their under-fire manager last night and sent a strong message to America
Richard Williams
November 29, 2007 12:58 AM

So now we know that a rainy November night in Liverpool 4 is not the sort of thing to drag George Gillett and Tom Hicks across the Atlantic, even when the team they bought with £298m of the Royal Bank of Scotland's money is facing a match on which their season may pivot. No wonder there is unrest at Anfield, where the symbols of the past - the Kop, the Shankly gates, the old terraced streets through which generations of fans have swarmed in hope and exaltation - seemed to gaze with grim suspicion last night on the Americans and the gifts they bring.
Last night several hundred of those fans set off for the ground with the intention of making their feelings known to two men separated from them by an ocean in distance and an entire universe in football spirit. As they left the corner of Oakfield Road and Houlding Street they were led by a man carrying a framed portrait of Rafa Benítez. The resemblance to a saint's day procession in Spain was not coincidental. A few marchers even reached up to stroke his face. And of the many banners they carried, one seemed particularly pertinent: "You are the custodians," it told Hicks and Gillett, "but the club is ours. Rafa stays."
Benítez took his seat in the dugout with his own name ringing in his ears as the Koppites gave voice to their belief that the new owners should defer to the judgment of the man who brought them a fifth European Cup, even if he has yet to show signs of emulating the success of his illustrious predecessors in the league. Last night Benítez was back in his customary grey suit rather than the training-ground kit he wore at St James' Park last Saturday, when he was sending a message of his own to the Americans, who had told him to stop whingeing about his transfer budget and get on with coaching his existing squad.
The decision to wear his tracksuit was the response of a petulant adolescent rather than a grown-up football manager, and Benítez showed a realisation he had taken a step too far by making more polite noises in the build-up to last night's vital fixture. But he is not a man who likes being thwarted, and even after this splendid win the delay in acquiring the owners' consent to the payments of £17m to buy out Javier Mascherano's contract and £4m to acquire the Georgian defender Kakha Kaladze from Milan will rumble on until the opening of the January transfer window.
Benítez is due to meet Hicks and Gillett in two and a half weeks' time, when they visit Anfield a few days after the now decisive trip to Marseille. They will attend the match against Manchester United on December 16, a highlight of the league calendar but probably less vital to the club's short-term interests than last night's must-win game. Goodness knows what kind of engagement Hicks and Gillett could have found more compelling than the chance to attend an evening on which Liverpool were fighting for the right to maintain their presence in this season's Champions League.
But that, inevitably, is the price of allowing foreign investors to buy control of a leading English football club. The majority of the old-fashioned chairmen may have been pompous and blinkered, but at least they turned up for every match, home and away, in fair weather and foul. Now the clubs have to take their place in the hectic schedules of men with much larger and more varied agendas, and Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini are not alone in fearing that the game will be the worse for ownership that is both emotionally and geographically semi-detached.
It was a pity, certainly from the manager's point of view, that the Americans were not present to hear the roar when Fernando Torres put Liverpool into a 19th-minute lead with a fine, if curiously unchallenged, header from Steven Gerrard's corner. Torres cost £26.5m from Atlético Madrid, and the speed, composure and skill with which he took his second goal made him the best evidence to date of the manager's oft-questioned prowess in the transfer market.
If Gillett and Hicks are interested enough to bother watching the video of last night's match, they will see Mascherano chase down a swift first-minute counter-attack and dispossess Mariano Gonzalez as he neared the Liverpool penalty area. The number of midfield players capable of such a clean and timely intervention is strictly limited, and on current values £17m is a fair price to pay, particularly for one who is only in his early twenties yet already has a depth of international experience.
Benítez watched in dismay as his defence lost their heads before the interval. A more spirited but still largely incoherent beginning to the second half prefaced the first of his substitutions, and if ever there was a night for a manager's decisions to make a difference, this was it. After the manager had signalled his gratitude for the crowd's support and followed the victorious players into the tunnel, the disc jockey played Bob Dylan's Knocking on Heaven's Door, a slightly curious choice unless you paid attention to the first line: "Don't take this badge off of me..." A win in Marseille on December 11, and they wouldn't dare.

Cowboy-boot messiahs show their hand

Despite their superior PR skills, Liverpool's American owners have managed to divide opinion

Lawrence Donegan
November 29, 2007 1:02 AM

There is a mug born every minute but it is only once in a generation that half a city finds itself drowning in the kind of delusion that washed through Liverpool earlier this year as Tom Hicks and George Gillett were garlanded into town like cowboy-booted messiahs after buying the most successful British club of the post-war era.
What a contrast to the opprobrium heaped on the Glazers after they purchased Manchester United although, as Hicks pointed out in an interview with this paper in May, the Glazers' biggest problem was a PR campaign which was "a blueprint of what not to do". Liverpool's new co-owner, on the other hand, proved to be as good at PR as he was at making money. "They have been very honest, they don't pretend to be lifelong fans," said the club's chief executive, Rick Parry, one of many Hicks and Gillett employees wheeled out to provide references for the men now paying their wages. "They're not about to change things for the sake of change."
Sadly, the vast majority of Liverpool supporters bought into this sycophantic waffle, while the minority who felt queasy at the silkiness of it all fell for one of the oldest tricks in the cardsharp's handbook - the bait and switch. "What, no questions about George Bush?" an avuncular Hicks said after the aforementioned interview was over.
For many, the Texan's long friendship with President Bush was the single most reprehensible aspect of the Anfield takeover but, when all is said and done, being friends with the current occupant of the White House is not a criminal offence. Hicks knew this, which explains why he was happy to take softball questions about the good old days when he made the hapless Bush a rich man by taking the Texas Rangers baseball team off him in a multi-million dollar deal.
Meanwhile, the real meat of the Liverpool takeover was lost amid the hot air of anti-Bush rhetoric - namely, what kind of businessman is Hicks, how would he run Liverpool FC and what would his stewardship mean for the club? The answer to the first question is that Hicks is a successful businessman, although as someone who made his fortune in the rapacious world of leveraged buy-outs he could hardly be expected to have an instinctive feel for airy concepts such as sentiment, tradition and "the soul of a football club". As for day-to-day running of the club, we now have our answer in the treatment of the "impertinent" Rafael Benítez over the last week. Since arriving on Merseyside the Spaniard has been accused of hard-heartedness in his handling of players, so there is a sliver of satisfaction in watching him get a taste of his own medicine. Yet this tiny pleasure is far outweighed by real despair over where Liverpool might be heading.
Coincidentally (or maybe not), while Hicks was force-feeding humble pie to Benítez he was also, in the words of the Dallas Morning News, "revamping 75% of the collective upper management" of his two American teams, the Rangers and the Dallas Stars. "I'm the owner, it's what I do," Hicks said. "Honestly, I feel good today. I think I am getting a lot accomplished."
Others are not so sure and have suggested Hicks' US sporting empire might be crumbling. This can be dismissed as wishful thinking but what cannot be ignored is the sense that any man who "revamps" three-quarters of his managerial workforce in 48 hours and thinks he has accomplished a lot might not be thinking straight. Of course, that kind behaviour might work in American sport, where the "franchise" system means the ties of loyalty and tradition bind about as tightly as gossamer handcuffs. But it is not what a national treasure like Liverpool needs, which is something the club's fans should make clear the next time Hicks rolls into town.

Kop offers strongest statement of support for Rafael BenÍtez

Oliver Kay: Commentary (The Times)

Of the principal players in the unedifying drama that is unfolding at Anfield, it is Rafael BenÍtez’s misfortune to be the one assigned to centre stage. Rather than keep his head down, the Liverpool manager has been required over the past week to appear above the parapet on an almost daily basis, each time offering the club’s American owners another opportunity to look for the signs of petulance that would result in him being dismissed.
Last night, as he reflected on an uplifting victory and the fervent backing of his adoring public, BenÍtez could have chosen to milk it. In one sense he did, joining his players on the pitch after the final whistle and lingering longer than any as he returned the applause of the Liverpool supporters, but afterwards, encouragingly, he expressed regret at the terrible mess that has arisen. It was an olive branch, of sorts.
“I don’t have any personal problems with the owners,” BenÍtez said. “We were talking about the future of the club and other issues, but I wasn’t angry with them. I was just surprised.”
Surprised by what? “By the situation, because I was only trying to improve my club. It was a strange situation, but I just want to do my best for the club. I read somewhere that it was my ego. It’s not my ego. It’s my responsibility. I need to take care of my team, my squad. It would be easy for me to say nothing and just take my wages each month. I prefer to be involved, but I don’t have any problems with anyone.”
This is as close as we will get to an apology for BenÍtez’s clashes with the board. In a sensible world it should be enough, but, given that the word has been that there is “no way back”, he can only hope and pray that, as winter sets in, the tension thaws.
If not, Tom Hicks and George Gillett Jr will face mutiny. Before last night’s match there was a protest march to the stadium, with 2,500 supporters expressing solidarity with BenÍtez. The back catalogue of songs chanted in his honour was extensive, but more striking was the number of banners on display, many written in Spanish. The most touching simply said “En Rafa confiamos” – In Rafa we trust.
Supporters’ feelings are not meant to count for much in the cutthroat world of modern football, but at Anfield there is cause to think that they should. BenÍtez is cold-hearted by nature, but he agreed that he was “touched” by his reception. He did not expand on those emotions, perhaps for fear of being seen as gloating, but he will doubtless have shared them with his No 1 supporter, a woman who may yet emerge as a player in the Anfield power struggle. In the WAG era, it is almost compulsory for footballers’ wives to be seen to support their husbands on the pitch, but Montse BenÍtez takes it to a new level. An elegant woman she may be, but if her husband is evicted by the absentee landlords, Anfield’s first lady will have to be dragged kicking and screaming from their Merseyside home.
Upon hearing that her husband was attracting interest from Real Madrid in 2005, she told him that “you can go, but I’m staying here”. In the directors’ box last night she and her Spanish companions seemed to expend as much energy, celebrating each Liverpool goal so wildly that they appeared in danger of being thrown out for rowdy behaviour. And at the final whistle she could be seen lip-synching to You’ll Never Walk Alone, an anthem whose words must ring truer than ever for her husband after an evening such as this.

Take that to the bank: lethal Fernando Torres shows value for money

Liverpool 4 FC Porto 1
Martin Samuel, Chief Football Correspondent (The Times)


Memo to Messrs Hicks and Gillett:
That, gentlemen, is what you pay the money for.

Sincerely,
Rafa.

With little more than ten minutes remaining and qualification for the part of the Champions League that matters hanging by a strand, Fernando Torres, the most expensive Barclays Premier League signing of the season, scored the goal that sends Liverpool and their manager, Rafael BenÍtez, to Marseilles next month very much alive and kicking. As he did so, he offered a timely reminder.
What separates the great from the good these days are the deep pockets of football club owners and the ability to entrust the contents to a man with a plan. Liverpool have such a man in BenÍtez; and if Tom Hicks and George Gillett Jr are prepared to reconcile and get behind him, anything is possible.
This was a match billed as BenÍtez’s last stand. The price of failure, it was said, would be high. Either BenÍtez was finished or he would be a dead man walking, like José Mourinho at Chelsea once Roman Abramovich’s gaze wandered. As it was, he departed in a stronger position than ever. A show of strength from the supporters demonstrated that, while the new owners may forget that fifth European Cup win in a hurry, those who number their dedication to Liverpool in years, not weeks, would not. More to the point, this was a victory that underlined the worth of investment along with another hoary football adage: the one about getting what you pay for.
BenÍtez got Torres for roughly £21.5 million and that is a lot. If the club win their first Premier League title, lift this trophy for a sixth time, or even make the lucrative trip to Moscow in May, who is counting, though? The scoreline might make it look as if it did not take a special player to defeat FC Porto, but do not believe a word of it.
At the point when Torres got Liverpool’s noses in front again, a crisis was unfolding. The scores were level at Anfield and, across Europe, in Istanbul, where Marseilles were holding Besiktas. One more goal from the French side and Liverpool would have been out. Instead, it was Torres who showed his mettle with a coolly taken goal to set up an impressive victory and Marseilles who blinked by losing to a team who conceded eight at Anfield on their previous Champions League outing.
Liverpool must still win when they travel south for the final group game on December 11, but the most slender margin will now be enough. It is the sort of set-piece European affair in which BenÍtez specialises; ask Mourinho, his former sparring partner.
That the decisive goal was scored by Torres is appropriate. BenÍtez believes that his bosses do not understand the transfer market, so an asset-saving goal from an expensive acquisition was not amiss.
It was beautifully taken, too, with the type of clarity that comes only with the exchange of large sums of money. Harry Kewell, on as a substitute, slipped the ball through and, with a deft movement, Torres took Milan Stepanov and José Bosingwa out of the game, before finishing smartly past Helton.
Stepanov was so badly affected that he inexplicably attempted to catch the ball in his penalty area four minutes later, and Steven Gerrard made the game safe for Liverpool from the penalty spot, equalling Michael Owen’s record of 22 goals in Europe. When Peter Crouch had scored from a Gerrard corner with four minutes remaining, Porto’s capitulation was complete; so, too, the collapse of the argument that a manager should also be a yes-man.
BenÍtez is a winner because he thinks one step ahead. If he wants to discuss January transfer-window business now, not in one month’s time, there will be a reason, just as there was a reason that he broke the bank for Torres. BenÍtez talked up the impact of his substitutions – particularly Kewell – but the world-class striker was the real difference here, make no mistake of that.
He had already scored Liverpool’s first; an altogether simpler affair, as it always will be if opponents leave him unmarked in the penalty area at corners. Gerrard supplied the ammunition, Torres’s head did the rest.
It should then have been a simple night, except Liverpool slept and made a game of it. Perhaps it was the ease of the win over Besiktas and the suspicion that this could be another night to remember – Porto traditionally travel about as well as a bottle of the cheap stuff from their home city – perhaps it was just a peculiar set of circumstances, but, from nowhere, Porto equalised after 32 minutes.
It was a horrible goal, one that had BenÍtez even more grim-faced than usual. Ricardo Quaresma crossed – a harmless effort really, which should have been easily cut out – and, somehow, Álvaro Arbeloa contrived to get into the perfect position neither to attack the ball nor mark his man, Lisandro López. The result was that López conjured a looping header that, adding insult to injury, found José Manuel Reina in the one place in his six-yard box that rendered him powerless. The ball nestled in his net, much like a gentle snowflake.
From a position of superiority, Liverpool had thrown away their advantage and almost compounded that error by conceding a second within four minutes. Lucho González received the ball in midfield and his pass caught Liverpool’s defence in two minds, neither of which would have troubled the scorers at Mensa. López was through on goal with only Reina to beat and when he slipped the ball to his left with extreme calmness, Anfield held its breath and feared the worst. After what was a second, but felt more like an hour, the ball trickled the wrong side of the post. Wrong for Porto, that is.
Suddenly, a back four known for its resilience was exchanging anxious glances. There were howls of derision when Roberto Rosetti blew for half-time with the clocks around Anfield showing five seconds remaining, but it was probably for the best. Liverpool returned to the dressing-room, where a glaring BenÍtez no doubt got to work. It will not have been pretty catching his eye at half-time, but, like the discreet placatory call that the owners should make this weekend, it was probably for the best.


Liverpool (4-4-2): J M Reina – S Finnan, J Carragher, S Hyypia, Á Arbeloa – Y Benayoun (sub: P Crouch, 70min), J Mascherano, S Gerrard, R Babel (sub: D Kuyt, 84) – F Torres, A Voronin (sub: H Kewell, 62). Substitutes not used: CH Itandje, J A Riise, L Leiva, M Sissoko. Booked: Hyypia.
FC Porto (4-1-4-1): Helton – J Bosingwa, M Stepanov, B Alves, M Cech – P Assunção (sub: H Postiga, 80) – R Quaresma, L González, P Kazmierczak (sub: R Meireles, 64), M González (sub: T Sektioui, 76) – L López. Substitutes not used: Nuno, P Emanuel, Fucile, M Bolatti. Booked: Stepanov, Assunção, Quaresma.

Liverpool 4-1 Porto

By David Maddock 29/11/2007 The Daily Mirror

Liverpool stars and fans sent out the message loud and clear last night that they do not want to lose their manager.
The Anfield team produced a passionate performance to eventually overwhelm Porto and keep their Champions League hopes alive with a stunning four goal victory.
They must now defeat Marseille in the final game of Group A to go through to the knockout stages - but everyone in the ground knew that the night was about more than that.
It was about the position of Rafael Benitez, and how desperately everyone at the Merseyside club wants him to stay in charge.
Benitez acknowledged the backing of the fans and their march in support of him in his row with the owners.
"I'm really proud to be here," he said. "I say thank you, they know I want to be here.
"I don't have any personal problems with the owners or anyone. They want the best for the club, and so do I, but I prefer to enjoy today." The fans showed their support with deafening noise that drifted all the way to America.
And the players showed it by keeping their heads amid mounting tension as the game crept towards a draw, to score three brilliant late goals and emphasise their faith in the manager.
At the end the fans sang "Rafa's going nowhere."
And surely they must be right now, as again this Liverpool side showed their potential, and in Fernando Torres its class, with a fine performance under so much pressure.
Two goals from Torres a penalty from Steven Gerrard and a late header from sub Peter Crouch sealed it, but the night was about Benitez as the fans sang to him "You'll Never Walk Alone."
Last night he felt he wasn't. And Gerrard, who equalled Michael Owen's Liverpool goalscoring record in Europe, said: "The most important thing was getting the job done.
"We can play better, but give them credit.
Porto have quality players and are well organised, but once we scored the second goal they fell apart and we got the third and fourth. "The fans are like having an extra man.
They may not realise it but it makes a big difference."
Liverpool know a draw in Marseille in a fortnight will not be enough to secure their place in the knock-out stages and Gerrard added: "It's better to know you have to win."
And with a nod at England's defeat against Croatia when a draw would have put them through to Euro 2008, he said: "Sometimes when you know you only need a draw it can play on your mind and affect the performance."

RAFA THE ROTATOR IS SIMPLY THE BEST!


The photo above is a little bit spooky.... the framed photo usually use in funeral parlour or at graveyard... but Rafa is not dead yet! He is alive and kicking! WE as the loyal fan of LIVERPOOL will stand with you! SALUTE ! SALUTE ! SALUTE !
.
Demo shows why game is Kop religion
Oliver Holt Chief Sports Writer 29/11/2007 The Daily Mirror
The supporters held a picture of Rafael Benitez aloft at the head of the demonstration, and bore it through the streets around Anfield in its gilt frame.
Young and old, they chanted the name of their manager and listened to echoes coming back to them in the darkness from the pockets of fans making their way to the game.
Benitez looked young in the photograph. As if his features had been made smooth and perfect.
It was as if a religious icon was being carried high for the people to see on a holy day.
It looked like an image of Benitez as a saint. Or a martyr.
Nobody quite knows which yet. Last night's result against a clever, neat, skilful Porto team might have left Liverpool in grave danger of failing to make it to the second round of the Champions League.
But the emotional victory they gained made it seem stranger still that a man who won the Champions League for this great club in his first season here and took them to the final again last season should suddenly find his position under threat.
And while the couple of thousand supporters who gathered outside the Sandon pub near the ground took care not to chant their opposition to American owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett, they made it very clear where they loyalties lay.
"You are Custodians," one sign taped to the wall of the pub said, "but the club's ours. Rafa Stays."
As the procession moved off towards the stadium, the demonstrators began to sing the strains of Ring of Fire - the Johnny Cash anthem that will forever be associated with the Miracle of Istanbul.
It was a touching show of support for a man they don't want to lose. "It wasn't even like this when Shankly left," Phil McKeown said, as he stood with his son.
Bill Shankly's departure back in 1974 left the city in shock and this demonstration's message was that Liverpudlians are not prepared to let another legend just slip away.
That the relationship between Benitez and the owners had degenerated before last night's crucial match with Porto into a state of open civil war was a matter for profound regret, rather than anger.
If there is a sense that Benitez has overplayed his hand a little with his relentless complaints about not being given enough money for transfers, there is also a feeling that he deserves far, far better than to be drummed out of the club for such a petty misdemeanour.
Consider some of the memories he has given these fans in his three and a half years in charge. Consider the memories he has given Hicks and Gillett (left).
After Liverpool and their cathedral choir on the Kop overcame Chelsea in last season's Champions League semi-final second leg, Gillett stood open-mouthed on the front row of the directors' box.
"In all my time in sport," he said, "I have never, ever experienced anything like that."
And despite this season's troubled Champions League campaign, Benitez is still moving Liverpool forward with manic and obsessive restlessness.
He has been helped in that task by the £20m-plus that the owners allowed him to spend on prestige captures like Fernando Torres, Yossi Benayoun and Ryan Babel in the summer.
And his track record entitles him to demand further backing from the Americans for the January transfer window.
Liverpool fans feel he has a connection with them.
"We may not agree with some player selections or tactics," a leaflet distributed by one supporters' group at the march said, "but this man is the nearest we are ever going to get to Shanks or Sir Bob."

SUPER TORRES! SUPERB!









Liverpool 4 Porto 1





27 November 2007

RAFA CAN'T WIN WAR OF WORDS

By Frank Malley, PA Chief Sports Writer

There are millions of reasons why Rafael Benitez is on dodgy ground in his most recent spat with Liverpool's American owners.
Actually, 122 million to be precise. That is the amount of sterling Benitez has spent since joining Liverpool in the summer of 2004.
By even money-mad football measures that is a vast sum.
Around £50million of that was made available to Benitez by owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett after last May's Champions League final defeat against AC Milan, half of which was spent on bringing Fernando Torres to Anfield.
The point is that Benitez can hardly complain that he has not been supported. He can hardly claim he has not been given the tools to do the job.
He can hardly complain his authority has been usurped the way Jose Mourinho felt his had at Chelsea.
Sure, it is easy to see why Benitez wants to ensure Argentina's on-loan Javier Mascherano remains at the club and why he wants the £17million that would cost to be pledged sooner rather than later.
Benitez fears a player he believes is crucial to Liverpool's immediate future might be spirited away by one of their competitors.
You can see, too, why Benitez, whose team face a crucial Champions League tie against Porto at Anfield on Wednesday, wants to sign £15million Argentina defender Ezequiel Garay.
But you can also see why Hicks and Gillett might want to say: 'Hold on'.
The proposed cost of building Liverpool's new ground has soared £150million to £400million.
That new 60,000 capacity stadium is the long-term future of Liverpool, just as the Emirates stadium was the vehicle which ensured Arsenal's ability to continue to mix it with Manchester United and Chelsea.
I do not recall Arsene Wenger posturing and demanding to spend countless millions when the transfer shackles were applied at Highbury.
By contrast I recall Wenger buying in to the dream that good housekeeping now would pay dividends down the line.
Of course, that takes a man of patience and intelligence, as well as a shrewd coach confident in his own ability to mould his players into a winning team.
The truth, however, is that on that score Benitez has failed to convince.
Why? Mainly because there is no pattern or purpose to his work.
Despite the 8-0 slaying of Besiktas in the Champions League and the 6-0 destruction of Derby in the Premier League this season and the latest 3-0 win at Newcastle on Saturday Benitez has been unable to deliver a sense of momentum.
He does not suggest he is building a dynasty, more that he stumbles from match to match not knowing his best side, alienating men such as Peter Crouch and Yossi Benayoun who never know whether they will be selected from one game to the next.
After three and a half years there is still no pattern or identity to Liverpool's team, even after two Champions League final appearances, including the triumph in Istanbul.
Where is the surge of belief? Where is the conviction that consistency can be found to add to their 18 league titles?
A draw away at Porto and defeat at home to Marseille has left their hopes in the Champions League hanging precariously.
They languish fifth in the Premier League despite being the only team, other than Arsenal, in any of the divisions to remain unbeaten in the league this season.
It is why Benitez plays a dangerous game when he dons tracksuit rather than lounge suit on the touchline and chides his employers in a press conference by responding to almost every question with: "As always, I am focused on coaching and training my team."
With the advent of powerful foreign owners steeped in the world of business, men who want a return on their investment, football managers can no longer demand huge cheques be written willy-nilly.
Where I do have sympathy for Benitez is in the fact that Hicks and Gillett have each been to only one Liverpool match this season, while the manager claims he has spoken to them just once in three months.
That does not suggest Liverpool is their number one priority, nor exudes the passion for sport they claimed when they took control at Anfield.
It also does not suggest Liverpool are any closer to regaining their position as Britain's elite football club.

Kaladze transfer at the root of Benitez's outbursts

By Ian Herbert
Published: 27 November 2007

Rafael Benitez's outbursts against his club's American owners stem from their refusal to allow the Liverpool manager to discuss the purchase of the central defender Kahka Kaladze, who played for Milan in their European Cup success against Liverpool last May.
Benitez now believes he might have gone too far in last week's public railing against Tom Hicks and George Gillett, and he let it be known through sources yesterday that he had expressed his frustration for a reason: the Americans' insistence that transfer talk must wait until they meet him on 16 December, which means that any hope of signing the Georgian centre-back has now gone.
The Spaniard has evidently also been denied the chance to discuss two players he wanted to bring in on Bosman deals next summer – a situation he finds particularly galling since he feels he has the right, at the very least, to talk to players who do not carry the financial complication of transfer fees.
"We [football managers] know what it means to sign free – and I insist free – players now. I was not asking to spend money, I was asking to do things with free players," he said after Saturday's Newcastle game.
Though Kaladze is not a regular starter at San Siro, a situation which prompted talk of a move to Chelsea two years ago, his influence would be substantial at Liverpool, for whom Sami Hyypia has struggled and Jamie Carragher been at less than his best during the absence of Daniel Agger this season. The price tag would be £4m. Benitez is also understood to be interested in Racing Santander's central defender Ezequiel Marcelo Garay.
Despite the talk of missed opportunities, Benitez went to some lengths yesterday to heal the rift with the club's American owners. He does not want to leave Liverpool, not least because his wife loves the city and his children are settled there, and he let it be known, through the Liverpool Echo, that he wants to continue working with Hicks and Gillett.
Benitez only went so far with his new emollient tone. He still does not want to be seen to be backing down and his assertion of contentment with life at Anfield came after a great deal of thought on Sunday about what the tone might be.
Yet the language was significant. "All he wants is to be able to continue the job that he's started so he can continue improving the squad in a bid to deliver the title he knows Tom, George and Rick want just as badly as he does," a source close to Benitez told the Echo, purposely using the first names of the club's co-owners and Rick Parry, Liverpool's chief executive, whom Benitez referred to by name three times as he expressed his frustration after Saturday's match at Newcastle.
The source continued: "The frustration stems from the fact that communication has been so difficult with everyone being so far apart and in different time zones. But the fans should be reassured Rafa has no plans of walking away. He loves it here and his family are settled on Merseyside. He always describes his children as 'Scousers' and that makes him really proud."
Benitez may be be tempted to elaborate on his position at Liverpool this afternoon when he assesses his side's crucial Champions League match against Porto. He will at least feel a temporary line of communication exists when Foster Gillett, the co-owner's son and Liverpool managing director, who has left his permanent office at Liverpool's training ground for reasons which remain unclear, arrives in the city for the Porto game tomorrow
.

Only beating Porto can earn Rafa a stay of execution at Liverpool

By IAN LADYMAN
Last updated at 20:20pm on 26th November 2007

Ever since his Liverpool team lost so meekly to Besiktas in the Champions League in Istanbul last month, the week they face Porto at Anfield was destined to be one which defines Rafa Benitez's season. Few suspected it could be the week which determines whether he has a future at Anfield at all.
A stubborn man, over the past five days Benitez has deliberately chosen to go to war with Liverpool's American owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett over the thorny issue of transfer policy.
Plan of action: Benitez gathers together his players at training yesterday ahead of the Porto game which will determine whether he stays in favour with Gillett and Hicks
A failure to beat Porto at home on Wednesday night will see the Spaniard losing a major — possibly decisive — battle.
As a demonstration will illustrate before kick-off, public favour on Merseyside is currently with Benitez. No surprise there. He is the coach who has brought a Champions League trophy to Anfield.
They, meanwhile, are the Americans who still have everything to prove to sceptical Scousers who require long-term evidence before being fully convinced that the owners are indeed worthy guardians of their club.
Nevertheless, the game of brinkmanship that Benitez began at his peculiar press conference last Thursday — and has continued over the weekend — has massively increased the strain on his relationship with Gillett and Hicks. It has also placed a significant question-mark over his own future.
Victory over Porto is critical. If Liverpool fail they are destined not to qualify for the second stage of the Champions League. This would blow holes in Benitez's persistent clamour for more transfer cash — failure to reach the latter stages would cost Liverpool in the region of £10million — and leave the manager more vulnerable than he has ever been.
If they win, Liverpool's season remains very much alive — they are still unbeaten in the Premiership — and Benitez can head to a December meeting with the Americans with hope that the issues which threaten the future of the club's most progressive recent manager can be resolved.
According to Anfield sources, Benitez believes he will be sacked by the Americans at some stage. Knowing that Hicks, in particular, was not impressed by the way the Spaniard publicly appealed for transfer funds in the wake of last season's Champions League Final defeat in Athens, Benitez has interpreted recent silences about plans for January as an indication that the owners are planning a future without him.
This was the reason behind last week's farcical press conference that saw Benitez repeat 14 times that he was concentrating on 'preparing and coaching the team' and indeed why he then appeared on the touchline at Newcastle on Saturday dressed in a tracksuit rather than his usual shirt and tie.
Insiders at the club have dismissed Benitez's fears as paranoia, saying he will remain part of the fabric of the club as long as he continues to provide tangible evidence of progress on the field and restrains from embarrassing himself and his employers, as they believe he did last week.
On Monday — four days after what will become an infamous press conference — Benitez began some belated damage limitation.
In the respected and well-read Liverpool Echo newspaper, a 'source close to Benitez' revealed that the manager was still planning for the future.
'Rafa loves it at Liverpool,' said the source, believed to be a Spanish man with a beard. 'All he wants is what's best for the fans. He gets frustrated when he feels he is not able to do that.
'But he is happy with Tom and George owning the club and has enjoyed working with them since they came and has no problem with chief executive Rick Parry.
'The manager has a few transfers he wants to get done, one in January and two Bosmans in the summer, but it looks as though he is going to miss out on the first one now.
'That frustrated him because the first one was a centre half, a position he really feels we need back-up in.
'The frustration stems from the fact that communication has been so difficult with everyone being so far apart and in different time zones.'
Whatever his credentials as a coach, Benitez has never been much of a diplomat and is an equally lousy politician.
Hence this rather clumsy attempt to pin the blame on the Americans for what he clearly feels will be a failed attempt to recruit AC Milan's Georgia defender Kakha Kaladze.
Nevertheless, it is easy to sympathise with his predicament. Despite their media-savvy, open-house image — in contrast to the bunker mentality of the Glazer family at Manchester United — Gillett and Hicks are, by all accounts, not proving particularly adept at getting to grips with the unique world of professional football.
While Benitez quite rightly endeavours to plan for squad improvements in January, the club's owners seem to believe the issue of New Year transfers does not really need to be addressed until the hangovers have cleared on January 1. That, of course, is naive to the point of being ridiculous.
At Old Trafford, the Glazer family may remain unpopular and mistrusted, but their control of the club has not been allowed to alter the working relationship between manager Sir Alex Ferguson and chief executive David Gill.
At United, Ferguson picks the players, Gill informs the Glazers of the price and more often than not the deal gets done.
It would appear that the chain of command is longer and far more complex at Anfield. In short, Benitez believes it is costing him players.
His recent attempt to independently secure the permanent services of midfielder Javier Mascherano — negotiating with the Argentine's 'owner' Kia Joorabchian about a £17m deal to turn the loan into a fixed move — has annoyed Gillett and Hicks, but Benitez felt that he had to make a point.
It emerged yesterday that Mascherano, seen as having a key role in Liverpool's future, will not commit to a permanent move until he is convinced Benitez is staying.

25 November 2007

Champions' League: Any Porto in a storm for rattled Benitez

By Steve Tongue, Football Correspondent (The Independent)
Published: 25 November 2007


When he sat in the team hotel the morning after Liverpool had lost the Champions' League final to Milan last May, Rafa Benitez's outburst about the club's failure to act quickly enough in the transfer market may have been calculated but was also influenced by the disappointment of the night before. The American owners he challenged on that occasion were sympathetic and soon came up with the best part of £50m for players like Fernando Torres, Ryan Babel and Yossi Benayoun, but when the manager recently demanded more, firstly to secure the permanent transfer of Javier Mascherano, they were less forthcoming.
Hence the apparent breakdown in the relationship between the parties going into yesterday's 3-0 win at Newcastle and before Wednesday's crucial Champions' League fixture with Porto. Benitez is a football man, Tom Hicks and George Gillett are businessmen and as at most clubs, the difference can be a source of tension. This week's match at Anfield is one that should bring the two aspects of running a club together, so it was hardly the time to be falling out. If Liverpool, apparently recovering after having taken one point from their opening three group matches, fail to beat the Portuguese side, they will face elimination from the competition and possibly not even qualify as third-placed team for the Uefa Cup.
In those circumstances, and after the rebuke he earned from Hicks on Friday – "quit talking about new players and coach the players we have" – Benitez can hardly expect to be handed £17m for Mascherano, a player already on the books. He would probably have to sell Peter Crouch as well as Scott Carson before any consideration is given to further outgoings by owners committed to more than £20m a year in interest payments as well as some £400m for a new stadium.
When he could finally be persuaded to talk about Porto rather than repeating his "focused on training and coaching" mantra, Benitez said: "The idea is just to win. We don't need to score a lot of goals, just win. We know if we can beat Porto we have a chance of advancing. It is clear we must win and be ready for Marseille. The Porto strikers have power."
So do club owners. Benitez needs to be wary of tempting them to use it against him, however unpopular that would be.

THE SUNDAY TIMES PREVIEW LFC vs PORTO

Rafa timebomb
by Jonathan Northcroft


Training and coaching. A top manager in a top post who declared an interest in giving it all up for the England job had to be in a funny mood. Rafael Benitez has done many brilliant things at Liverpool, but some odd ones too, and he may come to look back on this week much in the same way as his on-loan goal-keeper, Scott Carson. Like Carson, Benitez made an excruciating miscalculation. No ball slipped through his fingers, but a degree of job security surely did.
Training and coaching. When Benitez gave his regular press conference on Thursday, there was a pointed lack of rotation policy applied to the words he spoke. Here is a bit of how it went. “Rafa, would going out of the Champions League impact seriously on the club’s finances?” “As always, I’m focused on training and coaching, so why would I talk about other things?” “Is a deal close for Javier Mascherano?” “Nearly, but because I’m focused on training and coaching, I can’t say anything.” “Have you been in touch with George Gillett and Tom Hicks in the last few days?” “Coaching and training.” “You sound like something’s up, and your relationship with the Americans might be the problem.” “On the record and off the record. Coaching and training!” “Do you feel let down by somebody.” “Coaching and training.” And so it continued.
Coaching and training. Benitez was told to concentrate on this when, during the international break, he took it upon himself to broker a provisional arrangement to pay Mascherano’s third-party owners £17m to convert his loan stay at Anfield into a permanent transfer. Benitez also made moves to buy Ezequiel Garay, another Argentinian, from Racing Santander that would commit Liverpool to an outlay of at least £10m.
For Hicks and Gillett, squeezed by the escalating steel and interest costs that mean the projected price of Liverpool’s new stadium has more than doubled since their takeover, Benitez had gone beyond his brief. His bizarre press conference got him into further trouble. In its aftermath, a request for the Americans to respond was answered within minutes by a personal e-mail from Hicks. “It is time for Rafa to focus on winning important matches,” it read. Hicks went further, with the “shut up” message in an interview with the Liverpool Echo on Friday. “We told him [Benitez] to concentrate on the games coming up and nothing else. I guess he didn’t like that,” Hicks said.
Benitez’s jousting since joining Liverpool has generally strengthened his position, but he is finding the Americans, Hicks in particular, quite different adversaries from David Moores and Rick Parry, with whom he generally had good relations. Like the lady who swoons, he must have thought creating a scene would make Hicks and Gillett come running with the poultices. He was badly wrong.
Benitez might have also imagined stories that Bayern Munich want him would spook the Americans, and that linking himself with the England job would do similar, creating a situation in which he would get his way. But Hicks’s message was the opposite: “Shut up or ship out.” A tycoon who made his $1.3bn fortune in the bloody world of mergers and acquisitions would not hesitate to carry out any threat. Hicks and Gillett had previously strained to keep Benitez onside, seeing him as key to maintaining relations with Liverpool’s fans, whose goodwill they require after indebting the club by £500m as result of the new stadium and their takeover.
But now supporters are beginning to nurse little doubts about Benitez; the manager is in a weaker position and may not have understood this. He was entitled to a previous outburst after the Champions League final in May. Not now.
One reason is his travails in this season’s competition. Failure to beat Porto would see Liverpool eliminated at the group stage. Beating Besiktas by a record 8-0 was diverting, but danger remains. Maximum points are required not just on Wednesday but in their final match in Marseilles for Liverpool to progress. “The Besiktas match was a fantastic game for us, but against Porto the idea is just to win. We don’t need to score a lot of goals, just win. It is clear we must score and win and be ready for Marseilles,” Benitez said.
“Porto know that they have to win as well, because if Besiktas win [against Marseilles] they will have six points and can go into the last game [versus Porto] with a chance of going through. I feel Porto need to win and I think that might help us.” Hicks and Gillett next visit England on December 16 and have told Benitez any discussions about transfers will have to wait until then. It is the date of Liverpool’s home match with Manchester United, but also five days after the Marseilles game. If he is out of the Champions League, with all the income that entails, Benitez will face an awkward time in front of his masters. Coaching and training. The meeting will already be uncomfortable enough.

LIVERPOOL v FC PORTO, Thursday 2.45am

My Reds thrive on stress
. . JUST ASK CHELSEA OR MILAN Says RAFAEL BENITEZ
By Ken Lawrence 25/11/2007

Rafa Benitez may be a man at war with his club's owners. But he is at peace in the belief that his team can stay on their Champions League tightrope this week.
Nothing less than victory against Porto on Wednesday can maintain Liverpool's balance after the 8-0 crushing of Besiktas that prevented European calamity at the start of the month.
With a minimum of £14million resting on qualification for the knockout stages - money that, given his club's complicated financial situation, would be like manna from heaven right now - the clash against the Portuguese has massive implications for Benitez and his players.
But Benitez insists there are few better at the strain game than his team, a view that will be of solace to skipper Steven Gerrard.
The Anfield captain also wore the armband for England as his country crashed out of Euro 2008, yet his manager has no doubts that when the chips are down this time, he will emerge smiling.
Benitez said: "The team has confidence. We know it will be a difficult game because we know Porto are a team with quality so we have to do our job and see if it is possible to play as well as we did against Besiktas.
"And I am confident we can do it. We are a team that can play under strain and stress. We have proved that.
"We have had our problems in the group and we found it hard in the game against Porto over there. But there is a big difference. For a start we are playing at Anfield - and we know we need to win to have a chance of progressing.
"So what we have to do is clear - and I believe we can do it."
Benitez has seen his team prevail on plenty of nerve-shredding European nights - not least in the 2005 Final triumph, the semi-final clash with Chelsea that same year and even on November 6 when they tore Besiktas to bits.
That is why he remains calm despite the storms gathering around him.
He said: "I believe we can do it. We proved in the past against teams like Chelsea, and in the Final itself, that we can handle strain and we have more experience now.
"And Porto cannot afford to just sit back. If Besiktas beat Marseilles they will have a big opportunity to go through in the last game so Porto have to come here and try to win - and that should help us."
Liverpool didn't have an easy night in Portugal when Jermaine Pennant was sent off in a 1-1 draw, and Benitez added: "People will be looking for another result like the Besiktas one but it is important that they are patient.
"We don't need a lot of goals. We just need to win because if we do that we can go to Marseilles and have a real opportunity."

Classy Anelka rubs salt in wounds as Bolton stun United (Bolton 1-0 MU)

utusanLFC : It's not because I don't have enough LFC news or I pity them. No. Not at all. It's just to remind Man.U that Mr Anelka was once a RED KOP. And he is still warmly remember by us Fans. Thank You Anelka....! Beautiful!

Bolton 1 Man Utd 0


ALEX FERGUSON was sent to the stands as Nicolas Anelka showed Manchester United what they are missing.
United boss Ferguson was ordered off at half-time after finger-jabbing referee Mark Clattenburg.
Fergie was furious with Bolton's strong-arm tactics, which could have seen a red card for Bolton striker Kevin Davies.
The muscular hitman was involved in a running battle with United defender Patrice Evra.
But Clattenburg only showed Davies one yellow card, even though further clashes could have seen him sent off.

Newcastle United 0 Liverpool 3




STEVEN GERRARD scored a wonder goal to put his England nightmare behind him.
The Liverpool skipper blasted home a stunning strike at St James' Park.
And second-half goals from Dirk Kuyt and Ryan Babel handed sorry Newcastle another defeat.

23 November 2007

NEWCASTLE V LIVERPOOL: STAT ATTACK

All the relevant facts and figures ahead of Liverpool's Premier League visit to Newcastle United on Saturday from LFC statistician Ged Rea (liverpoolfc.tv)

NEWCASTLE UNITED v LIVERPOOL
Head to head: (League only) At Newcastle: Liverpool 20 wins, Newcastle 29 wins, 23 draws.
Overall: Liverpool 67 wins, Newcastle 40 wins, 37 draws.
Last season Newcastle won 2-1 at St. James' Park. Craig Bellamy scored an early goal against his old club before Obafemi Martins and a Nolberto Solano (penalty) secured the points for the Magpies.
It was the first (and still only) time Liverpool had lost a league game after they had scored the first goal since Rafa Benitez took charge.
The Reds had won 52 and drawn six of 58 games at the time. The tally is now 62 wins, nine draws and one defeat in 72 matches. Liverpool have won 15 and lost seven of the 28 Premier League meetings between the sides. Liverpool have kept just one clean sheet in their last 16 League visits.
That came in September 2001 when John Arne Riise and Danny Murphy scored in a 2-0 win. That is one of two Reds wins in the last eight visits.
Liverpool's biggest win at Newcastle came in October 1930 when they won 4-0. Their biggest defeat came in January 1934 when they lost 9-2.
The last goalless draw in this fixture came in February 1974.
Since then all 46 meetings have produced at least one goal. 86 goals have been scored in the 28 Premier League meetings between the sides - just over three per game.
The last Liverpool player to be sent off against Newcastle was Salif Diao on New Year's Day 2003.
The last Liverpool player to score a hat-trick against Newcastle was Michael Owen in May 2001 at Anfield. Only two Liverpool players have ever scored a hat-trick at St James' Park - Steve Nicol in September 1987 and Michael Owen in August 1998 - both in 4-1 Reds wins.
Dirk Kuyt scored his 150th career goal and his first in a Liverpool shirt against Newcasle in the fixture at Anfield last season.
If selected Momo Sissoko could make his 50th league appearance for the Reds.
Alvaro Arbeloa made his league debut on this ground last February.
Fernando Torres' three goals away from Anfield this season all came in one game at Reading in the Carling Cup.
Steven Gerrard has scored in five of Liverpool's last six games. He has now scored 81 goals for the club and is in joint 18th place in the all-time scoring charts. He is level with Jack Cox and also Terry McDermott who has been on the coaching staff at Newcastle for many years. Steven has scored six goals during this campaign, four more than at the same time last season.

VERBATIM : RAFA RAGE

Transcript of the Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez when questioned by the Press
Nov 23 2007
by Ian Doyle, Liverpool Daily Post

PRESS: Do you know how much you will have to spend from the American owners in January?
RB: As always I am focused on training and coaching my team.
Have you had any assurances you’ll have what you want?
RB: As always I am focused on training and coaching my team.
What about your long-term plan?
RB: My plan is training and coaching the team.
Is there anything upsetting you?
RB: As always I am focused on training and coaching my team.
Do you have anything to say?
RB: As always I am focused on training and coaching my team.
It’s clear something is up...
RB: You have my answer.
You’re very different from normal...
RB: You have my answer.
It’s clear that something is up, though. How can you focus on your training and coaching?
RB: I was preparing the training session before this Press conference. So I am always focused on training and coaching.
It’s not always possible, though...
RB: Yes, it is for me.
You said after the story linking you with Bayern Munich you were happy to stay here for a long time, is that still the case?
RB: As always I am focused on training and coaching my team.
We’re not going to tease it out of you, are we? You’re not normally late for a Press conference. You were obviously preoccupied by something...
RB: Because as always I was focusing on the training session.
Is there anything you would like to say?
RB: As always I am focused on training and coaching my team.
You always say you are focused on training and coaching, but you usually give answers to our enquiries, so how come it’s changed suddenly?
RB: Nothing. I’m just focused on training and coaching as always.
You did kind of suggest to the TV people that you were open to possibility of the England job. Is that something we should treat seriously?
RB: It’s your decision. You never know what will happen in the future.
Were you serious when you answered it?
RB: I was serious.
It would be dereliction of our duty not to point out that one day you say you are looking to stay here a long time, then the next day you are saying who knows about England for the future. Isn’t there a contradiction between the two?
RB: The future is the future. Now, as always I am focused on training and coaching my team, so I cannot say anything else. Just to keep preparing for the next game.
You’ve always said you wanted to stay here for years and years and talked about the future here?
RB: That is true.
So, what you’re saying suggests that perhaps the future here is in question?
RB: I am focused on training and coaching my team.
So who knows?
RB: As always I am focused on training and coaching my team.
Are you being allowed to do that as you wish?
RB: I am focused on training and coaching my team.
Does everyone associated with the club share that opinion?
RB: As always I am focused on training and coaching my team.



utusanLFC:
something stupid is brewing in Anfield. Something most of us fans would perceived as the know-nothing about soccer of the americans. On hindsight, the Dubai sheikhs could have given Rafa what ever he wants. But no... you businessmen over in anfield thinks the americans are the perfect candidates and look what happens now. Stupid. If Rafa goes.... I don't know... I should close my blog.

Rafael Benítez struggling to hold on as relationship with owners slides

Oliver Kay

There was a widespread belief that Rafael Benítez was joking yesterday afternoon when he suggested that he might be considered a candidate for the job as England head coach, but Liverpool’s supporters are unlikely to find it a laughing matter.
That remark, laced with a typically self-deprecating joke about his poor English, was made against a backdrop of growing political unrest at Anfield, with strong indications last night that his relationship with the club’s American owners is nearing crisis point.
Benítez barely concealed his unhappiness at his weekly press conference yesterday, when, in response to questions about his position and his plans for the future, he said no fewer than 25 times that he was “focusing on coaching and training my team”. That phrase appeared harmless, but further investigation revealed that it was one impressed on him, to his dissatisfaction, by George Gillett Jr and Tom Hicks in response to his latest demands for support in the transfer market. His repeated use of the phrase has been interpreted within Anfield as a deliberate and dangerous swipe at the two American tycoons.
Benítez has been angered by a lack of dialogue from Gillett and Hicks in recent months, with sources at the club saying that, despite regular e-mail contact, they have spoken once since August. More troubling still are rumours of tension between the American co-chairmen as they look to finalise a refinancing package that would take the club £500 million into debt to finance the construction of a stadium on Stanley Park. Rick Parry, the chief executive, attempted to dismiss such talk last week, but Gillett and Hicks are known to have differed on several key issues since they arrived in a blaze of glory to complete their £415 million takeover in February.
The lines of communication between BenÍtez and the owners were reopened yesterday lunchtime – whether directly or not remained unclear last night – but relations are far from amicable. BenÍtez has demanded £17 million to sign Javier Mascherano on a permanent basis, having negotiated a deal directly with the player’s advisers, and a further sum to sign Ezequiel Marcelo Garay, the Racing Santander defender, and two South American teenagers in January, but the Americans feel that he is agitating unnecessarily and that, having been backed in the transfer market in the summer, he should concentrate on improving Liverpool’s position in the Barclays Premier League – a slur that did not sit well with the manager.
Only last week BenÍtez rejected an informal approach from Bayern Munich and talked of his desire to fulfil his many long-term ambitions at Anfield, but there was no such cheeriness yesterday as he arrived unusually late and in a dark mood after the pronouncement from the United States. Pressed on any issue beyond individual players and tomorrow’s Premier League match away to Newcastle United, he would say only that “I am focused on training and coaching.”
Informed that he was doing little to offer assurances about his future, particularly with his comment about the England job, he said only that “You have my answer” and that it had been serious, rather than light-hearted.
BenÍtez might have convinced himself that he was treading a diplomatic line in contrast to the outburst that dismayed the owners the morning after the Champions League final defeat by AC Milan in May, but Gillett and Hicks were not impressed when word reached them of his performance. Sensing that they were being dragged into a public power struggle, the two men took the unusual step of issuing a statement through the club’s website, saying that they will not be hurried into transfer activity and that all matters will be discussed when they visit Merseyside next month.
The statement read: “We made a significant investment in the playing squad during the summer and desperately want this team to succeed. There are some very important games coming up in the next couple of weeks and all of us need to focus on winning those games and getting the best out of the players we already have at the club. We will leave any talk of buying or selling players until we come across to Liverpool in December and sit down with the manager then.”
Rather than placate BenÍtez, the tone of the statement appeared to put pressure on him in advance of a critical Champions League match against FC Porto on Wednesday.

Benítez wobbly throws light on shaky relations with Americans

Andy Hunter
Friday November 23, 2007
The Guardian

A serious rift was exposed in the Liverpool hierarchy last night when Rafael Benítez had a fit of pique over his January transfer plans and the club's American owners, George Gillett and Tom Hicks, ordered the manager to concentrate on the lavish resources already at his disposal.
In a press conference at Liverpool's Melwood training complex, delayed for 35 minutes while Benítez took a transatlantic call from his employers, the Spaniard, visibly shaken, refused to commit his future to the club and even volunteered his services to England. "Maybe I could be [Steve McClaren's replacement] if I improve my English," he said. Later Benítez said: "I was being serious. You never know what can happen in the future."
Earlier this week the Liverpool manager dismissed interest from Bayern Munich but his commitment is in doubt after Gillett and Hicks told Benítez he would have to wait to discover his next transfer budget. The manager is upset at delays in finalising a £17m permanent deal for Javier Mascherano and indications that, with the Americans hoping to secure a £500m loan against the club in the next few weeks, he will have to sell before he can buy.
Benítez repeated the phrase "I am focused on training and coaching my team" throughout interviews for television, radio and the written press - to whom he used the response 15 times.
He first challenged Hicks and Gillett to spend after the European Cup final in May, when he was not as angry as he appeared yesterday. The Americans responded with a £44m outlay in the summer, with almost half recouped through sales.
In a statement released after Benítez's press conference, Gillett and Hicks said: "We made a significant investment in the playing squad during the summer and desperately want this team to succeed. There are some very important games coming up in the next couple of weeks and all of us need to focus on winning those games and getting the best out of the players we already have at the club. We will leave any talk of buying or selling players until we come across to Liverpool in December and sit down with the manager then." Benítez could miss out on a £6m pay-off if he walks away but, as Liverpool discovered when they courted him at Valencia in 2004, he has a history of falling out with employers over his transfer ambitions.

Benitez considers leaving Liverpool if owners don't spend big

By JOHN EDWARDS

Rafa Benitez will deliver a stark ultimatum to his Liverpool bosses after becoming exasperated with their refusal to sanction his January transfer plans.
After several failed attempts to clarify how much he has to spend, a frustrated Benitez is ready to tell George Gillett and Tom Hicks to dig deep or consider whether they should start looking for a new manager.
Liverpool's co-owners will sit down with Benitez when they visit Anfield for the December 16 showdown with Manchester United and it promises to be as fiery off the pitch as on it after the manager made little secret yesterday of the rift that has developed in recent weeks.
With a £6million pay- off written into his contract in the event of the sack, Benitez is unlikely to quit. But he could test the patience of Hicks and Gillett to the point where they decide to act, if he is anything like as tetchy as at a Melwood press conference yesterday to preview tomorrow's game at Newcastle.
Matters came to a head earlier this week when the Americans deferred an answer on Benitez's spending power until next month's meeting and urged him to 'concentrate on coaching the team' in the meantime.
Riled at what he sees as another example of their dragging their heels, a monosyllabic Benitez straight-batted any mention of Newcastle or England's Euro 2008 demise by saying: 'I can only focus on training and coaching my team.' He even resorted to using the England vacancy to exert more pressure on his bosses by claiming he might have an interest in succeeding Steve McClaren.
Asked if he should be taken seriously, he replied, enigmatically: 'It is your decision. You never know what might happen in the future. Yes, I am being serious.'
He is anxious for confirmation he can complete the £17m signing of on-loan midfielder Javier Mascherano and is looking for a further £18m to add Racing Santander's Argentina centre back Ezequiel Garay and Heerenveen's Brazil striker Afonso Alves to his squad.
Although he spent around £45m in the summer on Fernando Torres, Ryan Babel and Yossi Benayoun, he has become increasingly impatient over a lack of communication from owners in the past two months.
Hicks and Gillett were dismayed by his post-Champions League Final outburst last May, when he accused them of 'all talk and no action', and they appear just as put out by his latest agitating after issuing a statement reiterating that they will not be browbeaten into parting with more funds.
Ominously for Benitez, there was a strong hint that his plea for cash could hinge on Liverpool's Champions League fate, with victory over Porto (home) and Marseille (away) needed if they are to reach the knockout stages.
The Americans are trying to juggle huge sums as they decide on how much should go on a new stadium and commercial activities and how much towards transfers.

20 November 2007

Rafael Benitez in for long haul at Liverpool after Bayern snub

Oliver Kay

Rafael BenÍtez, the Liverpool manager, has outlined his ambitions for long-term success with the club after rejecting a discreet inquiry from Bayern Munich about his services. The Spaniard was approached last week by a third party claiming to represent Bayern, but he has made clear his desire to stay at Anfield, where he is plotting more significant moves during the January transfer window.
“It is always flattering to be linked with other big clubs because it must mean you are doing something right,” BenÍtez said. “But even if I was approached, I would tell whichever club it was that I am really happy with my club, my squad, my supporters and my city. There are still many things I want to do here, so I am planning on being here for a long time.”
BenÍtez’s willingness to reject Bayern is not a surprise, given that he had rejected overtures from Real Madrid, but it is encouraging for Liverpool supporters to hear the former Valencia coach speaking so warmly of his present club and life on Merseyside. Twice since joining Liverpool in 2004 BenÍtez has caused concern among the Liverpool hierarchy by hinting at a future in Italy or Spain, but he appears more eager than ever to stay long term.
BenÍtez’s main ambition is to lead Liverpool to their first league title since 1990, a goal that he feels could yet be attained this season. He plans to make some fundamental changes to his squad in January and is eager to sell Scott Carson, the England goalkeeper, to Aston Villa, where he is on loan, and is prepared to offload at least one of John Arne Riise, Mohamed Sissoko and Peter Crouch to raise funds for top-class reinforcements.
Part of the proceeds would be used to fund a £17 million permanent deal to buy Javier Mascherano, whose 18-month lease arrangement expires at the end of the season. The Argentina midfield player, whose economic rights are owned by Media Sports Investments, is keen to make a long-term commitment to Liverpool, despite firm interest from Barcelona.
With Crouch available for more than £10 million after falling from favour at Anfield, BenÍtez also plans to sign a left winger and a centre forward, but the greater priority is to sign more defensive cover, with the club’s scouts having spent the past month scrutinising the form of Ezequiel Garay, of Racing Santander and Argentina, who could offer the back four much-needed depth.

19 November 2007

Villa ready to offer £20m for Carson and Crouch

By Jason Burt

Rafael Benitez has been told he has to sell before he can buy more players for Liverpool – with Aston Villa hoping to sign both Peter Crouch and Scott Carson in the January transfer window.
A £10m deal is thought to be already in place for Carson to turn his season-long loan spell at Villa Park into a permanent move while the club's manager Martin O'Neill has told Liverpool he intends to bid for Crouch. He would also cost upwards of £10m. Both players featured for England in last night's friendly against Austria, with Carson making his debut.
If Benitez, who is under pressure to deliver trophies, having spent more than £40m last summer with the arrival of players such as Fernando Torres and Ryan Babel, can secure the deals he will make a move for the Racing Santander central defender Ezequiel Garay. With Daniel Agger injured, although soon to return to fitness, and Sami Hyypia an unconvincing replacement, Benitez desperately needs to shore up his defence for the rest of the campaign having been prevented, by an arbitration panel, from signing Gabriel Heinze.
Garay, a 21-year-old and, like Heinze, Argentinian, is also likely to cost around £10m with Benitez expected to seek a buyer for John Arne Riise as he attempts to balance the books further and keep the club's American owners happy. Riise has just 18 months left on his contract and is unlikely to be offered a new deal.
It means that Liverpool could be one of the busiest clubs when the transfer window opens. It's also a clear sign that Benitez got his calculations wrong during the summer while selling two English players and buying another foreigner will only add more fuel to the growing debate over quotas – especially as the Liverpool captain, Steven Gerrard, has already expressed his concern.
The departure of Carson is wholly expected, given that the 22-year-old has spent virtually all of his Liverpool career on loan, including last season at Charlton Athletic, since he joined from Leeds United for £750,000 in 2005. The sale represents a tidy profit for Liverpool even if some will be disappointed Benitez never gave any indication that the highly regarded goalkeeper would be allowed to challenge Pepe Reina as the club's No 1.
Liverpool set the ball rolling for Crouch's expected transfer by contacting a number of Premier League clubs earlier this week, partly in an effort to drive the price for the 26-year-old as high as possible. Portsmouth and Newcastle United would like to sign Crouch but Villa – like Portsmouth, one of his former clubs – have shown the greatest interest. Manchester City, after an initial interest, prefer to pursue the Brazilian Afonso Alves from the Dutch club Heerenveen. His fee and wages would be cheaper.
No price has yet been discussed for Crouch, although Villa will probably have to break their transfer record which was set only last January when they bought Ashley Young – who also made his England debut against the Austrians – from Watford for £9.65m.
Crouch has prospered since Liverpool beat West Ham to his signature two years ago with a £7m move from Southampton, winning 23 caps for England and scoring 12 goals for his country, but he has undoubtedly fallen down the pecking order of strikers with the arrival of Torres and Dirk Kuyt.
There has been some talk of friction within the Liverpool camp, and claims that Crouch has an attitude problem, but these are wide of the mark.
Benitez himself has rejected such suggestions and, even though he has used Crouch, who remains extremely popular with Liverpool fans, sparingly he said recently: "He's a nice boy, a good professional, a good players. It is clear that this team now, with four strikers, creates more competition for places, but I don't have any problems because Crouch is a good player."
It seems certain that his departure is driven mainly by economic reasons, given Liverpool's high spending under Benitez, who will now use Babel more in his preferred position as a central striker rather than seek a replacement for Crouch.

17 November 2007

Benitez exclusive: Reds boss on rotation policy, title ambitions, foreign quotas and managerial mind games

Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez speaks about rotation policy, keeping players happy, difficulties in the Champions League, a new stadium, and mind games with other managers on CNN International's 'World Sport'. Here is an extract of a two-part interview to be screened next Monday and Tuesday at 9.30pm.

CNN - Everybody talks about your rotation policy. Why do you rotate players so much and how do you react to criticism?
Benitez - All the managers change players. When you play 2 games a week, you must change players. So everybody does the same. The question is if you win or if you lose. When you win, nobody says anything. So we will try to win and keep people calm.
CNN - How hard is it to keep the players calm?
Benitez - I think the players understand. They all want to play every game, but they understand that if you want to be a contender, you need to change players because otherwise you will not be able to be fit the whole season.
CNN – Steven Gerrard doesn't rest much. How important is he to the team, on and off the pitch?
Benitez - He's the captain, he's a player with good mentality, strong character, so really important for us. On the pitch he can change games, and off the pitch he is an example for the rest of the team.
CNN - With so many foreigners at the club, is it important to have someone like him to help them identify with the spirit and history of Liverpool?
Benitez - We are trying to keep the British players, the English players, the local players is our idea. They show the rest of the players what the passion means.
CNN – What do you think about all the foreigners in the Premier League? Do you think there should be a quota to limit them?
Benitez - The balance is the key. We were talking about Gerrard, the passion he can show to teammates, to have local players and foreign players if they are good enough is the key. If you have 20 local players with enough quality for winning trophies, perfect. If you cannot, you need to bring in foreign players. So the balance is the key."

Bayern target Benitez reaffirms commitment to Liverpool

17th November 2007

Manager Rafa Benitez has reaffirmed his commitment to Liverpool amid reports he has been sounded out by Bayern Munich about replacing under-pressure Ottmar Hitzfeld as manager.
The Spaniard has been made the No1 target for the German giants after it became clear that, despite topping the Bundesliga, Hitzfeld was unlikely to be offered a new contract, following growing tension behind the scenes.
But Benitez told CNN International's 'World Sport' he was committed to working with the club's American owners, George Gillett and Tom Hicks, and revealed his future plans.
"When we started talking about the future, we were very clear, we needed to have a plan," he said.
"We have this plan and we are progressing. The situation is positive in terms of things we wanted to do and what we are doing.
"When I signed the team wasn't winning much. They said to me try to win trophies in the future.
"To play seven finals and win four trophies I think is not bad in three years. So we need to see what happens this year, but we have confidence we can do it.
"We know that we are a top side, we play against a lot of teams that have power, money, and experience.
"Our vision is to be successful, have a new stadium, and trying to improve a little bit the structure of the club. We are going in the right direction."

waaaa....even Rafa is wanted by other clubs...

The Times
November 17, 2007
by Oliver Kay


Rafael Benitez, the Liverpool manager, is attracting interest from Bayern Munich, having been identified as the coach to restore the German club to their former glories.
It is unlikely that the Spaniard could be persuaded to leave Anfield to move to Germany, but Bayern are determined to recruit a top-class coach next summer and would be prepared to make him a substantial offer, as well as give him considerable support in the transfer market.
Bayern’s interest stems from their desire to find a long-term successor to the vastly experienced Ottmar Hitzfeld, whose second spell in charge is likely to end when his contract expires at the end of the season.
They believe that BenÍtez, who led Liverpool to Champions League success in his first season at Anfield, would represent an ideal appointment, but Bayern are also likely to consider José Mourinho, the former Chelsea manager, for any vacancy at the Allianz Arena.
Liverpool, while aware of rumours of Bayern’s interest, remain calm about BenÍtez’s plans, aware that he has two years left on his contract and that the Spaniard – having considered his future on a couple of occasions in the past two years - is settled, both in the job and domestically on Merseyside.
BenÍtez, though, would not shy away from using any interest in him to strengthen his position at Anfield, particularly in terms of securing funding from George Gillett Jr and Tom Hicks, the club’s American owners, to sign new players.
He is eager to make at least two high-profile signings during the January transfer window – a centre half, such as Ezequiel Marcelo Garay, of Racing Santander, and a striker. The need for a new centre forward is all the greater given his eagerness to offload Peter Crouch, who has fallen dramatically down the pecking order.

16 November 2007

LFC first!

Sorry Gerrard but it's club first for us
Nov 16 2007
by Sam Johnstone, Liverpool Daily Post

IT'S NOT often that you'll find Liverpool supporters disagreeing with Steven Gerrard, but I can guarantee that there will be many who would argue the toss with the skipper this week about the national team.
With yet another international interrupting the campaign (and just as we were starting to look very good again), the old debate was sure to rear its ugly head again, especially as England's qualification hopes hang in the balance.
According to the pre-match Press conference for the England versus Austria match, Stevie said that those who wish Liverpool to be more successful than England are, perhaps, being a bit selfish.
I can understand his viewpoint, even if I disagree, as the desires of the majority often outweigh the minority, but this doesn't make his view necessarily the correct one.
The England team still means very little to a huge amount of Liverpool supporters, and although this group (of which I am a member) wouldn't want England to fail particularly, the most important thing in football for us is Liverpool FC.
I'm sure we are not alone in this; I know of a lot of United fans who feel the same, though maybe it could be a Northern thing.
For all that England played games around the country during Wembley's rebuilding, there's still a nagging suspicion that the national team is a Southern thing.
I hope England do qualify, but I won't be moping about if it doesn't happen. I'll be thinking of the next Liverpool game and whether Rafa is going to continue with his bold all out attack policy.
Other thoughts will turn to games in the future, the fitness of key players, whether I'll be able to pick my own seat in the new stadium, should I start saving for trips abroad in the knockout phase of the Champions League.
Come to think of it, it is selfish, very much so. But like the spoilt child I must be, I just think "so?"
Good luck, Stevie, I hope youget the results you need, just don't be so harsh on us England agnostics. We just want to see you in a red shirt, that's all.

BAD NEWS......or is it?

Crouch can leave Liverpool for £10m
By JOHN EDWARDS
15th November 2007 (The Daily Mail)

Liverpool will spark a £10million transfer auction after deciding to sell Peter Crouch to the highest bidder in January.
Crouch's future has been the subject of intense speculation this season but now manager Rafa Benitez has finally lost patience after seeing a change in the striker's attitude.
The Liverpool manager believes Crouch's status as an England player has turned his head, to the detriment of the work ethic that made him such a valuable team player when he arrived from Southampton for £7m in 2005.
Benitez has instructed Anfield chiefs to secure the best possible price for 26-yearold Crouch. There will be no shortage of offers, with early signs of interest from Newcastle, Portsmouth and Aston Villa, one of his former clubs.
A move abroad is believed to appeal to Crouch, with Juventus in the market for a front-runner.
Casting an eye towards the Premier League, Liverpool's initial valuation could prove a stumbling block. Manchester City dropped out after being quoted £15m.
Sportsmail understands that Crouch is prepared to dig his heels in and see out the remaining 18 months of his contract if Liverpool insist on £15m. It seems likely the club will have to lower their sights to around £10m for a New Year deal to go through.



Crouch's expected departure may not be the only one after Momo Sissoko demanded showdown talks over his lack of opportunities this season.
The 22-year-old Mali midfielder has made only four Premier League starts and sees little hope of forcing his way back after slipping behind Javier Mascherano and Xabi Alonso for a place alongside Steven Gerrard.
He wants to grill Benitez over his standing and is ready to demand a move in January if the manager cannot convince him he will have a more active role in the second half of the season.
Liverpool only just pipped Everton to the former Valencia player's signature and there is certain to be strong interest from the Premier League as well as a host of foreign clubs, headed by Juventus, jostling for the chance to offer him a fresh start.
Daniel Agger has set his sights on a return to action against Newcastle a week tomorrow, following a 13-game absence with a broken metatarsal.
'I have had to miss out on Denmark's game in Northern Ireland, but I hope to be ready to play for Liverpool after the international break,' said the 22-year old centre-back.
Benitez, who will give Sami Hyypia an overdue rest if Agger is passed fit, says Yossi Benayoun has only an outside chance of making the lunchtime kick-off at St James' Park. He has been forced to rule out Alonso, who has suffered another foot injury.
Benitez said: 'Yossi is working with the physios now. We will have to see if he is fit for Newcastle; it's still too early to say.
'He and Agger are “maybes” but perhaps it will be easier for Agger than for Benayoun. Xabi should start running in the next week but he is a “no” for Newcastle, for sure.'
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utusanLFC :
there's bad and good side of this new development (if its true...LFC yet to confirm the story). Crouch has been a player that we admire with his technics and skills (very English type laaa...) and we do remember his bicycle kicks both for LFC and England.... Now, with him starting, basically we know what kind of tactics LFC will deploy, so does the opposition team. Long balls straight to him, and he will control the ball - connect it to the 2nd striker to try. Or he might fancy it himself. Sometimes it work, sometimes not. Depending on what type of defenders the opposition instilled to guard Crouchy. The news above, indicating that Crouch is becoming big-headed, which is not to Rafa's taste. This is something Crouch should have avoid in the 1st place. Don't annoy your boss! After all, it was Rafa's decision to take him away from that small team and make him a superstar today. Because of his standing in LFC, Crouch was picked by McClaren in the England squad. By no means it was a bad decision. Crouch's goal rate per appearance proves that this lanky man has the ability to perform well on the bigger stage, albeit most of it were smaller nations...
Perhaps, with Crouch no longer in the team... we also can count on Rafa to change totally LFC approach to the game. Since Houlliers era, the only style we know of LFC is the long ball kick. Big man small man approach (Heskey, Owen). Now we have a team of marvellously superstrikers in Torres and Voronin and the hardworking Kuyt... May be we could see more open play. More arsenal if you may. But above all, we really don't need to change that much. We are what we are today because it has been our way! If long ball is our distinctive style, critised by many as absolute boring... so be it. Because that what made us LFC in the 1st place. If we change our style ala arsenal... we'll lose our true colours of REDS. Gerrard is a known player who will crash on anyone who stand on his path. Imagine Gerrard playing one-pass ball and like pussy avoiding the defenders. What we crave is a typical, origional English football. Blood and brave!!! arsenal is nothing near it. We don't need to emulate any. We have our own. And opposition teams are worried of it.

EVA MENDEZ IS A KOP?

EVA MENDEZ IS A KOP?

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