Baros says he’s happy whether he stays or goes

Milan Baros confirmed again that Valencia have been approaching him with a view to taking him to Spain next season – although he said they aren’t the only club interested: "There is an offer from Valencia, some other clubs are also interested and there is also a possibility that I will stay in Liverpool. To tell the truth, I would be glad to go to Valencia, but equally glad to stay in Liverpool. So we will see."

A long list of clubs have been reported as showing interest in the player, and although Liverpool haven’t said publically they will be letting him go, they are expected to replace him – although it’s not yet clear who with.

Baros was speaking to the Czech newspaper Sport and also enthused about Thursday’s trip around Liverpool in an open-top bus, as an estimated one million people came out onto the streets to cheer on the European Champions. He said,  "I have never experienced anything like this and I will never experience it again. It was something fantastic."
Continue reading Baros says he’s happy whether he stays or goes

New badge to appear on Liverpool shirts

In the midst of all the controversy over the UEFA Champions League Qualification regulations, a much more positive piece of the regulations for that competition came to our attention.

Liverpool have joined the elite group of clubs that were allowed to keep the cup, and as a result are now able to wear a special badge on the sleeves of their shirts.
Continue reading New badge to appear on Liverpool shirts

G14 join in the fight for Liverpool

Liverpool’s fight to be allowed to defend their title of Champions of Europe was given some extra impetus by a force that could be greater than UEFA.

The G14 association is a group made up of 18 of the most powerful clubs in Europe. When the Champions League was expanded in 1998, it was after the threat of a breakaway by these clubs to form their own European Super League. Liverpool are one of the founder members, and today it emerged that the organisation are backing the Reds in their quest for the chance to play in the competition next season. G14 are like a powerful trade union for the clubs and their words will certainly worry UEFA.

A spokesman for the G14 body told PA that the matter will be discussed at the next meeting: "We support the desire to see Liverpool defend their trophy and the matter will be raised at our management board meeting next month. We believe UEFA should look at ways of allowing this to happen.”

Liverpool are joined in G14 by Manchester United and Arsenal from England, with the likes of Real Madrid, AC Milan and Bayern Munich also included in the 18-strong association. The G14 meeting takes place in Amsterdam on June 9.

In many ways Liverpool are victims of their own success. Liverpool won the UEFA Cup in 2001 and this increased the points given to England for Champions League places. Liverpool were allowed four teams in the competition at the expense of Germany, who dropped down to three. Spain and Italy are currently the only two other countries that get the "reward" of four places in the tournament. Liverpool qualified from fourth place at the end of last season, but if there were only three places available this season they’d be in the competition next season.  49 other countries get less than four places – and it is only those with four teams that are left with this predicament if it arises.

The FA’s chairman Geoff Thompson is also a UEFA vice-president, and is using this inconsistency as an argument to lobby for the Reds. He said: “We are working extremely hard to try to secure the extra place for Liverpool. Our basic concern is to ensure that all 52 countries have the same opportunity. There is an additional place guaranteed should the champions come from 49 countries in Europe but not for the other three – England, Italy and Spain. We are saying that there should be a level playing field and that every country should have the same opportunity.”

Of course the whole process is now highly political, but UEFA are not politicians in the normal sense. They will stick to their guns if that’s what they feel like doing, but wouldn’t want to face a court challenge – another option that may well be investigated.

Manchester United’s new owner Malcolm Glazer is believed to be preparing to approach G14 about raising the possibility of the breakaway competition again. If Liverpool are refused entry into the competition next year it would certainly increase the chances of them backing Glazer in this quest. Glazer is said to be looking at ways to make more money out of Manchester United, and after being told he can’t challenge the TV deal negotiated jointly by the Premier League on the clubs behalf is now looking at other options.

United finished the season without a trophy, and Glazer will face huge opposition to his plans to charge fans much more money next season to watch a team that won nothing this season.

Continue reading G14 join in the fight for Liverpool

Dancing in the street – Vladimir Smicer

When Liverpool played their last league game of the season just under two weeks ago, Vladimir Smicer wasn’t selected by Rafael Benitez. After the game the Czech star went on the farewell walk around the stadium with the other players as the Liverpool fans wished the team luck on their adventure to Turkey.  Some time later, when the fans had left the stadium, Smicer took another walk around the ground, saying his own silent farewell to a ground he’s played in for six years.

The sadness he felt that day was probably made worse due to him not being able to say a playing farewell to the stadium. 10 days later that feeling changed. An early injury to Harry Kewell meant that Rafa Benitez was forced into making a change to his team. When Kewell moved to Anfield from Leeds in a cut-price deal, one of his requests (or demands, depending on who you speak to) was that he be given the number seven shirt. Vladimir Smicer was the holder of the shirt at the time, but he was happy to change from seven to eleven for the benefit of the Australian. Now in the Ataturk stadium the fourth official was holding the board up to announce that seven was being changed to eleven – Kewell being replaced by Smicer.

Liverpool’s comeback on Wednesday night started with a headed goal from Steven Gerrard, but it was Smicer’s goal – Liverpool’s second and a spectacular strike – that told Liverpool fans that they might just get back into this game. Liverpool only needed to score three of their penalties in the shoot-out at the end of extra time – and Smicer put himself forward to take one. His delight in scoring was plain for all to see.

Now Vladi has revealed that he went out on the town to celebrate afterward with Liverpool fans. Taksim Square in Istanbul was effectively Liverpool soil for the night, and Smicer wanted to get out there with the supporters. He said: "I celebrated with the largest cigar you have ever seen. I went with the fans to dance in the streets. It was incredible to be with the fans. I just wanted to share with them what I felt. It was the greatest night of our lives."

Like many Liverpool fans that night, Smicer revealed that he didn’t get any sleep at – he didn’t even go to bed! He said: "I didn’t go to bed at all. There is no need for sleep after a night like this. I just wanted to go out on a high, and I am proud I showed I can play. "

Smicer must have felt pretty downhearted when he was told that his contract wouldn’t be renewed at Anfield, thinking that he may just slip away early for a holiday before finding a new club. He said: "I was told two months ago that I wouldn’t be getting a new contract and I asked the manager if he’d need me, or could I go on holiday. He said that I was still needed, and that’s all I wanted to hear. I love Liverpool, both of my children were born here, and it’s very difficult to leave."

Benitez is unlikely to let sentiment get in his way as he starts to make changes to his squad in the summer, but if a vote was taken on whether Smicer should be given another year, there’d probably be a sizeable majority of fans saying that Vladi should stay.

Smicer would love to stay, but a year ago another player, Michael Owen, left Anfield to see if the grass at Real Madrid was greener than in Liverpool. One of his main reasons for leaving was to pick up some major honours – but Real finished the season without a trophy.  He’s very philosophical about it though, and is pleased to see the team that he’ll always support getting the success: "Who knows if they would have got to the final if I was leading the attack or if I would have done things differently from Milan Baros. People will say my timing for leaving Anfield was suspect but how was I, or anyone else, to know that Liverpool were about to go on the most incredible run to the final?"

Liverpool’s last amazing comeback in a Cup Final was in 2001 when Owen scored twice to win the FA Cup for Liverpool against Arsenal at Cardiff. This season Liverpool were knocked out of the FA Cup at the first hurdle and Owen points out how quickly things change in football: "A few months ago when they had been knocked out of the FA Cup at Burnley and were struggling outside the Champions League places, people were speculating that it might be a disastrous season for Liverpool. There are so many turning points but now that they have come good I am thrilled for some of my old colleagues such as Stevie Gerrard, Didi Hamann and Jamie Carragher. I hope it does kick-start a great new era for Liverpool."
Continue reading Dancing in the street – Vladimir Smicer

UEFA and FA argue about Liverpool’s defence

As Liverpool’s amazing success in Europe starts to sink in for players and fans, the battle to get them into the competition again next year is starting to gather pace.

UEFA are due to meet in  Manchester on June 17, and it seems that there will be no decision about the issue until then.

UEFA and the FA meanwhile continue to say it’s up to the other to decide who should make the decision. UEFA say the rules can’t be changed and the FA need to nominate Liverpool in place of Everton. The FA say that’s unfair and that UEFA should make a retrospective change to the qualifying procedures.

The FA’s chief executive, Brian Barwick, is a Liverpool fan. He says: "It’s an exceptional situation, that follows an exceptional match and which we believe requires an exceptional solution. What UEFA have, and I sympathise with them to a degree, is a situation where they are faced with not having their own champions in their own competition which is called the Champions League. I think in its own way that tells its own story."

Barwick wasn’t part of the committee that voted for Everton to be kept in the competition, but he defended the position of the FA: ""Liverpool finished outside the top four. I think the FA were right and proper to put the top four in to the Champions League. That’s how teams kicked off in August, expecting a top-four finish to give them qualification or pre-qualification and that will not be changed."

If Liverpool had finished outside of the league qualifying positions in many other European countries – for example Germany – and had won the trophy, this argument wouldn’t be needed. The extra place would be allocated without question.

The problem is that UEFA say that the maximum number that can qualify from one country is four.

Someone aiming to be the next UEFA president is the legendary German player Franz Beckenbauer. He’s standing for election for the role, and is understood to agree about letting Liverpool into next year’s competition.

UEFA have insisted England can have a maximum of four teams in Europe’s elite club competition but several leading figures in European football have been persuaded Liverpool should be allowed to defend their trophy without taking the place of another English side.

It is understood Germany legend Franz Beckenbauer is among those who have been convinced Liverpool should defend their crown. Beckenbauer is not on the executive committee but he is standing for election to be the next UEFA president. Current UEFA president Lennart Johansson is also supposed to be sympathetic to Liverpool, and is said to have told Liverpool chairman
David Moores he is going to try and help. Johansson is a powerful member of the UEFA set-up, and quotes today from "a senior UEFA figure" say that this could certainly help Liverpool:  "If the president decides he wants
Liverpool to be the fifth English side in Europe then he can try to
persuade the executive committee to change the rules. It is in their
power and he has definitely left the door open for discussion."

The UEFA mouthpiece in recent days and weeks has been their communications director William Gaillard. He is basically repeating the rules, and perhaps glossing over some of the facts. In his opinion Liverpool should be allowed into the next competition – but only by the English FA relegating Everton to the UEFA Cup. This is what happened in 2000-01 when the Spanish FA allowed the powerful Real Madrid into the tournament by moving Real Zaragoza’s into the UEFA cup. Gaillard said: "The rules are what they are. They were used already once when Real Madrid won and were not among the qualifiers in the Spanish league."

Gaillard comes across as an extremely stubborn individual – he admits that the matter can be discussed at the meeting in Manchester, but makes out he doesn’t want the rules to be changed: "There could be a discussion with the executive committee but we don’t normally change rules in the middle of the competition."

The fact that Gaillard is only a spokesman, and has no power in the decision making process will bring hope to Liverpool.  After Wednesday night Liverpool fans won’t give up until the lady with a weight problem breaks into song. 
Continue reading UEFA and FA argue about Liverpool’s defence

Benitez not the special one

Rafael Benitez was called a magician this week by the chairman David Moores. Liverpool’s performance in the first half of the Champions League final left Liverpool trailing 3-0 at the break. Internet sites were offering odds of 350-1 in some cases on Liverpool turning things round and lifting the trophy. The did it though, and Benitez was the man that inspired his players and made the tactical changes that brought the success.

He will be a hero at Anfield for some time now – and if he brings more success he’ll be one day getting some gates named after him like Shankly and Paisley.

When Gerard Houllier brought Liverpool the treble in 2001, most fans thought we’d got ourselve a new manager that would take us back to the glory days of old. In the end it proved to be a false dawn – Houllier was never able to take us any further. One of the biggest criticisms of him is that he would never admit he’d made a mistake. He’d persevere with players that were cleary not up to the task because they were his signings.

Rafa Benitez knew at half time that he’d made a mistake, that his tactics hadn’t worked they way he’d planned. So he changed it. He admitted to the world that his tactics were wrong. He said yesterday: "As a manager you are important sometimes and you make mistakes, but the most important people are your staff and your players. Never call me the special one!

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Rafa Benitez is special though – unlike the manager who styles himself as the "special one". Rafa is special because he cares about the supporters, the staff and the players. He comes across as amazingly honest. If he doesn’t want to answer a question about tactics or player contracts in a press conference, he’ll say so. Other managers might tell lies. Rafa tells the press he’ll answer them after the next game, or during the summer.

Benitez isn’t going to get carried away by  a victory that will be talked about for generations to come by Liverpool fans. He said: "I am one step closer to what the other managers achieved, that’s all. I have to do a lot more before I am considered on the same level."

Shankly started the change in fortunes for Liverpool, taking them from being basically a team that just made up the number whenever it got into the top flight to being  a team of winners. When he gave up his job of managing the club the Reds fans of the time were nervous – how could he leave and who’d replace him? Up stepped Bob Paisley, who then took Liverpool on a step further by adding European success to all the domestic success his predecessor had brought. Paisley handed the baton on to Joe Fagan. Fagan added a fourth European Cup to the three won by Paisley, and himself handed over to Kenny Dalglish. Dalglish was never able to compete in Europe as a Liverpool manager, but his success domestically was a continuation of the good work started by Shankly. His efforts with the families of those who suffered in the Hillsborough disaster make him a man worthy of a sainthood never mind a knighthood, and King Kenny still goes to watch the Reds in action at Anfield.

When Kenny was replaced by Graham Souness Reds fans thought the success would continue. It didn’t, and the damage done to Liverpool by Souness is still being repaired now. Roy Evans and Gerrard Houllier followed Souness in the manager’s job at Anfield, and both men had very similar records to each other, both of which were OK, but not good enough for Liverpool.

Benitez wants to follow in the footsteps of the great men. He doesn’t want to be doing "OK".  Whatever he thought he knew about Liverpool as a club before he joined, he now seems to have fallen in love with a club that wants success on the field, not the stock market. A club that’s run by Liverpool supporters, not rich playboys. A club that has passionate supporters, not corporate guests. He won’t be resting on his Laurels: "Now it’s important to build on this success. When you see the supporters and how the club works it is like a religion to them. We will try to do our best to bring more trophies back for them."

Benitez reiterated that he still intends to have summer clear-out of certain players. The players he had in mind before Liverpool won in Turkey are the same ones he has in his mind now: "It is my responsibility to make these decisions and I have a very clear idea of the future. I will talk to the players about my plans. What has happened in the final doesn’t change things. I knew the players before the final and after the final I still know them." What we feel is sure is that the Liverpool players who will be leaving will be leaving after a nice chat to Rafa Benitez. He may have to be ruthless in order to give Liverpool more success, but he won’t be nasty as he does it.

He did list the names of some of the players that he wants to build next season’s squad around: "Steven Gerrard is a key player for us, along with Xabi Alonso, Luis Garcia, Fernando Morientes, Jamie Carragher and Sami Hyypia."

Liverpool’s players performed well in just about every European game this season, but not in the league – Benitez has never blamed the poor results in the league on injuries, but feels that he has to strengthen and improve the depth and quality of the squad: "We have a lot of good players but now we need to find players in the positions where we need to improve the team. We cannot change everything but there will be changes."

For Benitez to bring the kind of player he wants to Anfield he needs money – and the Champions League success has brought more than expected – but he also needs to be able to persuade players that moving to Liverpool is a good move. Again being European Champions could help in this way too: "The interesting thing now we have won the European Cup is that other players will see we have a good team and they will want to come to us. We need a new mentality in the Premier League, especially away from home. When we have that things will be much better. We will have a better team next season.

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By the time the Reds kick off the new season, Rafa wants improvements: "We were 60 per cent of what I wanted. Now we are 70 per cent. We still have to improve a lot. I am always trying to analyse why things happen. Why are we fifth? We know we must improve. If we want to win more trophies we must improve."

As the celebrations continue on Merseyside and players begin a relatively short summer break, the figure of a certain Spaniard is likely to spend that time looking at videos of games and finding where the cracks were in the team that became Champions of Europe.

We’ll never call him "the special one" – he’s much better than him.

Continue reading Benitez not the special one

Did we really win the cup?

Never let it be said that Liverpool fans don’t have a sense of humour.

Like most fans at the moment, we’re feeling worn out and under the weather, but happy, and all because of a great night in Istanbul on Wednesday.

Trouble is though, we’re still wondering if it really did happen. 3-0 down at half-time, but then replying three times in six second half minutes. Dudek pulling off the best save I’ve ever seen (too young for the famous Gordon Banks save against Brazil). Milan missing three of their penalties.

Maybe it didn’t happen. This photo could prove it!

Continue reading Did we really win the cup?

Reds heroes – Xabi and Vladi

Xabi AlonsoXabi Alonso is, like most Reds fans right now, finding it hard to believe that he is now a European Champion. Liverpool’s Spanish midfielder scored the equaliser for the Reds in the amazing Champions League Final in Turkey last night.

Xabi said: "This is the best moment in my professional career. I am a European champion, and I cannot believe it. It is slowly sinking in. It’s unbelievable, but I think as the hours progress, we will be able to absorb what we have achieved. I know there is always a first time, and fortunately this was mine."

Vladi way to goVladimir Smicer scored Liverpool’s second, and that was the goal that really set Liverpool fans believing they could do it. It was his last game for Liverpool, barring a change of heart from Rafa Benitez on giving Smicer a new contract. Smicer has had little chance to prove himself to Benitez this season thank to injury, last night he proved to the world that he knows how to strike the ball. He said: "I wanted to show everybody that I’m still a good footballer, that I still have something to say. I think I have succeeded with that goal and that penalty. It wasn’t a nice view at half time, but we wanted to get a goal for our fans as we didn’t want them to be sad. We didn’t want to give it up so easily and at the end it came back to us. I’m spellbound by it all, this is maybe the greatest moment in my career."
Continue reading Reds heroes – Xabi and Vladi

Rafa the magician comes home with his team

Liverpool FC’s top men have heaped praise on Rafael Benitez tonight. Chairman David Moores, the majority shareholder at Anfield, has been a Liverpool fan all of his life, but was recently subject to criticism about the direction the club was going in. After that Gerard Houllier left the club and in came the new Spanish boss – the man that made Liverpool European Champions.

Under Houllier, Liverpool rarely came back if they went a goal down – last night they came back from three down to take the Champions League trophy. Moores said: "Rafa is a magician, a master tactician and a wonderful man. He is a great man, make no mistake about that. I was a Liverpool supporter when we won the first four European Cups and they made me very emotional, but this is my first as a chairman and so it’s extra special.  We just want to bring more trophies to the club for these amazing fans. They are the best. We have got just the right man to do that in Rafa."

Moores was speaking to the official Liverpool FC website, as was Chief Executive Rick Parry. Parry is also a life-long Red, and has worked hard to help Liverpool get to their new position as the best team in Europe. Parry said: "Rafa has brought the European Cup back to Liverpool and there were no doubts in our minds whatsoever that he would bring success to the club.  I think we went through every emotion last night. It was a wonderful achievement from the boys."

Liverpool have arrived home to a reception from an estimated half a million fans. Like they did at the Ataturk stadium last night, they started later than expected, but they are getting through, albeit at least an hour behind schedule.

The scenes around Anfield and in the city centre in the St George’s Hall area are being described as unprecedented, certainly TV pictures are showing a mess of red and white as they use their helicopters to bring footage to the world.

The open top bus is covered in Red is being closely followed by the Merseyside Police helicopter, keeping an eye on crowd control.

The European Cup, our European Cup, is being held proudly at the front of the bus.

Latest reports are that the parade may not get into the city centre until 10:30pm, if it gets there at all.

Continue reading Rafa the magician comes home with his team

December visit to Tokyo for Reds to take on the world

Club World Championship 2005Liverpool will be given the option to take part in the new annual Fifa Club World Championship this winter.  The tournament is designed to replace the previous one-off match which used to take place between the South American and European Champions.

The tournament will be played in Tokyo from December 11th to 18th. Liverpool are already undertaking a visit to Tokyo to play some games as part of their pre-season preparations.

According to UEFA’s website, there’s no obligation for the European Champions to take part in the tournament. Liverpool may well use this as bargaining power behind the scenes to try and secure a place in next season’s Champions League.

The tournament is organised by FIFA,  who hope to have the continental champions from all six FIFA confederations taking part.

Continue reading December visit to Tokyo for Reds to take on the world