Parry says transfer deals still being worked on

According to Rick Parry, Liverpool are still working hard to get more new faces into the Liverpool squad for the new season. The Reds are certainly getting closer to making Kuyt a Red, with indications that the deal could be completed by the end of this week, but Parry says there’s still work being done on others too, which could include some players leaving. And there seems to be a hint in there that like Liverpool did with Alves, they’ll switch their attentions elsewhere if clubs are too difficult to deal with.

Speaking to the BBC’s Radio Five Live, Parry said: “There might be a little bit of business still to be done, we are still looking. We might need to get one or two out, it depends exactly on what is available, but we are open-minded.”

He was also pleased with captain Steven Gerrard’s statement that he’d like to be the Reds’ manager one day: “We have made the point we would like Steven to be with us forever, we know his love for the club is pretty deep so the fact he is saying he wants to be with us long term is the sort of news all our supporters want to hear. And the fact the motivation and commitment is there is the main message.”

Two signings that have been successfully completed this summer were for Blackburn’s Craig Bellamy and Jermaine Pennant from Birmingham. Asked if he felt it was a worry to sign two players linked with controversy in the past, Parry explained he had the utmost faith in Rafa Benitez’s judgement: “Knowing how thorough Rafa is and how conscientious he is, he has been in the Premier League for two years now and has got to know the players better, he would not come to decisions unless he felt confident they were the right players for us. And we are delighted with the acquisitions we have made this time, they have got tremendous pace.”

As Parry says, the position Pennant plays in has been the position Rafa has found it hardest to fill: “After a couple of years we have at last got the player on the right flank that has been a challenge for us, so we’re delighted to have Jermaine Pennant in, and we are looking forward to the start of the season.”
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No Kuyt at Cardiff, still plenty to see

Community Shield day at Cardiff today – and it still doesn’t sound right. It was always, “Charity Shield day at Wembley” when I was growing up. They used to share the shield too if it was all square after 90 minutes, no penalty shoot-outs. And it was always the curtain-raiser to the season, not the second game of the season as it is for Liverpool. Whether they take it as seriously remains to be seen, but despite Robbie Fowler being fit enough to play today, Rafa is set to leave him out to be on the safe side. Whether he’d leave his number nine out for a league clash against Chelsea in that condition is another matter, but it seems unlikely.

One thing that may allow Rafa the luxury of leaving out Robbie Fowler for big clashes over the course of this season is the signing of long-time target Dirk Kuyt. Various ways of trying to persuade Feyenoord to part with their prized asset have all failed so far, but a final push this week is hoped to finally unlock the door and bring him into Rafa’s plans for the season.

Jan Kromkamp and Jerzy Dudek were reportedly offered earlier in the summer as part of a part exchange deal. Feyenoord’s recent purchase of Dutch number two Henk Timmer from AZ Alkmaar though shows that Dudek wasn’t exactly on their wanted list. As for Kromkamp, well despite the player desperately wanting a move back home to Holland, Liverpool have yet to find a replacement for him and so still value him quite highly. They were interested in replacing him with Hatem Trabelsi, the Tunisian international who was available on a Bosman, but after speaking to him at Melwood the club decided against a move for him. He’s since moved to Manchester City.

So it’s cash or nothing now, and Liverpool still don’t seem to have quite got enough cash to meet Feyenoord’s valuation. Feyenoord want £10m, Liverpool offered £6m plus the players above last time. The sale of Djimi Traore gives them £8m to offer, but it’s still short. There is a feeling now though that the two clubs are very close on agreeing a deal, and that the deal should be finished by the end of the week. Much the same was said about Alves thought quite recently, so maybe it’s best not to assume anything just yet.

Today at Cardiff Chelsea will be able to show off their own new striker Andriy Shevchenko, who signed for an “undisclosed fee” from AC Milan in the summer. Estimates vary as to the fee, which range from £30m to £56m.  The lower of the two is the most likely to be the correct one, but the fact that people are comfortable to estimate fees that differ so greatly – a difference of £26m – is a huge sign of just how much easier it is for Mourinho to buy whoever he wants to fix his staff shortages.

Before people start to bemoan Liverpool’s inability to find new investment on the terms that the current board are happy with, remember that one of the main improvements Rafa sees between working in England to working in Spain is that he chooses his own targets. He may not get to buy his own targets, there may not be enough money, but he does choose. There are strong rumours coming out of Chelsea that Jose Mourinho had no choice with the arrivals of both Shevchenko and Michael Ballack. I’d prefer Rafa having to fight to buy two new strikers for £15m in total rather than having one striker costing £30m or more forced upon him, and I’m sure many others Reds would too.

The frustration comes from the fact that when Gerard Houllier was in charge, he was given £14m to spend on one striker, and was also allowed to commit Liverpool to the deal a year ahead of it actually coming into force. What Rafa would have done with an extra £14m we’ll never really know, but judging him on the money he has had available it’s safe to say he’d have used it pretty wisely. That’s not to say Benítez wouldn’t have made mistakes – for example Fernando Morientes wasn’t the biggest of successes, try as he might.

Craig Bellamy scored on his debut in the midweek clash with Haifa, and promises to be good signing at this stage, but Liverpool fans are still looking for the big-name striker that will start bringing in the goals that make them Champions again, and continue to make them champions for years to come.

Back in 1977, I remember as child looking forward to the then Charity Shield at Wembley. Liverpool, the league winners and European Cup holders were playing the team that had beaten them in the FA Cup in May, Manchester United. The biggest hero for that younger version of me in 1977 was Kevin Keegan, but he’d gone to Hamburg in the summer for what was then a massive half-a-million pounds. In his place, and in his shirt number, we bought a player I’d never heard of, whose name I couldn’t spell properly. He cost us a little less, at £440,000, than what we’d received for Keegan, but I wasn’t sure of him. I was disappointed my hero had gone. Hard to believe now looking back. Kenny Dalglish (two ‘L’s in it) became a legend, and mine and many other’s all-time favourite. We actually missed out on the league that season, but we did win the European Cup for our second time, at Wembley, and a certain Mr Dalglish got the winner.

Every time we’ve been involved in the Charity Shield since then I’ve been hoping we’d got the next Dalglish, but alas it doesn’t seem to have been the case. The last time we played there we thought we had him. After all the hype, all the hope was that this player (who’d cost us an amount of money I’d rather not repeat today) would be the person to bring us some titles. It turned out that El-Hadji Diouf wasn’t actually anything near the player we’d been promised – and as a person he was nothing like the type of person we have grown used to wearing our shirt.

So if Kuyt does turn out to be the difference to our team for the next few seasons, we’ll not see his Liverpool career start in this game today. We might just find though that Mark Gonzalez gets a full run-out and shows us he’s going to be worthy of compare to the like of John Barnes and Steve Heighway. And if he is, well Dirk Kuyt will be just one of many names to help us with our move back to where we belong – at the top of the league.

Continue reading No Kuyt at Cardiff, still plenty to see

Gerrard: LFC a passion that will never end

Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard’s current autobiography is out next month and as is always the case with the big life stories it’s being serialised in the national press. Unfortunately the newspaper he’s chosen is the News of the World, but clearly he’s done that with permission from the club. Although the newspaper is part of the same group as the boycotted S*n, it’s not boycotted itself. The reason the choice is unfortunate is because that newspaper sells most copies through sensationalist headlines, but then again it’s not the only one.

Predictably the emphasis from the national newspaper on its opening day of access to the book is on Gerrard’s England involvement, but it does find a little room to mention his full-time job – as captain of Liverpool Football club. Gerrard says that with both England and Liverpool he’s hoping to have a lot to look forward to: “My future promises so much. Rebuilding with Steve and England. More trophies to chase with Rafael Benítez and Liverpool. One day I’d love to manage Liverpool. For me Liverpool Football Club is a passion that will never end.”

There’s also another run-through of those days surrounding his near-departure to Chelsea. I’ve not yet ventured out to buy the paper, and maybe I won’t, so I’ve only got the word of those who’ve read bits of it out on the TV to go off in regards that part of the story.

With Stevie’s girlfriend in the headlines this weekend after being arrested in a Liverpool nightspot, Gerrard had to give a further interview to the paper.  There’s no way a newspaper like the News of the World can go to print and ignore a story like this – it’s just not done. With Gerrard saying a little piece about the incident there’s then no use for the army of so-called “close friends” who normally line up to tell the press what they know. No doubt they’ve found space elsewhere to say their pieces, but Gerrard was glad to talk about his undoubted devotion to Alex, mother of his two girls Lily Ella and Lexie. Gerrard said: “We’ve fixed a date for our wedding next summer. It’s going to be a big bash down south in June with over 200 guests. I’m going to invite all of the England players and all of my Liverpool team-mates.”
 
At that point, call me cynical, but I do wonder if Gerrard said “England and Liverpool” in that order. It’s a minor thing but one that does tend to get the backs up of many Liverpool fans. I doubt Gerrard did answer as written, so perhaps best not to give the captain too much stick for the printed order of his answers. Gerrard says the kids are going to be playing a big part in the wedding too: “Our two beautiful daughters are going to be bridesmaids. I want Alex to have the best day of her life.”

In terms of the incident involving Alex, Steven was a little reserved, probably on advice from his own legal representatives: “I’m standing by Alex. Obviously with a police investigation going on it would be wrong for me to discuss the incident. We are both shocked by what has happened but we will get through this together. Alex is an adorable person and I can’t wait to marry her.”

Gerrard may well put Liverpool ahead of England, but it doesn’t stop him from feeling cut up about the way he saw his country crash out of the World Cup in the quarter finals to Portugal. He says: “Why did England screw up?” His answer: “I hate using the word but we failed.”

He says the reasons were varied: “The reasons are scattered around. We didn’t keep the ball well, we didn’t take our chances, we took some crap penalties.”

Today’s Community Shield at Cardiff against Chelsea will be decided by penalties if the scores are level at the end of 90 minutes – it remains to be seen if Stevie and Jamie Carragher will step forward to take one, but they’ll still be stinging from their summer misses for England. As Gerrard recalls: “We practised pens every day for six weeks and missed three out of four in Gelsenkirchen. England must overcome this mental block over penalties otherwise we will continue returning home from tournaments. We must use international friendlies to stage practice shoot-outs after the final whistle when the stadium is still full. The England management must consider that. It’s the only realistic way of practising penalties.”

Liverpool’s game today is effectively a pre-season warm-up to the new season, with one more friendly left in midweek before the league season gets under way for 2006-07. There’s certainly a chance in midweek if not today for a few fringe players and some of the youngsters to stake a claim for a place in the starting line-ups for the new season, but when the season starts for real those members of the squad won’t be used without having first been fully assessed by Rafa Benítez and the coaching staff. Gerrard says that not doing these assessments seems to have played a big part in the failure of England. Gerrard does defend the now-departed England head coach to some extent, but read between the lines and he’s as upset about the Swede’s odd decisions as any other England fan: “Of course we knew Sven Goran Eriksson would get coated for England’s failure. He knew it as well. I don’t think he was too cautious, as many people claimed, but I did understand some of the criticism towards him. A few decisions were wrong, like not taking five strikers. He certainly shouldn’t have brought Theo Walcott to Germany.”

The England squad only contained four strikers – Wayne Rooney who still had a broken foot when the tournament began, Michael Owen who had barely had a game since breaking his foot halfway through last season, Walcott who had not yet been risked for a first team by his club Arsenal and Peter Crouch. No matter how Gerrard looks at the decision, he just can’t understand it: “For a tournament as big and demanding as the World Cup every team needs five strikers. Minimum. I wanted to be landing in Germany with five forwards not four. I wanted to be sending this message to the world: we are England packed with attackers and we fear no one. Not only were England embarking on an arduous World Cup campaign with only four forwards but one of them was Theo Walcott.”

It’s the decision to take Walcott that seems to have upset Gerrard the most: “I almost fell over when I heard. Now let’s get one or two things right about Theo. He’s a nice lad and one day he will mature into a very good player, but he had no right to be in Germany. None at all. I was gobsmacked to find him on the plane. My faith is Sven has always been strong but to select a kid who hasn’t played any part in a Premiership game, or a competitive international, was clearly a massive gamble. Asking him to come to the World Cup was unfair on Theo. There was no way the kid was ready to perform on such a massive stage.”

He continues: “Even now, as I get stuck into the new season and the World Cup summer fades away, my mind remains confused as to Sven’s thinking. Theo was just not ready. Even if the seven leading English strikers had been injured it would still have been a risk to take him to the World Cup. As well as Theo, Sven also didn’t seem to have any intention of using certain players. In midfield we had three or four guys who were really, really similar. Sven never showed any interest in playing some of them so why bring them to Germany? Take those that are going to play — and another forward!”

Perhaps Gerrard will get his wish one day and become manager of the Reds – if he sticks to his beliefs as they are now then it sounds like it will be an entertaining side, but we’ve a few years to wait yet. And no doubt some more autobiographies as he moves through further phases of his life.

* Gerrard: My Autobiography by Steven Gerrard will be out in hardcover, published by Bantam Press, on 2nd September 2, priced at £18.99. The book is currently being serialised in the News of The World and is copyright © Steven Gerrard 2006.
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Jose: I’ve not planned pre-season properly

Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho admits he’s made a mess of his pre-season planning, and claims his expensive squad may find themselves stretched at Cardiff tomorrow. Trying to soften the blow of any loss, he also tries to make out that Liverpool will be trying to win, whereas his mainly unfit and poorly trained squad won’t be particularly bothered.

Some of his own supporters may even believe him, but not many will. When he arrived in England a the same time as Rafael Benítez, a lot of journalists and pundits, as well as many neutral fans, were prepared to show him some respect. Two years of throwaway, transparent comments like this later and most people laugh at what he says. The unfortunate thing for Jose Mourinho is that he’ll continue with these comments, blissfully unaware of just how funny most people find his words.

Speaking about the Reds, Mourinho said: “They will feel that they are in much better condition than Chelsea, so they have to win the game. If they lose against a Chelsea side at just 50% of their quality, that could affect their confidence ahead of the Premiership season.”

It seems that Mourinho is preparing himself, his fans and (more importantly than anything at Chelsea) a certain Russian for a loss, but perhaps also for a rough season in the league.  The most wealthy club in the league seem to have had problems planning their preparations for the new season: “Every other team – even the ones not competing for the Premiership – have been working for more than a month. They will all start the Premiership on fire and we are not in the same condition.” I’ve looked at that statement a few times now and still can’t work out why Mourinho would need to say it – who is to blame if Chelsea haven’t turned back up to training as early?

At times Mourinho acts like a toddler, today he sounds like a depressed teenager: “I just have to hope that the quality we have on the pitch will be enough to get us through.”
 
Rafa Benítez won’t fall for the mind games though. Mourinho had earlier said that Liverpool wouldn’t challenge Chelsea this season, something Rafa isn’t in agreement with. As for tomorrow’s game, Rafa knows Mourinho is privately in fear of losing, and losing in style. He doesn’t say that, he’s far too modest a man, but he does point out that Liverpool are close enough to Chelsea to be able to win any clash between the two sides: “They spend more than everybody else every summer, but when we put a side on the pitch against them they know we will match them. We have beaten them in cup competitions, it does not matter how much money they spend, 11 against 11 for us always gives us a chance.”

Rafa also spoke about the performance in midweek which saw debut goals for Craig Bellamy and Mark Gonzalez, and an excellent debut for Jermaine Pennant: “People could see the improvements against Maccabi Haifa in the Champions League, although we know we need too improve. We could see the quality with Jermaine Pennant, we have seen Craig Bellamy score and play well, and we still have Fabio Aurelio waiting as he recovers from injury. I think we have signed the right players. Compared to last season we have a better squad and week after week we will have a better team as well.”

As well missing Aurelio tomorrow with a calf injury, it also looks like the number nine Robbie Fowler is going to miss out again. He was omitted on Wednesday because of a slight knee problem, and although he is close to being ready for the clash, Rafa does not want to take a chance on him or Aurelio: “If they really had to play they would, but it is not important for this game, we would rather wait until next weekend.”

Continue reading Jose: I’ve not planned pre-season properly

Rafa hints Kuyt deal a little closer

Rafael Benítez has moved closer to snapping up his final summer transfer target. Feyenoord striker Dirk Kuyt is that target, and with the sale of Djimi Traore earlier in the week, Rafa has an extra £2m to bargain with. Speaking after last night’s Champions League win over Maccabi Haifa, Benítez admitted that Kuyt was one of the names being looked at for the next signing. Reports today also suggest that the two clubs are getting close to an agreement.

Rafa said: “We have two or three names and Kuyt is one. We are still working hard but maybe a little closer.”

Kuyt has made it clear he wants to leave Feyenoord, but he’s got eyes for one club only, and that’s Liverpool. He’s said to be valued by Feyenoord at £10m, and they so far have been unwilling to budge on that figure. A report in the Liverpool Daily Post says that last month the Reds made a bid for the player which included goalkeeper Jerzy Dudek and full-back Jan Kromkamp, with £6m cash, but Feyenoord turned it down.

The latest offer reported does not include any players, which is just as well with Feyenoord believed to be uninterested in Dudek, happy enough with their existing keepers.
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LFC’s Stevie gets England vice-captain role

The new England manager Steve McLaren, a visitor to Melwood earlier this week, has named Steven Gerrard as his new England vice captain. John Terry was named captain.

Speaking on the official FA website, McClaren said: “Choosing a captain is one of the most important decisions a coach has to make. I’m certain I’ve got the right man in John Terry. I’m convinced he will prove to be one of the best captains England has ever had. John has all the attributes an international captain needs: leadership, authority, courage, ability, tactical awareness and a total refusal to accept second-best. He has been an inspiration for Chelsea and is at his best in adversity.”

He said Gerrard came close to getting the job himself: “Steven Gerrard was a strong candidate for the captaincy and he will be my vice-captain. He is an outstanding player and another superb club skipper who also leads by example. I told Steven when I spoke to him today that I’m sure he will also get the chance to lead his country while I’m Head Coach.”

Gerrard said: “I would like to congratulate John on being appointed England captain. I’m sure he’ll do a great job. He’s a tremendous leader for Chelsea and has all the qualities required to do the role. I’m also pleased to have been appointed vice-captain by Steve McClaren today. I am grateful that Steve took the time to call me and inform me of his decision. There are a number of captains in the England squad and I know we will all be giving 100% support to Steve and John.”

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Gerrard: Euro win was hard work, but we won

Steven Gerrard admitted that there was a sense of relief as Liverpool left it late to get the winning goal against Maccabi Haifa in tonight’s Champions League qualifier. Speaking after the game to ITV Sport, the Reds captain said: “We made hard work of it I suppose, but we go into the second leg and we’re winning, so they’ve got to beat us.”

The game was the first leg of a tie that could be worth £12m to the FA Cup holders, but it was  also their first competitive match of the season, and Gerrard says it showed that the players were still trying to get back in shape: “We’re still looking for 100% fitness, it was hard work out there tonight.”

Both of Liverpool’s goals were scored by debut players, Craig Bellamy got Liverpool’s first and just two minutes after coning on as a substitute Mark Gonzalez got the winner. “That’s what we’ve bought Craig for, to score us goals,” said Stevie. “Mark’s come on towards the end and got us a vital goal, but that’s what we’ve bought them for, to strengthen the squad and score important goals for us and they’ve done the job tonight.”

The second leg venue hasn’t been confirmed yet, other than to say it won’t be played in Isreal. For Gerrard though that’s well into the future now, there’s more work to be done before that game gets underway: “It’s two weeks down the line, we’ve got two weeks more training and a couple of games before that , so we’ll be a better side come the second leg.” No complacency though from the skipper: “There’s still a job to do and we need to work hard to make sure we get into the Champions League”.

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Traore joins Charlton

Djimi Traore has left Liverpool today after signing for Charlton Athletic in a £2m deal. The extra funds may prove enough to help Rafa Benitez in his push to finally sign Dirk Kuyt and complete his summer dealings.

Charlton boss Iain Dowie also signed Amdy Faye today taking his day’s spending to £4m. Dowie became Charlton boss this summer after a well-publicised departure from Simon Jordan’s Crystal Palace.

Speaking to the official Charlton website, Dowie spoke of his joy at the new faces: “We’re delighted to have made two quality signings, and they will both improve our first-team squad. We’re also working very hard on several other signings and we hope to be able to make further announcements soon.”

Charlton’s site says that Traore was also being chased by Everton and Newcastle, but he chose to move to the London side instead. 26-year-old Traore was in the squad for tomorrow night’s Champions League qualifier at Anfield but travelled to London to complete his deal.

Traore was signed as a teenager by former manager Gerard Houllier for £550,000 in February 1999 and was sent out on loan shortly after as often seemed to be the case with Gerard Houllier’s signings from France. In the end Traore did start to get some appearances under his belt for Liverpool, with the 2004-05 season probably being his most memorable. He deservedly won a Champions League winners medal in Istanbul, quite a contrast to his infamous own-goal against Burnley that sent Liverpool crashing straight out of that season’s FA Cup competition. His performances were good enough for him to earn a new contract that summer, but for whatever reason the second season under Rafa Benitez saw Traore rarely used, and he will be glad to now have a chance of first team football.
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Rafa: Added pace brings more options

Liverpool boss Rafael Benítez says the new arrivals at the club this summer add more to the overall capabilities of his squad, opening up more possibilities to bring success in games the Reds couldn’t win last season. One big improvement is more pace has been brought in: “It was difficult at times last season because, in terms of pace, our only option up front was Djibril Cisse. Now we have so many different aspects to our game. We have the intelligence of Peter Crouch and Robbie Fowler and also the pace of Mark Gonzalez and Craig Bellamy.”

Speaking to the Sunday Mirror, Rafa explained how the extra pace would compliment the existing abilities of other players in the squad: “Pace isn’t everything. The most important quality is football ability. But in modern football, it is a fact that it is more difficult to succeed if you don’t have that real speed in your team. What you need is a balance of good pace and good movement, and also players who can make the most of those qualities. Craig and Mark can’t do it on their own, but what we’ve already got is the great passing ability of players like Steven Gerrard and Xabi Alonso. It is important for any team with ambitions to have these different options.”

Rafa certainly learns from everything he sees. League performance in his second season in charge of Liverpool were a substantial improvement on the first year, a result of Rafa studying every detail of every game they played. He didn’t rest in the second season, and feels these tweaks to the squad help him to pick the right players for the right games: “Now we should be able to do much better away from home against those teams who play high up the pitch and leave space behind. I think we can win some games that we didn’t last season.”

It’s no secret Rafa still wants to add one more striker to the squad, but he doesn’t seem unduly concerned that he’s still not quite managed to land Dirk Kuyt: “Much depends on the confidence your strikers have as well, but what I’m happy with is my options. There will be more rivalry between the strikers and that can only be very good for us. I don’t make predictions, but I do believe that we have a better team than last season and a better squad.”

Jose Mourinho’s already had a pop at Liverpool in pre-season, proving how much our consecutive semi-final victories over Chelsea en route to silverware have riled him, but Rafa says he’s not going to return the compliment: “I can promise you that I’m not thinking about Chelsea – only my squad. What is the point of worrying about something that is out of your control? All I am interested in is seeing my team perform at a higher level than last season. I’m trying to improve my squad but the other managers are doing the same.”

Words are all well and good, but words don’t win trophies: “We can talk now, we can send the supporters lots of positive messages, but in the end we need to talk on the pitch. We need to win the first game and keep trying to win as many games as possible. I am sure Manchester United and Arsenal will be thinking about the same thing.”
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