Reds close in on two more signings

Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez has turned to Deportivo La Coruna right-back Alvaro Arbeloa as possible cover for Steve Finnan, according to the player's club.

Primera Liga side Deportivo said: "There is a verbal agreement between Deportivo and Liverpool for the permanent transfer of Arbeloa to Liverpool." Reports claim that Liverpool will pay a fee of £2.6m for the player.

The 24-year-old was signed from Real Madrid at the start of the season for less than £1m and has appeared in 20 games for his new club.

Lucas Neill had originally been Liverpool's target as cover for Steve Finnan, but his decision to take a bigger pay packet from West Ham rather than play in the Champions League for his claimed boyhood club meant Rafa had to look at his other options. Neill would have played against the Reds tonight but injury in the FA Cup defeat against Watford at the weekend put paid to that.

Also due to come to the club from Spain is, according to the Spanish media, 18-year-old midfielder Francis Duran. The Spanish youngster currently plays for Malaga and is said to be on his way to Liverpool to sign for the Reds. According to some reports Duran hasn't actually signed a professional contract yet with his club, meaning Liverpool will have very little to pay for the player. Other reports are saying that the Reds are to sign him on loan initially. Duran is quoted in Spain as saying it was something he couldn't consider turning down: "It's a unique opportunity and I couldn't let it go by. I have spoken with Rafa Benitez, and I believe that this is the best option for me. To play for Liverpool is a dream for me and now I only desire to fight to play finally for the club." Sounds very similar to what Lucas Neill said very recently.

Tonight's opponents West Ham today had a bid turned down for Darren Bent. Charlton knocked back the £18m bid from the recently bought-out club who are trying desperately to avoid relegation.

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Rafa says EU law may be key to Mascherano deal

Ahead of Liverpool's visit to West Ham tonight Rafael Benitez spoke about how he hopes FIFA finally get round to a response over the Reds' appeal against the rules preventing them from taking the Hammers' midfielder Javier Mascherano on loan.

According to Rafa a positive decision from FIFA would see the player become a member of the Liverpool squad for some time to come: "We have an agreement to take Javier on loan for a year and a half,” says the Liverpool manager. “We must wait for FIFA’s decision, but we have the option to sign him permanently after 18 months. Maybe in five days we will have a solution, but FIFA needs to decide before the transfer window. If they cannot decide before, they must give us the possibility to sign him afterwards. Everything is almost done – we are just waiting for the answer from FIFA. If they say yes he can be here the next day."

Mascherano has agreed personal terms, the two clubs are happy with the terms of the deal; now all that remains is that permission from FIFA. What is frustrating for Liverpool is, as Rafa said, the delay in making a decision. According to the manager, the governing body must make a decision by the end of tomorrow or extend the deadline until they do make a decision: "FIFA knew about this situation 15 or 20 days before the deadline, and if they know the transfer window is closing they have to make a decision. Sometimes in business if there is a problem, they can allow people 24 hours more. Maybe that could happen for us."

Liverpool have taken legal advice on the matter, and believe they have a very good case. In fact Rafa seems quite confident that one way or another Mascherano will be a Red very soon – even if it does go to court. FIFA's rules are overridden by the law: "There is a big difference between the law and the rules. A worker cannot be stopped working, that’s the law in the European Community. Then there are the rules, which can change depending on your country or continent. There are players in the world now who have played for three or four clubs in a season. The rules are one thing, but the law is another. Nobody can stop people moving to other jobs, they have freedom and they need to work. The law is more important than the rules."

It does seem to be politics that have prevented the Argentinean from making his mark so far in the Premiership; Rafa believes he will be an important and valuable signing for the club: "He is a top class player and played at the top level at the World Cup. He can give us more competition in the centre of midfield. I have confidence in him because he is a player with quality."

Liverpool have had an eye on him for some time: "We were monitoring him when he was with River Plate – the only question is whether he can play to his level in England, but I know he can play a lot better than he was at West Ham. He was playing with River Plate in Argentina and then with Corinthians in Brazil. The style of football in these countries is different than in England. West Ham are a fantastic club but maybe for him it wasn’t the right club. Maybe Liverpool can be a better option for him because we can speak in Spanish to him and we play a different style of football that suits him better. Corinthians and River Plate are top sides in their countries and he is used to winning trophies. I think he will have more possibilities with us."

There were some suggestions that Liverpool were going to be introducing a player to the club in a position already over-subscribed, but Rafa denied this: "We don’t have another holding midfielder. Gerrard, Zenden and Sissoko can all play forward but they can't play as a holding midfielder like Alonso. We wanted to bring Mascherano here for the start of January for the cups and the rest of the games as we were really busy. Now we will see if we can use him in the Champions League and the other games."

Liverpool are out of both domestic trophies now but Rafa says that this is still an important part of the campaign, and hopes that the upside of being out of those competitions is that they are better prepared for the league and Champions League games ahead: "It is a crucial period of the season now. We must face West Ham now, then we have Everton which is a difficult game and we then have Newcastle. They are all difficult games in this period, followed by Manchester United and Barcelona. It’s a crucial time for us. We have two competitions left and we can prepare better. If you can prepare better for games it doesn’t mean you will automatically win these games, but I believe you will have more possibilities."

Rafa won't rule out Liverpool's outside chances of winning the league, but isn't going to say they will win it either: "I’ve said to my players, if we win more games in a row now, at the end of the season we will have more confidence and you never know what might happen.”

As well as the possibility of bring Mascherano into the squad, some of the long-term injury victims are on their way back. Harry Kewell, Momo Sissoko and Bolo Zenden are back in training and hope to be playing again soon, with Momo and Bolo closest to coming back: "It is good news for us to have Momo and Bolo back and they are both training well. Momo is flying into tackles in training and showing good energy and I will check with the doctor to see how his shoulder is and maybe he can play a part against Everton. Bolo is also keen to prove his fitness and return."

Continue reading Rafa says EU law may be key to Mascherano deal

Crouch is not off to Spurs

As we move into the last few days of the transfer window, the journalists without sources are now frantically trying to make stories up. Even those with sources aren't always able to get enough information for a full story, so they create something to fill the gaps.

Today is the last chance for the Sunday papers to make up some headlines, and the Sunday People want to go out with a bang. Neil Silver is, I believe, a Spurs fan and his story sounds like wishful thinking more than fact.

Under the headline "NEWS FLASH – SPURS IN SHOT AT CROUCH AS MIDO DEPARTS", Silver claims Spurs are going to try and sign Peter Crouch!

The debate about how happy or unhappy Crouch might be seemed to have finally been put to bed some time ago, but Silver has dragged it back up again without putting a great deal of thought into it at all. The article claims that Spurs are looking to make a bid for the Reds' number 15 after they agreed a deal to sell Mido to Manchester City. Silver says Crouch, "has not been a first-choice player for boss Rafa Benitez and Spurs are banking on the fact he will be tempted by a return to London."

Crouch was of course selected in the starting line-up last weekend in one of the most high-profile games of the league season, playing an important part in the Reds' victory over Chelsea. Silver must have missed that game, and must have missed the fact that Crouch is a hugely important part of Rafa's plans. Situations change in football all the time, and Rafa may well decide one day that he wants to replace Crouch – but Liverpool are not likely to let Crouch go until that replacement has already been signed.

The laziness in Silver's article continues with has last sentence: "Another name on Jol's list is Villa hitman Juan Pablo Angel." Just hedging our bets a little?

The same journalist wrote in December 2005 that Spurs had "won the race to sign Southampton's 16-year-old boy wonder Theo Walcott – for a whopping £9million. Boss Martin Jol has landed the hottest young property in football from right under the noses of Chelsea and Arsenal."  Oops! More wishful thinking.

The same publication was also trying to read too much into the obligatory announcement made by Liverpool about a bid from American tycoon George Gillett for Liverpool FC. On Friday the club made an announcement to shareholders via the Stock Exchange, as it is obliged to do so under legislation involving takeovers. The statement simply read: "Following the recent press speculation, and to comply with our obligations under the Takeover Code, Liverpool Football Club confirms that it has received an approach from George Gillett which may or may not lead to an offer. Shareholders will be kept informed as appropriate."

Some reports say that Gillett has now been given permission to see Liverpool's books – although it's not clear whether that has actually happened, nor whether Liverpool are actually obliged to let him see the books. If I offered 10p a share to buy out Liverpool, would I be allowed to see the books?

Reds chairman David Moores is a reluctant seller of the club, and is not keen at all on the idea of sharing a ground with our bitter neighbours Everton. Gillett is said to be very keen on the idea of a ground share, which makes his bid very unattractive to Moores. For Moores money isn't the main issue in this takeover.

For the People though it was time for some sensationalist headlines: "KOP DUBAI-OUT NO DONE DEAL". Steve Bates wrote that the "proposed £450million sheikh-over by Dubai International Capital was placed in doubt last night when it emerged American tycoon George Gillett had been given permission to examine the club's finances." Sheikh over?

Continue reading Crouch is not off to Spurs

Parry: Rafa did speak to Neill

Liverpool Chief Executive Rick Parry has disputed claims by Lucas Neill that he never got to speak to Reds boss Rafael Benitez after Liverpool's bid had been accepted for him.

Neill joined West Ham this week for twice the money on offer at Anfield. Rather than play Champions League football on a contract that would increase in value should he prove his worth, he chose to join a team in the relegations zone. To all those looking on, it seems he chose money before possible glory. And his claims to have been a boyhood Liverpool fan all seem to be quite meaningless.

Parry said that he was sitting with Benitez when he was talking on the phone to Neill: "I don’t know who was on the other end of the telephone talking to Rafa when I was sat next to him, but I’m quite sure it was Lucas Neill."

Neill has tried to deflect attention away from what seems to be his money-first decision, claiming it was a tough choice to make because of his boyhood support of the Reds. Liverpool play West Ham on Tuesday next week, it would be interesting if a Liverpool journalist can ask Neill some of the questions about Liverpool FC that a true fan would know. Neill had said: "It was the most difficult decision of my career. I followed Liverpool as a boy. I had posters of Graeme Souness, Ian Rush and Kenny Dalglish on my bedroom walls, but I didn’t get the opportunity to speak to the real people that count at Liverpool. It would have been nice to hear the manager of Liverpool's thoughts, but because they never got that far in the negotiations, it didn't happen. He possibly could have talked me into it. But I was getting a small, cold feeling from Liverpool and a volcanic heat feeling from West Ham. My decision was based on football."

The player didn't exactly help his credibility in this deal by saying he needed to be talked into a move to his so-called boyhood club, but Rick Parry's statement that Rafa did indeed speak to Neill shatters any credibility that Neill might have had left.

Liverpool FC are clearly better off without him.

Continue reading Parry: Rafa did speak to Neill

Reds capture Ajax youngster Jordy

Rafa Benitez's plans to keep building for the future were given another boost today when the club confirmed the signing of another promising youngster.

18-year-old Jordy Brouwer has joined from Dutch side Ajax after being tracked for some time by the club's scouts. Rafa Benitez is determined to improve the squad at all levels, and Brouwer has become the third youngster to be signed in this transfer window, joining Daniele Padelli and Emiliano Insua.

Reds Chief Executive Rick Parry spoke about the deal this morning: "We have made a good signing for the future in Jordy. He has had a youth contract at Ajax, but has opted to build his career at Liverpool. We have been monitoring his progress and look forward to developing his potential at Anfield."

Striker Jordy is already a member of the Dutch under-19 side.

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Diao won’t be back

Liverpool midfielder Salif Diao has now effectively left the club for good. The Senegalese internatioal had been on a six-month loan at Stoke City which was due to end this month. After suprisingly impressing their supporters and staff the Potteries side have decided to extend the loan until the end of the season. Diao's lucrative Liverpool contract comes to and end this summer, meaning he'll not be playing for the Reds again.

It seems that Diao has found a level he can play at with Stoke, and their boss Tony Pulis was delighted to reveal the deal had gone ahead: "There's plenty of excitement around the place. He's coming until the end of the season and it's a smashing deal for the club. He will improve what we've got and that's what we're looking to do."

Diao stayed with Liverpool long after he knew his chances of playing for the club had passed because he knew the contract he was on would never be matched anywhere else. His contract was a throwback the days of Gérard Houllier signing players on very long-term lucrative deals before it was known just how good they might turn out to be for the club. Lessons have been learned, because Lucas Neill was initially offered a smaller amount which would have risen had he managed to prove himself a good buy. Instead he chose to jump straight into a deal with third-from-bottom West Ham for twice the money immediately. The Australian mercenary has since been trying to deny that rather than money it was the lure of helping West Ham fight off relegation that turned his head away from the chance to play against Barcelona in the Champions league for Liverpool. As well as being involved in that relegation dogfight, he also claims that Rafa Benítez's decision not to speak to him personally played a part in his choice.

Neill said: "I did not get the chance to speak to the people who really matter at Liverpool. It would have been nice to have heard what the manager of Liverpool thought about me and the deal, but it did not happen. Overall I was getting a cold feeling from Liverpool and a volcanic heat from West Ham, so that was why I chose them. It told me that they were desperate for me to come here and play, which is what every player wants. Nobody wants to go to a big team and then just sit in the stands."

In fact if Neill had signed last week when he was in a position to do so, he'd almost certainly have been handed a start against Chelsea. If he'd been involved in Rafa's first league win over the London side he'd then have been in with a great chance of becoming first-choice left-back.

If he doesn't manage to help West Ham avoid the drop he can leave the Hammers there and then, but he says that this was the club's decision, not his: "It has been documented that there is a clause in the contract which allows me to leave – but the club explained that it was put in as much for them as it was for me. West Ham have a job to do and, God forbid if the worst happens, they need the option of balancing the books and letting players leave. I am probably not the only player in that position at the club."

The reaction amongst many Reds at the news Neill wasn't joining was of relief. His past hasn't been forgotten, breaking Jamie Carragher's leg in particular. Perhaps the feedback got through to him, because he would have needed to put in some very good performances from the start to impress the Liverpool fans and help them to forget his past.

* Good luck to Stephen Warnock who got to start a new stage in his career with Blackburn earlier this week.

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Hughes: Warnock having medical

Blackburn manager Mark Hughes confirmed that Liverpool defender Stephen Warnock was at the club having a medical ahead of a proposed move to Ewood Park.

According to Hughes, the purchase of Stephen Warnock has to go ahead before they will allow Lucas Neill to begin his lucrative few months at relegation-threatened West Ham. Speaking to Sky, Hughes said of the two deals: “I would expect we’ll get some news today. Obviously we want to make sure we get our side of the deal done. We’re hoping to sign Stephen Warnock today – if that goes through Lucas will be allowed to leave.”

Asked if Warnock’s purchase was the key to both deals going ahead, Hughes said: “Yes – we haven’t got a deal as yet. He’s here as we speak, having a medical, and if that goes well we’ll take it from there. We’ve looked at Stephen and we think he’s a play that fits the criteria for a Blackburn player. He’s young, he’s hungry, he wants to progress in his career and we feel that he’s the right type of player to bring to the club.”

No details of the potential fee have been released officially yet.

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Neill chooses money and agrees terms with West Ham

Blackburn defender Lucas Neill’s agent Peter Harrison made an announcement that will bring joy to a lot of Liverpool fans. His client is signing for West Ham.

Speaking to The Times, Harrison said: “Lucas has agreed terms on a two-and-a-half-year deal with West Ham and is looking to the challenge ahead.” Neill was said to have been undergoing a medical last night.

Reports vary as to how much West Ham are willing to pay him in wages, at least £50,000 per week, perhaps as much as £60,000 per week, clearly dwarfing Liverpool’s offer which was said to be closer to £25,000 per week. The reports also say there is a relegation release clause in the deal, but it does seem that Neill’s last chance to play for a “big” club has now passed.

Some fans may feel disappointed that Liverpool were unwilling to match lowly West Ham in this deal, but there is no way on earth that Rafa Benítez would want to pay that kind of wage to a player who may not even be first choice. At a push Neill may have been handed the left-back role ahead of John Arne Riise who has had a difficult season, but he was mainly being signed as cover for Steve Finnan. Rafa wants committed players, and Neill won’t be the first player the Spaniard has given up on over too-high personal demands. In fact Rafa’s words yesterday seem to have spurred Neill towards his decision to put money before medals: “If a player wants to come to play for Liverpool, he must say yes quickly,” warned Rafa. “We will not wait. If he thinks about it for too long, maybe it's a signal it's time for us to look for other players. We have alternatives.”

Liverpool fans have been uneasy about the signing of Neill since it was first revealed as being a possibility. Neill’s disgraceful tackle on Jamie Carragher in 2003 left the Liverpool defender out of action for six months with a broken leg, and these things aren’t easily forgotten. Carragher was a true pro and was said to have made it clear to Rafa Benítez that the incident was forgotten, but fans have been less understanding. And Neill has shown many more signs that this part of his game is still not eradicated.

Neill had said repeatedly that playing for Liverpool in the Champions League was a dream for him, and his decision to join West Ham suggests this was a lucky escape for the Reds.

The deal to bring him to Anfield would have included a move to Ewood Park for Stephen Warnock. It’s not clear yet whether Blackburn will now bid cash for Warnock or if the defender will instead be staying at the club. In many ways Liverpool are better off with Warnock, who can hopefully stay injury-free now and (if he does stay) perhaps force his way back into the team.

Continue reading Neill chooses money and agrees terms with West Ham

Rafa losing patience with Neill

As we predicted earlier today, Rafa Benítez has started to become impatient with Blackburn defender Lucas Neill and says he’ll be calling the deal off if the Australian international doesn’t make a decision soon.

Liverpool had agreed the terms of a deal with Blackburn, and put a deal forward to Neill. At the last minute Neill received another offer, from West Ham, for more money. Rather than turning down the relegation-threatened London side he decided – through his advisors – to ask Liverpool for more money first. And that’s where things stuck.

Rafa sounded frustrated, a sure sign Neill has to make his mind up fast, when asked about this deal: “We are continuing working on these things but we will not wait. If a player wants to come to play for Liverpool, he must say yes quickly. If he thinks about it for too long, maybe it’s a signal it’s time for us to look for other players. We have alternatives.”

Benítez has made it clear in the past he doesn’t approve of players who seem more interested in money than playing for the club. He accepts money is important to a player, but won’t be held to ransom. If Neill can’t put his on-the-field ambitions ahead of his financial ambitions he won’t become a Red, and in the eyes of many Liverpool supporters that’s no bad thing.

According to the Liverpool Echo, Liverpool are disappointed behind the scenes that Neill’s advisors are putting the financial side ahead of the playing side. Obviously their cut of any fees would be higher should Neill take the big money, believed to be as high as £50,000 per week. Unless West Ham’s gamble pays off and they survive relegation, there’s no way Neill can expect to still be earning that kind of money in the Championship.  Neill is believed to favour a move to Anfield, something he has described in the past as his “dream move”, but his advisors are trying hard to persuade him otherwise.

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Reports: Neill wants more money from Reds

Liverpool's attempts to sign Lucas Neill from Blackburn seem to have hit one final stumbling block – the player's wage demands.

Liverpool have reluctantly agreed to a straight swap deal seeing Stephen Warnock go the other way, Liverpool had wanted to receive cash as part of the deal too. This cash could well have been used to help fund Neill's wages, instead Liverpool are sticking to their overall budget for the deal and now Neill has a dilemma. Wages, or the greater potential to win medals over the next few years.

He seems to be reluctant to accept the lower wages offered by Liverpool when he has better offers on the table from the often-troubled Newcastle and relegation-threatened West Ham. Liverpool won't budge, especially when they could get Neill for free at the end of the season and offer him the wages he wants. Rafa doesn't like players who don't show commitment at this stage of proceedings, and unless Neill shows some enthusiasm soon the Reds boss may give up on him completely.

Rafa had hoped to have Neill included in his squad for the visit of Chelsea this weekend, but that's looking less likely by the day.

Continue reading Reports: Neill wants more money from Reds