Rafa pleased with new attacking options

Rafa Benítez was pleased to see his Liverpool side win their third consecutive pre-season game, scoring three goals for the third time in row too. He was less pleased with the two goals conceded, but on the whole felt the match was good for the club and for the fans: “I was pleased to see us score three goals and it was nice for Torres, Benayoun and Babel to play their first games for us. They have only just started training with us but they looked sharp.”

Before the game, against Werder Bremen in Grenchen in Switzerland, Rafa had said he may not play that particular trio but must have been pleased that he did, all three doing themselves no harm on their debuts: “It was good for the supporters to see us attacking and playing some good football. It was not so good for me as manager to see us conceding goals but there were many positives for me to take from the game. We needed to work hard and step up our fitness levels and that’s why we changed a lot of players during the game.”

It was free-signing Andriy Voronin who got two of Liverpool’s goals, the other coming from John Arne Riise, a player who might find his place under threat this season should Rafa sign his target Gabriel Heinze.  That transfer moved closer to reality yesterday when it was reported that the Argentine defender had permission in the form of a letter from United that he could move should the buying club meet the required fee of £6m. The letter is not said to have any restrictions on where the player could move to, although in hindsight United will wish they had Liverpool on a list of excluded clubs. Earlier reports that the player could leave under the new FIFA rules allowing players to buy out their contracts under certain conditions seem to have been incorrect – Heinze would not be eligible to move to Anfield under those terms.

The United manager Alex Ferguson admitted that Heinze’s agent had stated the player wants to leave Old Trafford: “Gaby’s agent has advised us that he wants to move on. I am not too sure about that and we do not have a concrete offer but there is momentum regarding his next move.” Ferguson will do all he can to persuade Heinze to join any club other than Liverpool.

Rafa’s summer dealings are almost over, but have seen numerous attacking players brought in, and others including Craig Bellamy leaving. Peter Crouch was asked if he was worried about his future in light of this, but as ever the club’s top scorer was cool calm and collected about it all: “When you see other forwards leaving, I wouldn’t say it’s a case of ‘Yeah, one’s leaving, that’s good for me’, because you know they’re going to be replaced. I think every season is a defining season for me because people are always looking to see how I will do. I thought I did well at the end of my first year, and it was then a case of can he prove it over the course of a whole season?”

He said last season was similar to this in terms of there being a threat to his chances of playing a part in many games: “At the start of last year we brought in Kuyt and Bellamy and you ask yourself ‘How are you going to feature?’ and it’s the same again. I seem to have done it last year and, hopefully, I’ll be the same again with Torres and Voronin coming in.”

Another attacking player to leave is Mark Gonzalez. The deal with Real Betis had been agreed in principle prior to the Copa America tournament but wasn’t actually finalised. Now Betis have a new coach, Hector Cooper, who is happy for Gonzalez to be part of his squad and the deal should be fully completed today.

Liverpool yesterday announced the appointment of a new commercial director. It’s a new role at the club, one which many critics have been calling for now for some time. The new director is a lifelong Liverpool supporter so should at least understand where Liverpool’s tradition may make some commercial opportunities less suitable than they may be for other clubs.

Ian Ayre, 44, is due to start on August 16th, reporting directly to chief executive Rick Parry, who says he welcomes the appointment made by the club’s new owners: “I’m delighted Ian has agreed to join us and I look forward to him arriving in Liverpool. There couldn’t be a better time to be coming to the club as we’re looking at a bright future both on and off the pitch. Ian has a great track record and also understands the values which make this club so special.” The appointment will give Parry more time to concentrate on his many other duties as chief executive.

Ayre will be looking for sponsors to tie in with the move to the new stadium, planned for 2010, and will also be looking at how Liverpool’s name can be used to earn more money in overseas markets. The new co-owners released a joint statement, saying: “We would like to welcome Ian to Liverpool Football Club. He has vast experience in an array of relevant fields for the club. In particular, his marketing experience will be a great advantage as we look to grow the Liverpool brand overseas and make the club more competitive on this front. He is a strong addition to the team.”

Ayre himself seems to be itching to get started: “Being Liverpool born and bred, this is a dream job for me. I feel that everything I’ve done so far – in sports marketing, media and technology – has been leading to this role. I’ve been away from Liverpool for many years, and I couldn’t be returning at a better time.”

Finnan next after Babel and Benayoun deals done

Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez has successfully added Ryan Babel and Yossi Benayoun to his squad this week, and there is at least one more new signing still to come.  Details of who that is are thin on the ground, but is was co-owner Tom Hicks who hinted at it during an interview earlier this week, suggesting this isn’t a minor signing. The move to try and sign Argentina’s Gabriel Heinze is still on, although the difficulties surrounding a direct move from Manchester United aren’t going to be all that easy to overcome.

Also due to happen soon is a very important signing – one of an existing player. Steve Finnan was linked with a move away from Anfield when Rafa first arrived, but after staying on he became on of the unsung heroes of Rafa’s time in charge. He’s earned a new contract, and has been reportedly offered one for two years, with an option for a third year, which would see Finnan a Red until he’s 34.

A press conference is likely to take place this afternoon to unveil Babel and Benayoun. Benayoun has already signed his four year deal, Babel will sign his five-year deal later today – a lucrative deal for the player. According to reports, Babel was entitled to 50% of any amount over €9m received by Ajax for him, and the fee is said to be €17m, which is around £11.5m.

Babel explained last night how he was feeling sad to be saying his farewells at his old club: “I am at Ajax to say goodbye to everyone, and I must say that’s quite difficult. I think I will miss the fans, the ones that have always supported me, the guys of course and the coach. I certainly leave Ajax with pain in my heart.”

Parry: We’re allowed to talk to Babel

Liverpool chief executive Rick Parry has today confirmed reports that Liverpool and West Ham have agreed a fee for playmaker Yossi Benayoun, and has also announced that Ajax have allowed Liverpool to talk terms with Ryan Babel.

Parry said: “We’ve agreed the fee with West Ham for Yossi Benayoun. We’re not quite there with Ryan Babel yet, but we’ve now been given permission by Ajax to talk to the player. We hope to reach an agreement with Ajax very shortly.”

Benayoun now just has to tie up some loose ends before he becomes a Red, and according to the local press Babel is due in Liverpool today to undergo those talks. The Benayoun fee is undisclosed, but believed to be anywhere between £4m and £5m, with the fee for Babel expected to be somewhere around the £10m mark.

Many Reds see similarities between Benayoun and the outgoing Luis Garcia who joined Atletico Madrid last week. Rafa Benítez agrees, saying: “They are similar – maybe Luis is a player who scores more goals and Benayoun tends to make more assists. Like Luis, he is a very technical, clever player with a lot of game intelligence. He can also play in many positions, giving us a different option for the team.” Rafa says he’d already had an eye on Yossi when he played in Spain, but took the opportunity to watch him whilst in England to see how well he had converted to the English game: “I first saw him play for Racing Santander in La Liga when he was a really good player, but when he first came to England we were watching to be sure he could adapt to a different style of football. It’s clear he’s done this very well at West Ham.”

Rafa was impressed with Benayoun’s performance in Cardiff at the end of the 2006 season: “Liverpool fans will remember how he played in the FA Cup Final against us when he was outstanding. We thought then this was a player who is capable of stepping up to a higher level.”

And Benayoun is also about to become the latest player to turn down more money in return for the honour of playing for the Reds: “He was offered a big new contract at West Ham and received offers from a lot of other clubs offering him more money, but Yossi’s message was always the same. He said he was desperate to only join Liverpool because this was his dream. When Rick, the Americans and I spoke about the player, we all agreed this is the kind of attitude we and our supporters really like. When you have quality players with his ability showing so much passion to play for your club, it’s really good for the team.”

In fact the opposite to that sort of attitude is what puts Rafa off players, and more than one player has seen Liverpool’s interest wane when Rafa has perceived money as being their biggest motivator.

Rafa mentioned that Fernando Torres may have to delay his first training session for the Reds due to an ankle injury, which Rafa says isn’t serious but shouldn’t be risked.

Reds announce LFC TV channel details

Liverpool Football Club’s very own official TV channel will finally launch in the UK in September following an agreement between the European giants and the Setanta Sports network. The channel is to be bundled in with Setanta’s £9.99 sports pack. Although there will be no option to take just the LFC channel, there is no minimum contract term for the package.

The channel will be simply called ‘LFC TV’ and will also be streamed online for e-season ticket holders to view. The club and the broadcaster have signed a three-year-deal to provide this service, which has been planned for some time.

Today’s announcement details how fans with a Sky system can view the new channel, but promises that the channel will also be made available on Virgin’s cable services, details to follow. The Freeview service doesn’t have the capacity to show the channel in full, but Setanta’s subscribers on Freeview can see some of the programming on Setanta’s own Sports 1 channel.

The lucrative deals signed for TV rights between Premiership clubs and Sky and Setanta mean that LFC TV won’t be able to show any live action from the Premiership, in fact none of the club’s first team fixtures can be shown live. There will however be delayed broadcasts in full of every game the club plays. The club also plan to show “selected” reserve fixtures and “no less than 50% of all friendlies” involving the club. Coverage from the Academy is also planned.

One aspect many Reds will be looking forward to is exclusive coverage of new signings, and news from inside Melwood. A programme called “LFC Now” is set to broadcast every day and will feature interviews with staff and players past and present. LFC’s past won’t be neglected, with former heroes already signed up for regular interviews and a vast archive of footage from days gone by ready to be shown. There are even plans for a show billed as a “live, interactive football forum” called “This is Anfield”, which will feature ex-players discussing with fans whatever is hitting the Anfield headlines at that time.

The list of content revealed by the club includes:

  • Delayed coverage of all LFC’s League and European Cup games.
  • A minimum of six hours of original programming content will be shown five days a week all year round.
  • A daily news round-up.
  • Exclusive interviews with current staff and players.
  • Classic games.
  • At least half of all Liverpool’s friendlies will be shown live and exclusively.
  • Former Liverpool players will feature in live studio discussions along with supporters, celebrity supporters and football pundits.

Also included in the Setanta Sports Pack from August will be 46 Premier League games (the replacement for the old ‘pay-per-view’ offering, Sky are showing another 92 live games). The channels included are LFC TV, Setanta Sports 1, Setanta Sports 2, Setanta Golf, Racing UK, Racing World, NASN (North American Sports Network), Celtic TV and Rangers TV.

Reds agree Benayoun fee

West Ham United and Liverpool have finally agreed a fee for Israeli midfielder Yossi Benayoun after protracted talks between the two clubs.

Liverpool’s first bid of around £3m was turned down straight away by West Ham, but Benayoun had heard of Liverpool’s interest by then, refusing to sign a new deal with the London side. At one point West Ham demanded £8m for the playmaker, before coming down to £6m, but Liverpool stood firm. It’s believed the agreed fee is for £4m.

The player had already agreed terms with the Reds after West Ham had allowed him to speak to the Champions League finalists and now all that remains is for the player to undergo a medical before signing the contract, said to be for four years.

Liverpool boss Rafa Benítez has been an admirer of the player since he was playing in La Liga. It was from the Spanish league and Racing Santander that West Ham signed him for £2.5m two years ago.

Confirmed: Bellamy joins West Ham

West Ham have this morning confirmed that the signing of Craig Bellamy from Liverpool has finally gone through. The two clubs agreed a fee last week, and the player had agreed personal terms with West Ham before passing a medical. On Saturday Rafa Benítez told reporters the deal had gone through but West Ham denied this, saying Bellamy had some issues to resolve with Liverpool first.

That now done, Bellamy has left Liverpool and signed for the Hammers for a fee of – according to West Ham – £7.5m. The West Ham website said this morning: “West Ham United is delighted to announce the signing of Wales international captain Craig Bellamy from Liverpool for a fee of £7.5million. The 27-year-old striker put pen to paper on a five-year contract at Upton Park this morning to become Alan Curbishley’s fourth summer signing.”

Liverpool signed Bellamy from Blackburn last summer for a cut-price £6m after learning of a clause in the Welshman’s contract which allowed him to leave for a Champions League club at that set figure. The season he had at Anfield wasn’t a disaster, but Rafa told Bellamy he wasn’t part of his main plans for the new season. Bellamy, a boyhood Red, is set to earn £75,000 a week at West Ham.

The low-point of Bellamy’s time at Anfield probably came during the infamous trip to Portugal when Bellamy was alleged to have hit team-mate John Arne Riise with a golf club. That was quickly followed by one of the highlights, when an excellent performance from Bellamy saw him score one and set up the other – ironically for Riise – as Liverpool earned a 2-1 lead in the first leg of their Champions League tie against Barcelona.

Good luck from AnfieldRoad.com to Craig in his future career.

Ajax confirm Liverpool bid for Babel

Ajax have confirmed that Liverpool have made more than one bid for Holland international Ryan Babel to Anfield and now seem resigned to losing the player. Liverpool’s initial bid is believed to have been for a potential £10m, but now they are believed to have upped it to one worth up to £13.5m – and Ajax are listening.

The Dutch side’s technical director Martin van Geel told the media last night: “Liverpool are very serious about signing Babel and have made an offer a lot higher than before. Because they want him so much, I think we will lose him.”

The overall bid is thought to be based on how successful the twenty-year-old becomes during his time with Liverpool. His agent had been the first person to confirm Liverpool had contacted Ajax about the under-21 international, saying to Sportweek magazine: “I can say nothing about transfer fees, but I can confirm that Liverpool have made a bid for Ryan. Ryan himself hasn’t spoken with that club. Only when Ajax say that the clubs have an agreement can we speak, and phase two starts. But it’s not that far yet. We first have to wait to see if the clubs reach a deal or not.”

Babel is comfortable playing on either wing or up front, Rafa being most likely to use him as a winger. However Rafa likes players who offer him ‘possibilities’ and Babel is likely to make some appearances away from the wings.

Carra confirms England retirement plan

Liverpool vice-captain Jamie Carragher today confirmed the leaked report from yesterday that he has told Steve McLaren he wants to bring his international days to an end.

Speaking to the Liverpool Echo’s Chris Bascombe, Carragher said he wouldn’t leave England in the lurch should an injury crisis occur, but has given up waiting for a chance to impress and earn a place as a regular for England. He told Steve McLaren how he felt, that he was tired of being overlooked – especially for a centre-half place but also as a full-back – and was ready to concentrate on his domestic career. Now it seems this news has come as a shock to the England management who are said to have been trying frantically to persuade Carra to persevere with the England national team. They seem to have managed that at least until the next England game, which takes place next month against Germany.

Carra told the Echo: “I’m 29 now, and I have to accept if I’m not a regular starter at this stage of my England career, I don’t think I will ever be. It’s going to be difficult for me to be seen as anything more than a squad player, and that’s not what I’m interested in now. Playing the odd game here and there for England isn’t enough for me anymore. My first priority has always been winning trophies with Liverpool.”

Carra has confided many times in friends that despite feeling pride when playing for England he doesn’t see them as a priority. He confirmed this today: “I’ve always seen England as a bonus. With the club good enough to give me a four year contract, I want all my focus to be on Liverpool for the rest of my playing career. I’ve spoken Steve McLaren and explained my feelings, but I’ve agreed to speak to him again before England play Germany before I make a final decision. I’m not doing this to leave England in the lurch. If it’s an absolute emergency – and by that I mean if all available centre halves are out injured or there are suspensions – I probably won’t say no if I’m asked. I’ve committed 12 years of my career to England, but I’ve been thinking now is the time to concentrate 100 per cent on Liverpool.”

Carra says he’s been thinking about this for some time, and that although his recent omission from the side to face Estonia added more weight to his thoughts of quitting, his decision wasn’t based purely on that: “There are a number of reasons why I’ve been thinking about this. I first thought about it after the World Cup because I wondered how many chances I’d get for England at centre half. Then when Sol Campbell was out of the picture I thought I could put pressure on Rio Ferdinand for the other centre half position alongside John Terry. Given my form for Liverpool, I genuinely thought that was possible, but over the last 12 months players like Jonathan Woodgate and Ledley King have played there ahead of me.”

Not that Carra is claiming he’s better than those two – just that if he’s got so many ahead of him in the pecking order how can he hope to break into the side on a regular basis? “They’re top drawer players. It’s not as if they’re Mickey Mouse defenders. Even in the last two games against Brazil and Estonia, England conceded just one goal, so people can argue the manager got his decision spot on.”

For Carra though it’s time to concentrate on Liverpool, that Estonia fixture making it clear and dispelling his doubts about whether quitting was the right thing to do: “It was particularly disappointing for me when Rio was out against Estonia and I wasn’t picked. I thought I’d had a good season for Liverpool, especially helping us get to the Champions League final, like any player I thought I deserved to play, but not doing so made the situation crystal clear to me.”

Carra sees his age as a big part of his decision: “Playing the odd game here and there isn’t enough. Four or five years ago I was happy to have that role, but not now. Recently when I’ve been asked to play at full-back I’ve found it a lot more difficult than I did when was doing it for Liverpool. It’s a physically demanding position and I didn’t think I played well against Brazil. It’s more tiring than being a centre back, particularly when you’re not as used to it as I used to be. I think it would be a good time for me to step aside.”

He also took time out to say that his decision wasn’t an attack on Steve McLaren: “I want to stress this has nothing do would Steve McLaren. It wouldn’t have mattered who was the England manager, I’ve been thinking about this for a while. I’ve worked with Steve for five years as part of the England set-up.”

Carra isn’t happy to hurt anyone, and sees the chance to step away from the England fold as a chance to improve his work for Liverpool: “When you go away with England you get back to Liverpool on a Thursday and sometimes have a match early on Saturday. I’ve never liked the situation where I’ve not felt 100 per cent before a Liverpool match. Even if you don’t play in the international, going away and travelling can take it out of you. I’ll be happier when those breaks come around and I’ll be fresher for the Liverpool matches. It could add at least two more years on my career at the top level, and that’s uppermost in my mind.”

The Echo also quote a ‘senior England source’ as saying: “Steve McLaren has total respect for Jamie as a player and as a man and is still determined to do all he can to keep Jamie in the England squad.”

Rafa has eye on £10m Babel

As the dust settled on Friday night on Craig Bellamy’s near-transfer to West Ham (it waited on Bellamy and the Reds agreeing a contract settlement) and Djibril Cissé’s actual transfer to West Ham, rumours started to gather pace as to what – or who – was next on Rafa’s agenda.

Yossi Benayoun was now said to have agreed personal terms with Liverpool after West Ham had allowed him to speak to the club – but the clubs are still to agree a fee. Liverpool’s top offer of £4m is still some way short of West Ham’s lowest demand of £6m.

Then over the weekend came news of a link between Liverpool and Ajax’s 20-year-old attacking player Ryan Babel. Liverpool gave up on Florent Malouda of Lyon when the French side leaked details of the interest and slapped a ridiculous price on him – Chelsea have now paid £13.5m for a player Liverpool had valued at around £8m. Babel can play on either flank but is also happy playing up front. Liverpool boss Rafa Benítez loves the idea of ‘possibilities’ in his squad, but would be looking at Babel’s abilities in wide positions first and foremost given his recent confirmation that he is on the lookout for ‘wingers’. Babel has scored 4 goals in 14 full international appearances for Holland, and also played a starring role for the under-21s in their recent UEFA championships success.

This link gathered more credibility today when the local press on Merseyside also ran the story, hinting at a fee of around £10m. The same newspaper also pointed out the actual sums involved in Liverpool’s transfer dealings this summer, suggesting that the club are still roughly at a break-even point when comparing incoming and outgoing fees. That would change should Liverpool buy a player like Babel.

Now Babel’s agent has confirmed the Liverpool interest. Speaking to Sportweek magazine Winne Haatrecht said: “I can say nothing about transfer fees, but I can confirm that Liverpool have made a bid for Ryan. Ryan himself hasn’t spoken with that club. Only when Ajax say that the clubs have an agreement can we speak, and phase two starts. But it’s not that far yet. We first have to wait to see if the clubs reach a deal or not.”

With Rafa’s quest to buy those ‘wingers’ there have also been rapidly growing rumours linking the Anfield side to Porto’s Ricardo Quaresma, and Liverpool are said to have still not given up on a move for Simao Sabrosa.

There is yet to be an official announcement on Craig Bellamy’s transfer having finally gone through. Bellamy believes Liverpool owe him a certain amount of money under the terms of his contract because he didn’t seek a move away from Anfield himself, but with a potential £75,000-per-week contract at West Ham hanging in the balance Bellamy is not likely to hold out too long for his full settlement.

Round-up: Parry on loans, Hicks on stadium, Carra to quit England

The Liverpool chief executive Rick Parry has spoken out
about the relatively new practice in the Premier League that sees clubs loaning
players out to fellow top-flight clubs.

According to Parry, this is a situation that leads to
problems, and a situation that isn’t actually necessary. Parry used to be the
Premier League Chief Executive before taking on his role at Anfield, and said
that when he was there it wasn’t felt there was a need for two competing clubs
to deal with each other in this way: “At the Premier League we thought that,
given the money there is, you didn’t need loans – you should be able to stand
on your own two feet. There is enough money around to make transfer deals

Players on loan can’t play against their own clubs when the
two sides meet, but last season saw some questionable “gentlemen’s agreements”
where players on loan had their deals made permanent, often outside the
transfer window, on condition that the same rule stood.

Parry, speaking to the BBC, said the old rule worked well: “That
stood over 10 years. It’s only in the last two or three years that we have had
the loan system in the Premier League. It worked fine without it. There is a
sense that it can be open to abuse but clearly it was the will of the clubs to
allow the relaxation of it and clearly the majority are in favour.”

Liverpool saw some benefit from the rule last season, with
goalkeeper Scott Carson spending the season on loan at Charlton.

Continue reading Round-up: Parry on loans, Hicks on stadium, Carra to quit England