Gerrard’s contract talks begin

As reported earlier in the week, Liverpool have started the talks with Steven Gerrard’s representatives about a new contract. Although he’s still got two years to go on his current deal, both sides are keen to resolve the future. Gerrard spent a whole season under the cloud of speculation about his future and admitted that he wants his future to be sorted before the new season starts. Gerrard’s agent Struan Marshall also represents Jamie Carragher and he met Liverpool’s Chief Executive Rick Parry yesterday. Parry described talks as "constructive".

Speculation over Gerrard’s future will increase on July 13th, when Liverpool play TNS in the Champions League qualifier. Liverpool won’t want to cup-tie the captain if he is going to leave, so that game will become the centre of attention for all the speculation over Gerrard’s future. Last season Liverpool left Michael Owen on the bench for a Champions League qualifier, and by the time of the second leg he’d signed for Real Madrid.

Owen himself had a difficult first year in Madrid, although his fortunes improved for the latter part of the season as he earned a regular place in the starting line-up. Speculation that he was going to return to England has been in and out of the papers during the close season. There is reportedly a deal between Liverpool and Madrid giving the Reds first refusal on the player should he wish to return to England, and both Manchester United and Chelsea have been strongly linked with moves to buy the England striker. Some papers were even claiming that Owen had been house hunting near to Chelsea’s training ground. Now Madrid have publically stated that Owen won’t be leavingt the club. Their director of football, Arrigo Sacchi, has said: "Owen is not for sale because he is part of our coach Wanderley Luxemburgo’s plans. Chelsea have not been in touch with us to make an offer for him, or in recent times for any of our players. Some of the things written about who is coming to, and who is leaving Real Madrid, are almost as incredible as science fiction."

Recently-married Owen has himself said he wants to stay – as long as he’s wanted by Madrid – and it looks like he’s going to get his wish. Sacchi continued: "Owen has not told us he is unhappy or that he wants to leave and that is what really matters to us, not what stories appear in the press. He has signed a contract and he is a very professional player. Since I have been at Madrid I have never heard him complain – not even when he was not in the first team and, like all players, wanted to play more minutes."

The stories linking Liverpool to Bolton’s Stelios Giannakopoulos seem to have originated from an interest by Rafael Benitez in the player during negotiations over the departure of El Hadji Diouf. Now Wanderers manager Sam Allardyce is saying he wants the Greek star to stay and sign a new contract. The player is 30 years old and has a year left on his current deal, but the imminent arrival at Anfield of Bolo Zenden means that Benitez is less likely to move for a player that is valued at around £1million.

Liverpool’s pre-season plans have had to be amended due to the early start to their Champions League defence, and they are going to start off with a game in North Wales. Liverpool will visit Wrexham on July 9th at the ground that will be the venue for their second-leg clash against TNS. The Racecourse Ground has also been used by Liverpool for their reserve matches.

Liverpool’s heavy fixture list could see them decide against competing in FIFA’s World Club tournament in December. Liverpool, as European Champions, are entitled to enter as semi-finalists, but the rules of the tournament actually state that entry is not mandatory. The tournament features champions of all the world’s football confederations compete, so clearly it would devalue the competition somewhat if Liverpool did not take part. FIFA president Sepp Blatter, perhaps not fully aware of the optional nature of a club’s entry, said that Liverpool will be playing: "We have regulations. The winner of the Champions League is automatically qualified and I have no doubt they will play." There hasn’t been any official comment on the matter from Anfield, and it may be that they are waiting to see whether they get through the qualifying rounds of the Champions League before making a decision.