Steven Gerrard is once again all over the back pages of the British press, with the latest stories claiming a training ground bust-up has taken place between the Reds captain and Rafa Benitez.
They say there’s no smoke without fire, and there’s certainly a lot of smoke with variations of the story appearing in most sports sections. The fire is almost certainly going to be coming from SFX, Gerrard’s agents. It seems that it was no coincidence for the stories to be appearing on the day that Liverpool have announced a press conference to unveil Bolo Zenden and possibly Jose Reina.
According to the stories, Gerrard arrived at Melwood on Saturday to train alone, and when he arrived he had a row with Benitez.
The Mirror carries quotes in its story, in which it says Gerrard will be sold for £35million. The quotes are from "a friend of Gerrard", but it’s almost certain that this his agent, who of course would only have given these quotes off the record. The friend allegedly said: "Stevie’s patience has snapped with Benitez and Rick Parry and it’s civil war now. If they had wanted to sort this out, it could have been done in two hours, yet we have got nowhere and Stevie doesn’t know why they’re not prepared to sit down properly."
The interesting part of this quote is "we have got nowhere". The word "we" implies that the one giving the quotes was involved in the negotiations. The friend claims talks have broken down for good: "Now he’s stopped talking and even if Liverpool come back and say they want to re-open negotiations, he will tell them where they can stick it."
The article claims that Gerrard feels the delay in agreeing a deal is down to a lack of money on Liverpool’s part, that they can’t afford his demands, and if not that they just don’t want him.
The Mirror claims that Rafa Benitez "had conversations" with Gerrard on Wednesday and Thursday. Not surprising given that they were training those days. Gerrard went to Jamie Carragher’s wedding on Friday so there was no training, and the paper then claims that Gerrard was at the training ground on Saturday for a "private" session. It was then, the paper alleges, that Rafa and Stevie had their row, "an angry exchange that left the player furious and determined to quit and Benitez complaining that he is being used as a scapegoat to make the midfielder look as if he is being forced out".
In fact the paper then quotes more "friends" – this time of Benitez. They are supposed to have said, "I don’t know what is going on. I’m being accused of orchestrating a campaign to get rid of Stevie but I’ve done nothing at all. I want him to stay." The paper says Rafa feels that he is being set up by SFX, and in particular Struan Marshall. It was Marshall who had talks with Rick Parry on Wednesday and Thursday according to the report – which in some ways contradicts the earlier part of the article that seemed to hint that Gerrard and Benitez were discussing the deal themselves on Wednesday and Thursday. The paper also accuses Rafa of being unhappy with Rick Parry for going on holiday before sorting out the deal with Gerrard, and then offering an unacceptable deal.
Gerrard told the world straight after Liverpool’s European Cup victory that he would stay. Or did he? He actually said, "How could I leave after a night like this?" If SFX get their way he’ll leave by moving to another club for money and more importantly to them, a bigger commission cheque. The Mirror also claims that Gerrard and Rafa are "no longer talking".
Michael Owen looked all set to stay at Anfield last summer, until at the last minute he moved to Real Madrid. Various stories about the sequence of events that resulted in him leaving have been told, but the main one seems to be that when Real came in to sign the player he was given an ultimatum – sign for us or go to them, but no more stalling. SFX were Owen’s agents, and in January of last year they upset Owen when they publically stated that Owen would leave if the club didn’t qualify for the Champions League. Owen refuted those claims, and Liverpool did qualify.
It’s pretty clear that Gerrard’s agents have been talking to the press. The stories that hit the Spanish press last week were probably orchestrated between SFX and Real, a club often accused of conducting transfer business in the press. Even now Real are campaigning to bring Robinho to the club from Santos and are using the press to make their intentions clear.
The sad thing in all of this is that SFX are allowing this to take place. Gerrard must have been prepared to put money after his love of the club if he did change his mind a year ago on a move to Chelsea. Perhaps he’s not has happy under Rafa Benitez as he had hoped. Perhaps he wants a clause in his contract that Liverpool won’t accept. Whatever the truth is though, Liverpool will have made the best offer they feel they can for the player. Gerrard will have requested what he feels he is worth. If these two figures and deals don’t tie-up then somebody needs to compromise. If the two parties can’t agree then why prolong the agony? If the deal is close then it’s time to hurry it along and get it agreed. If the two sides are miles apart and unlikely to agree then it’s much better for all concerned – especially the club and the player – for Liverpool and Gerrard to part company.
Some of the things said in recent weeks seem to have been exaggerated. One example is that Gerrard was meant to have been left fuming that Didi Hamann was given a new deal almost immediately after the European Cup final, whilst Gerrard wasn’t. Hamann was out of contract, Liverpool had to offer him a new deal before he went to another club. Gerrard has still got two years to run on this deal. The other take on the story is that Gerrard wanted to sign before the new season, which starts on July 13th. Actually the new season should have started a month later, so Liverpool should have had that extra time to prepare the deal.
Today’s press conference will no doubt be hijacked by questions over Steven Gerrard. It’s unlikey there’ll be anything new to say on the subject though, with the official stance remaining that Liverpool want Gerrard to stay. If by next Wednesday there’s been no announcement, we could see Steven Gerrard sitting on the bench or even out of the squad for the Champions League qualifier against TNS. As with Michael Owen last season, if Liverpool are considering letting a player move to another club they aren’t likely to let him get cup-tied, which would reduce his value.
It’s time for all sides to agree – either to agree a new deal, or agree that it’s not possible to agree a new deal. Only then will the press leave the story alone. And only then for a short time no doubt.