Liverpool’s signing of Mohamed Sissoko should go through soon, with only the medical remaining to carry out before he signs for the Reds. He’s a player known well to Reds boss Rafael Benitez – Benitez was boss of Valencia when Sissoko signed from Auxerre.
Benitez was full of praise for the Mali international midfielder today, saying: "Sissoko was a player that grew a lot with us and he’s a fantastic boy. He was called the new Vieira a few years ago. He played many times when he was 18, 19 and I think he has the energy that we need in the middle."
Benitez himself feels that Sissoko looks to have the potential to be as good as, if not better, than Arsenal’s influential midfielder: "He has incredible ability for his age. He is 20, I saw Vieira when he was 18-years old and he was no better than Sissoko. Sissoko runs more than Vieira. In a couple of years he will be more dynamic than Vieira and a better player."
Meanwhile Sissoko is overjoyed at moving to the European Champions after it looked like he was about to join Everton. Liverpool came in late to reportedly outbid Everton, and the move came out of the blue (pardon the pun): "For me the transfer has been a surprise. I am now going to a great club who will play in the Champions League and that is very important. They have taken a gamble on me and I don’t want to let them down."
Sissoko will be joining a Liverpool squad that once again is not short of midfielders – injuries permitting. In addition to new signing Bolo Zenden and the excellent Xavi Alonso, both Didi Hamman and Steven Gerrard have recently signed new deals.
Stories today claim that Sissoko’s move to Anfield came after a late bid from Chelsea to hijack the deal. The Mali international was reportedly uninterested, and chose the European Champions for his next club. Sissoko’s snub of Chelsea makes him the second midfielder in just a few days to turn down Chelsea, following on from Steven Gerrard’s decision to stay at Anfield. Gerrard’s deal came after a lot of press speculation and even an announcement from Anfield that the player was about to leave. The newspapers were given false information, possibly from the agency that represents Gerrard, and maybe also from those clubs interested in signing him. In fact the widely reported bid from Chelsea, confirmed by Liverpool, was a lot higher last week than it was over the weekend. Chelsea are clearly embarrassed at being snubbed again by Gerrard, and wanted to make it sound less of a problem. Despite reliable sources at Anfield confirming that a fax for £32million was received, Chelsea are now spreading a story that the offer was for much less – around £18million.
In the same way that the press are now being used to spare Chelsea’s blushes over the rejection from Stevie, they were being used recently to try and cause trouble between Stevie and Liverpool. It almost worked, but Benitez said that the stories about him falling out with his captain were completely untrue. He said: "They were lying. They were trying to find a problem between him, me and the club. When the newspapers claimed we were fighting on the training pitch, I was actually in my office."
Benitez and Gerrard have been working together for a year now, and the Spaniard is happy with how things are now, but is always looking to improve matters. He said: "The relationship between us is good and if it is possible now we will try to make it better. When the captain says he wants to go, then as a manager you try and resolve the situation. As a manager you try to work with your players, so if you have a player as good as Gerrard why would I want to fight with him?"
Benitez is also glad that the uncertainty has been buried. Gerrard is staying, although he’s not the most important person in Rafa’s life: "Now my relationship with Steven is good – with my wife it is better! We have always talked together, but when people are talking about his future, it is difficult to talk with him about that. Now we only need to talk about football. After talking with him and analysing the situation, I think the uncertainty is now over. He is happy."
Rafa also heaped praise on one of his signing from Spain last season. Fernando Morientes joined the Reds from Real Madrid during the January transfer window, but arrived out of condition after not being played by Madrid. He managed to score three goals in 14 games last season, but Rafa sees that the player is now on a par fitness-wise with the rest of the squad. He’s also had time to adjust to the way the English game is played, and Benitez is pleased: "He’s almost like a new signing. Last season he wasn’t training for three or four months, so it was difficult when he came in because the pace here is higher than it is in Spain. Here it is more physical too. People say all the time that football is the same in all the countries, but it’s not true. Some players need four, five or six months to adjust."
There’s another bonus for Liverpool too with Morientes. The player was cup-tied for European games last season, but not this: "He can play in the Champions League which is good news for us and I hope he can score more goals for us in the league," said Benitez.