Cisse – fitter, stronger, faster

Everton became the latest club to be linked to a move for Liverpool striker Milan Baros, who still looks set to leave the Anfield club before the end of the transfer window. He’s not in the squad for tonight’s Champions League qualifier at Anfield so that he doesn’t become cup-tied. The latest reports claim that Everton can match Liverpool’s asking price of £6million, and can also afford his wages. Whether the Czech star fancies a move across the park to a club of that type remains to be seen.

One player that is definitely staying at Anfield is striker Djibril Cisse. Cisse’s first season at Anfield was interrupted by a horrific broken leg and he only returned to action right at the end of the season. It was an amazing recovery, well ahead of schedule, and fitting that he scored a penalty in the Champions League Final shootout in May as Liverpool became European Champions.

Cisse is pleased with his pre-season form and fitness levels, and says that he’s doing even better now than he was before he was injured. One of the routines the players work through during the pre-season conditioning is sprinting tests, of which the French star said: "I did even better than last year, which just goes to show what great work we did with the doctors who helped me recover. It was so important to me to do so well because after the injury that was one of the things I worried about most, getting back that acceleration. But in the tests I was the one who jumped the highest and ran the fastest. No one at Liverpool can beat me! Djibril is back!"
 
Cisse is fast becoming a hero of the fans at Anfield with his attitude to the club. He even got married this summer in a red suit. Now the Lord of Frodsham wants to get things right on the pitch, making up for the difficulties he faced last season. He says: "At first, I admit it was difficult. Most foreign players need a bit of time to adapt when they arrive in England. I had never played with Milan Baros before, so it’s only normal that it takes a bit of time to settle in and get to know each other’s game. But I felt that I just as I was getting into my stride and getting used to things on the field, the injury came along and struck me down."

The player was signed by Liverpool before Rafa Benitez became manager, in a deal brokered by Gerard Houllier a year before the player actually joined. He is not the type of player to just turn up and earn his money. He wants to win. He tries to explain: "I can take criticism, all the time it’s fair. People pay their money to come to the stadium and they expect you to give your best. The thing is, I have to put my talents to the best use. I have to use my pace at the right time. Yes, sometimes I wave my arms around and complain I didn’t get the ball when and where I wanted it but that’s just my way of dealing with things. Thierry Henry does the same, showing his frustration. Sometimes people confuse that with some kind of superiority complex, when nothing could be further from the truth. I’m just always wound up when I’m out there on the field. I live for my football and I’m desperate to do my best. That’s just the way I am and the way I express myself but people who’ve played alongside me over the years will vouch for the fact that I’ve always been a team man."

Echoing a lot of what has been said by Rafa Benitez in light of the numerous summer signings, Djibs promises that he’ll be a new and improved player in a new and improved team: "This season, you’re going to see another Liverpool and people will see another Djibril Cisse. I’m ready now. This is going to be my season. After all I went through last season, it’s only normal for me to want to pay everyone back. I owe so much. The club was always behind me, always believed in me, even when I was seriously injured. I owe it to all my friends and to all the fans who were there for me."
 
Rafa Benitez is looking for goals from all around his squad, but it’s no secret that the strikers need to be scoring more. Cisse has responded by setting himself a massive target of 20 Premiership goals next season. He says: "I have made a lot of progress since my Auxerre days, but there’s still plenty to come. I think my left foot is better now and I’m better in the air too but I’ve still got some way to go – I’m not yet at Thierry Henry’s level. I’ve set myself a target. I’ve got to score at least 20 goals in the Premier League this season. That’s achievable. I needed that first year to adjust and the team needed it too. From here on in, things are going to get better and better. I see only happiness ahead."