Liverpool say farewell to their home supporters this afternoon in their last home game of the season. Like last season’s final Anfield fixture, the fans will be applauding players who are going to end the season with a major cup final. Last season it was the Champions League Final; Liverpool of course went on to win in one of the most memorable finals of all time. This season it’s the FA Cup that will bring to an end Liverpool’s season – 10 months after it started.
The traditional lap of honour will, like last year, leave some players wondering if they are waving goodbye to the home supporters for ever, or just until the new season. Rafa left it late to make decisions on many of his players last season, and is seemingly doing so this year too. Didi Hamann got a new contract last season, and has played enough games this season for that deal to continue for another term. Igor Biscan finally left, going to Greece. One other person who missed out was Vladimir Smicer – he was seen walking alone around the Anfield perimeter after mostly everyone else had long since left, reflecting on his time at the club he came to love. A few weeks later he was scoring the second Liverpool goal on their way to European glory, a goal that will ensure he’s got a permanent place in Anfield folklore.
Rafa has decisions to make this close-season too. If Liverpool have
secured investment then they are keeping the news very quiet. People
seem fit to burst with information about investment being imminent, but
whether money is waiting or not the silence on the issue makes sure
that player prices for Liverpool interests don’t go through the roof.
It’s all part of the game and silly season enters full mode in a few
weeks. It would be underway already, but the English press are
entertaining themselves with the search for a new England manager.
Robbie Fowler is still waiting to hear officially on where he stands
with a new deal. Rafa Benítez dropped hints this week that Fowler would
be around for pre-season, and Fowler’s agent was optimistic too. There
is also a rumour doing the rounds that the club will announce a new
deal for Robbie at Anfield today before the game. If not then Robbie
will be waving farewell to the Kop and still not sure if it’s for the
The striker situation is perhaps the most up in the air of all of the
areas of the pitch where players are wondering what will happen next.
Fernando Morientes has struggled to make the impact in England that he
did in France and Spain, but Rafa seems to be happy to keep faith with
him. Djibril Cisse is one of the most frustrating players for Rafa to
make a decision on. He has undoubted talent but at times just seems
unable to do the simple things, and his blistering pace isn’t something
Rafa particularly wants to use too often. He cost a lot of money,
bought for £14m by Gerard Houllier before he left, and this figure is
something Liverpool are not going to get back by any means. Neil Mellor
is still struggling with injury, but is liked by Rafa Benítez and may
get more time, unlike Florent Sinama-Pongolle who burned a lot of
bridges with his Everton love-in during an interview earlier in the
Jerzy Dudek is almost certain to be going in the summer. Rafa has his
own valuation for the player, and of course that drops with each
half-season, but if the value is met Jerzy will have a new club to play
for next season. His heroics in Istanbul mean that the Kop will be glad
to give him a big send-off, although his erratic performances at times
mean he’s not always been a favourite. Chris Kirkland won’t be at
Anfield to say goodbye, but it’s unlikely he’ll be included in the
plans for the Reds next season. Scott Carson has enjoyed a loan spell
at Sheffield Wednesday and despite some stories hinting at it is
unlikely to leave the club yet.
Left-winger Mark González may be set to finally join up with his
Anfield team-mates next season, but it won’t mean the end of the road
for Harry Kewell. Kewell was man of the match for most in last
Saturday’s FA Cup semi-final and that’s a sign of how much he has
improved since shaking off long-term injuries. Jan Kromkamp hasn’t
managed to shake Steven Gerrard or Steve Finnan out of the right-side
berths though and could be open to the idea of moving back to Holland,
just to keep his national coach happy. Liverpool have reported
interests in signing more than one player from Holland, and Kromkamp
could be used to help in a deal there.
Kromkamp’s defensive team-mates Djimi Traore and Steven Warnock are
perhaps a little unsure of their futures. With González, Zenden and
Kewell likely to be the top choices for left-midfield, John Arne Riise
will find his own appearances limited to left-back. Appearances for
Traore and Warnock are already going to be limited and that is before
any new defensive signings join up.
One man certainly waving goodbye is reserve team coach and chief scout
Paco Herrera. Paco was working at Anfield for the duration of his
contract without actually moving his family over to England. For that
reason above all else he felt he had to get back to living in Spain. It
is hoped he’ll still be retained by Liverpool to some extent from a
scouting perspective, as it was he that discovered a lot of the new
young talent that – added to the Academy squad – won the FA Youth Cup
The fact that Real Madrid are looking for another new president means
that Rafael Benítez will be linked with a move to Spain repeatedly for
the foreseeable future. The chances of him moving this summer are very
remote indeed, but it won’t stop the speculation. Thankfully Steven
Gerrard will not be one of those linked with leaving the club like he
was for the last two seasons – although occasional attempts from
half-hearted journalists will no doubt appear from time to time.
Chelsea won’t be getting him of course, and if rumours of discontent
from Stamford Bridge are true, it’s more likely there’ll be a move in
the opposite direction this summer, perhaps some of Chelsea’s England
players asking Liverpool players whether they can sort them out a new
For the team as a whole it’s been an amazing 12 months, a year of
progress. The European Cup win came on the back of a poor league
season, which saw Liverpool finish fifth. This season the club can
finish no lower than third, and have an outside chance of second.
Despite Jose Mourinho’s attempts at saying otherwise, Liverpool have
closed the gap on Chelsea this season, and a similar amount of progress
next season would be enough to see the Reds overtake the least
cost-effective champions in history. Although the league title is the
ultimate goal for Rafa and the fans, a win in the FA Cup final would
see Rafa bringing home his third piece of silverware in the two years
he’s been at the club, which is certainly the right way of going about
The doubts that used to fill every fan’s mind during every Liverpool
game have been replaced by feelings of belief that the Reds will win.
Even the most pessimistic fans will only be staying pessimistic for the
sake of superstition. The Reds are on their way back, and deserve a big
thank you from the fans today.