Finnan doesn’t fear the competition

Liverpool full-back Steve Finnan says he’s ready to fight off any challenges to his place as the Reds’ first-choice right-back next season. When Rafael Benítez became the Reds’ manager two seasons ago it looked like Finnan’s time at the club was coming to an end. He was linked with various clubs but nothing happened by the time the transfer window closed. He then set about impressing his manager, and seems to have done the trick with some style.

Rafael Benítez signed Spanish defender Josemi as a challenge to Finnan in that right-back role, but he failed to impress and last January was swapped for another right-back, Jan Kromkamp. Kromkamp was unable to displace Finnan either, being used more often than not as a right-midfielder when he has been used and now looks set to be going back home to Holland in the new season.

Finnan added an FA Cup Winners’ medal to his Champions League one last week, in a season that has seen him involved in 30 of the 33 games the Reds finished with a clean sheet. He’s not done badly on the attacking side of his game either, his two-footedness enabling him to get good service into the box. It was his cross that set up Peter Crouch to send Manchester United out of the FA Cup.

He’ll be getting more of a rest this summer than some of his Liverpool team-mates after the Republic of Ireland failed to qualify for the World Cup, but new Irish manager Steve Staunton has called his players together for a training camp in Portugal, where Finnan spoke to reporters yesterday. He spoke about how good Steven Gerrard has been for the Reds and says he’ll be watching out for him in the World Cup. He also spoke about a season that has been busy and long and ended like last season – in dramatic fashion: “I think Liverpool played about 64 games last season over the space of 11 months and I played in 52 of them. At the end I don’t think any of us could have foreseen the drama of the FA Cup final, particularly after the Champions League final the previous season.”

Both games he speaks about ended 3-3 after 90 minutes and were finally
resolved on penalties, in Liverpool’s favour. Istanbul was considered
one of the greatest comebacks in football history, but Finnan says the
Cardiff win might actually have been better: “In some ways it was an
even greater comeback. We scored in the last couple of minutes of the
game thanks to a brilliant goal from Gerrard when a lot of the lads
were tired and we looked down and out. It was an emotional game.”

Benítez is looking for new full-backs this summer, and that includes
someone to take a place in the squad as a right-back. Whether Finnan
remains as first-choice remains to be seen, but he says he’s not
surprised the manager is looking to add more players to the staff: “You
need 20 or 22 players to deal with the number of games and I’m sure the
manager is looking at the squad during the summer. We got a good league
points total this season but we didn’t do well in the big league games
against Chelsea and Manchester United, and I can see a few players
coming in who will strengthen that challenge.”

Happy as Finnan is with his treatment by Rafa, he wasn’t quite so happy
with the failed Ireland manager Brian Kerr. “I am a right-back, but I
never really played in my position under Brian and I don’t feel I got a
fair crack of the whip.” Finnan was more likely to find himself in
midfield than in defence under Kerr but feels that the new boss might
just change things for the better: “I think it’s too early to say
whether there’s been a change of mood in the squad since the new
manager came in, but he’s made a great start. I saw it on television.
It looked good and the lads were positive.”

Finnan has two more years to go on his contract, and at 30 years of age
knows where he wants to continue his career – at Anfield: “I am happy
with the way it has gone for me and I want to hang around and win more
trophies. You want to win as many as you can, store them somewhere and
then sit back and enjoy them once you’re finished. But my great
ambition is to complete the set with the Premiership.”

The training camp is followed by a friendly against Chile on Wednesday
and Finnan – injury permitting – is hoping to impress enough to ensure
his place in Staunton’s squad for the opening European Championship
qualifier against Germany next season.

One player who won’t be involved in that game is Liverpool midfielder
Dietmar Hamann. After being ignored by Jurgen Klinsmann for the World
Cup squad, the ‘Kaiser’ has decided to hang up his international boots
at 32 years of age. Germany may regret not having him in their squad,
his experience and influence has helped Liverpool win many a game, and
as far as big games are concerned just look at how he ended his last
two seasons with Liverpool. If Germany find themselves freezing in
front of their own supporters they may wish Klinsmann had thought a
little more about Didi.

It didn’t come as a shock to Didi though: “It’s not really a big
surprise to me I wasn’t in the squad. I haven’t spoken to the manager
for the last three months so I didn’t think there was much chance of me
being included.”
He says that he would have been calling it a day internationally soon
enough anyway: “That’s it for me now at international level. I’m 32 now
and this would have been my last tournament. I’m not any more
disappointed because the tournament is in Germany than had it been
anywhere else. I enjoyed it in Japan and France as much as I could have
done anywhere.”
It’s no secret that Didi enjoys a pint when circumstances allow, and he
may well watch most of the tournament like a lot of others in the UK –
in the pub. For the first game though he does intend being there to see
it live: “Now I’ll just be watching the World Cup on television
although I’ll go to Munich for the first match.”