Attempts by Newcastle – or so it seems – to unsettle Peter Crouch have been hit by some firm denials from Rafa Benitez that Liverpool are looking to sell him.
The transfer window silly season is now well under way and stories were being printed about Crouch having to be sold so that Liverpool could buy David Villa from Spain. As we reported yesterday, these stories seemed to be way too far-fetched to be true. Why would Liverpool risk being left short of striker cover by selling Crouch before they'd bought his replacement? If the deal depended on the DIC deal being finalised, why would they have to seel Crouch first anyway?
Rafa said yesterday: "I have seen the stories in the press saying that we need to sell Crouch to raise the money to sign Villa. I can tell you now we are not interested in Villa. I think he is a fantastic player but at this moment we are not thinking about signing him and that means we are not thinking about selling Crouch."
Maybe it isn't Newcastle stirring up this trouble – but somebody is. Their boss Glenn Roeder tried to distance himself from it all, saying: "It's pure speculation and I would be surprised if he ended up becoming a Newcastle player. Someone knows more than I do, as far as I am concerned, there has not been a deal even spoken about."
A month after talking about Peter Crouch to the media, at a time when links between Crouch and Newcastle first surfaced, Roeder said: "I really hate managers talking about other managers' players. Peter Crouch is a Liverpool player and I do not think Rafael Benitez would appreciate me talking about Peter Crouch when he is not a Newcastle player. I said a month ago when I was asked, he is very talented and certainly deserves his place in the England team, in my opinion. But anything outside that would be unfair to Liverpool and the manager there."
Meanwhile one link which is for real is the one which has Liverpool interested in Lucas Neill. The Reds tried to sign the Australian international from Blackburn in the summer but refused to pay as high a price as Blackburn wanted for a player with just one year on his contract. Now with just six months left the Reds will be trying again to sign him, but still won't pay over the odds for a player who would be free in the summer anyway.
Blackburn still don't want to lose him, and despite acknowledging Liverpool's interest in public their boss Mark Hughes is trying hard to show his player that he should stay with the team that beat the Reds over Christmas instead of joining a club who could offer him Champions League football. Hughes has been pleased with Neill's commitment in the first half of the season: "Since we knocked back the Liverpool bid, he got his head down and continued to play well even though some people have tried to drum up some anti-Lucas feelings in recent weeks. It is important the fans understand that. We don't want to put Lucas in a position where his form is likely to be affected because that would make him a lesser player for us. We showed a real commitment to him, possibly more than Liverpool did at that point."
Hughes says he's been speaking to Neill all season trying to get him to sign a new deal but admits that he'll let the player go if a suitable offer comes in. All the signs are that Neill wants to join the Reds, sooner rather than later, and interest from Barcelona is almost certainly something which has been reported in order to persuade Liverpool to bid a little more. After having to sell Craig Bellamy at a cut price in the summer, Hughes is fighting to avoid losing another player to the club he grew to hate as a Manchester United and Everton player: "I have had many conversations with Lucas about the situation. He wanted to keep his options open and was quite happy to review the position week by week. He may go if we can do a deal that will allow Blackburn to remain strong. If it is not right for us, he will stay, but things change very quickly in football and who's to say Lucas won't still be here in the summer. I will be doing my best to convince him to stay."