Ahead of Liverpool's visit to West Ham tonight Rafael Benitez spoke about how he hopes FIFA finally get round to a response over the Reds' appeal against the rules preventing them from taking the Hammers' midfielder Javier Mascherano on loan.
According to Rafa a positive decision from FIFA would see the player become a member of the Liverpool squad for some time to come: "We have an agreement to take Javier on loan for a year and a half,” says the Liverpool manager. “We must wait for FIFA’s decision, but we have the option to sign him permanently after 18 months. Maybe in five days we will have a solution, but FIFA needs to decide before the transfer window. If they cannot decide before, they must give us the possibility to sign him afterwards. Everything is almost done – we are just waiting for the answer from FIFA. If they say yes he can be here the next day."
Mascherano has agreed personal terms, the two clubs are happy with the terms of the deal; now all that remains is that permission from FIFA. What is frustrating for Liverpool is, as Rafa said, the delay in making a decision. According to the manager, the governing body must make a decision by the end of tomorrow or extend the deadline until they do make a decision: "FIFA knew about this situation 15 or 20 days before the deadline, and if they know the transfer window is closing they have to make a decision. Sometimes in business if there is a problem, they can allow people 24 hours more. Maybe that could happen for us."
Liverpool have taken legal advice on the matter, and believe they have a very good case. In fact Rafa seems quite confident that one way or another Mascherano will be a Red very soon – even if it does go to court. FIFA's rules are overridden by the law: "There is a big difference between the law and the rules. A worker cannot be stopped working, that’s the law in the European Community. Then there are the rules, which can change depending on your country or continent. There are players in the world now who have played for three or four clubs in a season. The rules are one thing, but the law is another. Nobody can stop people moving to other jobs, they have freedom and they need to work. The law is more important than the rules."
It does seem to be politics that have prevented the Argentinean from making his mark so far in the Premiership; Rafa believes he will be an important and valuable signing for the club: "He is a top class player and played at the top level at the World Cup. He can give us more competition in the centre of midfield. I have confidence in him because he is a player with quality."
Liverpool have had an eye on him for some time: "We were monitoring him when he was with River Plate – the only question is whether he can play to his level in England, but I know he can play a lot better than he was at West Ham. He was playing with River Plate in Argentina and then with Corinthians in Brazil. The style of football in these countries is different than in England. West Ham are a fantastic club but maybe for him it wasn’t the right club. Maybe Liverpool can be a better option for him because we can speak in Spanish to him and we play a different style of football that suits him better. Corinthians and River Plate are top sides in their countries and he is used to winning trophies. I think he will have more possibilities with us."
There were some suggestions that Liverpool were going to be introducing a player to the club in a position already over-subscribed, but Rafa denied this: "We don’t have another holding midfielder. Gerrard, Zenden and Sissoko can all play forward but they can't play as a holding midfielder like Alonso. We wanted to bring Mascherano here for the start of January for the cups and the rest of the games as we were really busy. Now we will see if we can use him in the Champions League and the other games."
Liverpool are out of both domestic trophies now but Rafa says that this is still an important part of the campaign, and hopes that the upside of being out of those competitions is that they are better prepared for the league and Champions League games ahead: "It is a crucial period of the season now. We must face West Ham now, then we have Everton which is a difficult game and we then have Newcastle. They are all difficult games in this period, followed by Manchester United and Barcelona. It’s a crucial time for us. We have two competitions left and we can prepare better. If you can prepare better for games it doesn’t mean you will automatically win these games, but I believe you will have more possibilities."
Rafa won't rule out Liverpool's outside chances of winning the league, but isn't going to say they will win it either: "I’ve said to my players, if we win more games in a row now, at the end of the season we will have more confidence and you never know what might happen.”
As well as the possibility of bring Mascherano into the squad, some of the long-term injury victims are on their way back. Harry Kewell, Momo Sissoko and Bolo Zenden are back in training and hope to be playing again soon, with Momo and Bolo closest to coming back: "It is good news for us to have Momo and Bolo back and they are both training well. Momo is flying into tackles in training and showing good energy and I will check with the doctor to see how his shoulder is and maybe he can play a part against Everton. Bolo is also keen to prove his fitness and return."