Torres link gathers pace

The press is full of reports that Liverpool have made
Atletico Madrid's captain Fernando Torres their top-priority target for this
summer. Liverpool have been linked with Torres on numerous occasions in the
past, as of course they have with many others, but those links took on an extra
edge of credibility earlier in the season when Torres was pictured with what
seemed to be the words ‘You'll never walk alone' on his captain's armband.

Torres was clearly just one out of a number of targets, but like
many of those targets seemed to be off Liverpool's list when leaks were made
suggesting Rafa had nowhere near the budget he expected for new signings. The
new owners had allegedly told him he'd have to make do with the normal summer
budget, plus anything he could get from player sales. If the Torres story is
true it seems it's because the owners have decided to change their minds about
funding, or that Rafa is planning to blow pretty much his full budget on one
player. One reason that was given for the owners' sudden reluctance to back
Rafa in the way they promised was that they'd fallen out over each other's
level of influence on the board. Now that Tom Hicks has appointed Casey Shilts
to a role overseeing all his sports interests perhaps Hicks feels happier that
he'll be kept fully aware and involved in major decisions: he's got someone on
the case for him.

On the other hand this whole story seems to have come from
an exclusive in the Liverpool Echo. Ordinarily that would be a sign of near-certainty
the story was true, but that's not quite the case this time. The usual Echo
reporter for all things Liverpool, Chris Bascombe, is away on holiday. His
daily chats with Rafa may well be still continuing, certainly given Rafa's
inability to switch off from football! But yesterday's report was written by
Dave Prentice, the senior member of the Echo's sports reporting staff, but also
an Everton supporter who usually concentrates on our smaller neighbours.  This doesn't mean Prentice hasn't been given
this story by sources at the club – but it's almost certain he's been given the
story by someone other than Rafa, and so we've no way of knowing whether Rafa
sees this as a first choice signing or not. Not yet, anyway. The nationals have
taken the story as gospel.

The 23-year-old has a release clause in his contract, which
is reported variously at anywhere from £24m to £27m. Some reports are
suggesting that Luis Garcia would be included in a player-plus-cash deal, but
that seems to be more speculation than anything that has been leaked by any
involved party.

Torres is not going to be playing European football next
season unless he moves clubs, after a poor league season from Atletico. Many
players have release clauses that are only triggered if European qualification
is not achieved, but even so, Torres will be unhappy at being confined to
domestic football only. That fact also makes the idea of Luis Garcia's involvement
in the deal seem a little less likely.

The story is gathering pace, it is also being reported in
Spain this morning, where it is said Liverpool now have executives in Madrid to
discuss the deal. As always there is competition for the player's signature,
but his support for Liverpool will be a powerful negotiation tool for the Reds. If the money's available we should get him – but it wouldn't be the first time we'd missed out on targets.