Kewell and Pennant ready to fight for places

Two of Liverpool’s existing wingers have been talking about their determination not to fall down the pecking order in light of Rafa’s two wide signings this summer. Yossi Benayoun and Ryan Babel arrived recently and will be competing with the likes of Harry Kewell and Jermaine Pennant for a regular starting place. Rafa likes to rotate to ensure the eleven players on the pitch are as fit as possible and as appropriate for the tactics he wants to employ as possible, meaning all four should get plenty of chances.
Kewell has not been able to show Rafa what he can do as much as he’d have liked, missing almost the whole season last time round, but having injury problems for most of his time at Anfield. He’s just been on duty for Australia in the Asia Cup, which would normally have afforded him a break before starting pre-season, but he didn’t want to miss an opportunity to show Rafa he was ready for the challenge of the new season. Instead of flying home to have a break, he joined straight up with the squad on their Asian tour.
Kewell was prepared to sacrifice his international duties to ensure he was a part of the pre-season training, but instead an agreement was made that he didn’t need a break as such: “I was always going to meet up with the team as soon as we got knocked out,” he said. “That was the agreement that we had with the manager and with Australia. I had to get back because we’ve got some great players here, some new signings and you’ve got to fight for your position early on in the season. I’m desperate to do that. It would have been a bit shifty of me to go all the way back to England and then not meet up with the team.”
Kewell is in his last year at Anfield, unless he is offered and agrees to a new deal, and knows he really has to do well in the first part of this season. If he can show the form Rafa knew him for before he even became manager then he should be offered a new deal of some kind, but in January he’s free to sign a pre-contract agreement elsewhere under the Bosman ruling. “I’ve got one year left on my contract and I just want to play for Liverpool and hopefully help the team push for the title. I suppose I could have had a holiday but I play for Liverpool Football Club and it’s a big thing being at this club this season and you have to work hard and be pushing for your position all the time so it was really important for me to get back.”
Kewell came into the side at very end of the season after he’d been injured in the World Cup the previous summer: “I’m relieved to be back because obviously last year I was away most of the time getting treatment for injuries. It’s just great to be playing again. I did have moments of despair last season but I have a strong family behind me, a good medical staff, a fantastic manager and a great club so at times when you are down and out you just look to that support and thankfully I’ve always had it.”
Pennant meanwhile had no injury problems of note, but did take a bit of time to settle into things at Anfield. By the end of the season he was showing why Rafa had paid such a high price for him, but knows he’s got to keep showing that if he wants to keep his place in the team. And that includes showing in training just what he can do: “The manager said in a meeting with us that he wants the players proving in training every day that they are fighting for their positions, because doing that will only make you a better player. That boosts the team and obviously then you tend to win more things,” said Pennant.
He says that training with the Reds is never a stroll, and certainly more intense than it was at his previous club, Birmingham City: “Training at Liverpool is always fast, physical and 100mph, with everyone up for it. You have to do that if you want to play, because it really, really counts. If you don’t pull your weight in training then you know your place might go. No disrespect to Birmingham, because they’re a great team with a great manager which is why they’re back in the Premier League, but you are talking of Liverpool here. The history of this club and how big it is means you can’t let your standards slip for one minute.”
Pennant got a lot of criticism last season, certainly for the first half, from fans who have been spoiled by wingers like John Barnes and Steve Heighway in days gone by. The criticism didn’t go unnoticed and he’s sure he learned from it: “The fans ask for massive things and if you are not delivering week-in, week-out, or not doing your best, they will get on your back – and rightly so because this is Liverpool, it’s a massive club. I think that in the second half of the season I had them on my side, and the manager and my teammates were pleased as well. I showed better form and hope that will continue to get better at the start of this one.”
He needs to be wary of complacency – the fans were glad he improved so well, but really that’s just the start: “I am used to what the players and manager expect and feel totally settled in. Hopefully I can carry on from where I left off and get even better. All I can do is my best. Maybe the fans expected better things more quickly, but it was always going to take time. Moving to Liverpool was a new start at a massive club, so it was going to take a bit of time. But I stuck at it and the manager and other players showed a lot of faith in me.”
Rafa has worked on Pennant to ensure he didn’t fail: “The manager pulled me in and told me what I was doing right and wrong, but told me to keep going because it would come. Never once did he say he wasn’t sure about me. He was always 100 per cent behind me and that is why I came through it.”
Pennant will never be able to shake the bad-boy reputation, which isn’t all deserved, but is at least happy that the club know the truth about him and what they expect from him: “Getting signed for Liverpool in the first place was obviously the major thing, because you don’t go there if you have problems or other things going on. The manager goes through your whole situation and checks out everything about you, so he knows the lot before you even sign.”

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