Parry: Reds have improved, league still a priority

Liverpool chief executive Rick Parry has pretty much confirmed that Liverpool did not get any extra funding from the new owners for transfers in the summer.

Without doubt, Tom Hicks and George Gillett intend spending a substantial amount of money on building the new stadium to their revised and improved plans – which were approved by the city council earlier in the week. They also had to spend big to buy David Moores’ stake in the club, along with the remaining shares. But despite an expectation that Rafa Benitez would be given a big windfall to add to his summer budget, that was never the case. Increased TV money, good returns on sold players, and the usual money coming in from existing TV deals, sponsorship and ticket sales paid for Rafa’s summer spending.

Parry’s acknowledgment was this: “I said right at the start of the season that our investment in the squad was reflecting a situation in which many other clubs throughout the Premier League were spending big money. My statement at the time was that it was going to be tougher than ever across the board and this has proved the case.” Parry’s column was no doubt written before the record-breaking 8-0 win over Besiktas, at a time when Rafa was coming under increasing criticism. Parry seems to admit that all the clubs in the top flight spent big this summer. What Liverpool fans were hoping for was that Rafa would be able to spend a little big bigger than his rivals, and so improve our squad more than they improved theirs.

There’s no doubt that Rafa did improve the squad, but injuries have made it difficult for most of the season for the manager to choose a team that he considers best suited for a particular game. And League leaders Arsenal’s improvement this season over last seems more down to the coming-good of certain younger players rather than them having gone out and bought established expensive names.

Parry is often criticised for seeming to be a little slow off the mark when it comes to getting signings done. Rafa Benitez was angry this summer because on the one hand he found he wasn’t going to get any extra funding for players, and on the other because he wasn’t able to go and get players quickly because of the slow progress being made by the club on actually releasing the funds to him.

Despite that, Liverpool made one important signing in the summer in Fernando Torres, the new record signing for the club at around £18m. They did miss out on one signing that they really thought was in the bag. A dubious panel decided that Gabriel Heinze wasn’t allowed to sign for Liverpool despite having a piece of paper from United saying he could, for a particular fee. United even went on to suggest that somehow Liverpool had been “tapping up” Heinze by reading the letter United had told his agent he could use to tout Heinze to any other club. An investigation was promised – by United – but this never materialised. Again Parry was criticised over this, because those serious allegations from United should have been responded to and dealt with by LFC.

Parry is pleased with the improvement to the squad, which he says has seen Liverpool’s form improve: “We know that we have got a better and stronger squad in place. That’s a fact. We have had key injuries, not least to Fernando Torres, Xabi Alonso and Daniel Agger, but this is part and parcel of the game and is why you need a top class squad. We remain unbeaten in the Premier League after eleven matches which indicates that we are extremely difficult to beat. We have improved our away form in the league.”

Parry did point out that while away form was better this season, home form was letting the side down: “This time last year we had managed just one point from five matches away from home and so we have had real improvement there. At home we remain unbeaten in the league and so it is still fortress Anfield in that respect, but this has obviously been an area of frustration with just one win and four draws. We had won four and drawn one in the same period last year.”

Booing has been heard at Anfield this season, something that for years was unheard of. Liverpool fans just do not boo their own players – unless it’s for sarcastic reasons! Liverpool flew out of the traps at the start of the season, and in doing so raised expectations. Parry realises that the fans are frustrated, but acknowledges – as always – their importance: “There are huge expectations on us at home, but nothing has changed there and our fans remain a powerful weapon for us.”

Rafa has had some amazing criticism this season, much of which is contradictory. He’s been accused of being too bothered about winning the Champions League instead of the Premier League; then when Liverpool lost in the Champions League that was all reversed. Rafa is doing well to stick to his guns and not listen too closely to the criticism. According to Parry, the league is still a “massive priority” for the club: “One thing is crystal clear. It is more challenging than ever to win that elusive Premier League title, but it remains a massive priority for us. We are still in the hunt and we have the belief that our home form will improve with the obvious benefits this will bring.”

Well there’s little doubt that after saying those words Parry did see Liverpool’s home form improve – an 8-0 win is some improvement. However that will be forgotten at tea-time tonight when a Liverpool bogeyman arrives to put a spanner in the works. Lawrie Sanchez is famous for his goal that help Wimbledon beat Liverpool in the FA Cup final in 1988, and as Fulham’s manager today he’ll be hoping to ruin things again.

It’s highly unlikely that Rafa will start with the same eleven that got the 8-0 underway on Tuesday. His options are perhaps greater than they’ve been all season. Up front he can’t fault the performances of Andriy Voronin and Peter Crouch who were excellent on Tuesday, but Fernando Torres is desperate to get back after recovering from injury. Dirk Kuyt is also desperate to return, a frustrated spectator on Tuesday just days after spurning numerous chances against Blackburn.

It’s not just the strikers who are fighting for a place. Harry Kewell will be hoping for his first start, Ryan Babel’s substitute appearance on Tuesday saw him score twice so he’ll be desperate to start, and it will be a tough decision to leave out hat-trick hero Yossi Benayoun.  But Fulham are a different proposition to Besiktas, and Rafa will be expecting a physical encounter.

Daniel Agger and Xabi Alonso are still unavailable, but with such a strong squad at his disposal now this is the chance for Rafa to show that this criticism has been unwarranted. And perhaps it’s a chance for Rick Parry and the owners to say that Rafa didn’t actually need any extra money in the summer.