After missing out on Gabriel Heinze in the summer transfer window in dubious circumstances Rafael Benitez is at last getting closer to signing a new centre-back. The player in question is Slovakian international Martin Skrtel who currently plays in Russia for Zenit St Petersburg.
He arrived on Merseyside last night ahead of a medical this afternoon, after Rick Parry spent time in Russia over the weekend to negotiate the deal. Sources differ on what the agreed fee is to be, either £4m or £6.5m.
Assuming no snags are hit the deal is expected to be completed by Wednesday, by which time Rick Parry will be in the US.
If the fee does turn out to be £6.5m it would be a Liverpool record fee for a defender, despite being a lower fee than had been bid for Heinze. Certainly an announcement of a £6.5m fee would help Hicks and Gillett in their PR battles, and seems to be the figure that Rick Parry has been quoting off-the-record this afternoon. However given the way the club allowed the true Fernando Torres fee to be exaggerated in the summer then there would be little surprise if the other sources were correct in their belief that the fee was just £4m.
Liverpool had been interested in the player as far back as 2005, when he was a twenty-year-old. He’s played for his country fifteen times, and has already played on Merseyside this season, on the losing side against Everton in the UEFA Cup. If possible Rafa would like to get Skrtel into his squad at least for the game away to Middlesbrough on Saturday. However Parry is away from tomorrow, meeting with the owners as the two new stadium designs come in for review. Some newspapers today claimed that the Chief Executive and the co-owners would also be discussing Rafa’s future in the wake of more stories linking him with the sack, but Parry didn’t confirm this. He said: “It’s been in the diary for a long time, to discuss the stadium.”
One player who will be relieved to see some reinforcements arrive is Jamie Carragher. Daniel Agger went out injured in September meaning that Carra and Sami Hyypia have had to play virtually every game since then, and Agger’s injury was quite soon after Carra had been out himself with a broken rib.
Hyypia came back from a two-game injury absence himself yesterday in the draw with Luton, a game Carra said the Reds should have won, but ultimately were lucky not to lose: “Before the game we wanted to come here and beat Luton and we should be beating them, but after the 90 minutes we’re delighted to still be in the cup. We didn’t play too well and if anyone deserved to win it was Luton. We accept that.”
“We didn’t perform but, at the end of the day, cup competitions are all about results and we are still in the draw for the next round.” That draw took place at lunchtime and the winners of next week’s replay will face either Swansea or Havant and Waterlooville.”
According to Carra, Kenilworth Road isn’t an easy venue: “Luton is a tough place to come. We knew that from a couple of years ago and if you look at some of the results from the weekend maybe the gap between the Premiership and the other leagues is not as big as people think. There have been a few shocks and I suppose our result will go down as a bit of a shock because people expected us to win.”
He had a lot of praise for the way Luton fought so hard against the Reds: “I thought Luton were excellent and you have to give them great credit. They played very well the last time we were down here and they raised their performance again this time. They deserve all the plaudits they will get from this, but hopefully now we can finish the job at home even though we realise it will be a tough game.”