Reports that a Juventus representative held talks with Liverpool boss Rafa Benítez have seen renewed speculation that Xabi Alonso is on his way out of the club, but once again the Spanish midfielder has denied any knowledge of being on his way out.
Juventus director Jean-Claude Blanc did meet Rafa, but the clear signal coming from Melwood is that Rafa would not even consider for a second anything less than a “massive” offer for Xabi, according to the Echo. Italian paper Gazzetta dello Sport said on Monday that Juve had offered £12 million and had expected to finalise the transfer next week, but it won’t be done at that price, if at all. And reports from Liverpool said no formal offer had been made.
Alonso himself was asked by the press back home about the latest claims but said nothing had changed since the last time he said he wanted to stay at the club. Speaking to the Catalonian paper Mundo Deportivo he said: “This is nothing new, there is always speculation about me. I know perfectly well what my situation is.”
He says the speculation wasn’t down to him, and there were no signs of Liverpool actively seeking to sell: “This has nothing to do with me. If the club wanted to sell me, I would know about it. If the club want to cash in on me and buy other players, I would accept it and look for another club, but they haven’t said anything to me. For that reason I think my future is still with Liverpool.”
In an earlier interview he said he would expect Rafa to be honest with him if was looking to sell him: “He has never said that he wants me to leave. If he thought that way I would prefer him to be honest and say ‘Xabi, we are thinking about other players and you are not going to play that much,’ then I would look for a different option. But he still thinks I can play an important role.”
It’s not been Xabi’s best season as a Red. A broken metatarsal saw him out of action for a spell, and his return was marked with some below-par performances and a difficult fight to get a place in the midfield from Javier Mascherano and Steven Gerrard. But Rafa’s change to a 4-2-3-1 formation for the tail-end of the season saw Gerrard pushed further forward and Xabi strike up a partnership with Mascherano.
When Xabi’s girlfriend Nagore was about to give birth to their first child, son Jon, the new dad understandably wanted to be there for an event many fathers would put on a par with Istanbul, Paris, London and Rome (twice). Unfortunately it meant he missed the second-leg of the Champions League clash with Internazionale at the San Siro, and Rafa’s comments at the time drew a lot of attention.
Rafa said: “Xabi wanted to stay behind. He had said he would come if things were okay, but we couldn’t wait, wait, wait, and I now have to use my squad.” Rafa felt it better to prepare for the game with the players he knew were guaranteed to be there, at the time the rest of the squad flew out Xabi still didn’t know how the birth would go. After Xabi’s earlier problems with form the media saw this as a sign that Xabi’s Anfield days were over.
But the following week Xabi refuted this: “I will always accept the orders of my coach and I don’t think that anyone can question my professionalism, but there are occasions in life when some things take priority over sport and that was definitely one of them. I know I was criticised but it’s over. For me that is forgotten now.
“I was convinced we would win in the San Siro anyway as in the Champions League we always seem to be a different team from how we are in the League at home. I have a contract until 2012 and I’m quite satisfied about my future.”
26-year-old Xabi signed a new contract last summer. He cost the club £10.5m from Real Sociedad in Rafa’s first transfer window at Anfield. He says he doesn’t want a move, and Liverpool haven’t been advertising him as available. With that in mind a £12m offer is clearly some way short of a reasonable figure.
Rafa will need to sell to fund all of his ideas for new signings this summer, ideas including Aston Villa’s Gareth Barry and Udinese’s Andrea Dossena. Villa have turned down a £10m bid for Barry from Liverpool, deny an increased £12m bid has been made, and say he’ll cost £15m.
There is a £2m gap between Liverpool’s valuation of Dossena and that of his club. Liverpool are only willing to pay £6m for the 26-year-old valued by Udinese at £8m. Udinese’s coach Pasquale Marino admitted yesterday that Dossena looked Anfield-bound: “I think that a deal with Liverpool for Dossena is on the way. Everything is going smoothly and the player has given his consent because he wants to test himself at an important club.” Udinese’s sporting director Pietro Leonard reportedly held talks with Liverpool officials earlier in the week. Knowing the player wants a move should help keep his price down.
One player likely to help add at least a bit of loose change to the relatively low transfer coffers for this summer is John Arne Riise. Some reports claim Juventus are interested in the Norwegian full-back, although other reports claim these are wide of the mark. After reportedly dismissing the idea of a move to Newcastle, Riise is more realistically linked with Schalke 04 in Germany, as well as Spanish sides Atletico Madrid and Villarreal.
Riise still hasn’t got what looks to be a rather large hint that his Anfield days are over. He’s not been offered a new contract, the current one expiring in a year, and rumours say his name was included as an option in the first bid the club made for Gareth Barry. But he’s going to wait until the summer, which in football terms has already started: He told Nettavisen: “I am uncertain. If I don’t hear anything before the summer, I will have to consider my situation. We have got to hope that we reach an agreement with the club about what will happen.”
He wants to stay, but admits he can’t be too sure of this happening: “A club change is not impossible. I have said that I want to stay where I am, but there have been many rumours in the newspapers about many big clubs. It’s fantastic to be linked with such clubs. At the same time, I am playing in a position which many clubs are trying to fill.”
He can of course dig his heels in and wait until January before negotiating a more lucrative deal to leave on a Bosman, but doing that could leave him in a position where he rarely gets a game, and that might finally make his mind up for him: “I am truly enjoying myself where I am, but the situation is very uncertain at the moment. The most important thing is that I get to play regularly.”
Although the Riise link to Juventus seems unlikely, they are reported to have also asked about Peter Crouch’s availability. They’ll have been told he’s available for £15m. He’s also got a year left on his current deal, but doesn’t want to sign a new one if he’s going to be used as infrequently as he was in the season just gone. Other clubs linked with Crouch are Aston Villa, Manchester City (who still don’t know who will be manager next season) and Portsmouth.
Goalkeeper Scott Carson has been linked with Fulham, with Aston Villa reluctant to match the £10m fee they agreed with Liverpool last summer for the England international. Also linked with Fulham is right-back Steve Finnan, a great servant in the past four seasons for Rafa but facing competition for his place from Álvaro Arbeloa and new signing Philipp Degan.
The Reds have provisionally announced two pre-season fixtures. First up is a trip to Glasgow to play UEFA Cup runners-up Rangers at Ibrox on July 26th. Then they will travel to Spain to face Villareal on July 30th, a game that was agreed as part of Pepe Reina’s transfer in 2005. Before that they will be in Switzerland for their customary training camp.
Liverpool’s young left-back Emiliano Insúa is expected to line up for an Argentinean under-23 side in a friendly tonight at the Nou Camp. They will play a Catalonia side as part of preparations for their Olympics bid, and former Reds hero Luis Garcia is expected to line up for the home side, which excludes any players called up to Spain’s Euro 2008 squad. Javier Mascherano is also expected to travel to Beijing as an overage player with the Argentine squad for a shot at a gold medal.