Liverpool striker Fernando Torres is the player most of his club’s fans will be watching out for in this summer’s Euro 2008 tournament, and one of those fans is Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher.
Carragher wouldn’t have been involved in this summer’s tournament even if England had qualified, having given up on the stuttering national side in favour of prolonging his Anfield career. He’ll still watch every game possible, probably analysing and noting the strengths and weaknesses of players likely to be opponents for Liverpool in the coming European campaigns.
In the case of some players he’s relieved to know they are on his side at club level. Team-mate Torres is one who he feels could make this a tournament to remember for Spain. Carra told the Liverpool Echo: “Torres will go there as the best striker in the world and hopefully he will prove that with Spain. If he does it will bode well for us next season. He could be the difference for Spain.”
Torres was Liverpool’s top scorer, breaking the goalscoring record for an overseas player in a debut season in the Premier League, and Carra feels he can do something similar in Switzerland and Austria: “If you want to go close to winning it you have to have someone who can go close to being leading scorer in the tournament and there’s no question that Torres is capable. Spain have got other strikers as well, like David Villa, but they will be looking to Torres to get them five or six goals and if he performs as well as he has done for us then I’m sure he can do that.”
Liverpool’s number nine Torres was Liverpool’s top scorer – without scoring a single penalty – whilst the League’s top scorer was Manchester United’s penalty taker, the reportedly want-away attacker Cristiano Ronaldo. Carragher feels that one of those two are likely to be the stars of the tournament: “If Spain and Portugal get through the group stages it could come down to Torres and Ronaldo again just like it did in the Premier League. I’m hoping Portugal do go through as well and Ronaldo comes back knackered for next season! But if they both do well, the top scorer will probably be one of those two and if one of them hits a rich vein of form it could decide who wins the tournament.”
Liverpool’s new full-back Phillip Degen is another player Liverpool fans will be looking out for at the tournament, although he was an unused sub in his country Switzerland’s opener – and defeat – last night. Carragher says he isn’t too familiar with Degen, but will be hoping to get an idea of what he can do during the tournament: “I don’t know too much about Degen to be honest. I know he played for Basel so I’m not sure if he played against us when we played them, but it’ll be good to have a look at him and see how he does for Switzerland. Hopefully, he’ll do well because that’ll mean he’ll be full of confidence when he joins up with us in pre-season.”
He went on: “It’ll also be good to have a look at other players, ones we might be signing and ones we’ve just been linked with, but as a Liverpool player and a Liverpool fan it’ll be Degen who I’m most interested in seeing because we’ve already got him.”
Carra plans to be in his restaurant to watch the games, a restaurant he’s now renamed, just for now. Cafe Sports England has become Cafe Sports Spain, and he’ll be there to see his club teammates in action: “I’ll be watching the games in Cafe Sports of course. I would have been watching them there whether England were there or not. I’ll be coming into the restaurant, especially for the Spain games. But I’ll be cheering on all my team mates.”
As well as Degen and the Spanish contingent, Carra also has Dirk Kuyt of Holland to watch out for. He wants them to do well, without exerting too much energy: “I’ll have my eye on our lads and I’ll be hoping they do really well but I’m also worried about the effect it will have on Liverpool for next season. Obviously, I’d like to see them win it because they are my mates but if they go out too early I won’t be too bothered either. I’ll be sending them the odd text message to wish them luck and if they’ve done well. But if they go out I’ll be sending them one saying hard luck but get ready for next season with Liverpool.”
Carra says he didn’t actually enjoy being involved in the big international tournaments himself: “I never got that much excitement when I played in the tournaments to be honest. The World Cup didn’t go too well with England in 2006, I missed a penalty in the shoot-out against Portugal and we didn’t play particularly well anyway. And I never played in the Euros anyway. If it had been a major part of me and I’d been playing every game maybe it would have been something to look forward to but I used to go into those competitions knowing I was an understudy so I don’t think you could have the same excitement.”
Alonso admits Juve move looks likely
Spain go into the tournament with four Liverpool players, but although Torres, Pepe Reina and Alvaro Arbeloa will all be part of the Rafa Benítez squad next season, Xabi Alonso is highly unlikely to wear a Liverpool shirt again.
The Liverpool midfielder was the subject of interest from Juventus at the end of the season when a representative of the Italian side arrived at Melwood to discuss a deal to take the player to Serie A. Neither player nor manager wanted to admit to being the instigators of the player’s departure, Benítez sending out a message that only a sizable offer would make him even consider a sale, Alonso himself saying he didn’t want to leave Liverpool unless he was told he was unwanted.
Alonso’s agent was soon in talks with Juve, and now the players says he is “proud” to have a chance to move to the side who finished third in the Italian league in their first season back in the top flight. They had spent the previous season in Serie B after being relegated as punishment for their involvement in a match fixing scandal.
Speaking from the Spanish training camp in Neustift, Alonso told Italy’s Gazzetta dello Sport that he still hasn’t been given permission to talk to Juve, but knows talks have been ongoing: “I am really very proud that a club so strong and historic as Juve like me. Juve is a very special club and one that I like. I am waiting. I know that Juve are interested and I also know there has been contact with Liverpool and with my agent.”
He’ll be reunited with former Liverpool team-mate Momo Sissoko if the move goes through, and he feels he would settle in easily: “It has nothing to do with characteristics or where you are. A good player feels comfortable anywhere. After four years in la Liga and four in the Premiership, to play in Italy would be like completing my career.”
Moving in the opposite direction should be Udinese’s full-back Andrea Dossena, who had a medical on Merseyside last week ahead of a proposed £7m move to Anfield. The deal is likely to be £6m with the potential to reach £7m, and his agent said Dossena was pretty made up to be on his way to Liverpool. Federico Pastorello said: “I understand he is the first Italian international to play for Liverpool – a great opportunity for him and he is really happy. He had his medical on Wednesday and we are just awaiting the formalities of that but we would think everything will be signed very shortly. An agreement between the clubs was hard, but we all found it and everything is now ready.” Liverpool’s valuation of the player had been £6m, Udinese’s £8m, and his agent said demand was high: “There were many teams interested in him. He was the best left-back in Italy last year, arguably along with Vargas at Catania. So it was natural that there will be interest in the best left-back in Serie A, but to have the chance to work with a coach like Rafa Benitez was something he could not turn down. That was an important aspect of his decision and he cannot wait to get started.”
Cold water is now being poured on strong rumours that Liverpool had been lining up another member of the Spain squad in David Villa, but Rafa Benítez is still believed to be lining up one big-name signing this summer.
Alonso’s departure will cover the costs of bringing Aston Villa midfielder Gareth Barry into the fold, with Liverpool hoping to get Barry for slightly less than the receive for Alonso.
Peter Crouch has attracted interest from Portsmouth, with Aston Villa also believed to be interested in the player if they can force the price down. But although Rafa Benítez wouldn’t seriously expect £15m for a player with a year left on his contract, he is expecting at least the £10m Pompey boss Harry Redknapp recently hinted he’d be prepared to pay.
John Arne Riise is on his way out of Anfield after being told he was no longer part of Rafa’s plans, and one club linked with him are Roma, who are reportedly prepared to offer as much as £5m for the Norwegian. Liverpool also hope to bring some funds in with the sale of Jermaine Pennant, another player told he should look for another club.
Goalkeeper Scott Carson is also available, and although Liverpool had agreed a first-option transfer fee of £10m with Aston Villa at the outset of his loan period, he’s unlikely to move anywhere at that price.
Benítez is likely to get £20m to spend on top of any sales.