The next step in Rafa Benítez’s summer transfer plans looks to have taken place, with reports from Italy claiming that Liverpool have now agreed a fee with Juventus for the sale of Spanish midfielder Xabi Alonso.
Liverpool’s original expectation, or starting point in negotiations, was £16m, but Corriere dello Sport say that Liverpool have accepted €18 million, £14.2 million, for one of the heroes of Istanbul. The report said Juve had made it clear this was their final offer, and were unwilling to add another million Euros to their offer, which would then have matched Liverpool’s demands.
The report also adds that Juve will send people to Liverpool now to sort out the minor small print on the deal.
Until recently Liverpool had maintained they didn’t want to sell Xabi, and Xabi had maintained that he didn’t want to leave, but Alonso has said more recently that he felt pride at being linked with Juve.
Earlier reports in Italy claimed Juve had given up on Alonso, and were now considering a bid for Bastian Schweinsteiger of Bayern Munich rather than pay the demanded £15m for Alonso.
Aston Villa have rejected the latest offer from Liverpool for Gareth Barry. Some claims in recent days had Liverpool bidding anywhere from £15m to £20m for Barry, but Liverpool’s bid seems to have been a more acceptable £13m. Acceptable to Liverpool fans that is, who on the whole feel that paying the kind of money Manchester United paid for Barry’s England team-mates Michael Carrick and Owen Hargreaves is way too much. But not acceptable to the Villa manager, who admits Barry wants to be a Red.
“Gareth and I had a little chat when he got back from holiday and he has said he would fancy going to Liverpool,” said O’Neill. “That’s obviously a big setback to us, but the offer from Liverpool is just not acceptable. He was the last person to have the captain’s armband in the last England game – so the offer Liverpool have made is just not acceptable even though they have upped it,” he ranted.
But O’Neill seems to be finally accepting that Barry’s position at Villa might be untenable: “I think it might be difficult to keep him because he has more than intimated to me that he fancies going to Liverpool so it’s a big setback to us. It’s very frustrating. We finished sixth and he played a major part in that and it was just looking like we could improve matters, because the club is capable of doing that.”
When a player makes it public he’s looking to go elsewhere, fans will turn against them, and Barry is now starting to be criticised by the fans who once idolised him. If a player desperately wants to leave, it’s not too practical to keep hold of him: “Look at Manchester United,” said O’Neill, “struggling to keep hold of Ronaldo. That leaves the rest of us in a bit of trouble.” Trouble that might see O’Neill forced to accept a lower bid or use a player who would be subject to unproportionate criticism for every minor mistake.
And O’Neill now seems determined to do well in the league, regardless of what happens with Barry: “That’s what you’re in football for. You want to try and get there and if it’s without Gareth Barry, we’ll still have a go.”
Meanwhile a remarkable quote has emerged from former Liverpool boss Gerard Houllier. Although it was Houllier who found us Sami Hyypia, brought us Didi Hamann, and won us a treble, names like El Hadji Diouf and Djibril Cissé are associated with him far more. He had some strong backing in the transfer market – Cissé was his last signing at a then-LFC record of £14m, but didn’t arrive until after Houllier had been replaced. He proved to worth nothing like the fee paid, but now Houllier is implying he was never backed in the transfer market. Rafa Benítez still has players on the books that he can’t offload from the Houllier era, but the Frenchman is saying that he never had the kind of money to buy Fernando Torres, who cost Liverpool £20m: “Torres is a wonderful player and he has had an excellent first season at Liverpool. I only wish I’d had the money to buy someone like him when I was in charge there. He was outstanding against Russia, and so was David Villa. Their partnership is very interesting. The way they work together. The diagonal runs they make are very clever, very exciting.”
Rumours won’t die down that David Villa is on his way to Liverpool, but at this stage it’s difficult to tell if these are the types of rumour that would have him living in the house Zinedine Zidane rented from Martin O’Neill in Formby, next door to Didier Baptiste’s home. That said, Benítez does seem to be planning at least one major signing this summer, and that doesn’t refer to Barry or another target, Stewart Downing.
Yesterday’s Echo contained a report that seemed to dismiss reports from the North East that Liverpool had tried to buy James Milner from Newcastle in a swap deal using some of the club’s younger players. The paper reported Liverpool had dismissed talk that Jermaine Pennant was to be used in part-exchange for the winger, saying Newcastle had no desire to sign the former Birmingham player. It did say, however, that Newcastle had asked Liverpool about some of Liverpool’s “fringe players”.
John Arne Riise is interesting Italy’s Roma, but his agent is playing down their interest. The Roma manager Luciano Spalletti said earlier in the week: “A player like Riise can give a different kind of dimension. Considering the challenges that await us in the coming season, Riise has the qualities that we are looking for.” Despite that, he was cautious about going for the Norwegian international: “However, we have to look for other players as well and not make any mistakes in forming the new squad, such as losing the balance of the side. All we need is to add a little extra quality to our ranks so that we can compete in all competitions again.”
A bid of £4m is expected for the player Gerard Houllier signed from Monaco, but his agent Jan Kvalheim was non-committal: “There are many clubs who have been interested in the last few weeks, but it’s nothing I want to comment on.”
Whoever is in Liverpool’s squad next season, they could be making their first home appearance in a friendly with Atlético Madrid, former club of Fernando Torres and current club of well-loved ex-Red Luis Garcia.
Although not yet confirmed, the fixture would take place at Anfield on August 8th, a week before the Premier League season gets under way. Fixtures for the league season are due to be announced on Monday.
It’s also just a few days before Liverpool start their bid to get into the Champions League proper – the first leg of their qualifying tie is due on August 12th or 13th. They’ll know who their opponents are on August 1st when the draw takes place; the second leg is on August 26th or 27th.
That draw could potentially lead to the cancellation of this friendly – Liverpool are one of the seeded teams in that draw, and Atlético one of the unseeded teams – meaning the pair could be drawn together. Kicking lumps out of each other a few days before such a massive fixture wouldn’t be too desirable, with Atlético bidding to embark on their first season in the Champions League, and Liverpool needing Champions League income to help fund next summer’s transfer activity.
Reds chief executive Rick Parry said yesterday that the two clubs have had talks about the game, which would be the first home friendly for Liverpool’s first team during the reign of Benítez. Not that Rafa missed the last friendly the Reds played at Anfield – he was coaching the Valencia side that beat Liverpool 2-0.