Dirk Kuyt’s contribution to Holland’s successful start to Euro 2008 meant he and many other of the first-choice Dutch side sat out last night’s final group game against Romania. Already assured of qualifying, manager Marco van Basten was able to give some of the fringe players a chance, with Kuyt coming on in the 61st minute for Robben. Holland won the game 2-0.
Second place in the group went to Italy, whose win over France earns them a quarter-final tie with Spain. After a stuttering start the Italians will be wary of a Spanish side also helped by some good performances by a Liverpool forward. Fernando Torres has helped Spain to get off to a flier too. Spanish coach Luis Aragonés is set to give Pepe Reina a rare start for his country for tonight’s final group game.
The partnership between Torres and David Villa has been something that has left Liverpool supporters desperate to see Rafa Benítez sign the Valencia star and allow the duo to inflict punishment on English defences next season. Villa has played down rumours that he has already agreed to sign for Liverpool, telling Spanish journalist Guillem Balague that he hasn’t spoken to Liverpool, his club insist he isn’t for sale, and he’s concentrating on the European Championship anyway: “I have heard that I am supposed to have said that I would prefer to go to Liverpool to play next season or that I want Chelsea to be my next team. Please, Guillem, make sure that people know that I have not said anything like that. My club insists I am not for sale and, believe me, I am totally focused on the European Championships. As far as I know, nobody from Liverpool has been in touch, but in any case my future is not something I have in my mind at the moment. I do not understand why people put words in my mouth.”
Worries about Liverpool not having the finance to buy a player this summer at the David Villa level should prove unfounded, if the £20m net transfer believed to be in place is added to what should be a decent income from sales; Crouch, Carson, Riise, Pennant and Alonso all lined up for departures.
Crouch has interested Portsmouth, with Harry Redknapp speaking of £10m being the kind of amount he would consider paying. Rafa Benítez has said publicly that the fee would need to be £15m, but it’s unlikely he genuinely believes he would get such an amount for a player about to enter the last year of his contract. John Arne Riise is in a similar position, and although he now accepts his Anfield days are numbered, he feels a £5m price tag is too high. Roma are said to be considering a £4m offer. In both cases Liverpool aren’t believed to have actually received an offer.
Scott Carson wants to leave; he knows if he stayed at Anfield he would spend most of his time on the bench. The £10m fee that was part of his loan agreement with Aston Villa is now deemed to high by the Birmingham club, and Carson is waiting to see whether any offers come in that Liverpool might listen to. Jermaine Pennant has said he doesn’t want to leave the club, and will fight for his place. Rafa usually manages to persuade unwanted players to look elsewhere, so Pennant could yet change his mind.
Xabi Alonso’s move to Juventus has still not been finalised, and there is believed to still be no agreement on a fee. However when Juve signed Momo Sissoko in January the same kind of process took place, with Juve suddenly looking interested in other midfielders, but the two clubs eventually came to an agreement.
One player certainly not being sold by Liverpool is Fernando Torres. Whether he will have David Villa playing alongside him at club level next season remains to be seen, but he’ll not be playing in a blue shirt. Chelsea seem to be making ham-fisted attempts to test the water with regards the club’s top-scorer, and the press certainly know how to play on Liverpool supporters’ emotions. A recent report insisted that “one half” of the ownership felt the sale of Torres for £40m was worth considering.
Although Liverpool fans have tended to believe negative stories far more easily than they would under normal circumstances, most have seen through this attempt to make the most of the LFC turmoil and accept that selling Torres makes no sense under any of the possible paths the ownership is possibly going to take.
Tom Hicks was the latest to deny the speculation, following Torres himself and Rick Parry – from Barbados, on his mobile! Hicks told the Echo yesterday that it’s not a case of Chelsea having to up their valuation, no price will buy Torres. “There is no price at which we would consider selling Fernando Torres,” he said. “The Chelsea rumours in the media are total rubbish.”
The rumours are almost certainly as much an attempt to placate Chelsea supporters as they are an attempt to actually make a move for Torres. Chelsea’s new boss is Luiz Felipe Scolari, who is currently working full-time with Portugal in Euro 2008. He officially becomes their manager on July 1st, and reportedly been given a list of players already identified by Avram Grant to see what he thinks of them. There’s one name he can cross off straight away.
Hicks has denied any desire to sell Torres, and it’s unlikely George Gillett would wish to do so either. Gillett is intent on selling, unless he’s made a massive u-turn, and he’ll get the best price for the club if he sells it as a share in a going concern. Although Hicks has consistently and unshakeably insisted he won’t sell his half of the club, if there was a price in his head that he would sell for, he’d not expect it to be so easily reached after selling a player worth a lot on the pitch, but even more off it if his name and number can be exploited commercially.
And selling Torres if Hicks does intend to stay is again a decision that would not fit with his aims of making Liverpool bring more money in than ever before. A £20m profit in 12 months is not to be sniffed at, but Liverpool’s financial troubles aren’t as great as has been suggested over the past six months.
Work on the new stadium begins in earnest in September, although this month sees the start of some preparatory work to enable the construction teams to begin. That work can get underway thanks to the £60m portion of the January refinance which was borrowed for the purpose, and has not yet been drawn down by the club.
Liverpool’s bid for Gareth Barry seems to have been set aside temporarily because of the perception that Villa are asking for too much. The £18m said to have been demanded is not a figure Rafa would be willing to pay in a hurry, irrespective of available funds. That said, Liverpool are expected to make another bid this week, but the point of “final offer” is close to being reached.