Liverpool fans should be forgiven for being cynical about comments from Roy Hodgson today in which he stated Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard weren’t for sale.
Speaking at a press conference ahead of tomorrow’s opening pre-season friendly with Al Hilal the new manager explained that he’d now held conversations with both players, but was yet to speak to the club’s Argentine captain Javier Mascherano.
Mascherano has made no secret of his desire to leave, and it seems has also made no effort to talk to his new boss. Hodgson isn’t ready to condemn him yet, but hasn’t said a word about wanting him to stay: “I have tried to contact Javier. I have left him voice messages and sent him texts but had no reply. To be fair to him, that’s not unusual because he’s had a tough World Cup and I believe he’s gone back to Argentina. It’s not always easy to get in touch with people. I have tried to reach him to make clear I am happy to talk with him at his convenience.”
Hodgson had more luck speaking to Gerrard, who he met at Melwood before the club captain went on his holidays. A new manager at any club will want to speak to the club captain as soon as possible, but there is little doubt about what one of the main topics of conversation would have been.
A disillusioned Gerrard, feeling unwanted by his club, almost left for Chelsea in 2005 in the wake of that legendary night in Istanbul. Jose Mourinho was Chelsea’s manager at the time and as the new boss of Real Madrid has been linked with a fresh move for a player who is still waiting for investment in the club that has been repeatedly promised but never delivered for most of his professional career. Real Madrid would be the most likely destination should the captain leave, but a number of clubs would be interested should there be any sign from Anfield that the player could leave. Roy Hodgson wants him to stay.
“I’ve met with Steven,” he said, “and I thought the talks were positive.” He is obviously aware of the speculation but says there haven’t been any offers: “We’re in a situation where we hear our players are being courted by other teams but it’s all just rumours. What we haven’t had is a club wanting to buy Steven Gerrard.”
Hodgson says he told the captain exactly how he saw his future: “Steven Gerrard is not for sale – I made that clear to him.”
The new boss also referred to what he has been told is the “club’s policy” on players and said he told Gerrard he supports it, and that “we don’t want to sell our best players and have to start building again. We want to build our team around these players.”
One big difference between 2005 and 2010 is that Gerrard isn’t looking for reassurances about how much the club want him, he’s looking for reassurances about where the club is going. The club’s official ‘charter’ still claims that the new stadium is “scheduled to be completed in time for the opening game of the 2011/2012 season” – but of course the construction hasn’t even started, the finance isn’t even in place, for a project that was supposed to be the main reason for the club’s takeover in 2007. Even if the club is taken over tomorrow the earliest we can expect that new stadium to be open is 2013, and it’s going to take some work to convince Gerrard and other key players that the club is going to be taken over any time soon. At this rate Gerrard may never play a first team match in that stadium.
And that’s why Gerrard and other players would seriously entertain the idea of moving away. Certainly for Gerrard it wouldn’t be an easy decision to make, not by any means, but the best hope for fans who want the captain to stay is if he sees it as his duty to take the owners and senior management to task, to help in the fight for an end to the last few years of hell and to forget about the diplomacy.
The Club are fighting hard this summer to dispel rumours, something that seems more than a little ironic given the number of rumours that seemed to originate from the boardroom last season. But did Hodgson let something slip about Gerrard, was there a suggestion he’s already had informal contact with other clubs? “Clubs can get into players’ ears and make promises,” said Hodgson. “It destabilises the club and the players and we can’t do anything about it.”
That is exactly how it worked last summer with Xabi Alonso; even before the season had ended he is believed to have been given the terms of his potential contract with Real, terms that varied depending on the ultimate transfer fee to be paid. Real’s initial valuation was much lower than Liverpool’s – and Liverpool did give Real a price – meaning a game was played out all through the summer before the Spanish side finally followed Xabi’s formal transfer request with a bid that Liverpool would accept for a fee that largely disappeared.
Gerrard is more likely to stay than go, but clearly isn’t happy with the state of play at the club.
What must also be taken into consideration are comments from a man often used to broker deals between clubs in Serie A and La Liga. Billed as “Real Madrid’s transfer consultant”, Ernesto Bronzetti was quoted in the media earlier in the week talking about the chances of Real making a move for Gerrard. After claiming the Real president felt Gerrard was too old for his club, Bronzetti went on to state quite categorically what Real had been told by Liverpool: “The president does not agree with Gerrard because he is 30 and Perez doesn’t want to know. Plus Liverpool asked for €70m(£60m).”
If the player really isn’t for sale, why are Liverpool letting Real know how much he’d cost them?
Liverpool can’t respond to every claim made in the media, but when someone working for Real Madrid claims Liverpool have named their price for the captain surely it’s worthy of a swift and unambiguous denial – unless it’s true of course.
This applies all the more when certain members of the club’s hierarchy are believed to have discussed transfer targets with Real Madrid officials before the end of last season (independently and without the knowledge of the former manager). Recent revelations that suggest the club were negotiating player sales before the appointment of Roy Hodgson was made, despite claims to the contrary, add more weight to fears that the hierarchy are choosing which players can come and go.
The last manager left after dropping rather strong hints that he felt he couldn’t trust the club’s senior management; it remains to be seen how strong the new manager’s trust of them is.
Hodgson also discussed the future of Fernando Torres, someone he’d managed a brief chat with before heading to Bad Ragaz: “I have met with Fernando. I found him to be a very pleasant man and we had a nice conversation. My conversation with him was only short because I had to leave to come to the training camp in Switzerland. We spoke about football, the World Cup, his injury, and I told him how much I am looking forward to working with him.”
Hodgson seems to be sincere when expressing his desire for the striker to stay: “As far as we are concerned he is a Liverpool player and we want him to remain a Liverpool player. He is not for sale and we don’t welcome any offers for him. We want to keep him.”
But will Hodgson get the final say in what happens with Torres? His words about Torres sound like a paraphrased version of these comments: “We want him to stay and he’s under contract to stay.” That was Martin Broughton speaking about Rafa, around six weeks before the club released him from that contract to make way for Hodgson.
It’s how clubs speak about employees under contract, and without the players themselves standing alongside Hodgson and stating their desire and commitment to stay the words are always going to seem hollow.
Hodgson himself might be showing early signs that he won’t be the puppet many fans feared he might be. He didn’t need to mention what happened after he left the meeting with Torres or who else was there with him, but it was wise to do so should developments get taken out of his hands at any point. Hodgson said: “Christian Purslow was also at the meeting and chatted to Fernando for a lot longer after I left but my chat with him was only about football matters.”
We can all speculate on what Purslow said to Torres, but Torres like Gerrard will be desperate to see some action instead of words, some actual changes for the better rather than more promises to add to the ever-expanding pile of broken ones