Rafa told to work with usual budget

Reports tonight suggest that Liverpool boss Rafael Benítez has
been given details of his budget by the club's new owners – and it doesn't make
pleasant reading. Rafa lost his cool the morning after the Champions League
final when he complained about a lack of urgency from the new owners and the
chief executive over both signing new players and getting his core players to
commit to new contracts.

He's now going to lose his cool again after being told by
the new owners that they are refusing to add any extra funds of their own to
the transfer kitty. Rafa's budget will be made up of money from selling
players, prize money from the Champions League, money from ticket sales and so
on. The same budget as every summer.

Last week we saw Carragher, Gerrard, Alonso and Reina all
sign new four and five year deals, and all four spoke of their excitement that
the club was moving forward. But Rafael Benítez has been confiding to some
about his unhappiness in relation to the way he's being spoken to. Promises of
support are all well and good, but Rafa wanted actions not words. He started to
get the impression that the likes of Samuel Eto'o and Carlos Tevez were out of
reach, and started to get a list together of players costing between £15m and

Eto'o and Tevez, at their quoted fees, are now definitely
out of reach. But even the players in the £15m category seem to be out of
reach.I t seems Rafa will have to sell before he can buy. There's no indication
of where the extra TV money has gone, nor any explanation as to why the owners
are now going against all their hints of supporting the manager in his plans by
supplying him with extra money.

The new owners are claiming privately that Rafa is happy
with the news he has no money to spend after all. That's quite untrue, Rafa is
said to be fuming to put it bluntly. Keep in mind that last summer's purchase
of Dirk Kuyt was made possible by David Moores lending the club the money to
pay the transfer fee. In effect Liverpool will have less money than last
summer, unless the new TV money is handed to Rafa.

These stories are leaking from various directions, all is
not well inside Anfield. What hasn't yet been revealed is the excuse that the
new owners will use for going back on all they said.

Meanwhile, back across the Atlantic, George Gillett has been
speaking to the Montreal Gazette about Liverpool FC. He talks about spending
money on the club, but not in the way he was talking about it earlier in the
year: "As far back as February, Rafa laid out a program for us," says Gillett. "Each
one of our sports businesses has a core concept. You can't just flop around
looking at opportunities here and there, go left, go right. It has to be part
of an integrated plan. We have one at Liverpool, as we have with the Canadiens,
one we understand 100 per cent, believe in and support. The plan involves us
spending money, but it will be part of a plan, not just spending like a drunken

Hang on – we didn't expect money to be spent "like a drunken
sailor". We expected Rafa to be supported in his plans – the way we were told
he would be during all those high-profile interviews with the US pair. Whatever
plans Rafa had, they included buying more players to strengthen the weaker
areas of the squad. That costs money, but now the tone is changing. Gillett says:
"Hockey and soccer are all about teamwork, and Rafa believes in that very
strongly. It's the same in almost all of life – it's about partnership,
teamwork and communication. It's not all about money."

From all the leaked reports, "communication" from the US has
been nothing short of pathetic. Rafa's patience has been tried repeatedly due
to an unwillingness from those above him to communicate. And the statement, "It's
not all about money," is indeed true, but for Liverpool fans success is
all-important. We've grown used to it ever since Bill Shankly shook the club up
in the sixties. The modern game is unfortunately pretty much ruled by money. If
it wasn't George and Tom wouldn't be here – they'd not have the same interest
to start with, but there wouldn't have been the same need to go looking for
investment. We expected investment to include a plan where Rafa, or whoever was
managing the club, would be able to invest in his squad every transfer window
to ensure we were always at least on a par with our rivals. To get on a par
with our rivals though we needed a boost, some extra money to gets us a few
steps closer to those ahead of us. Money, plus Rafa's expertise, could bring us
the league title we so desperately want. It now seems that the new owners have
lied about the money. And if there's one thing Liverpool fans do not like it's
being lied to or lied about. Rafa Benítez is much the same.

Liverpool fans were delighted to see the club reach the
Champions League final in Athens, but other than the Charity Shield won last
August, and the FA Youth Cup won by the youngsters, it's been a trophyless
season. Gillett considers it was a successful season: "In all candour, the
Gillett and Hicks families have to say we've been pretty lucky to arrive on the
scene and enjoy this first-season success," he said. "It's heady and a lot of
fun, but it sure would be a mistake for us to try to act like we had anything
to do with it. This is the work of David Moores and Rick Parry and Rafa and the
players. We were the fortunate beneficiaries of circumstance."

If the stories turn out to be true and the new owners have
mislead fans over the amounts of funds Rafa would be given, they might find
themselves beneficiaries of something they wouldn't class as fortunate. As they
saw in the semi-final of the Champions League at Chelsea, you don't want to get
on the wrong side of Liverpool fans.

Perhaps Tom and George would be so good to have a re-think
on their plans, or to at least have the decency to tell their new club's
supporters the truth. No carefully-chosen words, just honesty.

Continue reading Rafa told to work with usual budget

Gerrard ready for wedding, honeymoon then rest

Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard is looking forward to his
wedding on Saturday and the month-long break that follows it. It's been a long
season for the England international, starting with pre-season fixtures last
July and the start of the qualifying campaign for the Champions League in early
August, running right the way through until the Champions League final at the
end of May, before then being on England duty in June. The previous season was
even worse – almost a whole year passing from the start of Champions League qualifying
through to England's last World Cup match.

The wedding on Saturday is estimated to have cost
half-a-million pounds, with Take That's Gary Barlow lined up for entertainment
in place of the traditional disco. The future Mrs Gerrard, Alex Curran, is
reportedly set to wear a wedding dress costing a phenomenal £60,000 – designed by
Ellie Saab, who apparently likes to sew diamonds into designs she makes.

The bridesmaids will be the couple's two young daughters,
Lily Ella and Lexie, and the function is to take place in Berkshire, at Cliveden
House Hotel. Steven and Alex have signed a reported £800,000 deal with OK Magazine
for the wedding photos. After the function – which is said to be on for three
days according to some reports – they'll head for their honeymoon in Florida.

Other England stars are getting married this weekend,
including John Terry and, remarkably, Gary Neville. The Rooneys are planning to
attend both the Neville and the Gerrard weddings.

No doubt the preparations for the wedding will be tiring and
stressful for the Liverpool captain, who explained last week why he was looking
forward to a break: "I desperately need a rest, it's as simple as that. I'm
worn out. Two and a half weeks off after the World Cup wasn't enough to prepare
for a hectic season which included going all the way in the Champions League
Final and playing for England. It's been a difficult season for me, but I'm
getting married next week and I've got four weeks to try and put my feet up."

He'll not be able to keep his mind off football for long
though, watching and waiting for news of who Rafa will sign for the new season,
should he finally get given a budget to work with. "It's going to be a big
season next year for club and country," said Gerrard. "Domestically Liverpool
has to improve and for England we have to build on recent performances and make
sure we qualify for Euro 2008."


Continue reading Gerrard ready for wedding, honeymoon then rest

Another frustrating summer looms for Rafa

Now that word is out Liverpool probably won't be bidding for
Samuel Eto'o or Carlos Tevez after all, the silly season talk for Reds fans
revolves around strikers in the sub-£20m region. If we'd been told a year ago
we'd be looking for strikers in that kind of price bracket we'd have been
pleased – but not this summer.

The new owners paid an absolute fortune to buy Liverpool FC
– former Chairman David Moores made something close to £90m out of the deal,
and all shareholders got the same price per share as he did, representing a
decent profit for all. The new stadium is said – by the new owners – to be
planned as something special, unique even, which is an improvement on the
previous plans which were of effectively an off-the-shelf stadium. They've also
forked out money – or at least have committed to forking out money – to keep
hold of players who would cost an absolute fortune to replace.

Unfortunately that outlay isn't enough. Our expectations
have been raised. As well as the billionaires' money, we all know that the new
TV deal was extremely lucrative. All the clubs in the relegation battle were
talking about the £30m they'd lose if they dropped out of the top flight, so we
expect Rafa to be handed that much before the new owners have put their hands
in their pockets. And all the talk of "we'll support Rafa" meant to us that
we'd be seeing Rafa getting the money for the players on his list.

Continue reading Another frustrating summer looms for Rafa

Rafa just needs to know what his budget is

When Tom Hicks and George Gillett took over at Anfield in
the wake of the January transfer window, Liverpool fans expected an exciting
summer. Tom and George told us as much. Didn't they?

Whatever it was they told us, that's what we assumed. And it
was also what Rafa assumed. Money to be provided so that he could go out and
buy players to take us forwards those steps we need if we're going to fight for
the premiership next season.

Rafa's done quite well already with the relatively limited
funds he's had since his arrival. He's helped realise the potential in Jamie
Carragher that his predecessor Gerard Houllier seemed unable to spot, and found
a partner for him who is the envy of most other clubs in Daniel Agger. He found
us one of the best goalkeepers in Europe. He's improved Steve Finnan to a point
where he became many people's player of the season last time round. In central
midfield he has managed to get the best out of Steven Gerrard – even if that
means playing him somewhere other than central midfield at times – and has
added perhaps £40m worth of talent to join him in Mascherano, Alonso and
Sissoko. This summer was meant to see at the very least the arrival of a
clinical finisher and a left-winger to provide the chances for that clinical

But it seems now that this isn't going to happen after all.
Samuel Eto'o and Carlos Tevez seem to be way out of Rafa's real price range. Or
at least he has to assume they are, because he's not getting any indication
from the new owners exactly how much he has to spend. After believing he'd not
have to sell before he could buy, it now seems he's going to have to after all.

His hands are tied; he can't make bids with money he's not

The Liverpool Echo's Chris Bascombe reported yesterday on
how Rafa felt he was going to have to handle transfers this summer. Tevez and
Eto'o would probably cost in the region of £30m to buy if figures bandied about
in the press are to be believed. According to Bascombe, Rafa has now had to get
his scouts to look at alternative targets, admittedly still costing fees that
would break the club's record, but not the choices Rafa was lead to believe he
could buy.

Alarmingly for many Liverpool fans one of those second-choice
names is the former Manchester United striker Diego Forlan. Also mentioned was Real
Zaragoza's 27-year-old Argentinean forward Diego Milito.

The report claims Forlan has an exit clause of €24m from his
Villareal contract and also that Rafa was hoping to make £15m by selling Craig
Bellamy and Harry Kewell.

Bascombe has no reason to lie, and what he's reporting is
what he's been told by Rafa. Or what he's agreed with Rafa that he'll report, off-the-record conversation excluded. As well as raising £15m from selling those players,
Rafa knows the club have got more money this summer from TV money, as well as
doing well financially out of their Champions League run. But the owners just
will not tell him exactly what his budget is. They say he'll be supported, but
Rafa wants to see figures, not words.

Perhaps Rafa was hoping Bascombe's report would shock the owners
into finally letting him know the figure he's working with, and if so it's
certainly got a lot of attention from the national media, who will add more
spin to it. Rafa's not yet been given permission to make a bid for Roma's
winger Allessandro Mancini, although his work to sign Lyon's Florent Malouda is
said to be still ongoing.

What he won't do – according to Bascombe – is waste any time
chasing players he feels he is not going to be given the funds to buy, namely
Eto'o. Of course that means other clubs will move ahead of the Reds in the
queue and if the money does eventually come, it may be too late.

What seems to be most frustrating for Rafa is that the new
owners are unwilling to just come clean, to just admit to the manager they rate
so highly exactly what he can spend, exactly which of his lists of targets he
should be pursuing. One of those lists almost certainly includes Michael Owen's
name, available for a reported £9m due to his contract's minimum fee release clause.

A few weeks back Rafa also confided in Bascombe his fears that
the contract talks for existing players were taking too long. That seemed to
work, with Steven Gerrard, Jamie Carragher, Pepe Reina, and Xabi Alonso all
signing their new deals last week and Momo Sissoko and Steve Finnan set to
follow suit this week.

As well as ensuring he doesn't lose those key players, Rafa
has already signed Brazilian midfielder Lucas Leiva and Argentine youngster
Sebastian Leto, along with Hungarian teenagers Krisztian Nemeth and Andras
Simon. In addition Ukrainian striker Andriy Voronin will arrive on a free

But what Liverpool fans want to see is proof – and soon –
that the new owners really do intend to put their money where their mouth is.
We want to win number nineteen, and we want Rafa to be able to buy the players
he feels can bring us that most important target.

Continue reading Rafa just needs to know what his budget is

Mascherano in Argentine training camp squad

Liverpool's Javier Mascherano has been called up to Argentina's training camp ahead of their Copa America campaign which begins on June 28th.

Argentina's coach Alfio Basile has selected nine overseas players in his party, including Liverpool target Carlos Tevez currently owned – we are assured – by West Ham.

Mascherano played for Argentina in a midweek friendly against Algeria played in Barcelona. The training camp begins on June 15th and coach Basile will need to cut his squad down to 22 by the June 21st deadline. It's likely that Mascherano will be included in the squad for the tournament along with the other overseas players: "I'm not going to call a player to train in Ezeiza to then set him aside later," said Basile.

Argentina's first game is against the USA in Venezuela, which will be followed by their other Group C fixtures against Paraguay and Colombia, to be held in Maracaibo and Barquisimeto.

Continue reading Mascherano in Argentine training camp squad

Padelli returns to Italy

Liverpool FC have announced that goalkeeper Daniele Padelli
has now returned to his club Sampdoria at the end of his loan deal.

He was signed in January before Liverpool's takeover had
been confirmed, when DIC were still looking like becoming the club's new owners.
Padelli was signed on loan with an option for the deal to be made permanent.

Padelli had joined from Samdoria after spending the first half
of the season playing in Italy's second division, with Crotone, but only
managed one first team game during his six-month stay.

After signing him, the Reds boss Rafa Benitez had said: "He's
a good young goalkeeper who has been selected for his national side. Padelli
will give us a good option for the future. The fact he is once again with the
under-21s for his national side tells you that we are signing a very good
player. Our scouting department are working really hard to bring good young
players to the club and I'm delighted we have been able to sign Padelli."

He played seven times for the reserves, but the option to
sign him permanently was not taken up.


Continue reading Padelli returns to Italy

Xabi signs until 2012

Liverpool midfielder Xabi Alonso has joined colleagues Jamie
Carragher, Steven Gerrard and compatriot Pepe Reina in signing a new long-term
deal to stay at the club.

Like Reina, Xabi's deal will keep him at Anfield until 2012,
and he says there was never a doubt in his mind that he wanted to stay: "I knew
there was interest from other clubs but it was always my idea to stay here. I
have been here for three seasons now and have such special feelings for the
club and the supporters. I understand what Liverpool FC means to so many
people. It is such a special club and I just didn't want to leave."

According the Xabi there were no worries about the contract
at all: "We agreed that the talks would take place after the Champions League
final and, to be honest, in the end it was a simple decision for me because I
could see right away that the attitude of the club towards me was spot on. I
greatly appreciate all the hard work that Rick Parry has put in on this
contract and the faith that Rafa Benitez has shown in me. We all wanted to
reach an agreement and we're all happy with the outcome."

Like with the other players who've signed, it's not just the
financial aspects of the deal that motivated them to make this commitment: "I
want to be part of what lies ahead because I know it is going to be exciting.
I've signed for another five years and there's no reason why we can't be
successful. It's also good news to see that other players have signed new
contracts this week. Stevie, Carra and Pepe are all big players for us and it's
great they have all shown their commitment. I'm sure the manager will be
bringing in new players as well and that the new owners will be making a big
effort to improve the squad."

Xabi will now have a break before pre-season and what all
the players are hoping is a big season: "'m really excited because I think we
can achieve big things," he added. "Hopefully we won't make the same
mistakes next season as we did last season and we can win some more games. We
want to be challenging for the top teams. Even though I'm looking forward to a
holiday and a rest I can't wait for next season to begin."

Momo Sissoko is also said to be close to signing a new deal,
and with Gerrard and Mascherano also in the squad Xabi knows he's not going to
always be a guaranteed starter. He's happy with this: "It's great to have
competition and I am ready to fight for my place. The more top quality players
we have then the better the level of the team will be. I'm confident I can play
a lot of minutes on the pitch and keep the confidence of the manager."

Continue reading Xabi signs until 2012

Reina signs, Xabi and Momo to follow

Liverpool made another big signing yesterday when Pepe Reina
put his mark on a deal that will run for five years. As exciting as links with
Samuel Eto'o and Carlos Tevez might be, it's probably more important that
Liverpool ensure established quality stays on. Xabi Alonso, who has been
strongly linked with Barcelona and Momo Sissoko, who has been strongly linked
with Juventus are also both expected to sign the new deals they've been

 In many ways Reina
could be described as the key signing of all those who are to get new deals. Good
goalkeepers are hard to find, especially ones who are confident in the
Premiership. Pepe has had a couple of moments he'd rather forget, as all
goalkeepers do, but he's always bounced straight back. Reds boss Rafa Benitez
was delighted: "We knew we needed to talk with a number of our players and Pepe
was one of them. He's had two good years with us and because of his age we knew
we had to sort out a long contract. I'm really pleased that he has signed and I
think it sends out a message to everyone that we are preparing our team for
both the present and for the future."

As Rafa pointed out, it's important that defenders feel they
can trust their keeper: "Pepe's record at Liverpool is very good. He's had a
lot of clean sheets and you can see the confidence the defenders have in him.
When he plays the defenders look very comfortable and that is so important."

Continue reading Reina signs, Xabi and Momo to follow

Jermaine Pennant went on holiday

According to reports overnight, Liverpool winger Jermaine Pennant had to be given oxygen on board a flight after "collapsing" on his way home from his holidays in Spain.

The reports say that Pennant passed out half-an-hour after the flight from Malaga to Stanstead had taken off. The flight attendants who gave him the oxygen probably find this is a fairly regular occurence with young passengers at this time of year.

The reasons the reports give for his collapse are that he "had allegedly been drinking heavily the night before and had had little sleep". This seems to be in keeping with the quote his agent gave about the incident. Sky Andrew said: "He is fine now. He just had a bit of dehydration."

Pennant' past – he was convicted of drink-driving when already banned and spent time in prison as a result – means any incident of this nature has a risk of being blown out of proportion. If he was drinking, on holiday, during the summer break, it's hardly a disciplinary offence. Although he knows that in return for being a Liverpool player, and with his past in mind, he is always going to be a soft target for people in glass houses, he should be allowed the odd hangover during those weeks where there is no football to be played. Pre-season is there to bring players back to fitness from their summer excesses, whatever their over-indulgences have been.

His agent is Sky Andrew, who said it was a fuss about nothing: "He is fine now. He just had a bit of dehydration."

And hopefully he'll be given the chance to get over the hangover, without having to hear endless criticism. If indeed it was a hangover, because it may have all been down to a poorly-cooked portion of paella.

Continue reading Jermaine Pennant went on holiday

Gerrard wins damages for libel

Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard has won a battle with the
publishers of "Sport Magazine" for libel.

Gerrard, who put pen to paper on Monday on a new four-year
contract with Liverpool, has accepted the undisclosed damages, relating to
false claims that he'd been in secret talks with Real Madrid.

Newspapers and certainly websites print speculation about players
all the time, and most fans are used to taking such stories with copious
amounts of salt. But Gerrard's dalliance with Chelsea in two consecutive
summers caused upset for so many Reds that he clearly doesn't want fake stories
to have the same impact. And so he brought proceedings in London's High Court
over what had been billed as a "world exclusive" when published in February.

Gerrard wasn't at the court, instead he is in Estonia on international
duty with England, but his solicitor, Gerard Tyrrell, told Mr Justice Eady about
the article. He said the story included images of a fax from the Park Lane
Marriott Hotel. The magazine claimed this was "confirmation of a hotel
reservation in London for the Liverpool captain", before going on to state
that, "Sport Magazine might not be the sharpest tool in the box, but even we
can join the dots on this one."

Sport Magazine then said in their story: "When we called the
Park Lane, they confirmed that a Mr Steven Gerrard was indeed booked in for an
overnight stay. Remember where you read it first and watch this space."

The court also heard that the editor's column said of the
fax that it, "purports to come from the Marriott Hotel, and confirms bookings
on Monday February 5 for Liverpool and England star Steven Gerrard and one
Ramon Calderon, who just happens to be president of Real Madrid."

Gerrard's brief said these allegations were completely
untrue and without any foundation whatsoever. Furthermore the magazine had not
contacted the player his agents before publication of the story, and this had
caused the player and his family "considerable embarrassment and distress".

As well as upsetting Liverpool fans (had they fallen for the
story) it also could have seen Gerrard in trouble with his club and the FA had
they felt there was cause for concern. As Chelsea and Ashley Cole found out not
too long ago, it is against FA rules for a club to speak directly to another
club's player without first getting permission. The solicitor said: "The true
position is that Steven Gerrard has not been involved in breach of FA rules in
secret talks with Real Madrid or indeed any other football club relating to a
possible move. He is more than happy at Liverpool to whom he is contracted."

The publishers, Sport Media & Strategy Ltd, accepted
that their allegations were false. They apologised to Gerrard and agreed to pay
him damages as well as his legal costs.

They also effectively added themselves to a list of sources
to be avoided when it comes to transfer "exclusives", the most notable being
the disgraced Koptalk website, but not forgetting many of the columnists in the
Sunday tabloids.  In fact linking players
with a move away from Anfield just before a big game is quite common practice,
usually carried out by journalists who normally cover our opponents. Saying a
player has been attracting interest from another club is relatively harmless,
but stating (falsely) that a player has been in secret talks with that club is
quite damaging and it is time it was stamped on.

Well done to Gerrard for pursuing the claim.

Continue reading Gerrard wins damages for libel