Reports: Torres deal agreed

Liverpool's move to sign Fernando Torres is being reported
across the press this morning as having been successful. Reports vary as to the
amount of the fee, and as to whether or not Luis Garcia is actually included in
the deal, but all reports seem to tie in with reports in the Spanish media that
the clubs had now finally agreed a fee and that Torres would arrive on
Merseyside next week.

Luis Garcia is likely to join Atletico one way or another,
either as part of that deal or under a separate deal if reports are to be
believed. He's already said on Spanish TV this week that he'd like to go back
to Spain one day, and if he does he'd like to join Atletico.

One condition Atletico are said to have over the deal is
that Torres himself has to announce publicly that he wants to move to Anfield,
the Spanish club worried about the fallout they will get from fans if it's felt
they forced the player's hand. It still isn't clear if Liverpool have met the
release fee in the player's contract, in which case Atletico would be obliged
to allow Torres to talk to Liverpool anyway.

A player previously linked with Liverpool has had his future resolved
this morning – Darren Bent has joined Spurs. Liverpool had shown interest in
the player but were never likely to pay anything like the £17m demanded from
Charlton for the player. On the other hand Charlton had accepted an offer for
that amount from West Ham, but Bent refused to join them. Spurs have paid
£15.5m for the player, with extra conditions that could bring the total fee up
to £16.5m.

Charlton's chairman Richard Murray told the club's website: "I'd
like to place on the record my appreciation for Darren's efforts on behalf of
the club over the past two seasons.  He's
been a model professional during his time at Charlton. He has been a pleasure
to work with and has always represented the club magnificently, both at domestic
and international level."

He went on: "Realistically, it was always going to be
difficult to hang on to a player of his quality following relegation, but we
feel we have negotiated the best deal possible for the club and, after a
payment to Ipswich, it's a sum of money that will cushion the effects of
relegation for the club."

The Charlton website reports that the sum of money Ipswich
get is 20 percent, £2.58m.

Continue reading Reports: Torres deal agreed

Official: Momo signs new 4-year-deal

Liverpool's Malian midfielder Momo Sissoko has finally signed
his new contract, bringing to an end speculation linking him with a move to

The official Liverpool FC website broke the news this
afternoon, saying Momo had signed a four-year deal.

Momo told the official site: "It was never in my thoughts to
leave Liverpool. I read about the speculation linking me with other clubs but I
am already at a big big club and it's an honour for me to be able to call
myself a Liverpool player."

Central midfield is a position Liverpool are now strongest
in, with 22-year-old Momo battling for a place with Steven Gerrard, Xabi Alonso
and Javier Mascherano.  He's ready for
the battle though: "I feel fresh and can't wait for the new season to start. I
am injury-free and although I know I'll face a battle for a place in the team
as we have so many great midfielders I'm prepared to fight for a position. It
obviously gave me a huge boost to my confidence that the manager believes in me
and wanted me to stay at the club. Now I want to repay him on the pitch."

Continue reading Official: Momo signs new 4-year-deal

Mascherano would love Tevez at Anfield

Liverpool midfielder Javier Mascherano wants Rafa Benítez to
sign his friend and countryman Carlos Tevez from West Ham. Tevez has been
linked with most of the big clubs in recent months at fees that vary every
time. In recent days he's spoken about how he would prefer to move to Inter
Milan rather than Real Madrid. For some reason he cited language problems as
his reason for this preference, ignoring the fact Real are a Spanish-speaking
club in Spain because of the number of Argentineans at Inter.

Mascherano is currently on international duty with Tevez in
the Copa America tournament, reunited with his former West Ham team-mate, and
he told the Daily Star: "It would be nice to play with Carlos again, right now
we are together in the Copa America and it's great. We'll see what is going to
happen before the start of next season."

Despite Javier's conviction that Tevez would be a good
signing, he was quick to point out that it's not his decision: "Carlos is a
great player and he could be very useful to Liverpool in my opinion, but the
truth is that I would never dare to ask Rafa Benitez or any other coach to
bring a player to a club. If he asked me, I would tell him my opinion, but
that's the only context in which I would tell him what I think."

The issue of the ownership of Tevez is still the subject of some
debate, although West Ham insist they do now own him outright. Whoever owns
him, he won't come cheap, and Liverpool seem to be focussing on Fernando Torres
of Atletico Madrid. Luis Garcia has been named as a possible part of any deal
to bring Torres over from Spain, and in a TV interview yesterday he admitted he'd
like to go back to Spain one day, and considered a move to Atletico to be a
good one: "Liverpool are in my thoughts at the moment, but one day I would like
to come back, and not to Barcelona, but to Atletico Madrid, who are always in
my thoughts."

Torres has a release clause in his contract which would
force Atletico's hand and leave them with no option but to allow the player to
talk directly to Liverpool. It seems that Atletico have accepted Torres needs
to leave so he can play Champions League football and further his career.
Torres is believed to have accepted the same. But Torres is a massive hero to
the Atletico fans, a couple of hundred of whom protested yesterday about the
possible sale of the forward. So nobody actually wants to admit it was their
idea for Torres to leave!

Atletico's major shareholder, Gil Marin, seemed to be paving
the way for the sale of the club captain yesterday when he said: "Nobody is indispensable.
We are trying to create a competitive team and no player by himself, very good
though he is, is able to make a team achieve its aims. Atletico are building a
team that does not revolve around Fernando Torres but around the team as a
whole. I would be delighted if Fernando was to continue here, but the future is
going to be decided by Fernando himself."

So Marin puts the ball into Fernando's court, then hints
that the player has been expressing his feelings about wanting to go: "We have
spoken to him and told him we would like him to stay. It is normal that he has
doubts. It is normal that the offers and everything surrounding them has made
him think. Torres knows that Atletico want him and if Fernando wants to
continue at Atletico, he is going to continue."

Another reported stumbling block was a pay-off built into
the player's contract which would give him 10% of any transfer fee, and that Atletico
were demanding Liverpool pay that 10%. This is unlikely to have been the case because
that clause is part of the contract between the player and his current club.
However Atletico may have demanded Torres wave this entitlement.

Continue reading Mascherano would love Tevez at Anfield

Reds sign young keeper

Liverpool have signed Nikolay Mihaylov, a young goalkeeper
from Bulgarian champions Levski Sofia, for an as-yet undisclosed fee. Mihaylov is
19 tomorrow and is an under-21 international for Bulgaria. He has signed for
three years with an option of a further two.

Speaking to Bulgarian website, Nikolay seemed
speechless: "I have no words. This is the greatest moment of my life."

He made his debut for Levski as a 16-year-old and played in
last season's group stages in the Champions League for Levski.

Earlier in the day Nikolay's father spoke anxiously as he
waited for the results of the medical to be revealed: "Nikolay had a medical
and we are waiting for the results right now. If all goes well, he will sign a
three-year deal, with an option to extend it for another two seasons. If the
deal goes through, we will hold a press conference when we return tomorrow."

His father Borislav and grandfather Bisser were both
national keepers for Bulgaria. He had a spell of nightmare performances last
season though, including a Champions League tie against Werder when he messed
up a back-pass and scored an own-goal, before letting in two more goals in five
minutes. This reportedly turned many fans against him and he also fell out with
Levski boss Stanimir Stoilov who had made him third-choice keeper by the end of
the season.

He went for a trial with Fiorentina which ended around four
weeks ago, but wasn't signed by the Italian side. He was hopeful at the time: "My
stay at Fiorentina was great. I spent one week there and participated with
their youth team in a tournament in Parma. I played both games as we first drew
1-1 with Piacenza and eliminated them on penalties and then we were defeated
1-0 by Bologna in the final."

Liverpool haven't yet confirmed the deal officially.

Continue reading Reds sign young keeper

Benayoun still waiting for word from Anfield

Liverpool's bid to bring Israel captain Yossi Benayoun to
Anfield is in that familiar stage (for Liverpool fans) where the player has
made it known he wants to come to Anfield, Liverpool have made it clear they
want the player, but valuations differ between the Reds and the selling club –
in this case West Ham.

Benayoun was offered a new deal by West Ham and seemed all
set to sign it until he found out through his agent that Liverpool were
interested. Any doubt he might have had about Liverpool's interest – after all
he's not allowed to speak to the Reds officially until West Ham give permission
– were allayed when West Ham's chairman Eggert Magnússon told the press that
Liverpool had made an offer. He was complaining about the amount of that offer,
but Rick Parry later said that the West Ham chairman had told the press an
incorrect figure. The offer is now believed to have been for an overall £3m.

Now Benayoun's agent Ronen Katzav says the midfielder is
waiting for further developments: "We are still waiting. The deal is still in
place with West Ham. We are waiting to see if the two clubs can come to an

Speaking to Sky Sports, Katzav said: "I am not going to say
Yossi is desperate for a move at all, but it is only natural – any player in
the world would be attracted by Liverpool."

Another familiar twist in transfer dealings is the sudden
appearance of another club at the eleventh-hour, interested in the player
Liverpool are trying to buy. This time the club is Manchester City, about to be
taken over by Thaksin Shinawatra. It's just been announced that their target as
new manager, Sven-Goran Eriksson, has agreed – in principle – a three-year-deal
with them. According to reports this morning Eriksson is planning to make a Benayoun
his first signing after bidding £4m bid for the player.  However the former Thai prime minister has not
actually taken over at City yet, Eriksson's agreement to manage them still only
agreed in principle pending the takeover, which still seems some way off going
through. Even getting over those obstacles, Benayoun was happy to stay at West
Ham until Liverpool came along and offered him the potential to play in the
Champions League.

Of course the focus of Liverpool's transfer dealings right
now is on the moves to bring Fernando Torres to Anfield, and with Luis Garcia
now not believed to be part of that deal Liverpool's need for Benayoun isn't
quite as strong as it was, and that would reflect the amount they would be
willing to pay for the 27-year-old.

Continue reading Benayoun still waiting for word from Anfield

Atletico deny Torres bids as rumours place him in Liverpool

The saga surrounding the possible transfer of Fernando Torres
from Atletico Madrid to Liverpool takes more twists and turns by the day, today
being no different. Denials there had been any offers whatsoever came from
Madrid, rumours the player had already been to Anfield came from Liverpool.

The possible move has been one of the big stories in England
and Spain for the past few days, matched only by coverage of the move to
Barcelona of Thierry Henry. So today Atletico's president Enrique Cerezo felt
he had to issue a denial about bids for his 23-year-old captain: "We've
received no offer from Liverpool or any other club or player," he claimed.
"There is nothing linking Torres with any team. He's on holidays, he's resting
and he'll return to work on July 9." He didn't say where Torres was going for his holidays.

He did confirm that Torres has a buy-out clause in his
contract, although of course didn't reveal the figure: "All the players have a clause
in their contract and in that case we would not be able to do anything, but I
repeat that there has been nothing about Torres from any team. We are now
working to create a good team for the coming year."

The actual amount of that buy-out clause has been speculated
about repeatedly, with estimates as high as £27m, but it is now believed that
Atletico's failure to qualify directly for Europe has activated a much lower
amount of £18m.

Rafa's budget has been the subject of various rumours too,
but his relaxed stance last week suggests that since the audit of his past
transfers has been completed the new owners have agreed to make more money available
than normal after all. Not that they'll readily admit this just yet.

It was clear even as early as the start of last week that
Rafa was left short of funds compared to what he felt he'd been promised. So
when it was leaked that Liverpool were interested in Torres the story needed
some way of showing how Rafa could afford a fee believed then to be somewhere
between £24m and £27m. This resulted in Luis Garcia, Peter Crouch and Djibril
Cissé's names being added as part of a part-exchange deal. It's no secret
Liverpool are looking to offload Cissé, but Rafa certainly does not want to
lose Crouch.

With it being only a couple of weeks since Thierry Henry was
"spotted" at Anfield, and past experience of Zinedine Zidane and his "new house"
in Formby, Reds fans would be forgiven for dismissing out of hand today's internet
rumours: that Fernando Torres was spotted in the offices at the stadium this
afternoon. Except this time the stories have come from more sources, and more
credible sources, and include manager Rafa Benítez being at the ground too.  

There's no doubt Liverpool are interested in bringing Torres
to Anfield, but for how much or how soon remains to be seen. Atletico's hands
are tied if the release-fee is matched – but we still don't know for sure if
the Reds are willing or able to match it. That said, there are signs that the
owners have quietly committed to a greater budget than Rafa was left thinking
he had two weeks ago. In fact Atletico themselves are now believed to have gone
for one of the targets on what was Rafa's B-list – Diego Forlan. As far as
Torres being at Anfield today – well it seems strange that the club would take
a risk on allowing Torres to be seen at Anfield considering he's still not officially
a confirmed target, but the story is coming from reputable sources. Things certainly
seem much more hopeful than they did just a couple of weeks ago.

Continue reading Atletico deny Torres bids as rumours place him in Liverpool

Rafa says no urgency – yet

Rafa Benítez has been quoted on Liverpool's official site
today as saying that there is no rush for the club to bring in new players. He
said: "We have a number of targets, and I am receiving interesting phone calls
all the time. We are monitoring situations all the time and there is no urgency

According to Rafa, the lack of urgency is because the
Spanish season has just ended, suggesting that's where most of his targets are
from: "If we bring in players from Spain, they only finished playing a week ago
so they will need a longer break, but I would like somebody in before we start
pre-season training."

So why the change of heart from the boss? The day after
Athens, Rafa was clearly unhappy. Inadequate hotel facilities made him tired,
the fact his side had just lost the final wasn't going to help, but he felt he
was never going to be able to make the improvements he needed. The owners were
good at talking, but talking wasn't good enough.

He said that morning: "I want to see things happening right
now. I'm tired of talking, talking. We talk and talk but we never finish. I am
worried about talking to players, for one or two months or even six months, and
then losing them. I want things to be done. If we want to improve the squad, we
need money. We have some targets."

At that time Rafa was thinking that getting in there and
then for their first targets could save them some money: "We must say: ‘Sign
him.' We can sign top-class targets for 15 million to 20m Euros right now."

That was a month ago. Lucas Leiva was already bought by that
stage (with the club's overdraft being used to fund it), but Rafa was hoping to
bring in more players. "Top-class" ones too, but seemed to be saying that he
was being held back.

Since he arrived at Anfield Rafa has been frustrated by not
quite having enough money to buy the players he wanted. Some of those have shot
up in value or gone to rivals instead. This summer he wanted things to be

Even the contract negotiations to keep existing players at
the club dragged on longer than he'd liked, but in the end most of the players
signed their new deals. Most – not all. There still hasn't been an official
announcement on Momo Sissoko or Steve Finnan's contract talks.

Back in Athens Rafa was dropping hints that he saw parallels
between the current situation at Anfield and the way things were as he decided
to leave his job as coach of Valencia: "At Valencia we won the league for the
first time in 31 years, but the club decided not to improve and we finished
fifth the next season. They thought we were winners and didn't need to sign
anyone. It is the situation I am watching here in the last few years."

He wanted to make sure everyone knew he felt the club were
further away from league success than the owner were claiming: "They say we are
close, we are close, but we are not close. We are 21 points behind, 30 points
behind, 15 points behind. And we cannot work harder."

A few weeks later and Rafa wasn't giving quotes about what
was going on behind the scenes – but he was ensuring his message got out. His
budget hadn't yet been handed to him, certainly there was no sign of the
amounts of money we'd all felt had been promised by the new owners. Rafa's list
of targets moved down a few notches in terms of value, and then later
speculation was that the new owners had fallen out: They wouldn't spend another
dime of their money on anything they'd not already committed to.

Now Rafa is saying everything's ok – no need to worry, no
need to panic. Who are the "interesting phone calls" from? Is Rafa just putting
on a brave face, or has he had an "interesting phone call" from the States
confirming the transfer kitty is now in the bank? We'll know on the First of
September if he's had the funds he thought he'd been promised, if our owners
have helped us get some "edge of the seat" signings at long, long last.

If they haven't, they'll have some explaining to do – but if
they have, Rafa will have some winning to do. We need to finally get close to
that title – close enough to win it.

Continue reading Rafa says no urgency – yet

Carson confirmed as Pepe’s understudy.

Young Liverpool goalkeeper Scott Carson has been told he's
not going to go out on loan next season and will be in with a chance to take
the top spot from Pepe Reina.

Carson was allowed to spend a full season on loan at Charlton
in the last campaign, and was certainly kept busy during the London side's unsuccessful
battle against the drop. He impressed their supporters enough that they named
him their player of the season, the first time it's ever been awarded to a loan
player. He's just been enjoying good reviews from his recent appearances in the
Euro Under-21 Championship in Holland. Appearances in that competition took him
past what had been Jamie Carragher's record for England appearances at that

It was never clear how Rafa's plans for keepers would pan
out next season. Obviously Pepe Reina was first choice – but even that was only
confirmed recently when he ended all speculation linking him with a move back
to Spain by signing an extended contract at Anfield. With Carson away on loan,
Rafa chose Jerzy Dudek as his goalkeeping backup, but Dudek's now out of
contract and listening to offers from Real Madrid amongst others. Daniele
Padelli was effectively third choice last season, after arriving on loan in
January, but Rafa decided not to take up the option of keeping the player on a
permanent deal. Padelli made just one appearance. Next in line is promising
youngster David Martin, who now looks set to be third-choice keeper for the new

Rafa spoke today of his decision over Carson's future:
"I was speaking to Scott recently and I told him he will be part of our
first team squad next season. He must fight with Pepe Reina now for a starting
place. We knew when we fought off Chelsea to sign him he was a talented

Talk of 21-year-old Carson leaving for first team football
certainly don't match Rafa's plans: "He got some good experience last
season and now he is coming back to us," said the boss.

Continue reading Carson confirmed as Pepe’s understudy.

Torres link gathers pace

The press is full of reports that Liverpool have made
Atletico Madrid's captain Fernando Torres their top-priority target for this
summer. Liverpool have been linked with Torres on numerous occasions in the
past, as of course they have with many others, but those links took on an extra
edge of credibility earlier in the season when Torres was pictured with what
seemed to be the words ‘You'll never walk alone' on his captain's armband.

Torres was clearly just one out of a number of targets, but like
many of those targets seemed to be off Liverpool's list when leaks were made
suggesting Rafa had nowhere near the budget he expected for new signings. The
new owners had allegedly told him he'd have to make do with the normal summer
budget, plus anything he could get from player sales. If the Torres story is
true it seems it's because the owners have decided to change their minds about
funding, or that Rafa is planning to blow pretty much his full budget on one
player. One reason that was given for the owners' sudden reluctance to back
Rafa in the way they promised was that they'd fallen out over each other's
level of influence on the board. Now that Tom Hicks has appointed Casey Shilts
to a role overseeing all his sports interests perhaps Hicks feels happier that
he'll be kept fully aware and involved in major decisions: he's got someone on
the case for him.

On the other hand this whole story seems to have come from
an exclusive in the Liverpool Echo. Ordinarily that would be a sign of near-certainty
the story was true, but that's not quite the case this time. The usual Echo
reporter for all things Liverpool, Chris Bascombe, is away on holiday. His
daily chats with Rafa may well be still continuing, certainly given Rafa's
inability to switch off from football! But yesterday's report was written by
Dave Prentice, the senior member of the Echo's sports reporting staff, but also
an Everton supporter who usually concentrates on our smaller neighbours.  This doesn't mean Prentice hasn't been given
this story by sources at the club – but it's almost certain he's been given the
story by someone other than Rafa, and so we've no way of knowing whether Rafa
sees this as a first choice signing or not. Not yet, anyway. The nationals have
taken the story as gospel.

The 23-year-old has a release clause in his contract, which
is reported variously at anywhere from £24m to £27m. Some reports are
suggesting that Luis Garcia would be included in a player-plus-cash deal, but
that seems to be more speculation than anything that has been leaked by any
involved party.

Torres is not going to be playing European football next
season unless he moves clubs, after a poor league season from Atletico. Many
players have release clauses that are only triggered if European qualification
is not achieved, but even so, Torres will be unhappy at being confined to
domestic football only. That fact also makes the idea of Luis Garcia's involvement
in the deal seem a little less likely.

The story is gathering pace, it is also being reported in
Spain this morning, where it is said Liverpool now have executives in Madrid to
discuss the deal. As always there is competition for the player's signature,
but his support for Liverpool will be a powerful negotiation tool for the Reds. If the money's available we should get him – but it wouldn't be the first time we'd missed out on targets.

Continue reading Torres link gathers pace

Shearer: We must not buy Bellamy, will keep Owen

Former Newcastle striker Alan Shearer has launched a public
attack on former team-mate Craig Bellamy after hearing he was linked with a
move back to his old club.

Shearer, then under manager Graeme Souness, was allegedly
given some verbal abuse by Bellamy after Newcastle had crashed out of the FA
Cup 4-1 to Manchester United in the semi-final in 2005. Bellamy was alleged to
have shouted to Shearer: "Your legs have gone, you're too old, and you're too
slow." No doubt all said in the heat of the moment, but Shearer wasn't happy,
allegedly responding with threats to "knock his block off". Shearer was of
course the Geordie idol at the time, and no matter what really happened he was
never going to stand for Bellamy staying at the club. Souness sent Bellamy out
on loan initially before selling him. There were also claims that Shearer got
abusive text messages from Bellamy after he'd been sold.

It's been some time since Shearer left the Newcastle set-up,
and the first he knew of a possible return by Bellamy was when he was on
holiday and he read it in the paper: "I was having a few days away in France
with Gary Speed and Steve Harper and the wives and I picked up a newspaper. I
was having a fantastic day but when I read Bellamy for Newcastle, I thought I
would definitely have to have another drink, so I had several. Has no one
learned their lesson about signing him? If only Rafa Benítez had rung me, I
would've told him exactly what he was like. I hope there isn't anything in it."

Shearer pointed out that one of the members of the Newcastle
coaching staff would be uncomfortable with a Bellamy return: "It would be
interesting, especially with Terry McDermott still here, because there was a
scuffle at Anfield when Craig and Terry were coming down the tunnel."

The fact is that Newcastle are now managed by Sam Allardyce,
and are in the midst of a takeover by billionaire Mike Ashley. The regime that
Shearer was familiar with is on its way out – and Allardyce won't take kindly
to the idea a former player is telling him what he can and can't do!

Bellamy has also been linked with moves to West Ham and
Blackburn in the Premiership, plus Italian sides Roma and Juventus. A move to Newcastle
could be helped, in theory, by any Liverpool interest in bringing Michael Owen
back to Anfield. Owen at Anfield is a controversial subject, but Rafa Benítez will
certainly have him on a list of possibilities if the reported £9m release fee
is correct.

Shearer also has a view on Owen's future. He told local press
in Newcastle that he thought other clubs would see Owen as over-priced: "I am
sure there are lots of people who want to ask me whether I think Michael Owen
will be at Newcastle next season. To be honest, I don't think anyone would be
prepared to pay £10m or £11m for him until they have seen him play for five or
six months. So if anyone says to me ‘will he be here next season' I would have
to say ‘yes, I think he will be'. And I also think him playing up front with
Mark Viduka will be a great partnership for United. Viduka is great at holding
the ball up and we all know how great Michael is at scoring goals."

Anything but Bellamy: "I don't think there will be many
better partnerships out there in the Premiership next season than the one at St
James' Park."

Shearer still seems to assume he's a guaranteed job as
Newcastle boss when he feels like taking the task on: "I have just finished my
badges so I could go into management now if I wanted to, but why should I?
There is only one place I am going to go when I do it, so I just wanted to
enjoy some time out. My wife says, 'We see less of you now than the previous 10
years,' so I'm going to take a bit of time to spend with the family, but I will
do it one day. If I get to 50 or 55 and I look back and I haven't done it, I
will regret it, but I don't know when I will do it."

Shearer never won a medal at Newcastle, but it was believed
he was offered the manager's job after Glen Roeder was sacked.

Liverpool's only trophy last season was the Community Shield
won at the start of the season but Bellamy played an important part in getting
the Reds all the way to the Champions League final. His Anfield career suffered
almost certainly irreparable damage when he was involved in incidents in
Portugal during a team break prior to the Barcelona tie.

Meanwhile, reports in France say Marseilles are unwilling to
spend any of their transfer budget on Djibril Cissé this season, instead
expecting Liverpool to allow them another 12-month loan of the striker before
they pay any fees.

Continue reading Shearer: We must not buy Bellamy, will keep Owen