Eto’o says he will decide his own future

Liverpool target Samuel Eto'o's long-awaited exclusive
interview with the Times has finally appeared – and in it he says he really
doesn't want to leave Barcelona – and that he will get his own way.

The interview was with Rafa Benítez's friend, Spanish
journalist and Liverpool supporter Guillem Balague. Balague himself says that, "according
to sources at the Catalan club, the Cameroon forward is available for transfer
as part of a strategy that includes Ronaldinho staying – with the hope of
recuperating his best physical form after a long rest – and Thierry Henry

Henry has been linked all this summer with a move to
Barcelona. He was also spotted 200 times at Melwood but the idea he might move
to Barca has always seemed quite a credible one. He certainly refuses to deny
he'll be leaving, and has complained publicly about David Dein's departure. Now,
from what Eto'o has told Balague, Henry's arrival could be the reason he stays,
not the reason he goes. "I was chatting to him," said Eto'o, "while he was
boarding the plane that took him to the States to see the NBA final. He is a
great mate of mine and we will play all together. There is room for everybody."

If Rafael Benítez did get the funds, which seems unlikely
now, he would jump at the chance to sign Eto'o, a player he has had his eye on
for some time. Barcelona say he's not for sale, but is that because they want
to keep his fee high? Maybe Liverpool's new owners will have a change of heart
and give Rafa a budget he can use to make a decent bid for Eto'o, if not one
that matches the asking price. If he does, he'll be hoping Eto'o prefers
Liverpool, and is prepared to dig his heels in about where he goes. It looks
like Eto'o would be strong-willed enough to give that approach a go: "I am the
owner of my future and I have a very clear idea of what I want. The club cannot
force me to do anything, nobody can."

There are two ways of reading Eto'o's words: He wants to
stay at Barcelona, or he wants to stay at Barcelona if he's not allowed to go
the club of his choice. He fell out with Barca coach Frank Rijkaard, just
before the Catalan side faced Liverpool in the Champions League, saying the
Dutchman was a "bad person" – but now Joan Laporta, Barca's chairman, has said
Rijkaard is staying on as coach.

If Eto'o and Rijkaard are both staying, they must have made
up with each other. In fact this interview with Balague may actually have been
done before the announcement Rijkaard was staying, but even so Eto'o didn't
feel at that time that things would turn bad enough for him to leave: "I have a
very good relationship with the club, a very good one with the chairman, and I
don't think we will get to that point"

He's determined to stay, he says: "There are people
interested in me leaving, I know that. When I don't have anything more to give
Barcelona I will let the board and the coach know. But at the moment, someone
is building a huge lie, so big that everybody believes it – only I will decide
my future and I will continue here."

He was also quick to play down the rift between him and
Ronaldinho that was part of the public row from earlier in the year: "Ronnie
has things off the pitch I am not used to and vice versa, but we go out
partying together, we are two great players, we have nothing to envy of each
other. People look for the divisions, the crises. I really hope they mean well,
that they want to motivate us."

Eto'o feels the local press make problems for him and
Ronaldinho: "The Catalan press are divided between pro-Ronnie and pro-Eto'o.
But my battle, my fight, is Barcelona. I feel people prefer to twist my words,
not to hear what I am really saying."

It does seem that his words are along the lines of he'll do
whatever he wants to do – he'll stay if he wants to stay, and won't be forced
out to a club he doesn't want to join.

To read the full interview visit the
Times Online website


Continue reading Eto’o says he will decide his own future

Kewell launches Aussie anti-obesity challenge

Liverpool winger Harry Kewell has launched a national
campaign back home in Australia designed to fight obesity. Kewell was appointed
to the scheme, the "Around Australia in 40 Days Challenge", by the Australian
government. He's one of many 'Healthy Active Ambassadors' they have appointed.

The scheme encourages children to walk 5km a day for 40
days, and each child involved will be given a pedometer to measure their steps.
They've equated 10,000 steps to the 5km.

Speaking to The
Brisbane Times
, Kewell said: "I know it's a big thing over here and it is a
shame that we are so high up on the list because we are such a great sporting
country. That's why I have become part of it to let you know what can be
achieved by playing sports."

Up to 85,000 children, from Australia's year 7 through year
9 age group, are taking part. Schools can be entered into a draw for every team
that completes the challenge, with prizes of up to 10,000 Australian dollars on

The Aussie Health Minister, Tony Abbott, announced: "We
can't all be Harry Kewell, we can't all be Cathy Freeman – but we can all be
fit and active."

Kewell has just returned to fitness after an 11-month layoff
through injury and is expected to play in this summer's Asia Cup for the

Continue reading Kewell launches Aussie anti-obesity challenge

Chelsea to win Malouda battle, Eto’o staying put

According to reports in France, Chelsea are about to be
declared winners of the race to sign Florent Malouda from Lyon, with
Chelsea's Lassana Diarra going the other way.

Liverpool had shown interest in signing the player, and it
was believed he'd even had talks with the club about a contract – but that was
before the stories started to break that Rafa's transfer budget was much lower
than he'd been expecting. Malouda's fee jumped from below £10m to a
now-reported £17m.  Rafa was no doubt
interested in the player, but even with the backing of the owners would find
£17m a little steep for the 27-year-old.

If the deal does go through it will be Chelsea's first
signing of the summer that actually included a fee, their previous three
signings all being free transfers.

Meanwhile in Spain the Barcelona chairman Joan Laporta has said
that one-time Liverpool target Samuel Eto'o is not for sale. Liverpool had been
strongly linked with the striker ever since the new owners had come on board,
but with those owners now seeming to be holding back it seemed Liverpool's
interest had waned. Now Eto'o is said to be the main target of Liverpool's
victors in the Champions League final, AC Milan, along with teammate
Ronaldinho. They say Eto'o is their top target for this summer.

Laporta said at press conference: "The club wants Ronaldinho
and Eto'o to stay and the coach agrees." He also said the two players had told
him they did not want to leave Barca.


Continue reading Chelsea to win Malouda battle, Eto’o staying put

Hicks adds new exec to look after his sports interests

Liverpool co-owner Tom Hicks has promoted a member of his
Hicks Sports Group into a newly created role, which will include some involvement
with the running of the Reds. Hicks Sports Group is owned by Hicks Holdings.

Casey Shilts, 39, is to become chief operating office of the
group, which is the holding company that owns Texas Rangers, the Dallas Stars
and Hicks' half of Liverpool FC (through another holding company).

According to reports from the States, Shilts (no relation to
the oft-sung about Peter Shilton), will be overseeing operations of the three
sports sides (or franchises) on a day-to-day basis – including Liverpool FC. As
part of the web of companies owned by Hicks, she'll also be sitting on the
board of Center Operation Co which runs the American Airlines Center (used by
the Dallas Stars). She'll also be taking charge of running Hick's golf course
and hotel development in a place called Bariloche in Argentina.

Speaking about her new job, Shilts said: "The biggest
challenge will be the global breadth of all of Hicks Holdings and being able to
manage between what Tom has in Liverpool to what we're doing in Argentina as
well as the important teams we have here." As for working with the
executives of each team, including Rick Parry of course, she said her intention
is to "cross-fertilize those businesses so we can learn from each other."

In the background to this appointment is a rumour that Hicks
has fallen out with Gillett, his co-owner of Liverpool. Some rumours claim the
fall-out is over money, others say it is over Hicks' perception that his half
of the partnership is being pushed to one side, because Foster Gillett, and not
one of Hicks' sons, will be getting the dominant role in the Anfield boardroom this
autumn. It's this alleged row that is said to be holding back funds for Rafa Benitez. Perhaps this new appointment will help smooth things over, although of course the opposite could yet happen.

Hicks says that Shilts was an obvious choice for the role of
coordinating both the Hicks' sports interests and  various building projects (including of course
the new Anfield stadium), thanks to her experience on the £300m Glorypark
development, adjacent to the Texas Rangers' stadium in Arlington. Hicks said: "She
brought it all together. We made tremendous progress with the city and in the
project, and she led all of our efforts doing that." The Glorypark building
work is set to begin this year and will open in two years, with retail, office
and entertainment properties.

A similar project is coming soon for Shilts. Planned to be next
to the Dallas Stars' home is an office, residential and hotel project to be
called Champions Park. This is still at the design stage and it seems Shilts is
tasked with getting city leaders on side.

Is Hicks getting bored with his sports teams? Hicks is
reported to have said Shilts' appointment allows him to focus more of his time
on his private-equity dealings. He has just bought 40% of SafeMed, a healthcare
software company and he also announced plans to try and raise £200m dollars to
buy more companies.

Shilts herself has been a Hicks employee since 2000 after
being poached from the Coca-Cola Company.

According to the US newspaper the Star-Telegram, she's also a member of the board of directors of Big Brothers Big Sisters of North Texas. This volunteer organisation describes itself as one "that provides children support, guidance, friendship and fun by matching them to adult role models".

Continue reading Hicks adds new exec to look after his sports interests

Kewell desperate to get back playing

Liverpool winger Harry Kewell looks set to be played as a
central striker this summer and he's more than happy to do so should he be
asked. Australia are playing in the Asia Cup next month and are considering
putting Kewell up front alongside Mark Viduka. Kewell says: "It's one of my
favourite positions, I won't deny that. I'm quite sure a lot of players love
that position, because it's a main position. The manager has said that's
obviously a formation that we can play, but if I am to play up front or behind
or left side that's fantastic, I mean I just want to be playing."

Harry's season only started three games from the end after
he was injured against Croatia almost a year ago during the last World Cup. He's
undergone a lot of surgery and worked hard to get back into the line-up for those
last few games, which included a substitute appearance in the Champions League final.
Now he's ready to restart his career: "Up to six months I've been working, and
I've been training with the team up to four months doing full training sessions.
I'm one hundred per cent fit now. I've taken 11 months off to recoup with all
my injuries, but I'm fully fit now and I'm raring to go."

He was asked if he was excited to be playing for his country
again: "I can't wait. It's been a long time since the last game which was
against Croatia. I'm really looking forward to meeting up with the boys and
getting this tournament off to a good start."

Kewell's Anfield future has still not been decided. He's got
one year left on his contract and so is able to leave on a Bosman in 12 months'
time. Rafa Benítez is said to be willing to listen to offers for the player,
but does rate him and so would not accept low bids for the former Leeds star.
Rafa likes players with versatility, and Kewell's performances for his country
could have a major bearing on where his future does lie.

Continue reading Kewell desperate to get back playing

Reds Yossi offer not “cheeky” says Parry

There was shock, or maybe not, for Liverpool fans yesterday
with the confirmation from Rick Parry that Liverpool had indeed had their sights
set on West Ham's midfielder Yossi Benayoun. Benayoun has been offered a new
five-year deal at Upton Park, even agreeing verbally to contents of the deal
just three weeks ago, but is now stalling.

The morning's Daily Mirror had claimed that West Ham's
chairman Eggart Magnusson had considered an offer from Liverpool for the player
to be "insulting". They said Liverpool had made a "cheeky" attempt
to get the player by paying £1m now and a further £1m in 12 months' time, and
said the offer had been "rejected out of hand" by West Ham. The
Mirror misleadingly described that bid as a "£1m bid", failing to add
the two instalments together.

Later in the day Rick Parry was asked about it and rather
than telling a lie he admitted that a bid had been made – but not at that
price: "I can confirm we have made an approach for Yossi Benayoun,"
he said, "but the figures quoted are completely wrong. Other than that we
don't want to say any more."

Liverpool's interest will come as a shock to fans who still
believed that the club were going to be making multiple big-name signings this
summer. But for those who had read reports of how the new owners were refusing
to hand any of their own money over for transfers this summer there was no
surprise at all, more an acceptance that this is the kind of singing we can
look forward to this summer, certainly without money from sales having come in

Continue reading Reds Yossi offer not “cheeky” says Parry

Reds’ league fixtures announced

The league fixtures for the Premiership for 2007-2008 have been officially released this morning and Liverpool get underway with a visit to Aston Villa on August 11th. The season ends exactly nine months later on May 11th, again away, against Tottenham.

As last season, Liverpool's season will get straight into a fixture backlog with the planned first home game of the season against West Ham set to be postponed to allow Liverpool to play their Champions League qualifying games. This means Liverpool's first home game will be against Chelsea, on August 18th. The corresponding fixture is on February 9th.

Other fixtures to look for are of course the two derby games, and this season they will on October 20th for the Goodison derby and 29th March for the home derby. The other "derby" is the North West one, against Manchester United, and we play them at Anfield on December 15th and at Old Trafford on March 22nd. Of course those two games, like many others, will be moved to allow for TV coverage.

Christmas fixtures see Liverpool fans having to travel the relatively short distance to Derby on Boxing Day, and just down the road to Manchester City on December 29th. New Year's Day sees Wigan travel the short distance to Anfield.

Our fixtures are below, you can also see the full list for all clubs at, where any changes for TV coverage or otherwise will be announced.

Liverpool league fixtures 2007-08

The Premier League do not agree to having their fixtures published by small websites, instead insisting that they are in fact only to be shown by the larger organisations, like the BBC and Sky, for example.

Although I am sure the Premier League stand to gain more from our publishing the fixtures than we will, we'll adhere to their request and remove the fixtures from the site anyway. It seems such an odd rule to have, can you imagine a rock artist banning all mention of his tour dates, just in case they sold some tickets? They even got a free "plug" above to their own site.

I also believe I read some time last year that football fixtures are not actually legally able to be restricted in this way. If anybody reading this has information on this please let me know.

Here's what the Premier League's legal people have to say on the issue:

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Continue reading Reds’ league fixtures announced

Burley would like Guthrie back

Southampton boss George Burley is considering an approach to Liverpool to take Danny Guthrie back to St Mary's on a permanent basis or, failing that, on loan again.

Twenty-year-old Danny played ten times for the Saints as Liverpool sent him out for some experience. He impressed his boss at Southampton, mainly used in the centre of midfield, and given Liverpool's riches in that department Burley feels Guthrie could be allowed to leave Anfield, or at the very least be released on loan again.

Burley said: "It's something we'll be looking at in the summer. Danny did very well. I like Danny and it's something we'll consider during the summer – naturally finance will come into play."

Finance will come into play from Liverpool's perspective too of course. With Rafa Benitez looking to raise funds for his summer purchases from player sales, the Reds boss will certainly listen to offers for more players than he might have done had the owners backed him the way they'd implied they would.

Burley said of Guthrie: "Danny did well on loan so we'll review what squad we've got for next season. He's only 20 and has got potential. He came in and did well for us and we'll look at it in the summer. At the moment he's not in the Liverpool first team squad so there might be an opportunity there".

Continue reading Burley would like Guthrie back

What happened to Snoogy Doogy?

It's just two-and-a-half weeks since Liverpool's co-owner George
Gillett was talking about buying "Snoogy Doogy" for Rafa Benítez, all Rafa had
to do was let him and his fellow owner Tom Hicks know.  It was in the aftermath of the defeat in
Athens and Rafa's complaints the day after that defeat that there was a lack of
urgency from the club's money men in getting him the players he needed. Worries
of fans were allayed when Gillett said: "If Rafa said he wanted to buy ‘Snoogy
Doogy', we would back him."

Whereas we all thought that meant Rafa could have pretty much
anyone he wanted – within reason – it now seems that Gillett was actually only
giving Rafa the green light to buy a player called Snoogy Doogy. Gillett must
have done his homework – there are no players on the market called "Snoogy
Doogy". His money is safe.

Around the same came a leak from Newcastle that Michael Owen
was available for just £9m thanks to his transfer release clause. Liverpool
fans had a quick debate, a familiar one over whether Owen should be forgiven or
not, but soon went back to ideas of signing the likes of Samuel Eto'o from Barcelona
or Carlos Tevez from West Ham or whoever it is that actually owns him. The fans
felt it was down to Rafa who he went for, thinking of Owen as a possible
bargain – but only after one of the big signings had been brought in.

Gillett seemed to acknowledge this, saying: "Owen is a great
player but it is down to Rafa's recommendation, not us. Rafa's feeling is we
need more depth because of the rigours of the schedule to be competitive."

He accepted that Rafa had to be the man making the decision
on who had to be brought in, how much had to be spent: "In every sport I
participate in, there is a difference between a league season and the
play-offs. That's where the genius of the manager is so essential and that's
where Tom and I have to defer to his background and genius."

Today's reports of Rafa being given confirmation that the
owners aren't willing to invest any more of their own funds for players means
that Owen now becomes a serious target for Rafa, who is looking to recoup a
similar fee for Craig Bellamy.

Back in February, after being unveiled as the Gillett's
fellow co-owner, Tom Hicks seemed to understand how the transfer system worked
in football, and the way that clubs wanting to progress each season cannot
afford to stand still. He said at the time: "Talking to Rafa this morning, he
was talking about you need to combine keeping your core players, the need to
bring in some top star players and also the need to develop your own young
players." The keeping of the core players is almost done, with Carra, Gerrard,
Xabi and Pepe all signed up, and Momo and Finnan said to be close. Developing
young players seems to have been addressed to, with a number of promising
youngsters being brought in. Of course this interview was held when defeat to
Arsenal's young sides in both domestic cups was still a fairly fresh memory. It
was no surprise to hear Hicks put some emphasis on that aspect: "Young players
are the lifeblood of any team and we talked a lot about how we could improve
the whole development process."

But the other point he made, "bring in some top star
players," seems to have been forgotten – not by fans or by Rafa, but by the
co-owners. At the time he didn't commit to a particular figure, but fans put
this to the back of their minds – it made sense not to reveal a budget in
public: "We're not going to put a budget on what we are going to do. We will
let Rafa and Rick bring us their plans, then we'll support those plans." So, on
the face of it, the new owners were ready to listen to what Rafa asked for. And
let's face it, they knew we already had a transfer budget each year without their
investment, so what they were saying, without naming a figure, was they were
definitely adding more money to that budget. They can argue now about the kind
of figure they had in mind, but they can't deny the never said they'd add to
the budget. Hicks also said: "If we have the chance to get a great player,
we'll get great players, but that's Rick's job, that's Rafa's job to help bring
us those requests."

Other rumours coming out of the club add an even bigger
negative spin to the situation, and have now seemingly been picked up on by the national press. These are rumours of a major fall-out between the two owners, and although some more credible sources have hinted at this story, it seems the rumour has similar sources to the Thierry Henry rumours from last week. There's no doubt that the lack of work permits for the two chairmen's sons isn't
helping the situation. Hicks and Gillett seemed to get on so well and despite
their wishes to bring their own children onto the board, seemed happy to let
Rick Parry continue to run the show: "We are going to be co-chairmen. We are
equal partners in every sense of the word and we will each have one of our sons
on the board as well. That's the kind of relationship you have to have to be
successful. George and I feel we now have that knowledge and confidence to be
successful. Both of our styles is to be successful, but in the sports industry
you depend on the people who run that business. In this case, Rick is running
the business and we'll be his board members."

The honeymoon period is now over, but at this stage this
story is nothing more than a rumour coming from various directions, but all the
directions have no need to tell lies about what they've heard. Chris Bascombe
from the Echo has maintained for some time that Rafa is not getting the
permission to buy big, and the lack of any signs of real activity, actual bids,
adds extra weight to the impression that the owners have changed their minds
about supporting the boss.

Gillett did say in an interview earlier today with the Montreal Gazette that the stories of tension between the new owners and the manager were untrue: "I read that Rafa is throwing hand grenades at us and making demands, that there's a tension or disagreement between him and the Gillett and Hicks families. Nothing could be farther from the truth."

The fact the budget rumour is still a rumour gives them time to change their
minds back again, to revert to their promises of supporting Rafa in his plans,
but they need to act quickly before Rafa's first-choice targets, the names on
those plans he wrote back in February, are snapped up by other clubs. Gillett's Snoogy Doogy wasn't one of the names, but Gillett and Hicks promised we could have whoever Rafa asked for.

Continue reading What happened to Snoogy Doogy?

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