European Champions Liverpool are looking forward to their trip to Japan next month for the Toyota Cup, the World Cup of club football. It’s all part of an extended season for Liverpool, one which started on July 13th and will finish a year later for any players that make it to the World Cup final with their countries.
Liverpool had to postpone one league fixture earlier in the season for their Super Cup success in Monaco, and the trip to Japan means they’ve had to postpone another. The tournament itself will see Liverpool playing two games then arrive home just in time for the infamous "Christmas period" when a lot of domestic fixtures are crammed in. Some think this could be a problem for Liverpool, but not the club captain, Steven Gerrard. Gerrard is proud to be in a position to be able to compete for the honour, and thinks it will be good for the Reds to be there: "People have been speaking about fatigue and us playing a lot of games but if we are winning those games it really helps. There are two ways of looking at this competition. You can see it as a negative and say it gets in the way of the season and comes at a difficult time or you can look forward to it and see it as a positive, hopefully win it and use it as a confidence boost for the rest of the season."
Rafa Benitez didn’t have as much success in the transfer window as he’d have liked, but he did add more names to his squad meaning that he’ll have a chance to pick different teams throughout the season and so use his resources sparingly. Gerrard says: "I have played a lot of games already this season but the manager has said certain individuals will be rested to make sure everyone plays the same number of games." Gerrard is one of the Liverpool players from a country qualified for the World Cup, and he doesn’t see his long season preventing him from being fully involved in Germany next summer: "I am sure I will get the rest at the right times and that at the World Cup I will be fresh. I am already starting to look forward to it."
As Gerrard looks forward to Japan with an eye like most fans on the hope of more silverware, in the boardroom there are different reasons to welcome the chance to compete in the tournament. The Reds’ Chief Executive, Rick Parry, is seeing it as a further opportunity to push for the investment in the club that is so obviously needed. Many have complained that this investment seems to be taking a long time to materialise, but Parry says that’s for good reason: "Everyone knows we have been looking to secure investment for a long time now and not just a quick fix but for the long term. Clearly the more successful we are on the pitch the more we are going to be off the pitch. It is self-fulfilling and to be going to Japan as champions of Europe must help."
Liverpool’s plan to visit Japan in pre-season was abandoned after UEFA made their decision to force Liverpool to play the Champions League qualifiers from the very beginning. Rule changes now ensure that there’ll be no repeat of the situation – Everton would be straight into the UEFA Cup under the new rules – but it still prevented Liverpool from an early visit to the region to capitalise on the support they have out there. At least they now get another chance, this time with a lot more likely to be watching on Television: "This will be a great platform. The more success we achieve on the field then the more success we’ll enjoy off it. The stadiums should be full and there will be a worldwide TV audience so it all helps. It should help our plans for the stadium, for improving the team and getting back to winning trophies on a regular basis again. We’ll be there as European Champions, playing in front of full houses and to a wide TV audience. Our stated goal has always been the same and will remain the same – to win trophies regularly and to be successful."
Liverpool play either Deportivo Saprissa of Costa Rica or Sydney FC, champions of Australia, in the semi-finals on December 12th. The other semi final sees South American champions Sao Paulo player either Al Ahly of Egypt or All Ittihad of Saudi Arabia. On finals day three days later to the two losers of the semi-finals will play a 3rd/4th place play-off before the two semi-final winners play for the trophy itself.
Meanwhile manager Rafa Benitez says that he’s taking over the best team he can to the tournament: "People have asked whether we will go there tired or with our best team. The answer is for sure we will go with the best team and as fit as possible. We will try our best to win it, for a manager it is a challenge to win every game and we are delighted we have this possibility."
Prior to the excitement and prestige of that tournament though is the reality of the league. Liverpool will be hoping to carry on from where they left off prior to the international break with the visit of Portsmouth to Anfield at the weekend.