This time last year it seemed that the Liverpool striking options for the 2005-06 season would be Cissé, Morientes, Crouch and Owen.
Owen never arrived, despite some hard work to try and bring him home. In the end the returning striker for Liverpool was Robbie Fowler, in the January transfer window. Fernando Morientes and Djibril Cissé have both moved back to their home countries. Craig Bellamy has arrived this summer from Blackburn.
The Liverpool striking options for the 2006-07 season are likely to be Fowler, Crouch and Bellamy, with Neil Mellor still hopeful of getting his way back into Rafa’s plans after an awful run of injuries. It’s looking less and less likely that Dirk Kuyt will be signing for the club.
All strikers need service, and new boy Craig Bellamy is excited at the thought of what he hopes will be the best service he’s had in his career: “No disrespect to the players I’ve played with before because they’ve all helped me in my career, but this is just another level – Gerrard is one of the best midfielders in the world and as for Xabi Alonso, I’ve still to see a better passer. He’s an incredible player; he seems to have time on the ball and is never harassed.”
Another of last summer’s new signing also gets praise from Bellamy: “Momo Sissoko was a player who I thought was awesome when I played against him last year. They can do a hell of a lot for me but it’s about what I do as well. I’ve got to use my pace and intelligence to help them and they can be a massive help for me.”
Craig was also full of praise for the boss, Rafa Benítez: “As a fan from the outside I liked what he has done, and being involved I can see why he has done so well. I knew what to expect because I spoke to one or two people but he’s surpassed all that. I wouldn’t want to give too much away but it’s no coincidence why he’s been successful just from what I’ve seen in the first week and a half. It’s a really good time to be involved with Liverpool.”
Meanwhile, Robbie Fowler says he’s prepared to fight for his place in the starting line-up, and also hints that he might be getting a little tired of people talking about his age! He says: “I’m not as old as some people seem to think I am and, hopefully, I’ve got a few more years left in me playing at the top level. I want to be at Liverpool for as long as I can and if that means performing as well as I did towards the end of last season to get a new contract then so be it. I’m happy being back at Liverpool and if the manager plays me, he plays me. If he doesn’t play me, I’ll support whoever plays. But obviously it goes without saying I want to play.”
The retirement age in football these days certainly seems to be on the rise, and Fowler sees no reason why he can’t be one of those that goes on playing well into their thirties: “I’ve kept myself in good shape. I’m not going to sit here and say I’m the ultimate professional and that I’ve been working 24/7 in the summer. But I’ve done a bit and pre-season is about getting fit as well. I’m still continuing to do that so hopefully by the start of the season I’ll be firing.”
Fowler says there’s no reason why Liverpool can’t get league title number nineteen this time round, echoing an air of cautious optimism coming from most Reds players interviewed in this close season: “Obviously Chelsea have got some fantastic players and nobody is kidding anyone that it’s going to be a hard job to win the league, but we’ve not got a bad squad ourselves and we’ll wait and see what happens. If we put a run together like we did at the end of last season then anything can happen.”
It’s not cut and dry though, Liverpool’s players have never been the type you’d call arrogant – you talk about winning things after you’ve won them, not before: “I’m not going to say we’re confident of doing this and that. We’ll go about our business quietly but confidently.”
Meanwhile, the chances of Dirk Kuyt appearing in a Liverpool shirt next season look to be diminishing. It’s no secret that Rafael Benítez has Dirk Kuyt on his list of potential transfer targets, but there’s no way he’s going to pay the high asking price Feyenoord want for him. According to reports the Dutch side have asked for around £13m for the forward. Liverpool seem to have him value at between £8m and £10m depending on which reports you read – either way it’s some gap.
Kuyt’s agent, Rob Jansen, says that Liverpool are the only club Kuyt is interested in signing for – he certainly isn’t speaking to any other clubs in this country: “Dirk will not be signing for Liverpool any time soon – he is also not negotiating with any other English club for that matter,” Jansen told AD Sportwereld.
Newcastle’s valuation is also below that of Feyenoord, meaning the Dutch International looks set to stay in his home-land according to Jansen: “Both clubs do not want to pay what Feyenoord wants. If foreign clubs don’t have the money to but Kuyt then he will stay with Feyenoord, it’s that simple.”
Liverpool could also call on Harry Kewell, Luis Garcia and Mark Gonzalez to play a role up-front this season if necessary, so Rafa certainly has “possibilities”.