Rafa happy with squad – but still wants more

Liverpool head for their pre-season training camp in Switzerland tomorrow and manager Rafael Benítez says that it’s a much stronger squad he taking over there this year compared to last. Not only that, but he’s still trying to strengthen it further.

On Saturday Liverpool played their second pre-season fixture, winning 1-0 against Crewe thanks to a well taken goal from 17-year-old Craig Lindfield. Lindfield was the top scorer for the Reds youth side on the way to their FA Youth Cup triumph, and he was set up for the goal with a great back heel by the master of goalscoring for Liverpool, a former academy product himself, Robbie Fowler.

Rafa doesn’t want Lindfield to be suddenly turned into a player with huge expectations resting on his shoulders after this goal, but he was really pleased at the way the pair teamed up in the first half: “The positive things for me were the movement of Lindfield and Fowler. They had a very, very good understanding. Fowler is very clever and it’s really important for him to be fit in pre-season because that will be key for the rest of the season.”

Fowler was signed in January after a spell of injury troubles and his
fitness wasn’t at the level Rafael Benítez expects of his players. Rafa
knew this, and set him off on some intensive work. Now Robbie starts
pre-season just as fit, if not fitter, than his other team-mates. What
everyone likes about Robbie is the stuff that comes naturally though,
his instinct for both scoring and setting up goals. Rafa said: “He is
training really, really hard and you always say the same about his
movement, his vision, his quality on the ball – and he can score goals.”

The last thing Lindfield needs now is to be labelled the next Robbie
Fowler or the next Michael Owen, much the same as the other highly
promising youngsters at the club don’t need the pressure of being
compared to the established names in their position. Rafa said of
Lindfield: “You can’t build a star in 45 minutes, but he has the
potential to be very good. He needs to be stronger but I am really
pleased with him. I’m happy with our young players but they do need
more experience.”

Rafa was pleased with his new arrivals too, picking out Fabio Aurelio
and Gabriel Paletta: “Aurelio was a positive for me, the way he was on
the ball and his passing.” Some communication problems for Paletta mean
he might take a little longer to settle in than the others, but he’s
not got any trouble with his tackling: “The language is still a problem
for Gabriel, and he is having English lessons. But I think it’s fair to
say there is no problem with his tackling.”

The team spirit at the club has been a vital part in Liverpool’s
success so far under Rafael Benítez, and Rafa says it’s still there
this season, even with the new faces: “We have seen a lot of our new
players now and the atmosphere in the squad is very good. We have the
England players and Spaniards to come back so already the squad is
stronger than last year. I hope to have some more players, but we are

Rafa’s hint at yet more new players on their way was also accompanied
by a firm denial that Liverpool were about to sell Xabi Alonso, as
claimed by the Spanish press: “I read what is written in the Spanish
press but I can categorically state that nothing is happening with
Xabi. We do not want to sell him.” And unless the player himself
decided he wanted to leave, Real Madrid could not afford to pay enough
money to persuade Rafa to part with such an important player.

As for those coming in, right-wingers and strikers still seem to be the
order of the day, and there’s clearly activity going on behind the
scenes. Rafa won’t reveal which ones exactly though of course: “We are
still looking for new players, everybody knows what we are looking for
now better than me! I am happy with the young players and they need
more experience before being thrown in, that’s why we will continue to
work in the transfer market.”
Dirk Kuyt’s name continues to be mentioned, but Liverpool don’t rate
him as highly as Feyenoord. The Dutch side are reported to be asking
for £10million, with Liverpool not wishing to go any higher than
£8million. If anything is going to happen with Kuyt then it seems
likely to be this week, with his club reportedly setting a final
deadline of today to accept bids. Kuyt wants to leave according to his
agent, but only for the right club (Liverpool). Feyenoord have to
decide if they want to keep him under those circumstances, but it’s
their right to try and get as high a fee as possible for him.  Dutch
international right-back Jan Kromkamp could be used as part of the
deal, he’s desperately hoping to get a move back to Holland to end
long-term feelings of home-sickness.

Liverpool’s success or otherwise in their bid to sign Daniel Alves is
seen as a key to whether Jermaine Pennant will be signed by the Reds,
but quotes from Steve Bruce over the weekend seem to hint that
Liverpool are interested in signing both players. According to Bruce, a
Liverpool bid for Pennant was turned down three weeks ago. Sources
close to goings on at Anfield had also hinted at a bid from the Reds in
the past few weeks, and this was at a time when they were still talking
to Sevilla about Alves.

Bruce said of Pennant: “There was a bid of three point five million
which was turned down two or three weeks ago. We paid near enough three
million for him and we owe Arsenal 25 per cent of any sell-on so we’re
certainly not going to be selling him for three point five million,
that’s for sure. We all know every footballer has got his price, but,
at the moment, Liverpool’s bid has not been accepted.”

Bruce now feels that Liverpool will lose interest in the player: “Until
they meet our valuation, he’s not going anywhere and I’m sure they’ll
move on.” Unfortunately for Bruce, his decision to make the news of
Liverpool’s interest public means Pennant and his agent are in a
position to use the media to force Birmingham’s hand a little more.

Liverpool will be unveiling their new Adidas home kit today and so
press and photographers will be around in numbers – so more hints could
be dropped about all the transfer dealings.