Liverpool’s third pre-season fixture is to take place in tiny Liechtenstein and should see the first appearances of Liverpool’s summer preparations for some of the returning World Cup stars.
Rafa’s not expecting to make use of the English players yet though, saying he’ll stick mainly with those players already seen in pre-season, along with short run-outs for the Spaniards who ended their World Cup campaigns slightly earlier. He’s enjoying seeing all of his players in training together at the Swiss training camp too. He says they seem eager to get going again: “We will see with all the squad together in Switzerland how they work. When you’ve been out, sometimes you switch off but watching the players this week, they look like they want to start again. They have seen the new boys and will be really, really excited for next season.”
Unlike last season with the enforced early start to the season, Rafa doesn’t need to rush his players into anything yet: “They will need some time and the idea is to use the majority of players we have used in the first two games this weekend. Maybe we’ll play the Spanish players because they arrived a little bit earlier, but the English players will play at the end of the training camp.”
It’s a chance for everyone to get to know each other too says Rafa, especially him and his coaches: “Always in pre-season you need to think about how the players work and know their games. They are working really, really hard but it is really difficult because we haven’t had the players who played in the World Cup, they are just arriving now.”
So tomorrow should see Xabi Alonso, Luis Garcia and first choice goalkeeper Pepe Reina getting a run-out, in that 4.30pm fixture against German side FC Kaiserslautern. Steven Gerrard, Jamie Carragher, Peter Crouch and another goalkeeper, Scott Carson are going to have to wait until next week.
Rafa also hopes to give new boy Jermaine Pennant an appearance in the game, although his lack of time getting to know his team-mates could see him held back for now.
Pennant’s former chairman, Birmingham’s David Gold, has been receiving a lot of stick for letting both Pennant and former Liverpool striker Emile Heskey be sold during the close season. He’s tried to defend himself to the press today, saying the offers were too good to refuse. Gold told PA Sport: “People have to be realistic. How did they expect us to keep hold of Jermaine Pennant. Did they want us to chain him to the fence? It can’t be done. Be realistic. Once Liverpool came up with the package they did, and it was the chance for Jermaine to join one of the greatest clubs in the world, you can’t say no.”
He also revealed how there were a lot of different attempts by Liverpool to get Pennant at a lower fee than the one that was finally accepted: “We said no to £3.5million, we said no to £5million, we were still fighting at £6million. But then you are talking about holding the kid back. He has the chance to double his wages, to play European football. People can huff and puff as much as they like about Jermaine leaving but if they were in our position, they would have had no alternative but to do the deal.”
Now Gold says the money from the new Liverpool signing and the sale of the old Liverpool player will be used to help get Birmingham back into the top flight: “We’ve got £13million for Emile Heskey and Jermaine Pennant. You could make a case for keeping them if you were talking about £6million. You can’t make a case to keep them when it is £13million. Money will be made available to invest into new blood because the plan was never to sell Emile or Jermaine.”