Community Shield day at Cardiff today – and it still doesn’t sound right. It was always, “Charity Shield day at Wembley” when I was growing up. They used to share the shield too if it was all square after 90 minutes, no penalty shoot-outs. And it was always the curtain-raiser to the season, not the second game of the season as it is for Liverpool. Whether they take it as seriously remains to be seen, but despite Robbie Fowler being fit enough to play today, Rafa is set to leave him out to be on the safe side. Whether he’d leave his number nine out for a league clash against Chelsea in that condition is another matter, but it seems unlikely.
One thing that may allow Rafa the luxury of leaving out Robbie Fowler for big clashes over the course of this season is the signing of long-time target Dirk Kuyt. Various ways of trying to persuade Feyenoord to part with their prized asset have all failed so far, but a final push this week is hoped to finally unlock the door and bring him into Rafa’s plans for the season.
Jan Kromkamp and Jerzy Dudek were reportedly offered earlier in the summer as part of a part exchange deal. Feyenoord’s recent purchase of Dutch number two Henk Timmer from AZ Alkmaar though shows that Dudek wasn’t exactly on their wanted list. As for Kromkamp, well despite the player desperately wanting a move back home to Holland, Liverpool have yet to find a replacement for him and so still value him quite highly. They were interested in replacing him with Hatem Trabelsi, the Tunisian international who was available on a Bosman, but after speaking to him at Melwood the club decided against a move for him. He’s since moved to Manchester City.
So it’s cash or nothing now, and Liverpool still don’t seem to have quite got enough cash to meet Feyenoord’s valuation. Feyenoord want £10m, Liverpool offered £6m plus the players above last time. The sale of Djimi Traore gives them £8m to offer, but it’s still short. There is a feeling now though that the two clubs are very close on agreeing a deal, and that the deal should be finished by the end of the week. Much the same was said about Alves thought quite recently, so maybe it’s best not to assume anything just yet.
Today at Cardiff Chelsea will be able to show off their own new striker Andriy Shevchenko, who signed for an “undisclosed fee” from AC Milan in the summer. Estimates vary as to the fee, which range from £30m to £56m. The lower of the two is the most likely to be the correct one, but the fact that people are comfortable to estimate fees that differ so greatly – a difference of £26m – is a huge sign of just how much easier it is for Mourinho to buy whoever he wants to fix his staff shortages.
Before people start to bemoan Liverpool’s inability to find new investment on the terms that the current board are happy with, remember that one of the main improvements Rafa sees between working in England to working in Spain is that he chooses his own targets. He may not get to buy his own targets, there may not be enough money, but he does choose. There are strong rumours coming out of Chelsea that Jose Mourinho had no choice with the arrivals of both Shevchenko and Michael Ballack. I’d prefer Rafa having to fight to buy two new strikers for £15m in total rather than having one striker costing £30m or more forced upon him, and I’m sure many others Reds would too.
The frustration comes from the fact that when Gerard Houllier was in charge, he was given £14m to spend on one striker, and was also allowed to commit Liverpool to the deal a year ahead of it actually coming into force. What Rafa would have done with an extra £14m we’ll never really know, but judging him on the money he has had available it’s safe to say he’d have used it pretty wisely. That’s not to say Benítez wouldn’t have made mistakes – for example Fernando Morientes wasn’t the biggest of successes, try as he might.
Craig Bellamy scored on his debut in the midweek clash with Haifa, and promises to be good signing at this stage, but Liverpool fans are still looking for the big-name striker that will start bringing in the goals that make them Champions again, and continue to make them champions for years to come.
Back in 1977, I remember as child looking forward to the then Charity Shield at Wembley. Liverpool, the league winners and European Cup holders were playing the team that had beaten them in the FA Cup in May, Manchester United. The biggest hero for that younger version of me in 1977 was Kevin Keegan, but he’d gone to Hamburg in the summer for what was then a massive half-a-million pounds. In his place, and in his shirt number, we bought a player I’d never heard of, whose name I couldn’t spell properly. He cost us a little less, at £440,000, than what we’d received for Keegan, but I wasn’t sure of him. I was disappointed my hero had gone. Hard to believe now looking back. Kenny Dalglish (two ‘L’s in it) became a legend, and mine and many other’s all-time favourite. We actually missed out on the league that season, but we did win the European Cup for our second time, at Wembley, and a certain Mr Dalglish got the winner.
Every time we’ve been involved in the Charity Shield since then I’ve been hoping we’d got the next Dalglish, but alas it doesn’t seem to have been the case. The last time we played there we thought we had him. After all the hype, all the hope was that this player (who’d cost us an amount of money I’d rather not repeat today) would be the person to bring us some titles. It turned out that El-Hadji Diouf wasn’t actually anything near the player we’d been promised – and as a person he was nothing like the type of person we have grown used to wearing our shirt.
So if Kuyt does turn out to be the difference to our team for the next few seasons, we’ll not see his Liverpool career start in this game today. We might just find though that Mark Gonzalez gets a full run-out and shows us he’s going to be worthy of compare to the like of John Barnes and Steve Heighway. And if he is, well Dirk Kuyt will be just one of many names to help us with our move back to where we belong – at the top of the league.