Rafa Benítez was pleased to see his Liverpool side win their third consecutive pre-season game, scoring three goals for the third time in row too. He was less pleased with the two goals conceded, but on the whole felt the match was good for the club and for the fans: “I was pleased to see us score three goals and it was nice for Torres, Benayoun and Babel to play their first games for us. They have only just started training with us but they looked sharp.”
Before the game, against Werder Bremen in Grenchen in Switzerland, Rafa had said he may not play that particular trio but must have been pleased that he did, all three doing themselves no harm on their debuts: “It was good for the supporters to see us attacking and playing some good football. It was not so good for me as manager to see us conceding goals but there were many positives for me to take from the game. We needed to work hard and step up our fitness levels and that’s why we changed a lot of players during the game.”
It was free-signing Andriy Voronin who got two of Liverpool’s goals, the other coming from John Arne Riise, a player who might find his place under threat this season should Rafa sign his target Gabriel Heinze. That transfer moved closer to reality yesterday when it was reported that the Argentine defender had permission in the form of a letter from United that he could move should the buying club meet the required fee of £6m. The letter is not said to have any restrictions on where the player could move to, although in hindsight United will wish they had Liverpool on a list of excluded clubs. Earlier reports that the player could leave under the new FIFA rules allowing players to buy out their contracts under certain conditions seem to have been incorrect – Heinze would not be eligible to move to Anfield under those terms.
The United manager Alex Ferguson admitted that Heinze’s agent had stated the player wants to leave Old Trafford: “Gaby’s agent has advised us that he wants to move on. I am not too sure about that and we do not have a concrete offer but there is momentum regarding his next move.” Ferguson will do all he can to persuade Heinze to join any club other than Liverpool.
Rafa’s summer dealings are almost over, but have seen numerous attacking players brought in, and others including Craig Bellamy leaving. Peter Crouch was asked if he was worried about his future in light of this, but as ever the club’s top scorer was cool calm and collected about it all: “When you see other forwards leaving, I wouldn’t say it’s a case of ‘Yeah, one’s leaving, that’s good for me’, because you know they’re going to be replaced. I think every season is a defining season for me because people are always looking to see how I will do. I thought I did well at the end of my first year, and it was then a case of can he prove it over the course of a whole season?”
He said last season was similar to this in terms of there being a threat to his chances of playing a part in many games: “At the start of last year we brought in Kuyt and Bellamy and you ask yourself ‘How are you going to feature?’ and it’s the same again. I seem to have done it last year and, hopefully, I’ll be the same again with Torres and Voronin coming in.”
Another attacking player to leave is Mark Gonzalez. The deal with Real Betis had been agreed in principle prior to the Copa America tournament but wasn’t actually finalised. Now Betis have a new coach, Hector Cooper, who is happy for Gonzalez to be part of his squad and the deal should be fully completed today.
Liverpool yesterday announced the appointment of a new commercial director. It’s a new role at the club, one which many critics have been calling for now for some time. The new director is a lifelong Liverpool supporter so should at least understand where Liverpool’s tradition may make some commercial opportunities less suitable than they may be for other clubs.
Ian Ayre, 44, is due to start on August 16th, reporting directly to chief executive Rick Parry, who says he welcomes the appointment made by the club’s new owners: “I’m delighted Ian has agreed to join us and I look forward to him arriving in Liverpool. There couldn’t be a better time to be coming to the club as we’re looking at a bright future both on and off the pitch. Ian has a great track record and also understands the values which make this club so special.” The appointment will give Parry more time to concentrate on his many other duties as chief executive.
Ayre will be looking for sponsors to tie in with the move to the new stadium, planned for 2010, and will also be looking at how Liverpool’s name can be used to earn more money in overseas markets. The new co-owners released a joint statement, saying: “We would like to welcome Ian to Liverpool Football Club. He has vast experience in an array of relevant fields for the club. In particular, his marketing experience will be a great advantage as we look to grow the Liverpool brand overseas and make the club more competitive on this front. He is a strong addition to the team.”
Ayre himself seems to be itching to get started: “Being Liverpool born and bred, this is a dream job for me. I feel that everything I’ve done so far – in sports marketing, media and technology – has been leading to this role. I’ve been away from Liverpool for many years, and I couldn’t be returning at a better time.”