Lee set to join as Rafa continues transfer work

Former Liverpool midfielder Sammy Lee is looking more likely to be offered the job of assistant to Reds manager Rafael Benítez.

Lee’s departure from Anfield last time round was when he took up an offer to work full-time for the England national set-up under Sven-Goran Eriksson at the same time as Rafa arrived as the replacement for Gerard Houllier. He’d been first-team coach for Liverpool up until then, a position he’d moved into after a time as reserve coach.

As the only existing Spanish-speaking member of the coaching staff when Rafa arrived in 2004 it was expected that Sammy would stay on, but he felt it was time to try a new challenge. A year later he took the job as assistant to “Big” Sam Allardyce at Bolton, before getting the job as boss himself at the Horwich-based outfit right at the end of last season. Unfortunately that was one phase of his career that didn’t work out and he left the job in October.

Sammy Lee (background) and Rick ParryShortly after this rumours began at Anfield suggesting that Rafa was trying to get Sammy back on board as a replacement for Pako Ayestaran, who left in August. These rumours were boosted when Sammy and Rafa were seen watching a reserve game at the Halliwell Jones stadium in November. Later came claims during the early days of the board-room troubles that the move was blocked because Pako was on gardening leave and with his wages still being paid there was no money in the budget for another coach at that level.

Rafa spent most of the season without an assistant, but when it was announced last week that first-team coach Alex Miller had taken a manager’s job in Japan it was finally accepted that Rafa needed some help with his workload. Sammy is said to have been at Melwood last week.

Earlier today it was reported that Lee had been in talks with chief executive Rick Parry yesterday, with more talks set to have taken place today. The appointment has now been agreed by the current joint-owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett, according to the Liverpool Echo.

The Echo also reports that Ukrainian striker Andriy Voronin could go on loan to Stuttgart next season on a short-term deal. Voronin scored a contender for Liverpool’s goal of the season but on the whole has failed to impress Reds fans. He had been signed on a Bosman deal in the January 2006 transfer window, at a time when the club was still waiting for DIC to finalise their first bid for the club.

Peter Crouch and Andriy VoroninRafa is working hard to improve the squad, and although some money has been made available to him he will also be looking to make the most of player sales. One of those players looking almost certain to be sold is another striker, Peter Crouch, although that won’t be purely Rafa’s decision, the England international is looking for more first-team starts than he has been getting at Anfield.

Reds captain Steven Gerrard feels that the current Liverpool side has a great foundation on which to build a genuine title challenge next season – but suggests that the club should be looking at more than just Bosman signings like Philipp Degen. Aston Villa’s Gareth Barry is one of Rafa’s targets, as Martin O’Neill was the first to officially confirm, but Gerrard feels some world-class players should be added to what he feels is a strong spine: “In my opinion, our spine is as good as anything in the world,” he said. “If you look at the quality we have down the spine, it is fantastic. We have other good players as well, though. It’s difficult to say how many world-class players we need to buy. You look at the points difference and over the last few years we have made it smaller. Playing against the Arsenals and Chelsea, it has been close. We are giving them good games which are tight and get decided on small details.”

It might not take world-class players as such, but one point Gerrard is clear on is that the closing gap shouldn’t be allowed to open up again: “If we can make the team a little bit stronger, have a few more options and match-winners, and make the team a tiny bit better defensively, we can do it. Other teams are going to strengthen and become better sides, so it is important we do the same. There is a lot of money in the league – teams and squads will become stronger in the summer. It’s important we do not fall away. We want to stay up there with the best.”

Torres and Gerrard celebrate againLiverpool’s excellent form at the tail-end of the season came with Rafa using a largely unchanged team for each match, but it’s more difficult to do that when the games are coming thick and fast as they tend to in the first half of the season. Gerrard says the squad needs to be strengthened: “To keep doing well in the league and Europe we need to strengthen the squad, there is no doubt about that.”

Gerrard says he isn’t party to Rafa’s targets and ideas as far as new players are concerned, other than gaining an assurance that the manager is doing all he can to improve the squad: “I don’t know much about Rafa’s transfer plans. He doesn’t call me in and tell me names, but he does assure me and the other players that if anyone becomes available who would strengthen the side, then he will go out and buy them. We say it every year, but it’s massive. Other teams are going to strengthen and become better sides, so it’s important we do the same. It’s important we don’t fall away. We want to stay up there with the best. It’s important Rafa gets the right backing above him as well.”

That backing is likely to be fairly restrictive until the ownership situation is resolved, and perhaps that was on Gerrard’s mind as he warned against setting targets too high: “Obviously I have to be careful that I don’t send expectations through the roof again, but for me I am desperate for it. I believe in this team and this manager, and believe we can make it happen. We need help and new players, and the manager needs help from the board to make these signings happen and make us stronger. I do expect us to be involved next season.”

In truth though, for all the other troubles and issues that played a part in dropped points over the season, some teams should not be getting points against a side aiming for a crack at the title: “The title slipped away because of silly results against teams we should be beating. You don’t have to take maximum points from the top three if you perform perfectly against the others, but we haven’t done that.”

As well as the owners approving whatever signings can be afforded in the club’s current state, and Rick Parry proving his critics wrong in terms of his abilities to capture players before they get tired of waiting for a phone call, Rafa Benítez needs to persuade his wife Montse to let him take his phone on holiday with him.

Rafa Benitez Summer 07Rafa laughed: “I don’t tend to have too much time away from football, but I will try to switch off for a bit. I will have to try to hide my mobile phone, and if my wife can’t find out about it I’ll try and keep it on me, but if she finds it, I’m sure she will throw it in the swimming pool!”

As for his holidays: “I don’t like the beach too much, but I don’t mind being around a swimming pool or maybe going up in the mountains. When you are at such a big club as Liverpool, everybody knows who you are and it’s not easy to get away from people on holiday. Last summer, I was by the swimming pool and a kid was playing football wearing a Liverpool cap. He passed the ball and it came to me, so I tried to dribble it past him, and we were playing for five minutes. After we’d finished, his father spoke to him and said ‘do you know who that is?’ The kid says, ‘is it a Liverpool player?’ and his dad replies, ‘no, it’s the manager!’So after that he was with me playing football the whole week! He was the only one who hadn’t recognised me, and he was wearing a Liverpool cap!”

20 thoughts on “Lee set to join as Rafa continues transfer work”

  1. Good that Sammy’s back. Respected coach and a liverpool lad at heart. Given all the ownership issues and questions over Rafa’s future – whether he stays or decides to go – I wondered what length Sammy’s contract would be? Should it be longer than Rafa’s then I wonder whether this is a sign that Rafa’s contract will be lengthened? We can but hope.

    Rafa is known to be a workaholic and it seems his love for our club keeps him pumped to go on and on. Imagine losing your right-hand man and friend in Pako and being embroiled in trouble that was not of your making at boardroom level (but then of your public making for reasons we now know) and still getting on with the job. All those psychological traumas, batterings and public humiliation (re Klinnsman) and yet Rafa’s closed the gap at the top (though not enough) and but for a slight robo-cop error would have made another Champions League final. A workaholic he certainly is and a man who can/will make it happen for us.

    Stevie G makes the right case; we need to spend big. Utd will not stand still on making big signings even though they’ve won the league. Chelsea will invest bucket loads even if they lose Drogba and Lampard, who’s less likely to go. Arsenal will do what they do (and Rafa’s trying to do the same with some success in the reserves) . And then of course there’s Spurs – the team that seems to outspend all, attracting players due to the London factor. Oh yes, I also forgot to mention Everton but that’s nothing new (or important)………….joking of course!

    So what signings will we be making to go along with the strong spine Stevie talks about. Nothing much it seems unless Rafa brings the cash in.

    Xavi tells us he’s going nowhere. In my view, quite right too. Xavi is Rafa’s general on the pitch. Or at least has been. Unless Rafa’s developed a Wenger like analysis for when a players on the way down, I can’t see him letting Xavi go. To be fair to him, he’s not had the greatest season but towards the end his old form was coming back so I’d keep him for sure. Forget the money we could make off him, at least for now.

    I’ve said before we could and should let Crouch go. Yes, he scores goals – for us and England – but he’s not going to win us the league. We need a player who can slip in to replace Torres, when injured or tired (?), and not upset the way we play. Crouch can’t do this. Kuyt can – to a degree. And of course Babel – but maybe not yet. Another quality striker – Kenwynne Jones/Santa Cruz – would help us more. So au revoir Crouch, thanks for the memories but cash from your sale is much needed (as the owners don’t have it).

    Pennant’s sale would be sad but again may be necessary. Pennant’s proved he has talent but something is lacking. That may be something as simple as a lack of believe in himself (which actually is not that simple to solve). In any case, he doesn’t score enough goals or cause enough problems either by hitting the by-line or getting in amongst defenders in-field to exchange one-two’s with the striker(s) to engineer openings. So if we can get our money back and a little more (a little hopeful on that score), I’d take it (regardless of proposed changes to FIFA rules). I’m sure Wigan may be interested in a part-exchange with Valencia with Bruce, his old boss, there as manager.

    Riise’s sale would again be sad but required. Rafa’s no fool here. He’s not offered the guy a new`contract (assuming it was not all about the boards lack of cash) because he can’t see how a player who only knows how to run in straight lines and no longer scores goals, will offer the team enough technically or in creativity to match his stong endeavour. I’ll feel very sad to see him go but again we need the cash and to win trophies.

    Finnan going will hurt alot more. They guys been a club stalwart for so long, offering what we’re desperately seeking: a strong defender, comfortable on the ball who can overlap and get crosses in. Rafa clearly feels he cannot keep it going. If age and athleticism is a barometer – Clichy, Sagna, Evra, Brown, Cole, Bosingwa – then we can understand why. Arbeola is an able successor – Spanish International now – but I think we’ll need a little more. You never know he could be a surprise departure to aid a big signing – Lahm, Alves maybe – although Rafa love for versatile players suggests Arbeola’s safe.

    So who else can we sell to raise the cash Rafa needs. Carson’s gone, we suspect. Although Aston Villa don’t seem as keen as they did – so maybe we won’t get as much. Voronin may go on loan – according to reports. Benanyoun, maybe – not sure he’s been a good £5.5m buy myself.

    Whoever’s going I just hope it’s done soon so we can get on with shaping the team/squad, as it seems clear that our owners have no money to invest. Whatever happened to those heady days when they said they’d support Rafa to buy Snoogy-Doogy? Maybe we need to sign-up the Rapper himself who’s friendly with David Beckham, who inturn may lend Rafa the cash our American friends promised but can’t afford! Look what Hickability and Gutless have driven me to: contemplating taking cash from ex-Utd. On second thoughts, forget it!

  2. m-r: great post!

    I can reconcile myself to losing Pennant, Voronin (definitely) and Crouch (if I have to) but I’ll be really gutted to see either Finnan or Alonso go. I can’t remember the exact nature of the statistic, but in the 2006-2007 season, Finnan was deemed through various calculations to be the most effective defender in the Premier League (something to do with factoring in pitch time, goals against, assists for, completed passes, and the like). He’s had an off season, but given that he signed a contract renewal last summer, he deserves at least another year to earn back his place (personally, I think he’s more versatile and has a better eye for a cross than Arbeloa).

    And Xabi is the general, as you say. Now that Rafa has devised a formation to accomodate both him and Masherano, Xabi’s brilliant big-picture sense of strategy is vital to Liverpool’s success. Even if Barry does come into the squad, Xabi brings different kind of leadership and play-making abilities to the group. Plus, admittedly, I really like saying his name: Xabi Alonso, Xabi Alonso, Xabi Alonso. It’s kinda like music.

  3. Jim, I checked that on the Villa website and MON was already doing a Martin O’Neill on it. I think they were just trying to sell some newspapers and they didn’t have anything new.

    I’m actually warming to the idea of signing Barry, but I’ve noticed that the public statements from the player himself have been very Villa-oriented. I would have expected far more noncommittal words from him, but they’re not there.

    Midlands great post! I still think that we’re going to get at best one £25 million player and 2 £15 million players. The rest of the signings will be Rafa using his wits.

    Julie, I’d hate to see Xabi go as well! Sometimes Rafa reminds me of Robert de Niros character in Goodfellas, it’s like he’s trying to cut all the links between himself and Istanbul!!!!

    Seriously though, I don’t see Rafa transferring Xabi this summer. Quality players fighting for places in the centre is what it’s all about and 60 games plus a potential run-in scenario in the league? Xabi is staying!

  4. Julie, beware of statistics. As Disraeli once said, there are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.

    No disrespect to Steve Finnan (or Philipp Degen), but I think right back is one position we definitely need to significantly strengthen.

  5. Hop: it is a true measure of the quality of this blog that it includes quotes from Disraeli! In light of his, and your, advice, let me modify my comment by saying that I’d rather lose Arbeloa than Finnan.

  6. Edward: Thanks so much for that! Our Number 14 is as valuable to the club in his own way as own Number 9.

    By the way, who else is cheering for Spain at the Euros (despite the fact that Luis Aragones is a racist pig)? Liverpool supporters will be more than familiar with at least four members of their squad.

  7. @ Julie : I will be cheering for Spain as well! I would do so even if England or any other home nation was involved.

    Good news: Little Sam is back! I wonder if he will drop his hideous suits and don the tracksuit again?

    Finally, totally off topic but I just looked the officiating records for the season finished for the matches in which Steve Bennett was involved. Not surprisingly he was involved in a 1/3 of the matches involving the Manure and Chavs….guess what between them they only dropped two points in out of the possible 33 odd points on offer!!

    I would like to say shocking but only why bother. I will now consign myself the the Pedant’s Corner…and don my anorak jacket.

  8. @ raju
    Babel, Pennant?

    I don’t really understand the logic of signing Barry if xabi’s not leaving. Unless Rafa plans to play 4 4 2 with Barry left midfield, I don’t see where he would fit in. He is not a real left winger and central midfield is SG, XA and JM. We already have enough quality in central/defensive midfield. We really should be strengthening the flanks. We definitely need a right winger.

  9. Raju – thanks for digging those stats up. Just makes your blood boil doesn’t it. Liverpool game, Wigan game. What a disgrace. Look on the bright side, it makes us hate the Mancs even more, which will make it all the more pleasurable next time we beat them.

  10. raju (aka anorak man): that’s a bold statement, supporting Spain even if England was involved. I mean, I guess I would too to a certain extent, though if it came down to deciding the final by an arm-wrestling contest between Puyol and Ferdinand, well, actually, maybe I should keep my opinion on that to myself.

    I have noted the lack of colour on the first-team squad. Before Momo was sold (whom Rafa brought in), there was him, Pennant , Itandje and Babel (all Rafa signings) – not very many, in such stark contrast to other clubs like Arsenal and Portsmouth who have a large contingent of French and African players. To indulge in sweeping generalisations, I’ve also wondered how Skrtel feels about black teammates, coming from his former club Zenit St. Petersburg, allegedly the most racist club in the world. Like I say, just wondering aloud and not making any assumptions. But back to Rafa’s signings…I really don’t think the absence of colour in the squad signifies anything on his part one way or the other (she says hopefully).

    Little Sam – good news indeed. A little Liverpool legend and we all know that Rafa needs an assistant to pull him out of his occasional forays into tunnel vision. Forgive me, though, but I do find it hard to take Little Sam seriously sometimes, when he stands on the touchline looking like a booted and suited gnome. Oh, god, I’m horrible!

    The less said about Steve Bennett’s record, the better. For all that Mark Clattenburg is accused of being blinded by the stardom of Liverpool in his decisions, I think Mr. Bennett will soon be up for the Graham Poll award for taking himself too seriously on a consistent basis.

  11. To all, my sincere apologies for making such a daft comment about Rafa’s signings. (Jim, can you perhaps delete the reference in my original post). I realised the mistake I made the moment I posted the comment. In Rafa, we believe.

    Again, apologies everyone.

  12. I wonder if Skrtel regrets moving to Liverpool so soon? Seeing his old side win the UEFA Cup would of made him proud i bet. He’ll be on to bigger and better things with us though!

  13. @ ST. Chris

    I dont think Skrtel does regret it, i know i’d be happier as a footballer to just miss out on a Champions League final than win the Uefa Cup.

  14. Julie, the only time I came close to supporting was when Bobby Robson was manager otherwise always been a club person. Hence, afinity to Spain as we are more likely to see liverpool players in that team – although I cannot stand the insufferable Flabgas.

    You feel that with Skrtel, you would not be able to have a friendly conversation with him (probably a gentle giant at heart!!)

  15. raju: poor Cesc – he just needs to grow up a bit and you’ll grow to love him – he’s quality through and through (yes, I confess, I have him in my fantasy football team), but on occasion afflicted with a nasty case of better-to-keep-your-trap-shut-itis.

    I’ve thought the same as you of Skrtel. He’s obviously cultivated the scarier-than-hell image and he’s not someone you’d want to try and get around, but maybe, deep down he’s a gentle soul who likes to knit and listen to Michael Bolton. Oh, blech, that’s worse. Better that he’s an mean ol’ ogre.

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