Liverpool boss Rafael Benítez wished outgoing forward Peter Crouch all the best at his likely new club, and then admitted for the first time that Valencia striker David Villa is a name on a list of possible replacements.
Crouch’s Anfield days are now all but over, with his former club Portsmouth expected to officially announce his signature within the next 24 hours. He passed a medical on Monday, and with the two clubs having verbally agreed a fee, the wait now is to ensure the fine print matches that verbal agreement. The fee is believed to be £8m, rising to £11m on certain conditions, and these conditions have to fit in with the existing agreement between Liverpool and Portsmouth’s biggest rivals Southampton. When Liverpool paid £7m to the Saints there was also an agreement that a percentage of any future profit Liverpool made on the player would be payable to Southampton. There are also elements to be agreed on the personal terms for Crouch.
Rafa was criticised for paying £7m for Crouch at the time, and that criticism increased as he began his Anfield career on a long run without scoring. Now, with one year left on his deal, the critics are attacking Rafa for not selling him a year earlier, when he would have potentially been worth more. The potential £4m profit, subject to those clauses, is seen by some as Liverpool being short-changed. That’s a sign of how much respect Crouch has earned in his time at Anfield, and the Liverpool boss is proud of that change: “I am proud of the progress he has made. When we brought him here people were talking – especially because he didn’t score for 14 games or something like that – but he showed his quality, showed he was a good player and a fantastic professional.”
According to Rafa the main reason for Crouch’s decision to seek a new club was his desire to play as many games as possible. He realised after talks with Rafa that this was not likely to happen in the Red shirt: “He is a nice person,” Rafa said, “We know we will miss him but you can’t stop a player who wants to play every week He understands that with Torres here and Gerrard as a second striker, like he was at the end of last season, it will be difficult for him.”
Speaking to Liverpool’s official website, Rafa said that there was no animosity between the player and anyone at the club: “Everything is friendly. I’ve talked to him and the agents. If he can agree with Portsmouth it will be perfect for everyone. People need to understand that we have supported Peter from the day he signed and we offered him a new contract.” That contract is believed to have been offered before the end of the season, but as Rafa says, Crouch is desperate for minutes on the field more than anything else: “I can understand that he wants to play every week, wants to start every game. As a manager you have to understand these situations.”
Rafa also explained where his quoted £15m valuation of the player came from – it was his way of pointing out that Crouch wasn’t going to be as cheap as some reports would have people believe. It wasn’t an attempt to price Crouch out of a transfer, or to force him to stay at Anfield longer than he wanted to: “A few people in the press were talking about £7m, so then I talked about £15m because I wanted to protect the club, but I know you need to respect the players.”
Rafa says the deal should be done very soon: “We have now more or less agreed a transfer fee and now it’s just the player talking to Portsmouth and finding a solution.”
Losing one forward from his squad, when he’s often been quoted insisting he needs four forwards for his squad, means he would be expected to bring someone in as a replacement for Crouch. There were rumours of a loan move back out of the club for Andriy Voronin, but there are no signs so far of that happening, and Rafa includes the Ukrainian as part of what he now sees as five players who can play as forwards in one way or other. He listed the five in response to the question a lot of Reds have wanted answered – were Liverpool looking at David Villa? He said: “We have Fernando Torres, Andriy Voronin, Dirk Kuyt, Ryan Babel and Steven Gerrard, who can play as a second striker, but we will try to bring in another option. Villa is a player we know all about and he is on our list. But maybe it will be difficult.”
Rafa knows all about “difficult”, having seen the reaction of Martin O’Neill to Liverpool’s interest in Gareth Barry, but unlike with Barry there will be competition for Villa’s signature. Liverpool should, if sales go through as Rafa hopes, to get their other targets and still be able to afford a bid over £20m for Villa. But if a bidding war starts then Liverpool would be reliant on Villa refusing to join any of the other clubs, and in turn Valencia accepting and respecting their players’ wishes.
Another target Rafa has been interested in is Spurs’ Robbie Keane, and Crouch’s move to Portsmouth would not end that interest. If Spurs do decide to do business they would of course prefer cash to players, but their valuation may yet prove far higher than Rafa would be willing to pay.