Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard has agreed a two-year extension to his contract at the club meaning he’ll be a Red for at least another four seasons.
In an announcement on the club’s official site this morning, manager Rafael Benítez said: “This is fantastic news for the club. Steven has once again shown his commitment and it was an easy deal to agree. As soon as we offered him the option he said yes. There were no problems at all. He wants to stay for life.”
Extending the stay of the 28-year-old is an important piece of news that says much about the club’s intentions, according to Rafa: “This deal sends out another clear message that we are moving forward as a club. To know we have a player of Steven’s quality with us for many more years is a great boost for the club and the fans. He is clearly a player who inspires those around him and even though he is playing very well at the moment, I still think his best years are ahead of him.”
The timing of the announcement may well have been deliberate by Rafa and the club, to try and deflect some of the attention the skipper would receive from another event taking place today.
Gerrard was in court in Liverpool to enter his plea in response to a charge of affray. Gerrard formally pleaded not guilty to the charge at Liverpool Crown Court.
The charges related to an incident at the Lounge Inn in Southport shortly after Christmas, where local resident Marcus McGee, aged 34, was reported to have been injured during a scuffle between a number of individuals. Gerrard and others had earlier been charged with assault but those charges have already been dropped.
In all seven men appeared in court today, including two Accrington Stanley players: goalkeeper Ian Dunbavin, 28, and midfielder Robert Grant, 18. All seven pleaded not guilty, and were given bail on condition they did not contact witnesses and also that they did not enter the Lounge Inn except when accompanied by a legal representative.
The trial has now been adjourned until July 20th, at which time Gerrard’s team-mates are expected to be in middle of a tour of the Far East, with games planned in Hong Kong, Bangkok and Singapore. The tour is planned for July 17th to July 26th.
Gerrard’s new deal is part of Rafa’s plans to both look for new blood and to also ensure he gets to keep existing key players.
He made enquiries recently about Valencia’s David Silva but made a point of abandoning that interest after Valencia demanded a fee in the region of £30m. Speaking to the Echo last week, Rafa explained that he was going to look at other targets instead: “It is true that we were asking about the situation with him but we are not happy with the situation now and he will not be a target for us. We have to work hard and we are trying to have conversations and trying to progress but it’s not easy to sign any player now.”
He also told the Echo that his top priority was hanging on to the important players already on the club’s books: “The most important thing now is to make progress with the contracts of our own players. We are working hard on that because this is our priority.”
Rafa is certainly moving quickly. Late last week he announced he’d got five members of his coaching to agree new contracts, meaning that uncertainty about their futures came to an end. The five to get their new two-year contracts were assistant manager Sammy Lee, chief scout Eduardo Macia, first team coach Mauricio Pellegrino, goalkeeping coach Xavi Valero and fitness coach Paco De Miguel.
Speaking about those deals at the time, Benítez said: “We have had meetings and now we have agreements so that (they) will now be with us for two more years. This is important for everyone because they have been doing a fantastic job so I am really pleased with them and now everyone will know that we will continue to work together.”
Rafa’s wish to get more say in such talks reportedly down to past frustrations at how slow things seemed when Rick Parry was doing the talking. Steven Gerrard almost left in summer 2005 after Parry failed to see how urgent Gerrard felt the talks needed to be. No complaints from Rafa at the moment on how quickly deals are being done: “The club has done a good job. We had some meetings and it has all been done in a few days.”
Rafa has also moved a step closer to getting the Academy run the way he’d like it to be run. Also late last week Liverpool appointed former chief scout Frank McParland to carry out a “strategic review of the club’s Academy operation”.
There have been reports for some time of differences between staff at Melwood and the Academy and it’s clear that something needed to be done about it. Whether the Academy staff will welcome McParland remains to be seen, but clearly any rift between the two groups needs to be closed as soon as possible.
Rafa explained why McParland had been taken on to do this work: “When I signed my new contract, it was agreed I’d have a more significant influence at the Academy and this is an important step in assessing the future direction we will need to take. I value Frank’s opinions and know him well from the time he spent working with me at Melwood.
“He will liaise closely with the staff at the Academy to produce a comprehensive analysis of the operation there before reporting back to me with his recommendations.”
The Academy had been run for many years by Steve Heighway, who retired in 2007. His role wasn’t filled by one person; instead the club recruited Piet Hamburg as Academy Technical Director, gave John Owens the title of Academy Manager and brought Malcolm Elias in as Head of Recruitment. In the eyes of the manager at least, that set-up was not working.
Rafa has certainly been acting fast since signing his new contract, Gerrard will be the first of a number of players to get new deals before the end of the season – and talks with those players did not begin until after Rafa had signed his own new deal.