Thursday, 30 April 2009

Gerrard set to return against Newcastle

Steven Gerrard is to return from injury to face Newcastle in this Sunday’s Premier League game at Anfield, reports today’s Times. Manager Rafael Benitez declared “Steven is doing well and is training with the rest of the team.” Adding “I think he will be fit and available for Sunday. It is good news for the team and for him, because he can be a key player for us over the remaining games.” Kick off is at 1.30.

Owen moving to Everton?

Transfer Speculation

A number of morning papers are reporting that former Liverpool player Michael Owen has become a target of Everton. Owen who becomes a free agent in the summer would need to break Everton’s pay structure if he was to join the club. Regarded more with footballing respect rather than true affection among Liverpool fans, he never quite reached the iconic level of Robbie Fowler, or Gerrard. His response about his move from Liverpool to Madrid probably contributes to this feeling amongst red fans. “It is a step forward to me. To play in Real is something more. I hope this change will take me a bit further ahead in my career.” Oh dear!

Rafa looks for Alonso’s replacement

Transfer Speculation

Rafa Benitez is set to replace Xabi Alonso with Marseille's highly-rated captain Lorik Cana, if Juventus are successful in luring the influential midfielder away from Liverpool. According to today’s Telegraph, Benitez has already spoken to former red Boudewijn Zenden to assess his credentials, with the Dutchman giving Rafa a positive assessment of the player. Albanian international Cana would cost in the region of £10 million and has won plaudits in France this season as Marseille look to secure the title. The Daily Mirror has a top ten profile on the player with clips of the Marseille star in action.

I certainly hope Alonso doesn’t leave, he’s had his best season so far with the reds and it is suited to the Premier League. It would take a particularly special individual to top him.

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Hillsborough Police cover up

In a revelation that will shock few Liverpool supporters, masses of original statements written by South Yorkshire Police in the wake of the Hillsborough disaster were altered and erased, claims yesterday’s Echo. The article goes on to detail huge amounts of alterations including:

A chronic lack of communication between officers.

Nobody tending to the injured.

Useless radios and incoherent transmissions.

Non-existent stewarding.

Lack of use of the public address system.

The lack of police officers on duty, 10%fewer than the previous semi-final involving Liverpool at Hillsborough.

Senior officers concerned about a growing “complacent” attitude towards policing at Hillsborough in years leading up to 1989.

Officers stationed in the wrong sections of the ground and its surrounding area.

The lack of faith officers had in the recently-installed Chief Superintendent David Duckenfield compared with his predecessor Chief Superintendent Brian Mole.

WIPED . . . . . . A statement made by PS Kennedy, who had stated: “Several senior officers were, I’m afraid, lacking in directing the officers there, towards useful purposes.

“My thought on the incident, professionally, are that many officers and above, had no idea of what to do.

“Many were unable to work without being told exactly where to go and what to do, without personal radios, directions were limited.

“Many constables were too concerned about finding their serials {squads}, than trying to help the situation.

“...I had no fears other than the officers feeling let down by higher ranking officers.”

WIPED . . . PC Bennett, who had said: “Although it was basically poorly organised, I felt that officers should have been at the turnstile entrance ways in more strength and caused the crowd to form queues prior to getting near the turnstiles.

“No senior officers at this stage appeared to be in command of the situation and what was happening was several officers of Inspector level pushed amongst the crowd shouting at officers to move the supporters first this way then that way.

“I feel that no one knew what was actually taking place.”

The full shocking article needs to be viewed in its entirety, and can only strengthen the case for a full disclosure of documents and public enquiry.

A petition asking the Prime Minister to open an enquiry can be found here, and should be signed by all Liverpool supporters.

A harrowing article by Mirror columnist Brian Reade who was at Hillsborough that day is also essential reading.

Juventus return for Alonso

Transfer Speculation

Juventus are believed to be renewing there interests in buying inspirational playmaker Xabi Alonso, following Rafa Benitez’s admission that he will need to sell players in order to buy this summer, claims today’s Telegraph. Alonso has had an unbelievable season for the reds and many a fan would loath to see him depart for the Serie A outfit. When asked if he would reject an increased bid from Alonso's former suitors, Benitez said: "I don't know if Juventus would have that amount of money this summer because there is a crisis all around the world. We will have to wait and see. We didn't want to sell him last summer but in football everybody has a price." Real Madrid are also believed to be interested in landing Alonso with presidential candidate Florentino Perez especially keen on landing him, should he win the Spanish club's forthcoming elections.

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

New Chief Executive appointment moves closer

The selection of Rick Parry’s successor as Liverpool FC Chief Executive took a step closer after Tom Hicks and George Gillett appointed recruitment consultants Odgers Berndtson claims The Telegraph. Simon Cummins, head of sports for the recruitment firm will be responsible for compiling the list of suitable candidates for the role. Cummins was interviewed by both Hicks and Gillett indicating the pair are certainly working more closely then in previous months and can only be a positive thing for the club. The article goes on to say that the owners “want a world-class candidate capable of representing the club and helping extend Liverpool’s commercial reach, though their ability to work with Benitez will be as important.” This sounds promising. Let’s hope the club employs someone with world class aspirations and modern business acumen, whilst having a firm gasp of the traditions of the club.

Rafa may have to sell players to buy this summer

Transfer Speculation

Rafa Benitez may need to sell players in order to bring in the ones he needs reports today’s Telegraph. It is believed that he has been given a transfer kitty of £20 million by owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett. The article speculates that Benitez may offload Ryan Babel, Andrea Dossena, Sami Hyypia, Philipp Degen and Andriy Voronin to boost his kitty. Not entirely sure why Sami Hyypia has been included in this list as he’s out of contract at the end of the season. Benitez said: “More or less I have an idea of how much we will have to spend. I think we’d have to sell players to increase the money we’ll need, but at the moment we’re not talking about names and money. We are working on targets and we will try to do things as quickly and cheaply as possible.” The article speculates that Rafa hopes to land “long time target Gareth Barry after failing to land him last summer, while Valencia centre-back Raul Albiol would replace Daniel Agger should the Dane not sign a new contract. Despite Benitez’s denials, the Spain international David Silva remains a possibility should cash-strapped Valencia accept a price well below the £30 million they are believed to want. While the lack of funds is likely to price Benitez out of any move for Carlos Tevez, he is believed to be tracking Portsmouth’s Glen Johnson and Tottenham’s Aaron Lennon.”

Monday, 27 April 2009

Hillsborough protest

Today’s Liverpool Echo is reporting that thousands of Liverpool FC fans are to stage a mass protest at Westminster demanding justice for the victims of Hillsborough on June 20. Fans from Leeds, Bristol City, Chelsea and Tottenham have also promised to join LFC supporters. A petition will also be handed to the prime minister at Downing street. Reds fan and organiser Barry Thompson, originally from Bootle, said: “To wait 20 years for justice is too long, it’s disgusting. It urges the prime minister to “investigate if criminal charges should be brought against an individual or organisation”. An internet petition, so far signed by more than 9,000 people, has also been lodged on the government’s Number 10 Downing Street website and can be signed here

Liverpool deny takeover talks...or do they?

Today’s Telegraph is claiming that the Liverpool owners are not in discussion with Indian billionaire Grandhi Mallikarjun Rao’s GMR group over either investing in the club or buying it. The article details Liverpool’s current financial situation, but does not carry one single quote to support the headline, simply stating “sources close to Tom Hicks” were denying any takeover.

New away kit leaked

Liverpool's new away kit appears to have been leaked on the web. The black kit with gold and red detailing is one of a number of kits that have been revealed online.

Rafa’s defense falls on deaf ears

During his pre match meeting with the media on Friday, Rafa Benitez explained for the first time since the incident, his hand movements that had so enraged Fergie and his puppet Sam Allardyce. In an article in Saturdays Mail written by John Edwards, Rafa described the event which was detailed in my blog here. “Xabi Alonso and Emiliano Insua were standing over a free-kick and I was shouting orders to them in Spanish. I kept saying, ‘Play it short’ because I thought there could be a surprise element. But Xabi just whipped it straight into the area and when Fernando Torres headed it in, he turned round and gave me a big grin. I just had to laugh and I just made a sign to say, ‘OK, don’t listen to me.” Published in the Mail, Rafa’s explanation was also picked up on Sky Sports website and The Guardian where he explained why his gestures had created such outrage he said "to create something around this means that maybe people have nothing to do." No other media outlet appears to have ran Rafa's explanation of the incident.

Also appearing in the Mail on Friday anonymously written by ‘Sportsmail Reporter’ was a piece clearly supporting Fergie. Picturing him as a serial victim it stated “Benitez has launched a series of scathing attacks on Ferguson since the turn of the year”. Ignoring that he’d made any attack on Benitez, Fergie clearly trying to paint a picture that he’s overflowing in dignity and above the entire argument which he masterminded, said “He s definitely saying a lot, But I’m happy for him to carry on with it”. This was a reply to an article published in Spanish newspaper ABC where Rafa was reported to have claimed that Liverpool are better then United. Talking about this comment, Benitez said “It is an old interview and it is badly translated so it is not true,” he said. "I did not say this. It was a normal conversation with a good journalist and then has been twisted a little bit."

It’s clear that Rafa’s comments attacking Fergie were plastered all over the back pages, whilst the explanation of the incident seems to have been mostly ignored.

Sunday, 26 April 2009

Hull 1 – Liverpool 3

Premiership Match Report

This was a return to Liverpool’s more patient approach, after their hugely attacking endeavours of late, with the team controlling most of the play in the first half, albeit with little striking opportunities around the Hull goal. Benayoun, brimming with confidence at the moment created one of Liverpool’s earlier efforts with a tricky little run towards the Hull goal. His strike was deflected and fell at the feet of Torres whose strike went close. The breakthrough came just on half time after a run by Mascherano. Boateng was adjudged to have fouled Mascherano on the edge of the Hull penalty area, but replays showed Mascherano was already tumbling when Boateng kicked at his ankles. The resulting free kick By Xabi Alonso deflected off the Hull wall giving Alonso another chance to strike, and strike he did. The deflected volley drilled low and to the right, past keeper Boaz Myhill. It was a brilliant strike that reflected Alonso’s fantastic season. Hull manager sensing Benayoun’s threatening runs decided a more physical approach was needed for the second half, and his dangerous runs were nulled. The sending off of Celeb Folan occurred when Skrtel blocked off the forwards run towards goal. Folan’s flaying arms left Skrtel tumbling to the floor and as he fell Folan lashed out kicking him in the abdomen. Although the incident that brought Skrtel to the ground appeared slight, the resulting kick was indefensible and referee Martin Atkinson had no choice with the red card.

Liverpool’s second goal came from a short corner from Alonso to Benayoun who whipped the ball into the penalty area. Hull headed the ball away which took a deflection of Lucas’s arm and it fell at Skrtel’s feet. Skrtel jabbed the ball forwards and Dirk Kuyt who was loitering headed the ball home from only a couple yards out. Hull may feel aggrieved by the hand ball but there was little Lucas knew about the incident.

Hull slowly creped back into the game and Liverpool gave them there opportunity when Daniel Cousin received a fantastic long ball from his own half. He layed it off for Geovanni who had made an unmarked run into the penalty area and easily converted from eight yards out.

Liverpool had two further opportunities to take it beyond Hull, but Lucas and Torres both didn’t hit the target. The third came when Alvaro Arbeloa made a penetrating run down the right wing. His shot saved by the keeper Myhill spilled into the path of Dirk Kuyt who easily slotted the ball into an open goal.

Match time and date: KO 3pm. 25 April 2009

Yellow cards: Hull City: Marney, Fagan Liverpool: Arbeloa.

Red card: Hull City: Folan.

Referee: M Atkinson.

Attendance: 24,942.

HULL CITY: Myhill 6, Ricketts 6, Turner 6, Zayatte 6, Kilbane 6, Fagan 5 (Mendy 61min), Marney 6, Boateng 6 (Manucho 78min), Barmby 6 (Cousin 61min), Geovanni 6, Folan 4.

LIVERPOOL: Reina 5, Arbeloa 5, Carragher 6, Skrtel 6, Insua 6, Alonso 7, Mascherano 6 (El Zhar 84min), Kuyt 8 (Dossena 89min), Lucas 6, Benayoun 6 (Agger 88min), Torres 5

How the match has been reported in the papers:
The Telegraph - Nervous Liverpool eke out scrappy win at Hull City
The Guardian - Alonso and Kuyt keep Liverpool's faint hopes alive as 10-man Hull slide further
The Times - Dirk Kuyt's brace keeps pressure on United
The Mirror - Dirk Kuyt scores twice to keep Liverpool snapping at United's heels
The Independent - Kuyt does the double Dutch but 10-man Hull put up a fight
Sunday Express - Kuyt brace sees reds home
Mail on SundayKuyt brace keeps the reds in the title race
Sky Sports News - Kuyt helps Reds tame Tigers
BBC - Hull 1-3 Liverpool

Liverpool takeover rumours continue

The Sunday Express and The Daily Star are running the story that Liverpool Football club may be edging closer to a takeover or investment from abroad, with several wealthy individuals circling the club. John Richardson writing for the Express states that "Leading members of the Indian-GMR group owned by Grandhi Mallikarjun Rao, who is worth £4.2billion, were wined and dined by Hicks and Gillett after the mid-week Arsenal match. Hicks and Gillett are also in talks with one of Kuwait’s richest families. It is understood that Nasser Al Kharafi, worth £9bn, is considering a bid. Also looking on is Liverpool fan Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum of the Dubai ruling family."

Sam forgets his own disrespectful behaviour

This weekends Liverpool Echo has a great article written by Tony Barrett illustrating the hypocrisy of Sam Allardyce. Titled “Why Sam Allardyce is so big on disrespect” the piece goes on to draw attention to an incident three years ago. “With his Bolton team 3-0 up and coasting away to Watford in the FA Cup, the then Bolton boss decided to bring on youth team keeper Sam Ashton but instead of replacing Ian Walker in goal, he came on for centre forward Jared Borgetti and played up front.” Allardyce clearly has forgotten all his past discretions in the game and in his own mind re-invented himself as some sort of white knight galloping towards justice. Although its more likely he would gallop quicker towards an oven baked meat pastry.

Saturday, 25 April 2009

Torres Burnout Fear

The Daily Mirror has today published an article fearing Fernando Torres could face burn out after another busy summer playing for Spain in The Confederations Cup. Less then a month afterwards, Liverpool tour Thailand and Singapore.

Benitez Confident

A great article has been published in today’s Guardian. Talking about Benitez, journalist Andy Hunter says “He makes a self-deprecating gesture that is portrayed as a lack of humility and has overseen two wildly entertaining games in succession despite being renowned for innate caution.” And discussing the 8 goal thriller against Arsenal mid week “the Liverpool manager remains adamant, that Yossi Benayoun's stoppage-time equaliser against Arsenal could prove vital in the final reckoning. Experience tells the Spaniard that this title race is not over.”

Gerrard out of Hull match

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez has confirmed that Steven Gerrard will miss today’s premiership clash with Hull. Gerrard has been suffering with an adductor strain has missed the past 3 matches through the injury but is expected to return in time for the clash with Newcastle at Anfield next Sunday. The team has been playing some awesome football of late and should not miss the influential captain.

Friday, 24 April 2009

Transfer speculation

Liverpool has apparently expressed an interest in signing Manchester United's on loan striker Carlos Tevez. Although not worth his apparent £30 million price tag, Tevez could certainly introduce some interesting possibilities to Liverpool’s forward line. Not forgetting the added bonus of seeing Fergie’s head spin off his shoulders if the deal ever went through!

'Big' Sam shrinks to new depths

In the story that won’t die, Sam Allardyce clearly still annoyed over the 4 nil drumming Liverpool dished out to his Blackburn Rovers, has continued his war of words with LFC. Commenting on the innocent hand gestures that clearly hide Allardyce’s loathing for Benitez, ‘big’ Sam stated that “there was no need for Sammy to get involved. It wasn't a situation I was going to get him involved in. It was a situation that was between me and Rafa Benitez. If anyone should have spoken, it should have been Rafa Benitez and not Sammy Lee."

Clearly the irony of this statement has completely been lost on Allardyce, when he employed the services of Fergie to fight his fight for him last week. ‘Big’ Sam appears to be shrinking in importance with each passing day.

Thursday, 23 April 2009

“Never let the truth get in the way of a good story”

Publishing tycoon and media magnet William Randolph Hearst, once famously said “never let the truth get in the way of a good story”. This quote has not had greater relevance then in the past week for Liverpool football Club and in particular its manager Rafael Benitez. Benitez has come in for some serious criticisms in his time. Whether it’s rotation, where to play Gerrard, not taking the Premier League seriously, selling Robbie Keane, zonal marking, not taking the FA Cup seriously, his substitution policy or taking the Champions League ‘too’ seriously, the media has always found ways to condemn him. But recently the criticisms took a more laughable turn when Sky Sports commentator Andy Gray declared that Rafa never celebrated any goals. This became another stick to beat Benitez with, as Andy Gray took particular relish in trying to embarrass Rafa. They picked over footage of Rafa looking more annoyed then celebratory after Liverpool scored a whole host of goals against Real Madrid, Manchester United and Aston Villa. My personal favourite reaction appeared to show Rafa winding his watch after the fourth goal went in against Villa. Sky began to focus on Rafa’s responses more and more with each game. During Liverpool’s 4 nil trouncing of a wholly inadequate Blackburn Rovers on April 11th, Benitez appeared to enjoy the second goal by Fernando Torres. Sky Sports thinking this was a huge talking point, showed the incident a number of times. The clip showed Rafa furiously shouting towards the players on the pitch, then looking slightly embarrassed, shrugging his shoulders, smiling, and then crossing one hand above the other. They repeated the clip and within the context of the goal, it became clear that Benitez was trying to catch the attention of Alonso who was about to take the free kick. Alonso, does not hear his managers cries, takes the free kick, Torres heads the goal home and Rafa responds with his now famous reaction. Liverpool convincingly went on to win, with Rovers offering little resistance.

Six days later Alex Ferguson intent on disrupting any momentum Liverpool may have gained in the title race launched a blistering attack on Benitez proclaiming he was “arrogant” lacked “humility” showed “contempt” and that he was “beyond the pale”. Allardyce, clearly in on the whole act, dished in with “The gestures he made were dismissive to myself and to Blackburn Rovers," and "they were disrespectful and quite humiliating." Sky Sports News seized upon the outbursts with delight, repeating the ‘disrespectful hand gesture’ over and over. Even in its edited form it was difficult to see how this innocuous gesture had caused so much controversy. But controversy it caused, and by the bucket load. The papers followed suite the next morning with headlines like “Ferguson slams ‘arrogant’ Rafa”. The Mirror reported that the Liverpool manager had brought the outburst upon himself declaring “the tirade should enliven the Premier League title” and “Ferguson will feel justified in making the attack”, because Benitez had delivered the "facts" about United. The paper amazingly added that “Ferguson has tried to resist the temptation to respond, but this time he felt he needed to make a stand against the Liverpool manager”. Football Focus showed the clip with Manish Bhasin asking if Rafa was being ‘disrespectful’. Many journalists admitted to being surprised that Benitez’s hand motions had created such a reaction from Ferguson, but presumably in a bid to stoke the stories flames higher, offered little to explain the gesture stating it was “open to interpretation”. Amidst the media feeding frenzy, few attempted to tell the whole story. However Daniel Taylor and Andy Hunter reporting for the Guardian on Saturday the 18th offered to explain the whole storm in a tea cup, stating that Benítez was instructing “Alonso and Emiliano Insúa to take a short free-kick and attack the Blackburn full-back, Keith Andrews, two versus one. Instead, Alonso whipped in a long ball that Fernando Torres headed beyond Paul Robinson and the Liverpool manager responded with a gesture to his players that apparently loosely translated as: "You were right. What do I know?" adding that ‘the claims were ridiculed at Anfield where there is a strong suspicion that Ferguson and Allardyce, both of whom dislike Benítez, collaborated before their respective press conferences. “Rafa has laughed off what is clearly a co-ordinated attack on him," said a source close to the Liverpool manager.’

Despite this explanation, the row spilled over into the following week with Sky Sports News continuously referring to the story with its usual exploitational zeal. However they opted not to show all the footage which would have cemented Benitez’s explanation of the incident as true. This was of course in stark contrast to when the event occurred on Sky Sports live broadcast of the game, when they repeatedly played the whole incident in full. So what happened to the clip? Did they loose it? Or did they ‘choose’ not to show it incase it finally put the story to bed and made Fergie look more foolish? It was quite obvious the broadcaster was going to milk this saga for as long as it could.

The nation’s media gathered for Rafa’s pre match press conference before the Arsenal game, only to be greeted by assistant Sammy Lee, who again explained that "Any gestures made pitchside are made to our players, not to anyone else. If anyone sees anything in any gestures they are mistaken." Adding "One thing I'll say is that Rafa is certainly not arrogant, no way, I think it's quite sad, really. At the end of the day, we try to get on with the job we've got to do and not worry about what other people are thinking about us”. This of course prompted headlines like: “Sammy Lee hits out at Sam Allardyce and Sir Alex Ferguson's 'sad' attack on Rafael Benitez”.

The pre match build-up to the Arsenal game was dominated with the incident. Steven Gerrard who was in the Sky Sports studio for the match said "I was sitting right behind Rafa and I can guarantee that it was in no way trying to disrespect their bench," Gerrard said. "We had the set-pieces up on the board before the game and he'd told Xabi Alonso to do a certain free-kick. Xabi did the opposite but we managed to score from it, so he was basically saying 'don't listen to me, do your own thing'."

Once again this would have been the ideal opportunity for Sky to play the clip in full, illustrating clearly what Gerrard was explaining. The clip of course failed to materialize. Sky, usually at the forefront of trying to validate an incident via replays, graphics and even more replays in super slow-mo have still not shown the clip. Amazingly rather then explaining the incident and trying to put it to bed Gerrard’s comments were reported in the media as “continuing the backlash.”

The accusations from Ferguson and Allardyce had no basis in truth or fact and were a coordinated smear campaign from both, intended to derail Liverpool’s season and undermine Rafael Benitez, with the media standing by to observe. It’s obvious Ferguson was worried about Liverpool’s charge in the league and was resorting to a dirty tricks campaign enlisting the help of Allardyce, despite ‘big’ Sam’s innocent protestations of a synchronized attack. The media lapped it up, admitting that Ferguson was “great copy” and whatever he says demands the top story. Its clear Ferguson understands the power he holds with the media and exploited it to the full, making sure his message was sung from the rafters. In fact the one thing clearly apparent in this whole insidious affair is Allardyce and Ferguson’s disrespectful behavior and contempt towards Benitez!