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Archive for April 2007

Move Might Be Right After Bad Day


Sunday, April 29, 2007 by

The record books will show that Portsmouth beat Liverpool 2-1 on the 28th April 2007 yet, with a Champions League semi-final against Chelsea weighing heavily on his mind, the side Rafael Benitez sent out on the day was far from the regular eleven he would normally have opted for.

With nothing left to play for in the league – finishing third or fourth is at this point trivial – the side did at least elicit some interest for the inclusion of certain young players and the hope for the future that such players always seem to arouse.

Such hope was, however, instantly dampened by the defeat. Which invariably raises the question as to the strength of Liverpool’s squad.

When analysing Benitez’s transfer dealings, last summer one national newspaper opined that Daniel Agger had been a ‘miss’. A hurried (and inaccurate) judgement given that at the time Agger had played just a handful of games as you would expect of someone faced with the task of tying to displace Sami Hyppia from the side.

Such early statements can come back to haunt you, which is why I’d desperately like to avoid talking of Gabriel Paletta. But that’s impossible to do. The Argentine central defender has been atrocious in the 6-3 home defeat against Arsenal but it was hoped that it was a one-off experience.

If his game against Portsmouth is anything to go by, however, that wasn’t the case as Paletta was dismally lacking: he was regularly dragged out of position, can’t control the ball, his passing abysmal, has the tendency to barge into opponents causing as well as occasionally mis-kicking the ball rather than clearing it. So bad was he that he made Benjani look like a world beater.

And it doesn’t seem to be out of character. Regulars at reserve games seem to consider Jack Hobbs as being better prepared for first team football with Paletta often guilty of costly mistakes.

Earlier in the season, the BBC’s correspondent for South America Tim Vickery( hinted that Paletta had made a mistake moving to Europe so early in his career, that he hasn’t got the necessary experience to handle the move.

Vickery’s view was that he should have moved to a bigger Argentine club to learn more about his position before crossing the Atlantic. At the time he was roundly criticised but, in hindsight it looks as if he was right.

A loan move, and regular first team football, might help Paletta develop. Based on today’s showing, however, there won’t be clubs many queuing up to get him.

FA Youth Cup Preview: A Win To Prove Academy's Worth


Monday, April 16, 2007 by

In the aftermath of Liverpool’s 6-3 defeat at the hands of an Arsenal side filled with young players, the club’s academy took something of a battering. Rafael Benitez’s comments that the academy system wasn’t working – which weren’t intended specifically at his club but at the general situation where young players don’t get enough of a challenge – sounded too much of a criticism aimed at Steve Heighway’s work.

That the youth side has made it to its second successive youth cup final therefore vindicates the hard work that goes on at the academy, more so as the vast majority of players have been playing together since they were nine years old: this is the first batch of players to truly graduate from the academy.

For Heighway, who is widely expected to retire this summer, winning a back-to-back FA Youth Cup would be the perfect way to end his time at the club where he has spent most of his adult life. But his true legacy – in the form of the players who will go on to play for the club at a senior level - will last for much longer.

Only the most exceptional of talents can expect to follow the likes of Robbie Fowler, Michael Owen and Steve Gerrard by jumping straight from the reserves to the first team but those taking a more circuitous road are showing that it can be done. Adam Hamill has excelled on loan at Dunfermline whereas Danny Guthrie has become a fixture in Southampton’s midfield within the space of a couple of weeks of joining them on loan.

Among the current batch of players there aren’t any players who stand out as being ready for Benitez’s first team but a number are making good progress in the reserves. A maturing experience out on loan will probably be the ultimate test to see whether they can make it.

The prospects:

Astrit Ajdarevic
Steve Heighway isn’t one to publicly praise any of his players, so it says a lot when he described Ajdarevic as “a terrific player: I think he could be a real prospect” just a few days after the Swede joined from Falkenberg.

Then again, few players can move to a new country and turn the kind of assured performances that Ajdarevic (right) immediately starting putting in. A player in the Alonso mould, he loves to have the ball at his feet to spray it around with great precision.

Needlessly sent off in the semi-final, he will miss the first leg of the final and Liverpool will be all the worse for it. Yet, in a longer term perspective, this Patrick Berger look-alike (and the physical similarity truly is remarkable) for whom Liverpool spent £750,000 could be one of the first to force his way through.

Martin Hansen
One of the first foreign players to be signed directly for the academy, Hansen moved to Liverpool from Denmark last summer and in a matter of weeks established himself in the U18 side despite still being 16 years old.

A number of impressive early season performances quickly confirmed that he was a special talent and throughout the season he has continued to improve proving to be a reliable pair of hands behind the back four.

There are high hopes that Hansen will continue to progress although one has to wonder how he will do so given the number of young keepers at Anfield. Apart from Pepe Reina, who is still 25, there are the England and Italy U21s in the form of Scott Carson and Daniele Padelli, England youth international David Martin as well as Australian teenager Dean Bouzanis who should be joining next January.

Craig Lindfield
Strikers have always been the Liverpool academy’s speciality what with the success of Michael Owen and Robbie Fowler as well as the prolific – at least at reserve team football – of Neil Mellor.

Lindfield (pictured below) is of a similar mould. Top scorer in last year’s successful Youth Cup run, he was rewarded with a call up for England’s U19 side and a senior debut in the pre-season friendly against Crewe. Lindfield scored on that occasion, raising hope that he was ready to make the step up.

Those expectations have remained even if he hasn’t been as prolific this season. In particular over recent weeks where he has been finally finding his feet for the reserves, many are expecting an appearance in the league as the season winds down.

That seems unlikely yet, with reserve team boss Gary Ablett hinting that he is one in whom they’re placing particular attention, further games for the first team shouldn’t be too far off.

Ray Putterill
Once considered a player with a big future, Putterill has had to come back from a couple of fairly serious injuries that caused him to miss most of last season.

This year, however, he has come back with a vengeance often being Liverpool’s best player on the park as well as scoring a couple of goals. The current side doesn’t have last season’s talents of Adam Hamill and Paul Anderson on the wings but it is much more compact with Putterill often being the side’s creative outlet.

For Putterill is the kind of player fans love to watch. Direct and fast with the ball, he’ll give defenders problems and his injury setbacks have clearly made him more determined to succeed.

Jay Spearing
For a player who has been at the heart of both runs to the FA Youth Cup final, it is surprising that Spearing hasn’t yet told to start training with the first team at Melwood. Such a call up shouldn’t however take too long, after another season of impressive displays where his leadership qualities have shone through.

More so after Gary Ablett singled him out after a couple of exceptional displays for the reserves when finally given the chance recently. Ablett likened him to Sammy Lee – fans of a more recent vintage will perhaps appreciate better David Usher’s (of fame and a regular reserve team attendee) description of a‘shorter version of Jamie Carragher’ – for his hard work whilst indicating that central midfield might be the role for him.

This because for the youth team he has been played as a central defender, a position in which his lack of height doesn’t help. Still it says a lot about Spearing’s qualities that it hasn’t been as much of a hindrance as one would expect.