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Archive for December 2007

Benitez Will Benefit from Less Freedom

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Friday, December 28, 2007 by

He might have his critics in those who feel that he likes to make believe that he has more contacts at Anfield than he actually has, but Guilleme Balague remains one of my favourite writers.

His book ‘A Season on the Brink’ might not be a literary masterpiece but it remains the best account of Rafael Benitez’s first season at Liverpool whilst offering true insight as to what went on in Istanbul.

Irrespective of what anyone might say, Balague is actually quite knowledgeable about what goes on at Liverpool thanks partly to his obvious links with the Spanish players at the club but also because he lived on Merseyside for ten years. And he’s a Liverpool fan to boot.

This doesn’t stop him from speaking his mind and he was one of the few that predicted that Fernando Morientes would struggle in England.

So it was particularly interesting to listen to his take on the argument that broke out earlier this month between Rafael Benitez and the club’s American owners.

According to Balague, given Benitez’s nature, it was somewhat inevitable that he would start acting as if he owned the club if given as much freedom to decide as a traditional English manager was. One or two people, he continues, made it known to the owners that he had too much power and that it might be better if he were to focus more on coaching the side rather than on controlling everything.

The outcome is that Benitez will now be suggesting which players should be bought rather than actually going out and buying the players. This might not be that bad a situation because it will allow Benitez to focus more what’s really important for the team, something that the manager himself might secretly be glad of.

The full interview with Guillem Balague can be heard on the highly recommended podcast at forzafutbol.com.


Liverpool Sign Young Winger

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Wednesday, December 26, 2007 by

Ross County have confirmed that they have sold 16-year-old winger Alex Cooper to Liverpool for £100,000.

Cooper is the son of former Aberdeen great Neale Cooper who was a key member in Alex Ferguson's side which won the Cup Winners Cup against Real Madrid in 1983.

The Scottish U16 international is highly rated so much that Jose Mourinho took him on trial with the Chelsea first team during their pre-season training in Switzerland last year.

"It was always a question of when and not if Alex would get a move to a big club and I am delighted he has got his chance after doing so well for us," Ross County's Director of Football Goerge Adams told thisisnorthscotland.co.uk.

"He is a terrific young lad who comes from a great football family and he has worked really hard to get his move. He is a left-sided player who is quick and aggressive and the fact he was called up for Scotland under-17s while he was playing for a Second Division club shows his quality."

"The length of contract Liverpool have given Alex shows how highly they rate him."

Cooper is the second player to join Liverpool from Ross County after another prospect, Gary Mackay Steven, moved to Merseyside last summer in a deal worth £100,000 and the young Scot has been impressing in the academy side. Indeed, Adams said that "we have a tremendous relationship with Liverpool and it is great for the young players at Ross County to see what can be achieved with hard work and dedication."

"I also think it is a feather in the cap for us that while we are working towards getting out of the Second Division this season, we are still producing young players who are interesting some of the biggest clubs in the world."


Can Young Defender Replace Sami Hyppia?

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Monday, December 10, 2007 by

It was not the kind of full debut that Jack Hobbs will remember fondly. Three goals conceded and the first league defeat of the season aren’t what he would have hoped for.

Yet the young defender shouldn’t trouble himself too much: none of the goals were his fault and, on a personal level, his was a good game. He won every header that came his way, was never beaten on the ground by the Reading forwards and tried to use the ball intelligently when it came to him.

The truth be told, however, it wasn’t that he was involved on too many occasions. For Benitez however it was a good indication that Hobbs development is moving along nicely and, if required, he is more than capable to do a job for the first team.

What happens next for Hobbs depends on a number of issues. With Daniel Agger’s return first team opportunities will be much more difficult to come across and it would become even harder if Benitez gets his wish of signing at least another central defender in January.

Having made his senior debut, however, it is unlikely that Hobbs will appreciate a return to reserve team football. Motivation wise, the desire to improve won’t be there something that would point to a period out on loan.

Danny Guthrie’s experience at Bolton is showing how positive this can be. If Hobbs can go out on loan and prove to Benitez that he can perform at the highest level, then the Spanish manager wouldn’t have to look much further for Sami Hyppia’s replacement once the Finn retires.


Liverpool Pay the Price of Class

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Tuesday, December 04, 2007 by

When Liverpool signed Fernando Torres last summer, those with a more in depth insight on the Spanish game preached caution. “True, he is a fantastically talented forward,” they said “but he’s not a clinical finisher and he’ll drift out of games especially when things aren’t going his well.” Anyone seeing in him the heir of Ian Rush, Robbie Fowler or Michael Owen should think again was the warning.

There were many in the game who held a similar opinion: Manchester United are rumoured to have turned down the chance to sign him for that same reason.

Against Newcastle a week on Saturday, we saw what they meant. By most counts he could have had a hat-trick and that’s taking into consideration just the easiest of opportunities. His wastefulness was certainly disturbing.

Yet few were bothered. That Liverpool still managed to score three goals in a surprisingly easy win obviously helped but it wasn’t just that: there is also the realisation that there is much more to Torres’ game than goals.

Watching him throughout the ninety minutes is a fascinating experience. Some of his talents are immediately apparent: speed and acceleration for instance. Looking at the goals he’s scored this season it is probably only the one he got against Sunderland that came about by beating a defender for pace.

Unlike most players similarly blessed, Torres isn’t one for pushing the ball past defenders and trying to run past them. Instead, he can run at players confident that he can dribble past them. Compared to Michael Owen, for instance, he’s much more accomplished in this regard. His second goal against Porto, when he turned and beat two defenders is ample proof of this.

Naturally, the obvious option for a defender when faced by someone who is so fast and with good feet is to try and kick him out of the game even in today’s sanitised environment. And every time he plays, Torres gets an awful kicking.

Not that you would notice this too much. For one thing, he is deceptively strong and not one to go to ground too easily. He knows when it is better for the side to go down and when he can do better by trying to stay on his feet.

It is this that has particularly endeared him to the Liverpool fans and this is a trait that is representative of his whole attitude. It is easy to see why he was made captain at Atletico Madrid at just nineteen for he is a player who, when others’ heads are going down, will increase his effort.

In that way he mirrors Steven Gerrard, as he does when closing down player. Not only is his awareness and movement off the ball particularly sharp but he also chases defenders and wins an awful lot of balls.

Of course, he will ultimately be judged by his goals but even there he isn’t doing too badly. The coolly taken goal against Bolton was his eleventh in the season and in every game he is a threat.

Benitez has always argued that you have to pay for class, in Torres he has bought the best possible example to confirm that theory.


Essential Viewing: These Idiots Have Destroyed the Game

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Saturday, December 01, 2007 by

I've always had a lot of time for Craig Johnston. He made it at Liverpool through hard work and then went on to succeed in various careers ranging from photography to manufacturing the Predator football boot. Apparently, he's broke once again but that doesn't stop him from offering to work for free at the FA.