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Archive for March 2008

Reserves Through to Final

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Saturday, March 22, 2008 by Paul Grech

In what was undoubtedly their tightest match yet, Liverpool beat Benfica 2-1 in the Dallas Cup to make it through to the final.

Liverpool were able to call on Peter Gulacsi, Andras Simon and Kristian Nemeth for this game after their passport issues were settled and indeed it was a late run by Nemeth that set up Ryan Flynn for the winning goal whilst Simon had given Liverpool the lead in the first half.

Next up in the final are Tigres, a team that Liverpool have already beaten 5-1 in the group stages.


Skrtel Makes Liverpool’s Worries Go Away

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Thursday, March 20, 2008 by Paul Grech

It might seem like a distant memory but not more than a couple of months back any news of a delay in Daniel Agger’s comeback would have been met with alarm. The Danish defender, such a key player last season, had sat out most of the season and his presence had been sorely missed.

After a couple of reserves outings it looked as if he might be edging towards a return but instead came the unexpected news that he would miss the rest of the season. Surprisingly, this was met with resignation rather than any feeling of angst.

Such a reaction is largely down to Martin Skrtel. It says a lot about the impact that he has had and how quickly he has his adapted to English football that his presence has significantly dampened the interest surrounding Agger’s absence.

Initially, however, it didn’t look as if this was going to be the case. A debut against Havant and Waterlooville was seen as the ideal way to ease him in but instead Skrtel had a nightmare. At fault in both goals, he struggled every time the ball got near him and looked out of his depth despite the level of opposition.

Typically, there were those who were quick to write him off as another expensive mistake by the manager. They were soon to change their mind as from that game onwards, Skrtel has grown and grown. He was immense against Chelsea whilst he easily seemed to handle anything that Inter managed to throw at him.

Particularly pleasing has been his speed and ability with the ball. Initial reports were that Skrtel was more similar to Jamie Carragher then Agger and to a certain extent that is true: you’re unlikely to find a tougher player or a stronger tackler around. Yet Skrtel is much faster and more comfortable with the ball at his feet than Carragher will ever be.

Regardless how well he has played so far the usual warnings about new players, especially those coming from abroad, still apply. Skrtel is still learning the language, he is getting to know his team mates and has yet to fully take in all of Benitez’s various tactical instructions.

The warning therefore is that he will make more mistakes. Yet that argument works the other way as well: if he’s been so good thus far, imagine what he’ll be like when he’s more settled in.


No Reason Why Fans Can’t Own the Club

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Monday, March 17, 2008 by Paul Grech

It is difficult to decide whether it is more pleasing or worrying. Sepp Blatter hasn’t got the best of reputations so his words in favour of Share Liverpool, the initiative by fans to generate enough money to buy their club, have to be received with caution.

That this initiative is still being spoken of a couple of months after it was announced, however, is an undoubted positive. Initially dismissed by many, the initiative has slowly been gaining momentum.

Rogan Taylor, perhaps the prime mover behind the idea, is certainly confident that it can be a success.

“I'm certain it can work - it works at clubs big and small,” he says. “It's been in my mind for a few years but the time never seemed right to ask the question before. The reaction has been tremendous: over 160 countries hit the website, nearly 40,000 fans responding positively.”

Indeed, such was the interest on the launch of the scheme that the website set up to answer fans’ queries crashed within minutes and stayed off-line for a couple of days. Yet the message that this sent out – and there were many cynics who were quick to pounce on this - didn’t particularly trouble Taylor.

“No. It didn't worry me. I knew the Liverpool fans wouldn't give up...and they'd come back when the website returned. The mistake we made was to leave a holding page up all day, saying, 'This site goes live at five'.....so tens of thousands of fans were hitting to site at 1 second past 5!”

“I noticed that the UK Government Inland Revenue site crashed the same day: they’re not very professional then, are they?”

One Member, One Vote
The whole scheme is based on the notion that any one member can only buy one share, thereby ensuring that everyone gets a say rather than simply the rich.

The value for each share has been set at £5,000 and although this might seem out of reach for some, there are ways around this.

“Group membership will be possible,” Taylor explains. “For example a group of workmates; a 5 a side team, a bunch of pub regulars, could all chip in an equal amount to make up the 5 grand - they would all appear on the Share Register as 'owners' but they would have to elect one of their group as the 'voting member'.”

Such schemes are widely popular in Spain which is why Real Madrid and Barcelona have been put forward as examples to explain how the whole operation would work.

Yet, despite being owned by the fans, those two clubs are effectively bigger entities than most other clubs in the world. When Real Madrid were facing financial difficulties, the local authority stepped in to buy their training grounds before selling them back to the club for a pittance thereby wiping out their debt.

Other clubs, like Real Sociedad are similarly owned yet they’re floundering in the Second Division. Whilst attractive, the scheme is no guarantee for success.

“Well, there's no guarantee of anything in this world - it all depends on how well the club is run. Are we wise enough to choose the right people to run our Club? Good question! Democracy has its weaknesses, we all know that, but at least you have the chance to get rid of the Board if they're no good.”

“Are these clubs carrying anything like the debt that LFC is now?”

An additional problem surrounds the funding of the club if Share Liverpool were to gain control.

“Same way most clubs do,” is Taylor’s reply. “How do we do it now? Who paid for Torres? They just borrowed the money and put it on the fans' tab (that is, more debt). What many fans don't realise is that a debt free Club is very rich. At the moment we're paying £30-40m a year to service Hicks and Gillet's debts. Fancy that in the transfer pot? The Club takes in £170m a year in income. As to the stadium you probably do what Arsenal has done: borrow the money, securing the debt over a long period on the increased revenue from the new stadium”

Apart from Blatter, a number of former players have been coming out in favour of Share Liverpool which pleases Taylor. “It's great to get some of the 'Legends' on board - it shows that people who know the inner workings of the Club (like Phil Thompson) recognise that's it is possible”

Yet, although Taylor remains confident that they can buy the club from Hicks and Gillett, recent reports claim that DIC are very close to buying at least 49% in the club.

Taylor insists that even if the club is sold completely, Share Liverpool will still maintain interest.

“We've started a fire and it won’t go out. We've proved there's a very significant constituency of Liverpool fans who'd like to take ownership of the Club and will put their money where their mouth is.”

“Owners come and go - the fans are here forever. If DIC bought the Club outright, we'd have to see how things developed from there. Who knows: they may come to us (if they're clever enough!), looking for a partnership with LFC fans.”

More information on Share Liverpool can be found here .


What They Said This Week

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Sunday, March 16, 2008 by Paul Grech

I would say, choose your partners wisely
George Gillett and the art of understatements

The thing about Torres is that he can make opponents feel old and spectators feel young.
Daniel Taylor shares the Torres love in his Guardian report.

This was an historic performance on an historic night. The supporters sensed it, too. Parochial songs and declarations of devotion to all things Scouse and red were crowned with a defiant chorus rarely heard from the throats of this nation’s cosmopolitan elite. “England,” the Liverpool fans cried. “England.”
Either Martin Samuel's hearing is going or else he wasn't at the match: Liverpool fans were singing Inter not England.

Rafa Benitez has to be the only manager in England who can dump the Italian champions out of the Champions League - on their own turf - and get criticised for doing so.
Ben Blackmore on settantasports.com

All this means that Liverpool have a ‘superspine'. Reina, Agger, Gerrard and Torres are all what I've dubbed superplayers.
Always the optimist Paul Tomkins.




The Route To Moscow

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Friday, March 14, 2008 by Paul Grech

So, it is Arsenal next in the Champions League. Not the easiest of draws given that we always seem to struggle at the Emirates but we've learned that nothing is impossible for Liverpool in this competition. That the second leg is at Anfield is a nice bonus and if teams keeps on improving then there's every reason to feel positive.

For some reason, I felt really confident when we got Inter in the last round and strangely feel the same now. Bring them on.


Bouncing All Together

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by Paul Grech

Fernando Torres was too good not to have his own song and so, after some tweaks, here it is (preferabbly coupled with bouncing).

His armband proved he was a red,
Torres, Torres,
You'll never walk alone it said,
Torres, Torres,
We bought the lad from sunny Spain,He gets the ball, he scores again,
Fernando Torres, Liverpool's number nine.
Na-na, na-na, na-na, na-na, na-naaa, na-naaa




Third Team For Liverpool

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by Paul Grech

When, back in 1991 the twenty teams making up the top flight of English football voted in favour of leaving the Football League so as to be in control of themselves, few imagined that the move would be as successful as it has proven to be.

Not only has the bubble surrounding football’s finances at the top end failed to burst, it is now stronger than ever thanks also to the most recent television deal that has seen each Premiership side rake in millions.

Yet this success has come at a price. It is impossible, for instance, to deny that the demographics of the match going public has changed with the working class that traditionally formed the bedrock of English support being replaced by those financially better off.

The plan to add a thirty ninth game to the fixture list, which game would be played overseas confirmed just how detached English club have become with their roots.

So alienated have a group of Liverpool fans become that they’ve decided to look for an alternative to the current situation, that of forming their own club.

Last month saw the official launching of AFC Liverpool Grassroots which, according to their promotional litterature, is aimed at “those Liverpool fans who have been priced out of watching Premier League games.”

Getting Too Expenive
Alun Parry, the man who came up with the whole idea, counts himself among such fans. “The overriding driver is that there is a genuine affordability issue when it comes to Premier League matches,” the 37 year-old explains. “They're extremely expensive and there are many diehard Reds who simply can't afford to pay close to £40 week in week out to get to see a game.”

“Those who have kids are even harder hit financially. I know one lad who gave up his own season ticket because he couldn't afford to take his son to the game too, and felt mean leaving his football mad boy behind every Saturday to go to Anfield himself.”

“That's not to have a pop at Liverpool FC. In fact, if you compare the pricing policy of all the Premiership clubs, Liverpool offers relatively good value and LFC has been far more sensitive than most to the needs of their local community.”

“But that aside, the nature of Premier League football is that, even if our prices are kinder than others, they're still too expensive for massive amounts of Liverpool supporters. Many can't go at all, many others can only afford to go to a few games a year.”

“What happens to those supporters is the question. To be able to provide a football club run by Liverpool fans means that they can come and support us with fellow Reds, wearing the same colours, sharing the terrace with the same community of Liverpool supporters, singing the same songs. Okay its not Liverpool itself, but it has a Liverpool FC identity, and it will hopefully bring many people back through the turnstiles. It's sad that many kids grow up primarily experiencing football as a TV show.”

For some, the solution has been that of following another club lower down the league structure. Yet this is not something that is likely to appeal to most fans.

“For most Liverpool fans, we have always focused on LFC and it's doubtful if we could just invent support for another club out of thin air. If I went to watch another team plucked out of thin air like that, I'd enjoy it because I enjoy watching football, but I wouldn't enjoy it on the level that a supporter would.”

“The thing that is unique about AFC Liverpool is the fact that it exists for the community of Liverpool supporters, and so the club will have an identity that people can hook into and so genuinely care about the result.”

“If you currently have an affinity with Tranmere or Formby or Marine or Prescot Cables or Bootle FC or Southport or any of the other fine teams in Merseyside then yes go along and support them.”

“But we know that most Liverpool supporters don't have that reason to support another team, and fandom cannot simply be invented as we all know. So many football fans are currently spending Saturday afternoons away from football. AFC Liverpool is a reason for them to come back, and be part of a team they have a genuine reason to support.”

Football Has Lost Its Soul
Agree or not with AFC Liverpool, it is undeniably that there is more than a fair share of truth in Parry’s arguments. Proof lies in the popularity of reserve team football, with Liverpool’s home games regularly attracting figures in the thousands – there were more than 10,000 for the recent game with Manchester Unted - specifically because they offer fans the opportunity of watching their team without having to fork out half their pay.

There is also the question of values. “There is great skill in the Premiership so top flight football does have its sparkle. But, as the Game 39 moneyfest showed, it's lost a lot of its soul in the chase for cash. I think Game 39 proved to everyone that the people running the game care more about money than they do about the integrity of the competition itself. Many supporters who can still afford to go the game nonetheless miss the more traditional values of the game, and would enjoy going along to AFC Liverpool as well.”

Just how much greed has entrenched itself in the soul of the Premier League is shown by the growing number of foreign owned clubs, all bought because they’re deemed a good investment that will generate money for the owners.

Liverpool is one such club, although Parry is at pains to stress that the formation of AFC Liverpool Grassroots is in no way a response to the controversial ownership of Tom Hicks and George Gillett.

“People tend to think this is a reaction to Hicks & Gillett in the way that FC United was seen as a reaction to Glazer, but its not. It's an unfortunate coincidence that Hicks and Gillett are about as people jump to the conclusion that it's all about them when it's not at all about them.”

Whatever the perception, the idea has been welcomed. “The feedback has been excellent,” Parry confirms. “There is a real buzz around the idea and people are very keen.”

Given the resentment to the current owners, that was always likely to be the case yet feelings are likely to change were the club to change hands. That, however, isn’t something that worries Parry.

“As I say this is not a response to the owners. The owners just happen to be there. I think in many ways it will be easier for us once the ownership issue is cleared up because people will realise that this is not a reaction to that, but is motivated by other issues and is a genuine idea in its own right.”

“Whoever owns Liverpool Football Club over the next however many years, ticket prices will still be high enough to price many diehard Reds out of supporting the team in the way we could in my Dad's day.”

Community Spirit
“AFC Liverpool is primarily targetting those supporters, to be part of an LFC community, attending a real "in the flesh" football match, standing with the same fans, wearing the same colour scarves, and singing the same songs.”

“No matter who owns LFC, the demands of the Premiership will still be pricing genuine Reds out of the game. The question is, where can they go to watch a football match that they care about? Where can they take their kids to be part of that community that I experienced as a lad going to the game? AFC Liverpool is the answer to that question - and that question remains, no matter who owns LFC.”

What comes next is arguably the biggest challenge that the young club is yet to face. “Our next step is to allow people to put their money where their mouth is and make this a reality. The basis of the club is that it will be an Industrial & Provident Society which is the standard model for supporter owned clubs. We'll soon be inviting people to send us money which will then become your membership of the club.”

“It is key to our acceptance into the league that we have that financial backing and money in the bank so we'll be making an announcement on how people can financially support the creation of the club, and in the process become a voting member of the club too.”

For all of his positive talk, Parry is realistic enough to realist that “there are some who are suspicious that this is an anti-LFC thing” yet he isn’t going to be discouraged by this. Calls have already gone out for anyone willing to either manage or play for the new club.

“I think those who talk to us and realise our motivations can see that it's anything but, and that everybody involved is passionate about Liverpool Football Club too.”

More information about AFC Liverpool Grassroots can be found here .


Good Game Bad Game [vs Inter]

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Thursday, March 13, 2008 by Paul Grech

There’s no getting away from it: this was a bad game where both teams’ passing was sloppy at best. Yet Rafael Benitez has done what he does best in getting his team to snuff out the threat of a top European side and Liverpool go through to the quarter finals.

Inter are likely to point at the double sending-offs they suffered, but the truth is they showed nothing over the two legs. Zlatan Ibrahimovic is a fantastic talent, as he showed sporadically during the first half, but when things aren’t going his way he can be something of a twat.

Most of Inter’s chances fell to him, thankfully. Not that anyone of the others was much better. Julio Cruz is a better player than he showed on the night, Patrick Vieira is a shadow of the great player he was at Arsenal and Dejan Stankovic looks good in the Serie A but can’t hold his own on a higher stage.
Inter’s saving grace were their fans who did their best to push on the side in the first half and then, once Liverpool had gone ahead, started acknowledging their opponents. They don’t have the best of reputations but they certainly showed class on this occasion.

Good Game
Pepe Reina’s didn’t have too much to do but when Inter did mange to find a way through, he was more than ready. In particular his two saves on Cruz’s efforts were crucial as they would have given Inter real hope. Man of the match.

There hasn’t been much news on Sami Hyppia’s new contract but his experience continues to be vital for Liverpool and being used in this game says a lot of how highly Benitez thinks of him. Equally telling is Martin Skrtel’s presence in the centre of defence, pushing Carragher to the right. Apart from one heart stopping moment in the 50th minute when he passed the ball to an Inter defender, he was rock solid throughout.

Jamie Carragher isn’t the best right back at the club but on nights like this, where protecting the result is fundamental, his presence and solidity is invaluable. Having criticized him earlier on this season, Fabio Aurelio has been progressively improving. It was thanks to his determination that possession was won when Torres scored but, apart from that, he was excellent throughout. If he can maintain this form and stay free from injury, then he will finally justify Benitez’s faith in him.

Both Javier Mascherano and Steven Gerrard played to their very high standards with the first ensuring that the Inter midfielders never had any time to think whilst Gerrard was always quick to drag his team forward. As for Fernando Torres, overall he didn’t have the best of games but, when he got his chance, he took it brilliantly.

Bad Game
Perhaps the occasion got to him but Ryan Babbel was too wasteful and he rarely got the better of the Inter defenders. The same applies to Dirk Kuyt who just didn’t get into the game. Asked to replace Xabi Alonso, Lucas tried hard but it will take time and patience for him to reach the Spaniard’s level.

Substitutes
Some argue that Yossi Benayoun has been a bit of a disappointment but I feel that the opposite applies in that he is the ideal squad player. Against Inter he came on and he made an immediate impact by keeping better hold of the ball than Babbel. John Arne Riise and Jermaine Pennant both came on when the game was already dead so their impact was minimal.


Champions League Preview: Inter's Super Mario

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Tuesday, March 11, 2008 by Paul Grech

Viareggio is a small, picturesque city on the coast of the Tyrrhenian Sea in northern Tuscany that is remarkable for two things: the papier-mâché floats at the carnival has been organized since 1873 and, more pertinently to this site, the youth football tournament that is held at around the same time.

The Torneo di Viareggio holds a special place in Italian football folklore. Held since 1949, it features the country’s top Primavere - literally Spring, as in the season, which is how the under 18s are called over here – as well as an ever increasing number of international sides.

What makes the Torneo di Viareggio special is the sheer number of players that have come through the tournament. Giovanni Trapattoni, Sandro Mazzola, Roberto Bettega, Bruno Conti, Paolo Rossi, Franco Baresi, Paolo Maldini, Alessandro Del Piero, Gigi Buffon and Antonio Cassano all feature in a roll call of the tournament’s most famous graduates that also reads like a list of Italian greats of the past sixty years.

It is through the authority of such a past that around the start of February, focus shifts to Viareggio and the search for the next big thing.

This year, spotting the ones with the most potential wasn’t overly difficult. Milan fielded their other teenage star in the form of Alberto Paloschi, an 18 year-old who scored Milan’s winner in his senior league debut against Siena. The ever increasing injury list is forcing Carlo Ancelotti to rely more heavily on the youngster than he would wish yet this doesn’t preclude the club from using him in a competition like the Torneo di Viareggio. Winning titles, especially one as prestigious as the Viareggio, comes above everything else.

It is the same reasoning that led to Inter into using their own prodigy, Mario Balotelli. Two goals on his debut in the Coppa Italia against Reggina, another brace in the following round’s victory against Juventus, this kid truly is something special.

As is his story. Born to Ghanaian parents in Palermo, at age two he was adopted by a couple in Brescia. His talent for football immediately shone through so much that he was in the Lumezzano first team in the C1 (Division One) by the time he was fifteen. Such was the development that the Italian football association had to give him special consent to play.

This progress brought him to the notice of big clubs, and he even held a trial with Barcelona. Eventually he opted for Inter and despite the club’s reticence to bring through young players; Balotelli - who never celebrates when he scores (although an exception was made against Juventus) - has quickly forced himself into Roberto Mancini’s reckoning so much that an appearance against Liverpool cannot be ruled out.

Seven goals in six games at the Viareggio – including two in the replayed final where he also twice hit the post – easily mark him out as the tournament’s best player as well as another name that will continue to embellish Viareggio’s reputation.


An Evening with Fernando and the King

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Monday, March 10, 2008 by Paul Grech

Few British players have been as succesful abroad as Michael Robinson. The former Liverpool striker joined Osasuna in the mid-eighties and has remained in Spain ever since, going on to become one of the most respected football journalists.

Robinson has never made any secret of his support for Liverpool so he has been more pleased than most to see so many Spaniards at the club, giving him more reasons to talk about the Reds. So much that recently his show Informe featured three Liverpool legends - Kenny Dalglish, Graeme Souness and Sammy Lee - along with three of the current stars - Fernando Torres, Pepe Reina and Alvaro Arbeloa - in what looked like an excellent show (the kind you would think LFC TV should be trying to produce).

Thanks to Another Spanish Fan, sub-titles have been added to the youtube uploads. Enjoy.






The (Not Quite) Official Squad Photo

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Friday, March 07, 2008 by Paul Grech



More details on this image can be found here.


Good Game Bad Game [vs Bolton]

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Monday, March 03, 2008 by Paul Grech

Having struggled to get results at the Reebok in the past, it was nice to see the team pick up a relatively easy win. Bolton have improved from the team that got beaten 4-0 at Anfield yet, despite not playing overly well, Liverpool won with a certain degree of ease.

Much of the focus has been on Jaskelainen's own goal but, although that did help the players' job, the goalkeeper did save at least three great chances in the first half to keep Bolton in the game. With or without that error, Liverpool would still have won.

Good Game
Pepe Reina's fantastic save from Kevin Davies' free header in the first half preserved Liverpool's lead and proved just how valuable a solid keeper is. Once again, Sami Hyppia put in a great performance strengthening his claim for a new contract. Equally impressive was Martin Skrtel's performance with the Slovak easily handling what Bolton had to offer. Admittedly, he was slightly at fault with their goal but that is more down to his lack of experience at the club.

I've been crtical of Fabio Aurelio in the past but he was very good yesterday. Goal apart, his passing was always accurate, he moved forward when he could and didn't face too many problems from El Hadj Diouf.

At long last, Javier Mascherano is a Liverpool player and once again he proved just why he is worth every penny. Typical was the instance in the second half when he lost the ball and then raced back to recover it without fouling the player.

This time, however, he was overshadowed by Steven Gerrard whose driving runs forward troubled the Bolton defenders who just didn't know how to mark him. My man of the match, which is slightly harsh on Xabi Alonso. Perhaps because he is getting back to full fitness or else because playing for the reserves jolted him, but he was much better yesterday than he has been for a long time, even if he did fade a bit in the second half.

During the week, Benitez insisted that for the time being he will be playing Ryan Babel on the left. Against Bolton he proved once again that he is good enough to do a job there although he still doesn't look comfortable. Scored a good goal though.

Bad Game
It is rumoured that Jamie Carragher dislikes playing at right-back and yesterday he gave Benitez plenty of reason not to play him there again. Not that he did a bad job and is a solid enough back-up for instances like this when both Steve Finnan and Alvaro Arbeloa aren't ready to play. Why not give Stephen Darby a chance, though?

Apart from hitting the post just before the second goal, Dirk Kuyt was anonymous for most of the game, an accusation that can be levelled at Fernando Torres as well.

Substitutes
Neither John Arne Riise nor Alvaro Arbeloa had enough time or really needed to do anything spectacular and neither one did.