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Archive for May 2008

Not Just a Pay Rise for Torres

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Friday, May 30, 2008 by Paul Grech

It isn't simply a (richly deserved) pay rise that Fernando Torres is getting this week but also this fantastic new advert by Nike.


Shades of Hungary for AFC Liverpool

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Wednesday, May 28, 2008 by Paul Grech

Things are moving on at AFC Liverpool, the club set up to offer Liverpool fans affordable football, with a manager having been appointed, pre-season friendlies being set up and squads on the verge of being announced.

Yet perhaps the most exciting recent development has been the announcement of the club’s crest. Designed by Nick Thompson and voted for by the club’s members, it is quite a nostalgic badge with a distinct Soviet flavouring.

Or should that be Hungarian flavouring? For it really is reminiscent of the Hungary badge worn by the legendary Ferenc Puskas and the great team of the fifties. The Liverbird in the middle could have been larger but all in all a fantastic effort and one that will look great on an all red shirt.



Support AFC Liverpool by becoming a member. It is well worth the fee.


The Lad Can Play: Daniel Pacheco

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Tuesday, May 27, 2008 by Paul Grech

There’s no doubting who Liverpool’s star player in the reserves was the past season. With the passing of every game Krisitian Nemeth has been winning over more supporters both for his instinctive finishing and for his impressive natural ability with the ball.


Yet for all his accomplishments, Nemeth isn’t the most talented striker in the reserves squad. That’s when Daniel Pacheco comes in. For a number of reasons the former Barcelona trainee hasn’t played too often for the reserves yet whenever he managed to put on a red shirt there was no doubting that he has tremendous potential.

Watching him play it is easy to forget that he is just sixteen. Like Nemeth he is an instinctive striker – it isn’t too hard to appreciate why he was nicknamed the Killer at Barca – yet there’s even more to his game. He works hard, isn’t afraid of a physical battle and his awareness of what is going on around him certainly isn’t normal for a kid his age.

The latest player to slip through Barcelona’s hands following the likes of Cesc Fabregas, Gerard Pique and Fran Merida, it was quite a coup for Liverpool to convince him to join once he came to decide with whom he should sign professional terms. The presence of a Spanish manager will have helped ease any worries that he might struggle to settle in yet in reality the success of Fabregas will have shown to Pacheco that England is a country where he can make an impact.

Whether that happens depends on how he develops and on how many opportunities he gets given. With so many players ahead of him it won’t be easy yet for someone who is already so good at such a young age, it is hard to see him being kept out of the side once he really starts to mature.


Interested in reading more about Liverpool's young players? Find many more profiles here.


Additional Insight on Degen Paints a Different Picture

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Monday, May 26, 2008 by Paul Grech

It is fair to say that the signing of Philip Degen has left most fans, at best, underwhelmed. Even though only a few have ever seen him play enough to really form an opinion, the over-riding feeling is that he won’t be any good.

Therefore it was refreshing to hear Andy Brassel talk positively about him. Brassel is the European expert on the World Football phone-in on the BBC, as well as a regular writer on Champions magazine, and he had this to say about Degen on last Saturday's show.

25 year old right back who has not played since February because he was out with a thigh injury. He was out of contract at Dortmund so it will be a free transfer for Liverpool. Very, very good coming forward and one of the stars of the Swiss team. They were so keen to get him back that they rushed him into the squad despite note having played in over three months.


European Title for Liverpool Midfielder

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Saturday, May 17, 2008 by Paul Grech

If there's any doubting as to why Rafael Benitez keeps on looking at Spain not only for first team players but also when it comes to picking players for the future then here is the reply: Spain 4 France 0.

That is the impressive result with which the Spanish U17s swept to the European title yesterday, one that equaled the best ever win in a final at this level. It was their second consecutive success and the sixth overall at this level of football, a sequence of results that England - who didn't even qualify for this tournament - can only dream of.

Given the unseemly scrap going on for John Bostock, the England U17 captain, who is refusing to sign a new contract at Crystal Palace in order to move to Tottenham Hotspur, and the millions being demanded by Cardiff for Aaron Ramsey, the wisdom of Benitez's strategy becomes increasingly apparent.

FIFA's attempts to force teams into fielding five local born players might change all that, but on talent and potential alone there really is no doubting as to where Liverpool should look. Even if, you would think, the academy should be operating in such a way as to produce players who are just as talented.

Of this latest Spanish squad Liverpool had one player, the highly rated Gerardo Bruna. The Argentine born midfielder enjoyed a good season for the reserves coming into his own later on during the season. In Turkey, Bruna only tasted action with a couple of substitute appearances during the group stages but the experience of being in such a successful group will prove to be invaluable for him.


Loan Strategy Needs Revising

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Friday, May 16, 2008 by Paul Grech

A little over a year ago, Rafael Benitez ensured that he’d never get a warm welcome at a Football League meeting by suggesting that Premier league clubs should be allowed to play in the lower leagues. Unsurprisingly his opinion was decried as heresy, the view of another foreigner with no appreciation for the British culture and the sanctity of the league structure.

To an extent, they were right. Benitez only has Liverpool’s progress at heart and in that respect his views made perfect sense. There’s little use in having a reserve squad if all they do is play in a joke league with a maximum of two games per month and the opposition often involves kids who are playing simply because they are too old to compete in the academy leagues.

Playing at league level would offer them the ideal development environment, especially if under the guidance of Liverpool’s own coaching staff. Realistically, however, that isn’t going to happen so the next best alternative is to send out on loan those players deemed to be ready enough.

The problem is identifying where to send them. Finding a club where they play a decent style of football and where they can get as much exposure as possible would be the ideal but too often that has proved to be far from what has happened.

Take Jack Hobbs, for instance. Benitez was understandably sceptic at the thought of relying on such an inexperienced player when injuries hit Liverpool’s central defenders so he was sent out to Scunthorpe to gain some experience. Instead, despite starting brightly, he ended up watching most games from the substitutes’ bench. Not because there were better players ahead of him but rather because Scunthorpe were just as reluctant to rely on an inexperienced player.

It is a situation that makes you wonder whether the clubs or the managers actually talk before a player is asked to temporarily move to a different team. Players go out on loan to gain experience: having them spend most of their time on the bench or worse is simply a waste of time.

Of course, it could be that the exposure to a more competitive level of football proves that the players aren’t good enough. What is emerging, however, is a different situation were clubs loan in players simply to bolster their squads and have enough back-up especially when they have a couple of players missing. When those players return, the on-loans are parked on the side-lines irrespective of their true worth.

It is, quite simply, an unacceptable situation and one that must be looked at immediately. Such loan deals are unfair on the players who accept them simply because they feel that it is the best way to further their career but ultimately get cheated out of playing time.

It is up to the club and Benitez to see that wherever they go they get a minimum guarantee that they will be playing or at least offered a fair chance to play.

Otherwise it would be best not to send them at all.

How They Fared
Ten players were sent out on-loan during the past twelve months but most of them will be returning to Anfield disappointed.


Paul Anderson (Swansea)
Perhaps the biggest success story, Anderson (pictured above) excelled for Swansea as the Welsh side ran away to the League One title. Voted as the club’s best young player at the end of the season, Anderson has shown genuine promise but has already been told that he will be spending next year on loan, although this time at a Championship side.

Godwin Antwi (Hartlepool)
The Ghanaian defender started strongly but spent the latter part of the season on the bench, unable to displace Ben Clark from the side.

Scott Carson (Aston Villa)
The most high profile player on this list, there’s little doubt that Carson will be moving on at the end of this season although the destination remains to be seen. Excellent early on, his form dipped in the second half of the season after his error strewn game for England against Croatia.

Danny Guthrie (Bolton Wanderers)
Followingfrom his excellent displays last season for Southampton, Guthrie made the step up in level to the Premier League with relative ease. Doubts about his suitability for Liverpool remain but his loan moves have certainly helped get people notice him.

Adam Hamill (Southampton)
Having done so well last year at Dunfermline, much was expected of Hamill as he tested himself at Championship level. Instead, his season at Southampton was a bitter disappointment. Unable to get a look in early on, he eventually forced himself into the first team but constant injuries robbed him of the opportunity to prove that his is good enough. That the Southampton coaching staff seemed to have very little faith in him didn’t help either.

Jack Hobbs (Scunthorpe)
That Liverpool allowed Hobbs to move to a club clearly heading for relegation was surprising, that he barely got a look in astonishing. As most Scunthorpe fans will admit, Hobbs did well when he played but they simply chose to stick with their own players. A futile waste of the past six months for the player.

Anthony Le Tallec (Le Mans)
The former great hope spent his final season on Liverpool’s books out on loan with Le Mans where he did reasonably well.

Craig Lindfield (Notts County, Chester)
Lindfield’s (pictured right) is a typical case of the apparent lack of planning that goes into such loan moves. Lindfield first went to Notts County where he scored a great goal on his debut before being sent back to Liverpool as they couldn’t afford to pay his hotel rental. He then went to Chester but that deal was soon cut short too as his wages were too high for them. Putting aside the doubt whether Lindfield should have been tested at such a low level, are these the sort of clubs to develop Liverpool’s players?

Miki Roque (Xerez)
Just one game for a side struggling against relegation in the Spanish second division is hardly going to impress anyone. As with Antwi, perhaps it was a case of reality catching up with him.

Robbie Threlfall (Hereford)
Threlfall (pictured below) made an immediate impression at Hereford so much that, after an initial month on loan, they opted to keep him till the end of the season despite being injured. He eventually did come back to play fairly regularly until another injury kept him out for almost two months. Did well enough for Hereford but is Division Three really a good testing ground for someone who is to play for Liverpool?


Playing it the Liverpool Way

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Wednesday, May 14, 2008 by Paul Grech

There is something reassuringly familiar about Lucas Leiva, a style of play that recalls happier days for Liverpool. Get the ball, pass it on to the nearest red shirt and then move on in readiness to get it back: that used to be the Liverpool way and that is how Leiva plays his football.


In a way, this explains why so little has been said about him. Lucas blends into the side seemingly doing nothing special, certainly not anything that gets him easily noticed. Look closer, however, and the understated importance of his play will become obvious.

Take his passing. Unlike others he is not one for the long cross-field pass but often tends to look around him for players who are in space. It could be construed as lack of ambition or talent but in truth it is simply another way to keep the move going. Especially because of what Lucas often does after each pass: move forward and get ready to receive the ball again.

In other words, he always makes sure that there are options and outlets for those around him to allow Liverpool to move the ball forward and past any pressure that there might be on the midfielders. Far from being a risk free approach, Lucas is in more danger of looking inept if possession is lost than it is if a longer range pass goes slightly wayward. Yet it offers a different dimension to Liverpool’s play. Too many teams have latched on to the fact that Xabi Alonso will cut you in half if you give him space on the ball. Press him, however, and his effectiveness is greatly reduced.

Of course the thing with Alonso is that he is far too intelligent to be easily cornered but the availability of a player like Lucas ensures that there are different alternatives available for Liverpool.

This wasn’t always apparent this season but there were enough instances to indicate that it is what Benitez is thinking of. Especially towards the latter part of the season when Lucas started being given more opportunities – possibly because it was felt that the player had really started to settle in – and as a result he began to really show what he’s all about.

It was then that more started to emerge about his game. His reactivity, for instance, and how he immediately starts pressing whenever the ball is lost. Or his defence splitting passes such as the one that put Pennant through on goal against Fulham. Such instances hint at how much more could come from him.

Not that this should have been in any doubt. This was a player who had been a regular for one of Brazil’s biggest sides since he was eighteen, a side he had captained as well as playing a major role in its progress to the final of the Copa Libertadores. And this is a player who is a regular member of Brazil’s squad, someone who is rated very highly by coach Carlos Dunga.

Perhaps it is because he has already achieved so much that such high expectations are place on him. Not even that, however, justifies the claims that his has been a disappointing season. He might need to improve in certain areas – which player his age doesn’t? -but he that doesn’t diminish the fact that he is an exceptional talent.


Money Talks In Challenge for League Title

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Tuesday, May 13, 2008 by Paul Grech

If there were any doubts about just how difficult it will be for Liverpool to challenge for the league title next season, then the ₤16 million paid by Chelsea for right back Jose Bosingwa should help clear them away.

Quite simply, it is an enormous amount to pay especially for a defender. Of course, the size of the transfer fee has no bearing on the eventual success of the player – Paolo Ferreira too was signed for the not inconsiderable amount of ₤13.2 million but has largely failed to impress – but all the reports indicate that Bosingwa is a class act who will be a hugely valuable addition.

Liverpool, on the other hand, are going for the out-of-contract Phillip Deggen as the possible replacement to Steve Finnan at right-back for next season. Again, there’s every possibility that Deggen proves to be a huge success and the fact that his contract was allowed to run down should not be taken as confirmation of his lack of ability.

Across the arc of a team, however, it is much more likely that the ₤15 million players are better than the ₤5 million ones. It is when squads are compared as a whole that the difference in quality becomes telling.

And it is that difference that over the course of a season has a defining effect.


Careful What You Wish For

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Friday, May 09, 2008 by Paul Grech

Always look on the bright side of life. If there’s a moral to Sven Goran Eriksson’s dismissal at Manchester City it surely is that. And that’s not a reference to the fact that the Swede will once again be getting paid (handsomely) for sitting at home for the next two years but rather to the close shave Liverpool had when David Moores came to choosing the buyers of the club.

Tom Hicks and George Gillet have many faults but at least they’re not Thaksin Shinawatra. Even allowing for a disappointing end to the campaign, City’s has been an excellent season and they’ve been starting to show the promise of building a decent side.

Given that he had so little time to prepare, Eriksson did pretty well in getting a side together. His transfers were largely positive, typified by the arrival of Elano, yet he’s also managed to find space for the club’s many young players to keep on developing with Joe Hart – who has gone from being a reserve to a contender for the England shirt – being a prime example.

Yet Shinawatra isn’t happy so after one season he has decided to get rid of Eriksson and look for someone else instead.

It is a pathetic situation but, then again, not one that Liverpool are entirely unfamiliar with: the two Americans did come close to pushing Benitez out of the club. Five months down the line and there are still echoes of their meeting with Jurgen Klinsmann that nearly brought to an end the Spaniard’s stay at Anfield. Indeed, if Benitez is still at Liverpool it is largely down to the fans and the two owners’ realization that if they wanted to restore some semblance of peace with the supporters then they had to back the manager.

The curious thing about this whole affair is that, when City were spending big to sign the likes of Elano, Rolando Bianchi and Martin Petrov, there were Liverpool fans who were looking on enviously. Had a poll been drawn at the time on who the majority would have liked to own Liverpool, whether it was Shinawatra or Hick and Gillet, the answer would have probably been a pretty close call.

Therein lies another significant message: beware what you wish for. The truth is that you don’t get rich owners investing in your club without expecting them to want things to be run their way. That will hold true whether we’re talking about Thaksin Shinawatra, Tom Hicks, George Gillet or DIC.

Welcoming them with open arms just gives them the feeling that they can mess around that little bit more.


Ablett Combines Progress with Success

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Wednesday, May 07, 2008 by Paul Grech

Not bad for a fall back option. When Paco Herrera chose to return to Spain, the job of managing Liverpool’s reserve side was earmarked for Gary McAllister, with Rafael Benitez eager to have someone who had played for the club to fill that role.

Personal reasons forced the Scot to turn the offer down and the club into looking for someone else to take on the role. It was unlikely, however, that any such search would have involved looking at the coaching staff at Goodison yet it was from there that Benitez ultimately found his man.

Gary Ablett was one of the few men to have played for the two Merseyside clubs. A Liverpool youth product who won the double with Kenny Dalglish, he was sold to Everton by Graeme Souness and went on to play the best football of his career in blue. Once his playing career had came to an end, he took up coaching with Everton’s youth teams making a name for being highly ambitious.

That ambition came to the fore in the summer of 2006 when he applied for the Liverpool reserves’ job. A three hour long interview with Benitez later – one which he spent answering a question after another on how he would react in different tactical situations – and Ablett was given the job.

It was quite a surprising choice not only because of Ablett’s Evertonian background but also because as a player he had never been the most popular with the fans.

Two years down the line, however, and it is starting to look like an inspired choice. That the reserves have done so well is largely down to the number of talented players that have been added to the team yet Ablett has played a crucial role in moulding those individuals into an effective side.

Given that most of them were unlikely to talk much English when they came in, it wasn’t that straightforward a task. Indeed, the ease with which they’ve all started to express their potential – and the way in which the younger players like Daniel Pacheco and Gerardo Bruna have been slowly eased into the side with both being more effective each time they play - bears testament to Ablett’s man-management abilities.

There is more that that. Tactically, the side is always shaped well regardless of who is playing and on the rare occasions in which they found themselves under pressure he has shown to be quite adept at switching players round to rectify the situation.

Ablett himself has been quite happy to deflect the plaudits on to his players whilst claiming that ultimately the aim is to get as many of the players in the first team as possible rather than at winning games. Inwardly, however, he’ll be quite proud of his achievements and justifiably so.

And, who knows, perhaps he’s thinking of putting himself forward to fill the void left by another Paco – Ayesteran – as Benitez’s assistant manager.


The Lad Can Play: Gerardo Bruna

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Tuesday, May 06, 2008 by Paul Grech

Life has just gotten more complicated for young talented Argentine forwards. For years they’ve had to cope with the pressure of being likened with Diego Armando Maradona, now there’s also the shadow of Lionel Messi hanging over them.

The latter was the tag attached to Gerardo Bruna when he decided to swap Madrid to Merseyside last summer. Then again, the parallels in his case were too obvious to overlook. As with the Barcelona star, Bruna had left Argentina when quite young to join Real Madrid – although contrary to Messi he has actually opted to play for Spain - and he too was rather on the small side but with great ability on the ball.

Initially, however, it looked like that last qualification had been rather over-hyped. Drafted into the reserves side rather than the academy team, Bruna looked well above his abilities when given the odd five minutes’ play by Gary Ablett. Easily shrugged off the ball, his passes often failed to find their intended targets and every time he tried to go past player the move was immediately cut short.

Slowly, however, his play started to improve as he started to get more comfortable with his settings. His passes got better, his dribbling much more effective and a talent at free kicks started to shine through. Now it is much easier to see why there was so much excitement around him.

First team football for Bruna, however, is still some way off. Physically he still looks too much like the sixteen year old that he is and bulking up will be a priority over the next twelve months.
The reserves team is the ideal setting for that, giving him a taste of competitive football that is slightly toned down from the physical aggressiveness of the Premier League. Yet if he continues progressing as he has so far since joining Liverpool, this time next years the calls to see him in the first team should be mirroring those that are currently pushing to see Kristian Nemeth make an appearance.

Interested in reading more about Liverpool's young players? Find many more profiles here.