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Archive for June 2008

Ambition That's Driving Ince Forward

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Wednesday, June 25, 2008 by Paul Grech

Former Liverpool captain Paul Ince took over at Blackburn this week amidst much media fuss about him being the first British born black manager in the top flight. Yet should such a big deal be made out of the colour of his skin? A Liverpool Thing editor Paul Grech thinks not.


All praise Blackburn for going against trend and convention by appointing Paul Ince as manager. He is after all young and English which isn’t a combination most clubs have been too interested in of late.

Looking at the managers who came into their jobs midway through last season, it is apparent that all clubs were interested in was experience rather than taking a risk on someone as yet untried but perhaps with the potential to do better in the longer run.

Of course, Ince’s appointment has sparked off innumerable debates albeit for other reasons: the colour of his skin and how this has held back other managers. That there is this awareness is commendable, yet one would hardly imagine that the Blackburn directors gave it too much thought. What was important for them was Ince’s ability as a manager, how he projected himself and his ideas on taking the club forward.

Which is all that should really matter.

That Paul Ince had to start out at Macclesfield and MK Dons whilst his team-mates from the nineties got breaks much higher up the league – Stuart Pearce at Manchester City, Gareth Southgate at Middlesbrough and Roy Keane at Sunderland – isn’t indicative of anything. Tony Adams got his first job at Wycombe, Ian Rush got all his qualifications but all he could get where coaching jobs here and there.

That managers get jobs because of the colour of their skin is of course true in football just as it is elsewhere. It shouldn’t be that way, of course, and any attempt at trying to raise consciousness about the problems faced by black managers should be lauded. Trying to push Ince forward as a champion of the cause, however, won’t be doing him too many favours.

His job at Blackburn is already tough as it is. Facing him is the prospect of losing the club’s best players. David Bentley and Roque Santa Cruz had special links with Mark Hughes but now that he’s gone it is looking increasingly difficult for Blackburn to keep hold to them. Both are eager to further their career and from their point of view it is difficult to do so at Blackburn especially when the likes of Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester United are reportedly interested.

Convincing them otherwise will be a challenge just as replicating Hughes’ success in the transfer market will be. It is an area where nothing Ince has come across will prepare him for what he will have to face at Blackburn. How he adapts to it will go a long way to determining his success.

Otherwise, there seems to be little reason to doubt his abilities. At Macclesfield, he managed to pull to safety a club that seemed destined for relegation whereas he not only got MK Dons promoted but also managed to lead them to Wembley success in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy. In all cases he did so by playing attractive football.

That will be the most significant development as far as Blackburn fans are concerned because, although effective, Hughes’ teams didn’t really enthrall the crowds. The target for Ince is to be just as successful – and hopefully more – without sacrificing his footballing beliefs.

If he does so then there will be truly a reason to eulogize him. Not because he is the first British born black manager but rather because he has been a success at his job. Which is the basis upon which anyone should be judged.


Loan Deals for Liverpool Youngsters

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Tuesday, June 24, 2008 by Paul Grech

Leeds United are offering to take Krisztian Nemeth and Astrit Ajderevic on loan for next season according to the Yorkshire Evening Post.

Nemeth was the star of Liverpool's reserve team last season and his performances led to calls for his inclusion in the first team. Expectations were high that he would be making some appearances this season but it would seem that the prospect of playing regularly, albeit at League One level, appeals to Rafael Benitez.

As for Ajderevic, despite his early promise he had failed to progress as expected and it had been widely reported that he had been advised to find a new club.

Leeds United are currently managed by former Red Gary McAllister who retains healthy links with the club. The passing style of football he has imposed since moving to Elland Road is seen as the ideal setting for the club's youngsters to develop and, following Paul Anderson's success last season with Swansea, playing League One football isn't considered to be too negative an experience.


Time To Walk Away from Barry Deal

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by Paul Grech

With Xabi Alonso apparently getting resigned – although far from ecstatic – to the idea that a transfer to Juventus is inevitable, no progress seems to be made as far as his probable replacement – Gareth Barry – is concerned. A transfer that was to be concluded two weeks ago still drags on with Liverpool’s offer inching upwards yet without any making any real impact on Aston Villa’s stand.

It is fair to say that most Liverpool fans would like nothing than seeing both moves fall through. Better keep one of Europe’s finest passers of the ball than go for a player whose technical ability is much more limited, especially when it is going to cost significantly more to do so.

Benitez, however, doesn’t see it in that way. Alonso’s regular omissions in the latter half of last season hinted that he wasn’t too happy with his contributions and the desire to conclude a deal with Juventus wasn’t born exclusively out of the urge to raise money in order to fund his summer transfers.

For him, Barry is an important tactical addition both for his ability to play in various roles and also for the added mobility, as well as consistency, he would bring to Liverpool’s midfield.

Yet increasingly that desire to bring Barry to Liverpool is being tested. The deal turned sour after Martin O’Neil’s outburst last May and it has become increasingly more complicated ever since. For Aston Villa, and particularly O’Neil, it has apparently become more than simply the reluctance to sell an important player or the desire to get the best possible deal.

Their point blank refusal to lower their asking price means that the deal is becoming riskier for Liverpool. Benitez cannot afford to blow what money he has available on Barry, regardless of how important he sees him in his plans.

Even if he did go down that road, the pressure on Barry would increase considerably. Not only would he have to fill the void left by Alonso – which many fans already doubt he can do – but he would also have to justify the price tag every time he puts on a red shirt.

Of course, it is impossible not to empathise with Aston Villa, especially for Liverpool. It is all very similar to when Steven Gerrard was tempted by Chelsea and was close to completing the deal. Just as Liverpool did then, it is only logical that Villa will do everything possible to keep him at their club.

Digging your heels in, however, cannot be the answer. They’ve got as much to lose as Liverpool if the deal collapses. Every attempt has been made to keep Barry at the club including informing him of which players will be coming in. Yet this hasn’t been enough to convince him that within twelve months Villa will be any closer to getting into the Champions League.

It is a slap to O’Neil’s pride, which could explain his stance, yet it also places a question mark over how Barry would react if he were to stay at Villa. Certainly, it is difficult to envisage a player who has given such a public vote of no confidence in the future of the team being fit to captain the side. It is equally difficult to see him being as inspirational and influential as he has been for them over the past twelve months.

All of which means that, at this stage it makes much more sense for Liverpool to back away from the deal in the hope that Aston Villa decide to lower their request. If not, then no one more than Benitez would appreciate that Liverpool would have much more to lose than gain by pressing forward regardless of everything.


In Memory of the Good Times

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Monday, June 23, 2008 by Paul Grech

“Joey Ate the Frogs’ Legs, Made the Swiss Roll, Now he’s Munching Gladbach”


To this day that remains one of the most iconic banners in Liverpool’s history, one that relays the fans’ affection for Joey Jones through their typical degree of wit and intelligence.

Yet, Jones was a strange player to single out for such praise: he was nowhere near being among the best players at the club. Indeed, he was technically very limited and would today be termed as a squad player. His biggest merit, however, was that whenever he played he never put in anything less than his utmost and treated each game as if his life depended on it. Just as most fans would.

It was why those same fans had so much time for him and immortalized Jones in that banner. It is also something that today would probably be unthinkable. Football, or rather football fandom, has changed to such an extent that weaknesses are overlooked much less than they used to be.

John Arne Riise is a typical example. As a Liverpool player he had his moments starting from some fantastic goals and going on to his cross that led to the first goal in the Champions League final AC Milan. Throughout he had been a largely consistent player, one who didn’t work hard enough to improve on his weaknesses and whose form visibly deteriorated towards the end of his stay, yet whose Liverpool career should largely be judged as positive.

Sadly, it is that own goal against Chelsea in the Champions League semi-final for which he’ll be remembered and vilified.

That both Rick Parry and Jamie Carragher felt the need to come out and praise Riise after his departure says a lot. Both knew that he had been the target of some ill-deserved criticism and for many his departure had been met with a sense of relief. Carragher can understand his situation more than most because, had he left four years ago before Benitez had transformed him into the excellent central defender that he has become, similar feelings would have been expressed in his regards.

Riise doesn’t deserve such treatment. Many criticisms can be leveled at him: his failure to progress or even his questionable life-style. Yet no one can say that he didn’t genuinely feel for the club or that he ever went off the field without having given his all.

A few years back, that would have been enough to earn him at least the gratitude of the fans. Sadly, it doesn’t seem to be the case any more.


John Arne Riise, I Wanna Know...

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Thursday, June 19, 2008 by Paul Grech

...how you scored that goal.

Remember when that used to be sung every time John Arne Riise touched the ball? His reputation has been sullied over the past couple of seasons yet his contribution over the years shouldn't be forgotten.

Neither should the memory of his goals, most famously this one against United:


When Football Came Home

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Thursday, June 12, 2008 by Paul Grech


It was the summer when football came home, England were half-decent and Paul Gascoigne had his last hurrah. It was also the summer when English football, inspired by the European Championships being held on home soil, really started to open up to foreign players.

For Liverpool that meant Patrick Berger. One of the best players in the tournament, he had been pivotal in the Czech Republic’s surprise run to the final where they were only beaten by an Oliver Bierhof goal in extra-time.

The truth that has since been forgotten is that Berger’s move to Liverpool was an accident of circumstances. The player that Evans really wanted was Karel Poborsky but, after a summer of dithering, he opted to move to Manchester United. Perhaps pressurised into going for a foreign player because that is what everyone else was doing rather than through genuine conviction, Evans promptly turned to Berger.

The feeling that Evans wasn’t really that enamoured with Berger would last till the end of his time at Liverpool. Unable to really figure out where best to play Berger, it wasn’t long before he decided that the best way of solving the conundrum was to leave him out of the side altogether.

Even worse, within a year Evans made a move for Oyvind Leonhardsen. If there ever was a sign of Liverpool’s declining standard it was that of buying players from Wimbledon who, with their long ball tactics and crazy gang mentality, were the antithesis to what Liverpool stood for in all respect.

Just as Leonhardsen was the complete opposite of Berger. Limited both technically and tactically, he had neither the flair nor the brilliance of Berger. Yet he was better in one respect: consistency. Evans knew what he would be getting from Leonhardsen each whereas with Berger it was brilliance one day, mediocrity the next.

Yet things had started off fantastically well for Berger. Two goals in his second game for the club were followed by another brace on his first full start against Chelsea the feeling was that Liverpool had finally found the man to take some pressure of Steve McManaman’s back.

This was, after all, a time when clubs came to Anfield with the sole tactic of trying to hack down McManaman in the belief that, by doing so, they would be stopping Liverpool. Sadly that is often how it turned out to be.

Berger’s arrival changed that. Here was a player who didn’t have McManaman’s ability to dribble his way past players yet who had the skill to turn the direction of a game with one pass.

The problem was that the side couldn’t really carry two players for whom defending meant trotting back when possession was lost. And, often, the one to lose out was Berger.
All of which changed when Gerard Houllier arrived at Anfield. Much more comfortable with his continental training regime, Berger quickly became a key player, even more so when McManaman left for Real Madrid.

Sadly for him, just when he was finally looking to fulfil his potential, fate intervened. An injury suffered in a 4-3 defeat at Leeds saw him miss most of the 2000-01 season even if he did return to play a key role in the FA Cup final win over Arsenal.

In truth, Berger never really recovered from that injury. Eventually, his contract at Liverpool ran out and, although he enjoyed good times both at Portsmouth and at Aston Villa, he never really was as good as he was at Liverpool

A few days ago, Berger left English football to return to his first love of Sparta Prague. His parting contribution: urging his then Aston Villa team-mate Gareth Barry to join Liverpool.

Berger’s Finest Moments

3 Shocking Chelsea
Flushed with television money, Chelsea tried to gate-crash their way to the top of English football by signing a host of Liverpool players. They travelled to Liverpool at the start of the 1996-97 season looking to build on an a good start but were quickly sent back to London with a 5-1 defeat during which Berger scored twice. It was his first Anfield start.

2 Total Football
Ok, so it was only against Derby and Liverpool were already four up. Yet it shouldn’t diminish anything from the beauty of this move which Berger finished in a manner that became typical of him.



1 Setting up Owen’s Final
Liverpool had been second best for the whole match yet Arsenal had only managed to score once and failed to capitalise on a host of chances. Then Michael Owen came on to get the draw for Liverpool. Still Arsenal pressed and pushed everybody forward. Yet in their urgency to kill of the game, and tired after having done most of the running, a stray pass gets to Berger. The Czech, another second half substitute promptly spins round and sends a perfect long-field pass to Owen who goes on to score Liverpool’s winner.



And finally, here's a great compilation of his goal (although best watched with sound switched off):


Transfer of a Legend

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Monday, June 09, 2008 by Paul Grech

For Reds of a certain generation, those who like me grew up in the eighties and who are too young to really remember Kenny Dalglish as a player, there will always be one true legend: John Charles Bryan Barnes. A legend that was born twenty one years ago when he signed from Watford for £900,000.


The Lad Can Play: David Martin

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by Paul Grech

This is a frustrating time to form part of Liverpool’s reserve squad. Two FA Youth cup successes in a row and the national reserves title won with remarkable ease yet not one of the players seem to be anywhere near forming part of the senior team next season.

True Emiliano Insua and Damien Plessis did make it into the side towards the end of the season but those were exceptional circumstances where there was little to play for. What is needed is for a player to really break into the side, to play fairly regularly so as to prove to the rest that it is possible.

Until that happens there will always be the doubt at the back of players’ minds as to whether they will make it or, rather, whether they will be given the opportunity to do so.

Some, however, are given signs that their presence is valued. David Martin, for instance, who has been offered an extension to his contract that will now see him stay on for an additional two years up till 2010.

It is quite a boost for the goalkeeper who has perhaps progressed more than expected. His transfer to the club back in 2006 seemed a strange one given that Liverpool already had another very promising young goalkeeper in Scott Carson. Surely if they were going to give someone an opportunity it would be to the more rated player.

Carson, however, was soon to leave for Charlton and then Aston Villa where he emerged as one of the finest English players in his position. His success made it unlikely that he was ever going to return back and accept playing second choice to Pepe Reina.

For Martin, the situation was different. Although he has played for England U20 level there is nowhere near the hype that surrounded Carson. This despite him playing very well during a spot on loan at Accrington Stanley two years back whereas the opportunity to sign a new contract is a clear indication that Benitez rates him highly.

What follows in the coming weeks will however determine how Martin’s career will pan out. One possibility is for him to go out on loan to some team where he’ll be given the opportunity to play fairly regularly. The other option could be that of staying on at Liverpool as second behind Reina.

The latter seems to be more difficult considering that Benitez has already hinted that he wants someone with experience for that. Yet Martin is rated enough for there to be the feeling that he could be relied on if none of the choices being lined up were to sign.

Indeed, he already filled into that role last season during a spell where Itandje was not available. Many would be pleased to see him do so on a more regular basis although some added experience elsewhere would be beneficial both for the club as well as for Martin himself.

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


Spain Bid to Overcome the Ghosts of Their Past

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Friday, June 06, 2008 by Paul Grech

We're guessing that most Liverpool fans will be following Spain throughout Euro 2008. In honour of that, here's a preview ahead of the start of the competition.

Looking through the squad and it is impossible not to rank them among the favourites. Take a look at their history, however, and you’ll start having second thoughts. Spain once again go into a major championship wondering whether they’ll manage to fulfill their potential or if they will confirm all predictions of wilting under pressure.

The ability to go all the way is certainly there. In Fernando Torres and Cesc Fabregas they have two of Europe’s finest players whereas Ilker Casillas is second only to Gigi Buffon as far as goalkeepers are concerned. On their own they are players who can turn any match, irrespective of the opposition. No other team can boast as much.

Yet Spain’s task lies also in the supporting cast. That Luis Aragones will have to chose whether to play Xabi Alonso or if he is to rely on the central midfield partnership of Xavi and Iniesta gives an indication of just how talented this squad is. Forget that Mikel Arteta doesn’t even get a look in, Fabregas will have to play on the right to get a game.

Up front, if Torres doesn’t score then there’s always David Villa. The Valencia forward showed his talent when he hammered in the winner in the friendly against Italy and will be looking at this tournament as the one to place him among the game’s elite. How (and whether) he and Torres can fit to each other’s style is a question that has been asked repeatedly – especially in Madrid where there is still anger over Raul’s omission – yet players as talented as those two always manage to adapt: it is the less gifted players who struggle.

Not all of the Spanish players are household names. Yet. The probability is that soon much more will be known of the fantastically named Ruben De La Red, for instance. The Real Madrid player spent the past season at Getafe and was their inspiration as they made their way to the quarter-finals of the UEFA Cup.

It was an equally impressive season for striker Dani Guiza who topped the goalscoring charts. He might struggle to get a look in with Torres and Villa but Aragones has shown that he has confidence in the forward who can bring added strength to the attack.

Where the Spanish look decidedly susceptible is in the centre of defence. Carlos Puyol hasn’t had the greatest of seasons with Barcelona but the biggest worry surrounds whoever partners him in front of Casillas.

In the final preparation friendly against Peru that duty fell to Carlos Marchena who in all probability will be the one to start the championships in that position. The Valencia defender, however, hardly inspired and it was his misplaced clearance that granted the Peruvians the possibility to equalize.

Such lapses might prompt Aragones to shuffle his pack a bit and put Sergio Ramos in the middle with Alvaro Arbeloa slotting in at right back. It would diminish their overall efficacy because Ramos is exceptional in his favoured position yet it might be a sacrifice worth making if it provides more solidity in a crucial area.

Otherwise in defence they seem well places as the left-back – Joan Capdevila – could be one of the surprises of the tournament. The Villareal man has finally make it to the big time and he has adapted to international football impressively well.

Whether this current crop of players can cope just as comfortably with the pressure of expectations will determine whether they will finally be laying the ghosts to rest.


Player Profile: Andrea Dossena

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Thursday, June 05, 2008 by Paul Grech

Verona fans still can’t believe it. Not that their team is in the Serie C1 – although there is a lot of incredulity there as well – but rather that Andrea Dossena has become so good.

Often when a local player, particularly one who had come through the ranks to establish himself in the first team, gets to move on this is coupled by expressions of sadness and disappointment. Not for Dossena, however for whom few tears shed. The over-riding feeling was the he simply wasn’t that good.

Of course, the same was said when Massimo Oddo left Verona for Lazio. And when Marco Cassetti moved to Roma. Yet both have gone on to establish themselves among the top players in the Serie A, both have played for Italy and, in Oddo’s case, even gone on to win the Champions League.

Dossena has done the same albeit in a more roundabout manner. His move to Treviso was triggered by the small club’s surprise promotion to the Serie A a tavolino and their desperate attempt to find affordable players irrespective of ability.

With such a strategy, a return to the Serie B was inevitable yet they did strike it lucky with Dossena. He did enough to catch Udinese’s attention who saw in him the ideal replacement for the retiring Vincent Candela.

It was a surprise choice but, as often with Udinese, also the correct one. Given confidence from the start, he has slowly emerged as one of the left-backs in the league.

Such was his progression that last December came his first appearance in an Italy shirt that was soon followed by speculation linking him to a move to Juventus. It prompted Udinese to offer him a new four year contract in order to fend off any interest, although there remained the agreement that he would be kept informed of any offers.

That speculation didn't come as any surprise seeing that many had likened him to Gianluca Zambrotta, the World Cup winning defender, for his strength, ease with which he moves forward and defensive capabilities.

Realistically, he’s not at that level yet and certainly in the second half of the season his form tailed off costing him the chance of making it to the European championships. Yet he has improved massively over the space of the past three yeas and gives impression of being a very intelligent defender. He’s shown great tactical flexibility, performing equally as well within a traditional 4-4-2 formation and in a more attack oriented 4-3-3.

Tellingly, however, it is in the latter system – the one preferred by current Udinese coach Pasquale Marino – that he has done best. By his own admission, the freedom to press forward suits him better even if defensively very little changes. It has certainly placed him more in the spotlight: apart from Juan Vargas there arguably wasn’t a better left-back in the Serie A last season.

Much to the continued amazement of Verona fans.

For more features on Italian football, visit Il Re Calcio.


Spain On Top

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by Paul Grech

It is hardly surprising that Spain seems to top most Liverpool fans' most liked teams for the summer's European Championships. Whilst the hope that none of the players get injured during the tournament is obviously the main hope, it would be nice to see the Liverpool lads do well.

Tomorrow we'll be featuring an in-depth article about Spanish hopes in Euro 2008.