Archive for August 2008
Sunday, August 31, 2008 by Paul Grech
The Serie A kicked off yesterday with Inter, now featuring our old friend Jose Mourinho, being held to a 1-1 draw by Sampdoria. Italian football's reputation has taken something of a battering in recent years, but with five clubs all with reasonable hopes of winning the league, it is bound to be an exciting season.
For Liverpool fans there are plenty of reasons to keep an eye on what is happening over in Italy, not only because of the possibility of facing an Italian side in the Champions League but also because of former Reds playing there like John Arne Riise at Roma, Momo Sissoko at Juventus and even Daniele Padelli at Avellino.
If you'd like to get a greater insight on the Serie A, you'll find a team-by-team analysis here.
Category Spreading the Word
Wednesday, August 27, 2008 by Paul Grech
Have you ever found yourself at a newsagent wondering whether to buy a magazine or not? Often there's an alluring article that you desperately want to read but that doesn't mean that you want to fork out for the whole magazine. As often happens, there is now a solution on-line.
Monday, August 25, 2008 by Paul Grech
Aside from the Barry saga, this was the summer in which the core of Liverpool’s successful reserve side got an opportunity to prove their worth at a higher level. Daniel Pacheco, Damien Plessis, Jay Spearing, Kristian Nemeth, Stephen Darby and Emiliano Insua all got to play in the club’s pre-season friendlies with each one hinting that, should the need arise, they were more than capable of doing a job.
So, now that real football is underway, has Rafael Benitez turned to any one of them? Well, not really but that’s not to say that he hasn’t been calling upon a graduate from Gary Ablett’s reserves.
Step forward Nabil El Zhar. The Moroccan winger has been a late substitute in each of Liverpool’s official games, with his choice confirming the manager’s infinite ability to surprise as far as team selection is concerned.
That level of surprise is heightened by El Zhar’s rather anonymous Liverpool career so far. Aside from an admittedly fantastic goal against Cardiff in last season’s Carling Cup, there’s been little to point to him as the centre of so much confidence from Benitez’s part. For how else could you define a manager’s feelings about a player he brings as his final substitution when the side is losing 1-0 in their first home game of the season?
There certainly wasn’t any indication of Benitez’s faith during the summer games where El Zhar featured sporadically. And his appreciation of the winger’s abilities cannot stem from last year’s reserve games as El Zhar was largely a spectator, thanks also to a series of injuriies.
Yet it is to El Zhar that he is turning to in each game. The unavailability of Javier Mascherano and Lucas Leiva may have played a part but even so, El Zhar’s role is not one that is replicated by either one of those players: the likelihood is that Benitez would have still made the same choice.
If anything, the only player in Liverpool’s squad whose playing style is similar to El Zhar’s wasn’t even on the bench. Jermaine Pennant’s exclusion tantamounts to an admission that the club is looking to move the player on with Benitez unwilling to risk him getting injured and miss out on increasing his spending power through Pennant’s sale.
Regardless of whether Pennant’s time at Liverpool is judged to be a success or a failure, there’s little doubt that his departure would leave a void: he is the only winger on whom Benitez can count. The lack of option out wide has long been an issue and not one that has been answered during the summer.
The problem that this shortcoming is causing was typified by Yossi Benayoun’s completely ineffective display on Sunday, a continuation on his games against both Standard Liege and Sunderland. Benayoun is a creative midfielder with the skills to create chances. His best, however, comes when he is able to cut inside and by trying to stay out wide – as he has been asked to so far – he is rendered ineffectual.
It is also the reason why Benitez has been turning to El Zhar. What he lacks in experience and composure, El Zhar makes up for with his instinct to stay as wide as possible which gives Liverpool a different tactical dimension. His speed – a rather surprising asset given his rather bulky framework – is a significant plus point but unlikely to be the one reason helping him get his chance. If experience helps El Zhar improve on his distribution and crossing abilities, because aside from short sideways passes he has shown very little in that respect, then the loss of Pennant will prove to be easily replaceable.
Especially as there are various pointers hinting at El Zhar’s talent. This is a player who in the World U20 championships came second in the best player of the tournament voting behind a certain Leo Messi. One who has already played five times for Morocco at senior level and scored twice. A talent on whom Benitez is starting to count with increasing regularity. Surprisingly perhaps, but not unreasonably.
Tuesday, August 19, 2008 by Paul Grech
What do footballers get up to once they retire? Once it was a pretty straightforward choice between finding a way into football management, going to work in a factory or else buying a pub, with the ultimate decision depending largely on how much money any testimonial had managed to raise.
These days players, at least those lucky enough to spend some time in the Premiership, have no such problems. Most will still turn to management or punditry but those who don't get any breaks are unlikely to face financial hardships.
Believe it or not, however, there's a limit to how much one can spend playing golf or doing nothing. Which is why most try to find alternative interests. Take Phil Babb who, much like former team-mate Jamie Redknapp, has taken to publishing. Originally just one of a group of investors who had set up Golf Punk magazine, he decided to buy out the publishing house that produced it in December 2006 and has since been making plans on how best to expand.
And, of course, he's thought of football hence the launching of Football Punk - which will initially be distributed with Golf Punk - in which he apparently also contributes by doing some interviews with former colleagues. The magazine is apparently aiming to challenge Four Four Two as the 'thinking man's soccer mag' but it with the promise 'at home with' features that bring to mind trashy women's magazines, it is hard to see that happening.
Indeed, the first issue features Babb taking tea with Harry Redknapp, the sort of feature that Football Punk editor Ian Cruise apparently seems to think that there is a lack of. "There's an awful lot of football in the media, but much of it's fairly straight stuff from press conferences. What I've found is that if you get footballers onto subjects other than who they're playing next they're happy to talk about them," he says.
Friday, August 15, 2008 by Paul Grech
One of the best sellers this summer, the book Football Dynamo was reviewed on here a couple of weeks back. Author Marc Bennetts must have liked the review because he kindly accepted to do an interview with us in which he talks about Russian football and how he had always expected Martin Skrtel to do well.
What was the inspiration for Football Dynamo?
I’d been living here for almost a decade and I was aware that not many people outside of Russia knew much about the country’s football, or indeed, everyday life here. The book was an attempt to combine the two topics.
When you started out, did you have a clear idea of how it would turn out? Did you model it on any other book?
The first draft of the book was called ‘Fanat’ (Russian for fan) and was based on 12 games that I had been to in Russia. I then expanded it to include interviews, and the focus of the chapters changed from the matches to the wider themes of clubs, the national team, society as a whole, etc. The new version of the book was originally called “Making Soap out of the ref – Russia decoded through football” Virgin changed it though. Maybe they were right. The ‘making soap’ stuff came from a chant I used to hear a lot in Russia when I first began going to games here. It translates as, “make soap out of the ref!” The Soviets used to make cheap soap out of dead dogs. I know it sounds hard to believe, but I only actually became aware of books like “Brilliant Orange’ ‘Morbo’ etc after I’d begun ‘Fanat’.
It was quite a coup to get Simon Kuper to write the introduction…
I sent him the original draft (Fanat) and he liked it and made some suggestions regarding publishers etc. When I finally got the deal with Virgin he kindly agreed to do the foreword. I only actually met him for the first time in person before the recent Champions League final in Moscow.
You must have been quite glad to see Russia do so well at the European championship?
Yeah, of course. It was great. It was odd as well – I’d been talking to people about Arshavin, Zhirkov etc for years and suddenly everyone was trying to pronounce their names. Lots of Russians had always thought it was bizarre that I liked their football so much, so it was good to have my passion justified as well. Russia has always had good players; it’s just that the coaches have usually been afraid of their bosses at the Football Federation, who were in turn afraid of their bosses. They used to prefer cautious football and 1-0 defeats to taking risks. After they got hammered 7-1 by Portugal in 2004 though even Putin got angry and changes were made. Hiddink has freed the players’ potential.
How come that Andrei Arshavin is only now emerging as a star?
Because in the West people pay very little attention to Russia – it’s far away, the names are difficult to pronounce etc. It’s like Abkhazia and South Ossetia. That situation has been simmering for years, but it took full-scale war for Europe to even find out where they were, let alone the reasons behind the conflict. Russia at Euro 2008 was the equivalent of a football bomb. After the 3-1 defeat of Holland, people were forced to pay attention. I guess the fact that Russia had never before made an impact on the world stage was a factor as well!
Both Russia ’ success and that of Zenit is to a large degree attributable to foreign coaches. However, it is the foreign players who have really made an impact in Russia , for better or for worse. Do these foreign players really make an attempt to learn the culture and the language or is it to alien for them?
Firstly, I would say that Hiddink and Advocaat have had more impact than any foreign players. They’ve changed the mentality I was talking about in answer to question 4. The only foreign players who try to learn the culture language etc are the Slavs, like the Serbs and Czechs etc (it’s not so difficult for them) and, to a lesser extent, the African players. Most Nigerian and Cameroonian footballers here, Chidi Odiah etc, speak great Russian.
Is part of the problem in the level of scouting? How many of the transfers are down to agents pimping up their players without the clubs really knowing what they are in for?
That may have been the case in the past. In the past it was simply seen as prestigious to have foreign players in the team. Now they are a lot more careful with their selections. As the cases of Jo, Vidic etc prove.
This leads us to he general perception about Russian football in that many see it as being corrupt. How much of that reputation is justified?
I think there is some corruption in every league. On the other hand, where there is money in Russia there is corruption. That’s a fact. Football just reflects the problem of corruption in society as a whole.
I admired the way with which you doggedly kept on asking about corruption. In fact, the interviews are central to your book: who was the person you enjoyed interviewing the most? And who the most surprising?
Most enjoyed Giner I guess. That was tense. Ruslan Dubov at Novaya Gazeta was very intense as well. All the hooligans were…interesting. Of the footballers, Smertin and Beschastnikh were the most enjoyable to talk to. Smertin because he is clever and educated, Beschastnikh because he was so open and down-to-earth.
You seemed quite disappointed about not getting to talk to Oleg Romantsev. Why was that?
When I first came to Russia, Romantsev was the main figure. Bigger than any player, he dominated Russian football. I just felt he was an integral part of the story. The fact that I didn’t get to meet him was also kind of symbolic in a way though – a Westerner can never find out everything about Russia! He is the dark side of the ball, spinning away out of view…
Of course, the Russian league is now making a name as something of an exporter given the success of Nemanja Vidic, Martin Skrtel and Jo. Were you expecting the first two to do so well in the Premier Leage?
Yes. They were solid defenders for Spartak and Zenit. Especially Skrtel.
And what about Jo? Is he really worth that amount of money?
We’ll see! He was good at CSKA until his injury in 2007 – he never quite captured the same form afterwards. He’s still young though, so it’s a good buy.
How do the Russian players themselves view playing abroad, particularly England ?
Well, in the past, all Russian players would jump at the chance to go abroad. A good example of this is when Spartak won all of their group games in the Champions League in 1995/96 and then sold Sergei Yuran to Millwall. And he was happy to leave! They will only leave oil-rich Russian now for purely footballing reasons, though. Most players would probably earn less abroad. As Arshavin said, “I doubt if many clubs can match pay as much as Zenit.”
I must admit that Football Dynamo has got me quite interested in the Russian league and at the moment Ruben Kazan are doing quite well. What’s their story?
They bought a few good players in the summer – Russian national side captain Sergei Semak being the best of their purchases – but even their fans have been surprised by their success. They only got into the Premier League for the first time a few years ago. They beat Zenit 4-1 at home today, so they are looking good. The Russian Premier is turning into one of the most open in Europe. Around 10 points separate the top 10 teams at the moment.
Any plans for the future as far as writing goes?
My next book will be a move away from football. I’d like to write about it again the future, but I don’t want to just write about sport. The next book is going to be about how the Russians see Britain, about relations between the two countries. It’ll follow a similar pattern to Football Dynamo – lots of interviews. These days it’s too easy to just look stuff up on the Internet and knock up a book. I prefer to get my hands dirty…
The original review can be found here.
Category A Look At
Thursday, August 14, 2008 by Paul Grech
I'm not one for official merchandise. Not, I have to add, because of some moral stance against the club's ownership but rather because too often it is bland and uninspiring not to mention overpriced and with inflated postage charges.
Findng an alternative on-line, however, isn't always easy. There are a number of sites that sell Liverpool themed shirts but many times the quality is disappointing making all the more difficult to judge between the good and the bad. Having heard good things about Sam Dodds, however, I decided to give them a try so a couple of weeks back I put in an order for one of their shirts.
The design looked good enough and the way that the sales were handled an idication that they knew what they were doing.
When the shirt arrived, however, there was a problem: it wasn't the one that I had ordered. Not to worry: a couple of hours after I'd mailed them with the situation, they got back and offered to send the shirt that I had ordered for no additional charge.
So now I've got two excellent shirts, a great feeling about my purchase and words of praise about Sam Dodds .
Can you recommend other sites that sell Liverpool merchandise? Spread the word by leaving a comment.
Category Spreading the Word
Wednesday, August 13, 2008 by Paul Grech
For most fans, Saturday 16th August means the start of the new season with the visit to Sunderland being penciled into most diaries ever since the draw was made last June. A group of supporters will however be making the trip to the North East for a completely different. Having worked for the past nine months on the project of building a memorial for the great Bob Paisley at his birth-place of Hetton-le-Hole, next Saturday is when they will be going there to officially unveil this memorial.
A Liverpool Thing: How did this idea come about?
Ian Graves: The Memorial came about after a few members of http://www.onthekop.com/ visited the Bill Shankly memorial in Glenbuck. Its something that we all greatly appreciated so, at our Christmas party just gone we decided to see if there was anything like that for Bob Paisley. By the Monday morning we'd got enough of us together to properly take this on so we used our nouse and contacts to get in touch with the HLH council and the Paisley family. Both parties where quite happy with the idea of us sorting one out so myself and my partner went up there during that Christmas holidays to talk to local people about it. They seemed more than happy for it to go ahead so we launched the appeal. Ian Graves
ALT: What has the response been like?
Peter Etherington: The response has been beyond even our wildest expectations. The amount of just ordinary Liverpool fans and members of the http://www.onthekop.com/ website who have thrown their hard earned cash our way to fund the project has truly touched the committee members. Media response has been brilliant too with air time on the local radio stations and the LFC TV channel covering the project pretty much all the way. Tony Barrett from the Echo has been a big supporter too and we thank him for that.
Ian Graves: To add to Peters very good answer, lets not forget http://www.irishkop.com/ who held a football tournament in bob's honour raising, I think, £1700. Also the lads from Coleraine who raised £600, and all the donations from supporters clubs. And our Jack who climbed Englands highest peak aged only 12 to raise £400? A great thing to do that. There really have been some fantastic things going on with this campaign. The people who attended our fund raiser where absolutely brilliant, as where all the acts who gave of there time to help us. The response has been fantastic, it really has. I get a real buzz when I see someone in one of our T shirts!
ALT: And how has the response in Hetton been like?
Beverley Jervis: The response in Hetton has been nothing less than very enthuiastic. We've been backed all the way by Hetton Council and by members of the Paisley family who still live in the area. Peter Evo We've had donations from local people and local businesses in Hetton who have no links with LFC at all but are just very proud of Bob's achievements.
ALT: Has there been any contact by the club itself?
Beverley Jervis: No we've had no contact from the club itself but LFC TV have been a great support with publicity and they gave us a signed shirt for our fundraiser night raffle. To be honest though, at the start of this campaign we decided we wanted it to be a fans initiative so we didn't feel it necessary to involve the club.
ALT: What about the Paisley familty?
Peter Etherington: Bob's son Graham who lives in Liverpool has been a driving force in the campaign almost from Day 1 and has given invaluable support including access to family photos. Mrs. Paisley also has been enthralled as to us wanting to honour the memory of her late Bob. Nothing has been too much trouble for her and at the moment a scrapbook of the campaign from initial thoughts of the idea right up to the actual unveiling of the memorial is in progress. Bob's brother Hughie who still lives in Hettton has also been a source of inspiration but his own failing health could mean that he will miss the unveiling of their kid's memorial.
ALT: Why is it important to remember club legends like Paisley - and Shankly - in their birthplaces?
Peter Etherington: It is important to FANS that our great legends be remembered in their birthplaces because while the likes of Shanks and Bob ended up being Liverpool through and through and adopted sons of the city real credit for the way they were brought up and the way they conducted themselves in later years must go to the place of their birth. There are not many, if any, people left now in Glenbuck, the birthplace of Shanks but those who live near to the memorial are very proud of Bill and of the memorial itself. The same also is most definitely true of the people of Hetton-le-Hole who are amazed that just an ordinary bunch of fans were willing to go to so much trouble to give them this lasting memorial to one of their most famous, if not the most famous, sons rather than is normally the case of people coming cap in hand looking for the local authorities to give them something.
We knew anyway that Bob was very proud of his birthplace and this was reaffirmed by his family members who very kindly gave us access to photographs that backed this up including photographs of Bob returning to Hetton to show his fellow townspeople the European Cup. One of these photos is now quite famous and depicts Bob sitting with a group of similarly aged friends with the Euroean Cup sitting proudly between them and them treating it as if it was just something that you do everyday, have your photograph taken with probably the greatest trophy in world football. That's how "normal" Bob was and that's how "normal" his friends and fellow townspeople are.
That very photograph, taken in the exact same spot where the memorial will be sited, is now on a very limited edition tshirt we produced, known to us lovingly as "the Paisley owld fellers shirt" and is worn proudly by local councillors in Hetton-le-Hole.
ALT: A club like Liverpool has a number of legends: should more be done to honour them within the city itself?
Peter Etherington: I suppose LFC can only do so much and have gone probably as far as possible in the way they have honoured Bill and Bob. Maybe King Kenny will be similarly honoured in years to come. As for the city itself honouring LFC legends, I think a few Evertonians might have something to say about that! While most Scousers are proud to see statues of John Lennon etc adorning our great city it might not go down too well if Kenny Dalglish was staring out at Evertonians from the middle of Liverpool One. An idea MIGHT be to say have statues of Kenny Dalglish and Alex Young standing side by side. Not sons of the city of course but both great Scots who brought much pleasure to the football fans of the city. Then again, who is to say that statues of Liverpool sons and daughters who have brought great fame to the city in other fields shouldn't be similarly honoured. Would statues of Brian Labone and Jamie Carragher, both great Scousers, be any more worthy than statues of Alan Bleasdale, Elvis Costello, Julie Walters, Arthur Askey or Alan Rudkin? No, let the city do as it does at the moment and if memorials such as the one we have created for Bob are to be built let it be done, as we have done, by fans initiatives and fundraising.
ALT: At what stage of the project are you and by when do you anticipate that it will be ready?
Peter Etherington: I'll answer these questions together rather than as separate entities as they do pretty much roll into each other: Apart from dotting a few i's and crossing a few t's the project is pretty much complete thanks to the massive hard work of the Bob Paisley Memorial Committee and the equally huge cooperation of Hetton-le-Hole council and their Sunderland counteparts and will be ready for unveiling about dinner time on the 16th August, happily just a few hours before Liverpool's first match of the season at Sunderland, just a few miles up the road. All the money needed has been raised. In fact there is a surplus and has always been agreed by the Bob Paisley Memorial Fund committee would go to charities, mainly chosen by the Paisley family. There might just be enough too to get the committee members a bevy or six and well deserved it is too.
Anything planned for afterwards?
Peter Etherington: After the unveiling there will be what we are jokingly referring to as a "prawn sarnie party" for 50 or so invited guests organised by Hetton Council. As this has been a fans initiative however there is no way we would like anybody to feel excluded so to that end we are organising another function in the evening, hopefully after we've started our season with a win, probably in the same place as the "prawn sarnie party" where anybody and everybody is invited. If the numbers don't warrant such a party then we will all head quite happily into Hetton and Houghton-le-Spring (the nearest largeish town) for a good old fashioned booze up.Hetton council have very kindly offered to look after the upkeep of the memorial and I'm sure anybody who wants to visit the memorial either as a passing visit or as part of a trip when we are up in the North-East playing Sunderland, Newcastle or Middlesbrough will give it a clean up and a tidy round if needed.
Glynn Jones: People outside of our commitee would not believe how difficult this project has been at times. In the 9 months that it has taken for the project to come to fruition there have been more than a few stressful moments but I can say hand on heart that it has been totally worth it, in fact i'm a bit sorry that it is now coming to an end. There's nothing else in the pipeline at this stage but you just never know what's around the corner.
Tuesday, August 12, 2008 by Paul Grech
Never give too much importance to the results of pre-season friendlies. Regardless of what name is given to these games or the size of tin pot cups handed out to the winners at the end, they remain glorified training sessions where the intensity of training undergone by each side is likely to play a determining role
What can be taken out of these games are indications and sensations on the overall ability of a team, what their potential is for the coming season. Which is why Friday’s game against Lazio was so worrying.
For most of the game, it was almost as if we were back in last season. Liverpool dominated possession in midfield but struggled to create chances. Lazio were well organised and prepared to play patiently, more than willing to back off the Liverpool midfielders. Analyse the main action points throughout the game, however, and you’ll see that it was Lazio who had the most clear cut chances. But for the alertness of Pepe Reina, they would have been the ones to win this game.
In a way, it must have been what Benitez was hoping for. Earlier games had proven to be disappointing with neither Rangers nor Valarenga managing to offer Liverpool the sort of challenge that they were looking for. Perhaps aware of Liverpool’s high score wins in those games, and about their comparative lack of preparation, Lazio decided to play cautiously much like most teams coming to Anfield will throughout the season.
And, as so often in the near past, Liverpool didn’t have it within them to force an opening. Too much play went through the middle, making it easier for the Italians to defend, and when it did get out to the wings there wasn’t enough quality to really trouble the full-backs. It was only when the promising Andrea Dossena started pushing forward that Liverpool began making Lazio work harder. Even then, as yet there isn’t a good enough understanding between the players and most of his crosses, although in dangerous areas, often failed to find any Liverpool players waiting for them.
That, at least, is something that will improve with games as will, hopefully, Robbie Keane’s contribution once he fully assimilates how Benitez wants him to play. Just as Liverpool’s overall quality will rise when Steven Gerrard, Javier Mascherano and Ryan Babel return to the side.
Yet will that be enough? Had you asked any fan at the end of last season what Liverpool needed most, the answer most probably would have been two quality wide players to offer something different against teams intent on playing out for a draw. The worry is that, if you were to ask that question again in a couple of months, it is the same answer that you will get.
by Paul Grech
In a thrilling encounter, Liverpool's U18s drew their final match of the Villareal Tournament with Ajax to finish in third place in Group B.
Neither side had any chance of making it to the final yet both wanted to end their participation on a high. Ajax went ahead in the 4th minute with Overtoom but the highly rated Nathan Eccleston scored the equaliser ten minutes later. At the start of the second half Astrid Ajdarevic put Liverpool ahead from the penalty spot but Ajax drew level in the 59th minute after Adam Pepper had been sent off.
In the other match of the group, Real Madrid hammered Kashiwa Reysol 4-1 to reach the final of the tournament where they will face Celtic.
Liverpool: Oldfield; Kennedy, Coady, Roberts (Metcalf, 30’), Pepper, Eccleston, Kacaniklic, Dalla Valle (Amoo, 44’), Pourie (Ince, 51’); Ajdarevic, O’Connor.
Monday, August 11, 2008 by Paul Grech
If Tom Hicks and George Gillett were looking for a way to win back the favour of Liverpool supporters, then they may well have found it. By publicly admitting what had been rumoured for a couple of days – that they feel that the price quoted by Aston Villa is too high – they have expressed what most fans have been thinking throughout the summer.
Of course, it will take much more than that for their actions to be forgotten and forgiven, even if it is a move that has the added benefit of ensuring Xabi Alonso’s stay at Anfield. Still there is degree of irony that the two camps could find agreement in a situation that goes against the manager’s wishes.
For some, the best way to show their displeasure at the potential transfer was through those disgraceful chants at the Lazio friendly. The player has done nothing to justify such treatment, although the question remains as to why he didn’t put in a transfer request if he was so determined to move to Anfield.
That, however, is besides the point. This is a player that the Liverpool manager clearly wanted in his team and one who had done almost all within his power in order to make that happen. Much as Benitez may feel hard done by, Barry is by far the biggest loser of this saga.
He is the one who has to face the prospect of playing for a team that he had publicly declared the desire to leave. More than that, he is the one who will have to face their fans: how can one captain a side that he is convinced cannot reach the set target of fourth place?
Aside from Benitez, however, few of those connected to Liverpool will be disappointed with this latest turn of events. Initially, many would have been happy to see Barry join but not at the expense of Xabi Alonso and certainly not in a deal that would see Liverpool pay more then they would be getting.
Even so, it is a messy and undignified end to a transfer deal that dragged on for far too long and was unnecessarily played out in public, although that was almost exclusively down to the efforts of Martin O’Neil.
That O’Neil will get his way is perhaps the most annoying result. By setting the price for Barry at ₤18 million he knew that he was raising the bar too high for Liverpool, not simply because of the problems raising the money but also because he knew that he would have been getting more than market value for the player had the deal gone through.
Effectively, he has managed to retain his captain although, getting him fit enough to face the new season – both mentally and physically - is now his problem.
Liverpool’s problems now lies in finding an alternative to Barry in the little time that is left, although you’d like to assume that there is a contingency plan. The guess as to who that player can be – and in what position he plays – is an open one.
For it isn’t clear what role Barry was supposed to have played at Liverpool. As Benitez has said, he is a player who can play in three positions being left-back, central midfield and left midfield.
However, Andrea Dossena should be the regular left-back following his move from Italy and Liverpool are quite well stocked in the centre of midfield meaning that the only window for Barry would have been on the left hand side of midfield.
Yet there are still doubts. Although the general consensus is that Liverpool still undoubtedly need to improve on the wings, Barry is hardly the kind of player to do that. Sure, he is solid and dependable in the role but not exactly the type to change the course of a game when faced by a side playing for a draw.
It all leads back the question as to why Benitez felt such a strong need to go for Barry, to the extent that he was willing to sacrifice Alonso in order to conclude the deal. The doubt will remain although, hopefully, not to the extent that everyone keeps wondering of what might have been at the end of the season.
by Paul Grech
Sunday, August 10, 2008 by Paul Grech
Having scored at will in their pre-season friendlies, there were high hopes for Liverpool's U18 side as they took off for the Villareal International Tournament. There is, however, a major difference between playing against lower league sides and that of facing top teams from abroad, as the 3-0 defeat in their opening game testifies.
That it came against Kashiwa Reysol in what was seen as the easiest game of the tournament furthers the disappointment. Liverpool went down midway through the first half to a Yamasaki goal and then suffered another two goals in the 53rd and 60th minute, with Naoki and Koichiro being the scorers.
Liverpool will play Real Madrid - who won their opener 1-0 - later on today and then face Ajax tomorrow in the final game of the group stages.
Liverpool: Oldfield; Metcalf, Buchtmann (M. Roberts, 30’), Wisdom, J. Kennedy; Ajdarevic, D. Amoo (Ellison, 56’), Pepper, Dalla Valle (Pourie, 30’); Eccleston y Kacaniklic (Thomas Ince, 50’).
Saturday, August 09, 2008 by Paul Grech
For anyone unable to get away from work to watch some of the action, the best solution lies with Eurovision. There doesn’t seem to be any geographical blocking, unlike national broadcasters like the BBC although, on the negative side, there is no commentary. This might not be a problem if you’re familiar with the sport you’re watching but it can be difficult if you come across something you’ve got no idea about like fencing.
And if you’re unsure of what’s on and when, take a look at the New York Times’ tracker. It is different from the schedule you often come across in that, rather than listing the days and what’s on every hour, it lets you choose which sport you want to see and then provides the details accordingly. Simple yet effective
Friday, August 08, 2008 by Paul Grech
The unseemly scuffle between Barcellona (along with Werder Bremen and Schalke 04) and the International Olympic Committee about whether to release or not their players for the Olympic tournament has finally reached a conclusion, even if a bizarre one.
Finally told that Leo Messi, Diego and Rafinha could return to their clubs, the same players still played in their country’s opening game and appear set to stay till the very end. A conclusion which makes you wonder why the clubs went into all that trouble in the first place.
That reaction to having key players flown out to China in the middle of a critical part of the season greatly contrasts Liverpool’s stance, where no attempts were made to hold back either one of Ryan Babel, Lucas Leiva and Javier Mascherano. The only exception was made for Babel but even in that case it was motivated by the desire to ensure that he had fully recovered from his injury rather than to prevent him from joining up with the Dutch team.
Of course Liverpool weren’t the only ones to take such a stance. Lazio, for instance, were more than happy to release Tommaso Rocchi as were Feyenoord with Roy Makaay. Yet they were going to play for their club’s country Italy and Holland so that decision was significantly easier to make than Liverpool’s who had, at face value, nothing to gain by accepting.
That, naturally, isn’t the case. Benitez took the reasonable stand and spoke to each player about their desire. Had any one of them expressed a reluctance to go to China then most probably Liverpool would have kicked up a fuss just like Barcelona did.
However that wasn’t the case. All were eager to take their chance at Olympic glory, particularly Mascherano who is looking to win his second gold medal at these games.
And therein lies the reason for Benitez’s decision. Sure, he would have preferred to have the players with him but he also realized that had he forced them into staying, he would have drained each one of his motivation. Let them go without too any trouble and they will come back more determined than ever to do well for you.
Obviously, it is a risky strategy. Few people will be hailing Benitez for his fair play if the lack of players sees Liverpool drop early points in the Premier league or if one of those players returns with an injury. Yet it is a risk that the manager was willing to take. That is why there is a squad of players and, judging from pre-season, the extra opportunities that he has been able to afford the club’s youngsters hasn’t done them any harm.
All of which does not absolve FIFA and the International Olympic Committee. Apart from doubts as to whether the Olympics really do need a strong football tournament, the rules as they are make little sense. The three over-age players ruling is a bizarre one that adds little to the tournament’s balance.
Both organizing bodies have to realise that as it stands the tournament will come under increasing pressure from the clubs who will argue that it is not one within the sport’s calendar and therefore not one for which they are willing to let their players go.
Limiting it to players under twenty three years of age would be a good start, and restricting it to those who are yet to be twenty probably the ultimate solution.
Thursday, August 07, 2008 by Paul Grech
It seems to be the new trend, managers publicly declaring who they want to buy. Luciano Spalletti's comments that Roma were looking at buying Yossi Benayoun quickly made their way to the British media and, with the Gareth Barry deal still pending, it didn't take long for the two stories to be linked to get to a 'Benayoun to be sold to fund Barry deal' scenario.
What hasn't been picked up as quickly is the subsequent developments at Roma. Their summer long saga has revolved around Julio Baptista and now that Real Madrid have finally managed to sign Rafael Van Der Vaart, Roma seem to be on the verge of completing the signing of the Brazilian forward.
With funds limited in Rome just as much as they are in Liverpool, it is unlikely that they would be willing or able to pay the £6 million that Liverpool are asking for Benayoun regardless of Spalletti's comments. Especially as, if anything, the most persistent reports coming from Italy cliam that the midfielder that they are interested in is Chelsea's Florent Malouda or, failing that, Real's Dutch midfielder Royston Drenthe.
All of which is good news for Liverpool. Benayoun had a decent enough first season but he probably didn't play as well as was expected. Which, to a certain extent, was to be expected: it was his first year at a big club where good performances are expected on a regular basis rather than intermittently.
Something that he has been doing in pre-season. His goal against Valarenga was class and outdid an equally impressive effort against Tranmere. More importantly, it is the determination and willingness to fight for the ball irrespective of the friendly billing of these games that has caught the eye, clear indication that the player knows that he isn't simply fighting for a place in next weeks' Champions League qualifier but rather to extend his stay at Anfield.
Which, hopefully, should not be in doubt for much longer.