Archive for October 2008
Tuesday, October 28, 2008 by Paul Grech
A lot has been said about Liverpool's scouting network of late. Or, rather, a lot has been hinted in various internet forums about the quality (or lack thereof) of some of Liverpool's scouts. Looking through an Italian newspaper I came across this interview with Mauro Pederzoli, one of Liverpool's leading continental scouts and, whilst it is a bit dated (from the 15th of May 2007 to be precise) I still thought that it gives quite a bit of insight on how Liverpool's scouting is carried out under Benitez.
Here's a translation of this piece by Paolo Brusorio.
"He doesn't count goals when judging a striker". It goes against the logic of pub talk but it is how Rafa Benitez thinks. With Liverpool he's signed a five year contract: he is the Reds' manager in the manner that is habitual in England. He takes care of the team both on and off the pitch, he's given a budget and decides how to spend it. He has his own staff and, since this time at Valencia, has been in synch with Eduardo Macia, the former sporting director of the Spanish side. Yet when he arrived on Merseyside he took on an Italian: Mauro Pederzoli, the former sporting director of Brescia and Cagliari who is now under contract at Liverpool.
Pederzoli met Benitez some fifteen years ago "I lived in Spain where I had worked on the deal which led to (Gigi) Maifredi being made Albacete's manager. Common friends brought us together and he asked me to be his window on Italian football." Since then they never lost touch "one day it would be great to work together" Benitez used to tell him. And then came Liverpool.
Fresh for Pederzoli is the memory of a young Benitez who in the nineties managed to take Extremadura to the Liga. "That Benitez is very similar to the modern day one. He keeps thinking about football twenty four hours on twenty four." Football as a sort of rosary. A hermit of a manager and perhaps a mad one, where the madness comes through work. The name of Arrigo Sacchi comes to mind? Bingo. "The greatest manager of the modern era" is how Benitez calls the former Italy boss. Pederzoli recalls "Rafa used to come a lot to Italy to meet him, to study his methods and to question him. Where do the two meet? The care for each detail of the match, their exasperating work when possession is lost and the method through which players are chosen."
Simple but unbreakable rules that Benitez passes on to his helpers. Benitez doesn't want headline hogging players but discipline, he avoids small players and fancy dans. He looks for "fair and strong" players. Pederzoli says "Put together those players and you get Liverpool. The team that tops the fair play league, no player sent off in the league."
Together they’ve chose players like Agger, Kuyt and Mascherano ("he was strugling with West Ham but we believed in him because we had been following him since his time in South America"). And what of Agger? "The aim was to sign players to replace Carragher and Hyppia. Agger, who played at Broendby, was in the list of players that Benitez told us to follow for a whole year, even during training. We also followed (Daniele) Bonera (then at Parma but now at Milan) but Benitez doesn't like small defenders. We spoke about Cordoba one day and he asked me the height that Inter's defender can reach when jumping. We estimated 2.35 metres. You see, he told me, it only takes Crouch to jump thirty centimeters and Cordoba doesn't even see the ball."
Kuyt instead "has all of Benitez's beliefs, he's the type of strikers he prefers useful when he has the ball, even more when he hasn't" Oh, right, that story of goals and strikers. The strong beliefs of the man who, when criticise for having made Liverpool seem too Spanish started to shuffle the pack. Pederzoli remembers those days clearly. "He never wavered because he has a great self-belief that always gives him strength. He's got fire inside. Benitez in Italy? Here he's very happy and then he wants to win the Premier League."
Benitez keeps thinking about football. It happened also on their honeymoon "He was with his wife Montserrat and I spoke to him about Adriano Bacconi, the first one who applied informatics to football. Benitez asked me to meet him. In the end he spend a whole day with him and his computer whilst his wife waited."
Monday, October 27, 2008 by Paul Grech
What a game! For a brief period towards the end of the first half when Chelsea were playing really well, I was afraid about what was to come. Instead if a team deserved to score in the second half, it was us. We played really well just as we did against United for the matter and deservedly won.
Now the real task is keeping the players' minds on the next game. Not dropping points against the likes of Portsmouth at home will be just as vital as this win. But let's not think too much about that and really take in today's result.
It says a lot about Liverpool's display that Pepe Reina wasn't tested too much. Even so, he was vital when coming out for crosses, catching them when he could and punching well clear when he couldn't. In the centre of defence both Jamie Carragher and Daniel Agger were excellent so much that Nicolas Anelka hardly got a touch.
On the flanks, Fabio Aurelio and Alvaro Arbeloa played excellently in what has occasionally been problem areas for us. Aurelio in particular really adds another dimension of play when going forward.
In midfield Javier Mascherano put in his usual shift whilst Albert Riera is really coming into his own. Just how much Liverpool have missed a winger of his abilities comes across each time he manages to get past a player.
As for the other two midfielders, it is hard to judge who was the man of the match between Steven Gerrard and Xabi Alonso. Gerrard was there for every loose ball and he heckled Chelsea players whenever posession was lost. Also, he was unlucky not to score with that dipping shot in the first half. However, for me Alonso played that little bit better and wins my vote for the game's best player.
Up front it is hard not to admire the work put in by both Dirk Kuyt and Robbie Keane particularly as the latter wasn't really match fit (and hasn't been since returning from international duty apparently). Of course, you want strikers to score goals but this duo's work actually puts others in a posision to get the goals.
How could I possibly fault anyone today?
I really like Ryan Babel but am often left feeling that he doesn't really care too much. Well, agaisnt Chelsea he proved me wrong as he really battled hard for the ball showing a side to his game that we have rarely seen. The talent is obviously there and if he can keep developing then he will become quite a player.
Putting on both Lucas and Sami Hyppia late on was a typical Benitez ploy to break up play and win a few seconds.
Friday, October 24, 2008 by Paul Grech
Perhaps it is because both set of fans are more passionate than most. Or, quite simply, because the two have a great affection for Fernando Torres that unites them. Whatever the reason, the game against Atletico Madrid not only passed by without any incident but Liverpool fans were genuinely made to feel welcome.
Inevitably, this won't get anything like the sort of publicity that would be afforded had there been any trouble. It is a sad state of affairs but, rather than dwell on it, I'd rather focus on these nice scenes from after the game:
Category Champions League
Thursday, October 23, 2008 by Paul Grech
A point away against the biggest rival in the group stages of the Champions League isn’t exactly a bad result but, having led for so long, it is inevitable that this result is tinged with disappointment. In reality, this was a very difficult game to call. Liverpool didn’t play brilliantly but could have easily scored a couple more.
Atletico weren’t much better yet they certainly upped the tempo in the first ten minutes of the second half and, had their goal not been wrongly disallowed then it would have been a completely different story.
The really worrying aspect of this game – well, apart from the dismal form of the two full-backs – was how tired most players looked in the second half. With Chelsea coming up on Sunday, it hardly bides well.
Faultless for the goal, Pepe Reina was immense. Not that he was called into action too often but he was always quick off his line to cut off attacks and his handling of crosses impeccable. Andy Gray faulted Jamie Carragher for the equalizer and whilst he was perhaps caught out by the bounce of the ball it was hardly a huge error.
Defensively, Liverpool may have been more solid with Martin Skrtel but Daniel Agger more than makes up for this as far as technique is concerned. The long ball he sent towards Kuyt towards the end of the game was quite simply breath-taking.
Indeed, it was the kind of ball you would expect Xabi Alonso to play and the midfielder played plenty of them. Everything good that Liverpool created went through him and his passing invariably picked a team-mate. My Man of the Match.
It is difficult to judge both Steven Gerrard and Javier Mascherano both of whom played discretely but well below their normal level. Both are still recovering from the exertion of playing for their respective national sides.
Robbie Keane took his goal very well and, although he probably should have scored another, his running and speed certainly unsettled the Atletico defense.
Much was made last weekend for the poor games that Alvaro Arbeloa and Andrea Dossena had, too much in my opinion. However, neither one of them seems to have taken too much consideration of the criticism as they were both poor once again against Atletico. Not a huge confidence boost with Chelsea coming up.
Albert Riera started very well but as soon as he was booked for diving, he seemed to switch off. From that point on, he did very little of note and the game passed him by. To his credit, Yossi Benayoun tried hard yet far too often gave away possession easily or chose the wrong option.
So often an impact substitute, Ryan Babel really should have scored with that late header. Apart from that opportunity and a run as soon as he got on the pitch, nothing was seen of him.
Confidence is such a vital ingredient in football and having scored four in three games, Dirk Kuyt has plenty at the moment. After coming on, he hassled the defenders in his typical fashion with the added bonus of always managing to pick out a Liverpool player after winning the ball.
The introduction of Lucas Leiva for Alonso was hugely surprising but the young Brazilian actually did pretty well. His passing was good but he also moved forward well. A promising cameo for a player who doesn’t seem to have many admirers among the Liverpool fans.
Monday, October 20, 2008 by Paul Grech
Book Review: Anfield of Dreams by Neil Dunkin
The old Chinese saying “may you live in interesting times” was apparently meant as a curse, yet the realization of that maxim hasn’t harmed Neil Dunkin too much.
A Liverpool supporter from the fifties, he witnessed the club’s rise from the Second Division under Bill Shankly through its domination of English and European football up till the present era. He was also of the right age to truly appreciate the explosion of the Mersey beat.
It is around these two phenomena – football and music – that his book Anfield of Dreams is centred. More of the first, to be honest, but the music segment makes as much of an impression. It is what has shaped Liverpool in popular culture and as Dunkin himself recounts when talking of his trips to places like Mexico, it is with football (Liverpool FC) and music (Beatles) that his city of birth is associated.
That Dunkin can talk about both with a fair deal of authority is the strong point of this book. He has stories to tell about Phil Taylor (Shankly’s predecessor) for instance, which is the first time that I’ve read of him as a person, rather than a statistic. Similarly, he writes about listening to the Beatles at the Cavern during his lunch break.
It isn’t just these stories that make Anfield of Dreams unique. It is the first Liverpool fan written book, or any fan book come to think of it, where the violence that was common place in the seventies and early eighties isn’t even mentioned. In fact, you get the feeling that Dunkin has an aversion of such stories that in a sense seem to glorify the violence. In various instances he talks against the scaly behavior among Liverpool fans, saying that it is the type of behaviour that confirms the other over-riding impression of the city.
If all that makes Anfield of Dreams different, the rest is fairly run of the mill writing that adds very little new. His recounting of the battle of Spion Kop is interesting whilst the story from Hillsborough can’t but move. Apart from that, however, Dunkin’s book is quite average, a decent read rather than an exceptional one.
Dunkin has clearly done his research – there is quote after quote throughout the whole book – yet these are lifted from other books and will be quite well know to Liverpool fans making them feel stale.
It doesn’t help that it has to compete with Brian Reade’s ’43 Years with the Same Bird’ that covers pretty much the same era and, like Anfield of Dreams, was also published this summer.
And whereas I enjoyed reading Anfield of Dreams, if someone where to be in the position of having to chose between the two, then the honest answer would be to go for Reade’s book.
Category A Look At
Thursday, October 16, 2008 by Paul Grech
It has been a tough couple of months for Paul Anderson with a tigh injury holding him back from playing for Nottingham Forest, the club he joined on loan at the start of the season.
The winger had a superb loan spell with Swansea last season, helping them to promotion and winning their young player of the year award. In the summer, Anderson signed an extension to his Liverpool deal before given the choice to join one of a host of Championship sides who were eager to get him on loan.
Surprisingly, Anderson opted for Forest rather than Swansea. Whether that was a wise choice or not is doubtful seeing that Swansea are pressing for a place in the play-offs whilst Forest are rooted at the bottom. Yet, in a way this is a good thing for Anderson because it allows him to make an impact once he regains fitness.
He's already doing that, although tentatively. Playing his first reserve game against Lincoln last week, he scored and helped the side claw its way to a 3-3 draw after being 3-1 down.
Then last Monday he was included in the reserve team that faced Walsall and came out 7-1 winners with Anderson running the show and scoring once again. Anderson won the praise of Forest's reserve team boss John Pemberton who said "Paul looked sharp and looks like he's chomping at the bit so we're really pleased with him."
This game was particularly important for Anderson because it confirmed that he can sustain the strain of playing competitively and now opens up the possibility of him joining the first team squad for their game against QPR this weekend.
This couldn't have been more timely for Forest who are undoubtedly in crisis and who need all the boosts that they can get. Which is hopefully what Anderson can give them in his bid to prove that he is good enough for Liverpool.
In the meantime, here's Anderson's goal against Lincoln reserves:
Wednesday, October 15, 2008 by Paul Grech
How do you keep abreast of what is happening in the world of football? For me it is a mix of NewsNow and RSS feeds from my favourite sites.
It is a system that I find works well for me yet there could be a better solution if Football Filter lives up to its promise.
The plan for Football Filter is quite ambitious as it aims to provide the same news spidering service as NewsNow but with added insight: whereas on other services you only get the headlines, here you can also se the first couple of sentences of each article you roll your mouse over helping you avoid clicking on to stories with an interesting title but that are effectively of little interest.
This, for me, is a major plus point seeing that I have the tendency to get lost reading one meaningless article after another. The way that the site is presented is another bonus as it allows a quick overview of what different sites are saying
A Liverpool specific section was added last month (and they graciously agreed to include A Liverpool Thing) but it reveals one of the challenges that face Football Filter. One of the main blogs listed is Liverpool Access yet the latest post on that – dated towards the end of last season - says that it will be taking a break.
Given the nature of the internet and most blogs which seem to be going strong one week and then don’t add a new post for months, Filter’s authors will have to keep a closer check on the sites they are feature to avoid having what are effectively dead links.
There are other tweaks that will have to be made. Opening up articles automatically in a new window is one of them and the operation of the site does seem a bit clunky. Yet all that is nit picking. I have to admit that I love the whole idea and its execution and this site is already one of my favourites.
A Brief Chat with Ben Fawkes
Here's what Ben Fawkes, the main man behind FootballFilter.com had to say about the whole idea:
When did the idea for the service come about?
About a year ago - I was working in America for a couple of months on an internship and was feeling a bit cut off from the football world; at the time I was using the BBC, Guardian and occasionally football365 to find out what was going on but I was beginning to get a bit sick of their style (particularly the Guardian and BBC, not really F365) and the way they only concentrated on the premiership. So it kind of came from this really, I wanted to be able to cover alot of different sources and centralise them into one place - so I made a Digg clone using Pligg and tried my hardest to get people involved in submitting ideas, which after about 3months failed, which when I met Mike (Derby fan and wing man for footballfilter) who is a web developer, we spoke about how great PopUrls was and how it could be used for football - and that's it really!
What does it offer that is different from other such services?
Ok, well obviously Netvibes and igoogle have similar concepts, but you have to do all the hard work setting up the feeds -we have done that for you and are frantically trying to set up the specific team pages and also new leagues - also podcasts, videos and images aren't as nicely laid out in these formats (in our opinion) so I think there is definitely space in the internet world for what we are trying to do.
As for NewsNow, which is also similar to us in terms of news aggregating, a lot of people have praised us for our layout and format in comparison to NewsNow, so I think what we offer is a simpler, cleaner way of keeping up with whats going on.
How has the feedback been like?
Brilliant, pretty much everyone who has seen it has liked it, some people find it overwhelming, which is understandable but I think people are slowly appreciating the value of it, especially as we develop the team pages!
What plans for the future?
Priority number one is to get the team pages done for the prem, championship, scottish prem and so on. Then we want to make a championship homepage, SPL homepage, Bundesliga homepage and so and so until we have nailed everything.
Then we want to work on customisation which allow users to chose different colours for backgrounds, decide if they want the links to open in new windows, how many feeds per row etc etc.
After that we want to work on stats so we can have the most popular links show at the top of the homepage and other stat type info...its going to take a while and I can't wait.Other than that, just continue to contribute to the online football community really, we post alot of photos on flickr and I would love to work on more things on youtube (ie make our own vids and the like), develop our blog, get some writers for it if there was an interest, just basically become a hub for football!
Category Spreading the Word
Monday, October 13, 2008 by Paul Grech
Andrea Dossena has had a mixed start to his Liverpool career, showing promising signs when going forward but equally worrying ones when he has to defend. Back in Italy, however, there are few doubts about the player who became Liverpool’s most expensive defender when he joined from Udinese last July.
A regular in Marcello Lippi’s new look national team, so highly rated is Dossena that questions have been asked about why a player of his ability had to go abroad to further his career. That matter was at the core of a recent interview by Christian Giordano for the weekly magazine Guerin Sportivo, which I have translated here:
Andrea, how does it feel?
It is all different, both on and off the pitch. Starting from the stadia that are more beautiful and advanced. The way the game is played is also different. I watched Inter against Roma on television: they played with the ball on the ground. Here the game is much more physical, you run more and there is less time to think.
Afraid of not making it?
I wouldn’t say that I don’t feel up to it, but it takes time to get used to it. In Glasgow against Rangers I understood that here you can get away with everything with the referees: they only blow for tackles with two feet or worse. And training is completely different. There’s neither the running nor the repetition that I was used to. It is only an hour with the ball, but it is very intense. I can’t understand how they do it: compared to us they do half the work but run twice as much. It is a question of mentality, how they approach the game. If we Italians ran as much as they did, we’d be world champions every time.
Difficulties outside football?
The normal adaptation problems. Everything is new both in football and in life. Together with my wife (whom he married just before leaving for England) we have bought a house in the centre. I understand English and can make myself understood. Two or three times a week we take lessons before going for training. I already knew something and I get better every day.
With Benitez you talk in Italian?
No, English. Just as he does with the rest. He talks four languages but shouts in neither one. He occasionally gives me some pointers in Italian.
Perhaps on how to handle pressure? This year you have to win the Premier League.
We are Liverpool. Pressure is normal. It was there in the preliminary round of the Champions League and it is there in the league that they’ve been waiting for since 1990. But it is pressure that you don’t mind. The important thing is being healthy. Football is secondary.
What do you miss the most?
The simple things that then become the vital things. The way of life, going out to eat. Little habits that you need. You only realize how much they mater when you lose them. I’ve signed for four years, I hope that my wife manages to settle.
Are you managing in the team?
Everyone is willing to help, starting from Gerrard. The supporters appreciate those who do their utmost so I haven’t had any problems. I don’t forget how I got here. In football it is easy to go up yet even easier to go down. Compared with Udine I’ve changed my position: with Marino I played higher up the pitch and we often played with three in the centre of defence. Benitez wants me to play in the more traditional left-back role in a four man defence.
Given also the lack of decent left backs, how come an Italian international had to leave Italy?
I didn’t chose to leave. The big teams had other plans whilst Benitez called and asked me: “Andrea, are you ready?” We settled everything within a week.
From Lodi to Anfield, your story seems like a fairy tale. With a happy ending?I started at Fanfulla and moved to Verona when I was fourteen. If I’ve arrived so far it is thanks to the hard work and sacrifice. We’re doing will but I want to live day by day.
Category Andrea Dossena
Thursday, October 02, 2008 by Paul Grech
Victory was expected against PSV Eindhoven yet the manner and ease with which it came was surprising. In what Benitez rightly termed as an 'almost perfect night', the only disappointment was letting PSV in with that late goal. Otherwise, there was Keane's first goal and Gerrard's hundredth one meaning that both players will be able to go into the next game without the pressure brought about by the wait for a goal.
As for PSV, they were disappointing with the exception of Amrabat who looks quite a player.
Pepe Reina was hardly troubled all evening yet he handled anything that came his way with ease. If he can stay free from injury, Fabio Aurelio will be Liverpool's regular left-back this season, a belief confirmed by another excellent game yesterday. The same (apart from staying fit bit) applies to Alvaro Arbeloa who is growing game by game and who is pressinf forward more with each game.
In the centre of defence it was the usual reliable stuff by Jamie Carragher and Martin Skrtel. It was telling to see Carragher's reaction after Liverpool suffered the goal and his anger at the midfielders for letting not cutting out the cross. It is such instances and eagerness for perfection that marks him out as such a special player.
Midfield was totally dominated by Xabi Alonso and Steven Gerrard. It says something that Liverpool have been coping so easily without a player of Javier Mascherano's quality and Gerrard was, in particular, great against PSV. My man of the match.
Albert Riera was perhaps the only player who didn't look up to it yesterday yet, even so, he had a decent game and adds quality on the right. For once, Dirk Kuyt managed to ally his work-rate with a goal, something that Fernando Torres can't claim this evening. Even so he set up Robbie Keane for his goal which will hopefully be the first of many.
For the first time since I've been doing this feature, there wasn't a player who I could say had a bad game.
The most notable of Liverpool's three substitutes was Lucas Leiva who almost scored a goal late on. Otherwise, neither Yossi Benayoun nor Ryan Babbel did anything of particular note.
Wednesday, October 01, 2008 by Paul Grech
Last week I was critical of the current situation with the reserves and how the over-crowding there was preventing promising academy players from making the step up. Thankfully there's since been some excellent news in that Nathan Eccleston has been promoted to the Melwood set-up. Here's what the official site had to say:
Nathan Eccleston has become the latest Academy graduate to make the move to Melwood on a permanent basis.There was good news for Finnish striker Lauri Della Valle as well as he has been awarded with a four year professional deal, even though for the time being he will be staying at the academy.
The England youth international will train with Gary Ablett's reserve team squad and is regarded as a player with a lot of potential.
He was handed the number 39 squad number this season and also named in Rafael Benitez's Champions League squad.
Under-18s boss Hughie McAuley is delighted to see Eccleston make the move and said it's a great boost for the Academy.
"It's great news for Nathan because this is what he has been striving for," McAuley told Liverpoolfc.tv.
"He did very well in pre-season when he trained with the reserve team and I know Gary was very impressed.
"This news has given everybody at the Academy a boost. When you see a young lad who has been at the Academy since the age of 14 go to Melwood it's fantastic.
"This is what our job is all about preparing young players so they can make that move to Melwood. Nathan's move will give all of the young lads with us a lot of confidence, because if you play well and impress then you are more than likely to get a chance to go to Melwood.
"Nathan is an exciting player with a lot of potential. He can take defenders on and score goals. He knows he's still got a lot of hard work ahead of him but he's not afraid of that. He will still play in our Under-18 team this season as well so we are delighted to have him available."
Meanwhile, reserve boss Ablett believes Eccleston deserves his opportunity.
"Nathan has done well when he has trained and played for us and he has a good attitude," said Ablett.
"He really impressed during pre-season and we are looking forward to having him with us.
"The Academy is massively important for Liverpool and I don't think you can underestimate how good a job the likes of Hughie and John Owens do.
"Without the help of Hughie my first year as reserve team manager wouldn't have gone as smoothly as it did and I've got a lot to thank him for.
"I speak to Hughie three times a week and we want to see the local boys progress because it is the lifeblood of the club. We all want the same thing which is the best players at our club."
Have you read our feature of Lauri Della Valle? If not, do so here.
by Paul Grech
Having tasted his first defeat since moving to Inter, Jose Mourinho has continued his old strategy of trying to shift attention from the pitch to the press conferences. Having already set up a feud with Juventus boss (and his predecessor at Chelsea) Claudio Ranieri, last weekend he embarked on a rant against someone he referred to as Barnetta (presumably he was referring to Lecce manager Mario Beretta) to a stupefied audience.
"It is not €9 million, it is €11," was Mourinho's reply. "And if you consider the sponsors, it goes up to €14."