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Archive for June 2009

A Guarded Welcome

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Tuesday, June 30, 2009 by

Right back wasn't exactly a position many thought Liverpool needed to look at this summer. Certainly not if it meant spending £17 on it. Yet, as so very often happens, Rafael Benitez thought differently.

In reality, he's been looking for a player of Glen Johnson's abilities - an attack minded right back - for quite some time. Three summers back he tried desperately hard to buy Daniel Alves from but ultimately failed because Liverpool didn't want to pay as much as Seville wanted. Then there was the fleeting interest shown in Rafinha and eventually the signing of Philip Degen for the Swiss, if he ever manages to get fit, is supposed to be quite dangerous going forward.

Johnson, therefore, is the end of a long search and, at the same time, the first opportunity where Benitez has had the ultimate say on which players to buy. Indeed it is, in many ways, an immediate test of the decision to give him the final say on how to spend whatever money he is given.

Typically, it is a choice that won't be shared universally. That Johnnson comes from an excellent season isn't in doubt and nor is anyone disputing that he has had some decent showings for the national side but not the same can be said of his ability to star for a side aiming to win the league.

That so much has been spent on a defender also seems like a luxury that you wouldn't think that a club in Liverpool's situation should be splashing on.

Obviously Benitez doesn't see it that way. Johnson will give him the width and push from the right that has been missing from his teams. He might have to sacrifice some defensive solidity but tha is, in his opinion, a risk worth taking. Just as signing Johnson is.


Spreading the Word: The Nicola Saric Story

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Monday, June 29, 2009 by

There's a lot of rubbish posted on internet fora, none more so during the transfer window when everybody has an opinion on who Liverpool should by and why the players that Benitez is going to bring in aren't good enough / the missing piece in the puzzle (delete as appropriate).

Occasionally, however, something worth reading sticks out.

The moving story of Liverpool reserve Nicola Saric is one such instance. The piece originally appeared on a Danish newspaper but a Liverpool fan has translated it for those who visit redandwhitekop.com and we highly recommend reading it.


Anderson Off To Forest

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There's been a lot of hype around Paul Anderson since he joined Liverpool, primarily because at the time the highly-rated John Welsh was sacrificed to get him. When he then played a key role in Liverpool's victory of the FA Youth Cup, the expectations balooned and they did so again when he went out on loan at Swansea where he was one of their best players as they won promotion to the Championship.

All of which has often led to calls to give him the opportunity to show his worth at Liverpool. But that doesn't look like it is going to happen as it seems that he is off to Nottingham Forest in a deal worth around £750,000.

Not that this was unexpected. Towards the end of last season, we had spoken to a number of Forest fans to get their views on Anderson and most said that, whilst they thought that he was a good player, they didn't think that he was good enough for Liverpool. A view that apparently Rafael Benitez seems to share.


Spreading the Word: Yellow Fever

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Saturday, June 27, 2009 by

Come now, admit it, we've all had a laugh at Newcastle every now and then. You can't fail to do so given just how many bad signings they make and how every minor squabble is played out in the open.

Which is why, perhaps, many did not want to see them relegated. That and the fact that they usually guarantee six easy points for Liverpool.

Yet, enough is enough. For, when you thought that they couldn't pile any more humiliation on them, Newcastle come out with this horrendous kit that is officially described as yellow and orange but to me looks like the colour of piss. Which is just what they're taking out of the Newcastle fans.


A Different Angle to George Gillett

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Friday, June 26, 2009 by

It is fair to say that George Gillett isn't among the most liked men on Merseyside. Indeed, he'd probably struggle in a 'try to contain yourself when you see him' contest. So to see what the fans - or at least the journalists - in Montreal think of him now that he's decided to sell the Montreal Canadiens is something of an interesting exercise.

In particular, it sounds strange to hear just how well liked he is.

Unlike Liverpool, when he took over the Canadiens there was a fair bit of suspicion about his motives and not many were happy about an American taking over a Canadian sporting institution. At the time, and this will sound familiar, Gillett replied to that criticism by promising that he would protect the club's history and that he viewed himself purely as a custodian.

And, it would seem, he has kept his word.

"Fear and loathing had long given way to respect, even affection for a man with a self-deprecating sense of humour who had proven not to be Godzilla with an American passport," wrote Dave Stubbs in the National Post http://www.nationalpost.com/sports/story.html?id=1719820 earlier this week. "Gillett had not, in fact, invaded Montreal to stomp the Canadiens flat or use the club's long thread of history as dental floss."

Stubbs goes on to recall a conversation with Gillett about the initial reaction to his takeover. "My reaction was not to get angry [about the early criticism], but ask that we be judged on our record [with the Canadiens], not the past," Gillett said on a flight to Toronto for the awards ceremony. "I made a mistake years ago. I can only live with that so long. At some point, you have to look at what I've done more recently. To the benefit of Quebec and particularly Montreal, they have turned the page and allowed my family's actions to speak louder than words."

And Stubbs isn't the only one to talk about Gillett this way. In a piece entitled 'A Debt of Gratitude for Gillett', Jeff Blair write in the Globe and Mail http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/a-debt-of-gratitude-for-george-gillett/article1191330/ that "while Montreal gets ready to celebrate the return of the Molson family to ownership of the NHL franchise – saving it from the cheesy clutches of the likes of Pierre Karl Péladeau and René Angelil – it is wise to give Gillett his due."

"He accorded the Canadiens’ history an enormous amount of respect (it is to his credit, and that of club president Pierre Boivin, that Hall of Fame goaltender Patrick Roy was repatriated) and always seemed to err on the side of tradition, which was necessary from the start to keep at bay the fear he was a carpetbagger."

Words of praise that jarr when compared to the criticism that his time at Liverpool has been levelled at him. Not that this is unjustified.

Of course, the most telling statistic of this whole story is that Gillett bought the Canadiens for $270 million and has sold them on seven years later for $550 million which makes it one of the biggest deals in NHL history. A handsome profit but also an indication into how he operates. For the basic fact is that he sold the Canadiens because he sees Liverpool FC as a vehicle for even higher returns.

What will be interesting is to see what Gillett does next. Will he pay back some of the debt that has been saddled on the club? And will he use some of the money to kick-start the building of the new ground? If he does that, then perhaps by the time he decides to sell up there will be those willing to write as many positive things about him as there have been in Canada.


Spreading the Word: Insight on Jesus Fernandez

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Thursday, June 25, 2009 by

I have to admit that I'm not a big fan of goal.com: they're far too interested in spreading (mostly unfounded) rumours to take them seriously.

Yet occasionally they do come up with something that is worth reading. This week's interview with Cadiz youth coach Quique Gonzalez is a case in point.

The piece is of interest because it focuses on recent Liverpool addition Jesus Fernandez. What makes it particularly noteworthy is that it provides some insight into the talent of this 16 year old boy.

There's no mention of the comparison with Cesc Fabregas, contrary to how he was portrayed by most papers but, don't worry, it does say that we will be getting one of the best talents in Spain.

What will be interesting about the deal is to see where Fernandez ends up playing. So far, any young player bought by Benitez went directly to the reserves team. But will that be the case now that Benite has full control over the academy? Or will he opt to keep him in the U18s to see how he develops?


Faith No More

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Wednesday, June 24, 2009 by

Strange as it might seem, for the past three years Liverpool fans have often had to defend Javier Mascherano.
First there were those who questioned the wisdom of buying a player who had failed to make an impact at West Ham. Then came those that saw him as being too much of a defensive minded player; good at winning the ball but not very good at doing anything with it. There were those who seriously questioned Benitez’s judgement when he chose to pay ₤18 million for what is generally described as a water carrier. And I can’t think of anyone who didn’t feel the compulsion to support him in the aftermath of the (avoidable and stupid) sending off at Old Trafford last season.

Now it is time for some payback. With Real Madrid and Barcelona sniffing around, the least that was expected of Mascherano was to reward those who have supported him throughout by claiming that he wasn’t interested.

Yet, far from hearing such words, fans have had to listen to claims by his agent that Mascherano would be honoured to join either one of the Spanish clubs. And, even worse, we get Mascherano himself who fans the flames of these rumours by suggesting that he wouldn’t mind moving.

Which is downright disgusting. What has to be done to remind Masherano how much he owes Liverpool? That his career was going nowhere before Rafel Benitez popped by to offer him the life-line of moving to Liverpool? If it hadn’t been for Liverpool, Mascherano would have probably returned home to Argentina, another player who had tried to prove his worth in Europe and failed

Such actions, apparently count for nothing for the indications are that Mascherano would gladly leave the club that has given him so much. Because, let’s not kid ourselves: this has been dragging for far too long for it to be simply speculation.


Cutting More Than The Dead Wood

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Monday, June 22, 2009 by

In ‘normal’ life, when a company gets taken over you expect there to be some changes at the top. Irrespective of how good the people were or whether they were doing their job well, most of the times the feeling is that they have to go in order to make a break from the past and show that things are about to change.

That is one way, I guess, how you can explain the departures in recent weeks of key academy staff like Dave Shannon and Hughie McAuley. They weren’t bad at their job – indeed Shannon is praised in the Jamie Carragher, Steven Gerrard’s and Robbie Fowler’s biographies – but they had been at the academy too long to really believe that Rafael Benitez could have put in place his vision for Liverpool’s youth set-up with them in place.

Malcolm Elias is completely different. His reputation at Southampton was nothing short of exceptional having spotted the likes of Theo Walcott, Gareth Bale and Eddie McGoldrick. Within the space of two years at Liverpool, he had proven that those were by no way lucky finds.

Lauri Della Valle, for instance, has been a great find and worthy of the promotion to the reserves squad that he’s just achieved. Same goes for Christopher Buchtmann who was one of the stars of the Germany team that recently won the European U17 trophy. Then there is Andre Wisdom, the sixteen year old central defender who already looks capable of handling himself at a much higher level. All of these players look safe bets at making the step up.

And if Elias had managed to attract such players with all the speculation and doubt that there was around the academy set-up, one can only imagine what he could have achieved when the new system was in place and with Benitez directly over-seeing things. His, I fear, will be a major loss.

What Benitez is doing at the academy makes sense: get all teams playing the same way, focus on their technical skills, put in a mixture of local and foreign coaches all of whom are highly qualified. Yet, as with all revolutions, sometimes you run the risk of overdoing things, cutting not only the dead-wood – for want of a better word – but the whole tree.

Let’s hope that’s not the case here.


Don’t Question Benitez’s Judgement

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Wednesday, June 17, 2009 by

It could be that I’m hyper-sensitive but there are a lot of people out there who are quick to remind us of the number of bad buys that Rafael Benitez has made in the five years that he has been in charge at Liverpool. Remember Morientes, they ask, and Josemi? And how can anyone forget about Robbie Keane?

Of course, it is true that Benitez has made some bad buy but these tend to be overwhelmed by the good ones. There’s Daniel Agger and Martin Skrtel for instance. And who brought in Xabi Alonso? Even Fernando Torres, a signing that at the time was shrouded in doubt – remember those who claimed that he wouldn’t score enough goals for us – can be viewed as something of a bargain seeing what is being paid for strikers these days.

Indeed, perhaps the biggest compliment that can be made to Benitez is that he’s managed to build a team capable of challenging for both the Premiership and the Champions League with the budget that has been made available. This might seem like a strange statement given that Benitez has been given millions to spend. What he has never had, however, is the luxury to push that little bit harder and exceed the strict limitations of the budget imposed on him in order to get a player.

Three years ago, Liverpool tried to sign a promising full-back at Seville by the name of Daniel Alves. He was Benitez’s main target and every effort was made to get him. Yet, every time that an agreement seemed to be drawing near, Seville suddenly decided to up the price. And when this went over £12 million it was decided to give up.

Whether this was Benitez’s decision or Rick Parry’s – or both of them agreed – we will probably never know. What we do know is that a year on Alves moved to Barcelona for some £25 million and that Liverpool are now about to pay around £18 million in order to get someone who plays in the same manner as the Brazilian.

There are plenty of other examples. Benitez was interested in both Theo Walcott and Aaron Ramsey yet his priority was in getting players who were ready for the first team. He just couldn’t match what Arsenal were willing to spend in order to get players who had to wait a couple of years before they could really be considered as being ready enough to play in the Premiership.

Not that Benitez is the first manager to have to face up to these limitations. Roy Evans, for instance, wanted to bring in the experience of Teddy Sheringham yet was over-ruled by a board of directors who thought that the spending money on a 29 year-old didn’t make much sense. Of course, he then went to Manchester United and gave them that little bit extra that led to them winning the treble.

Who knows what would have happened had he joined Liverpool? Just as who knows what would have happened had Liverpool moved faster in order to get a young Portuguese kid by the name of Cristiano Ronaldo. Instead they waited a bit longer to think the deal over and suddenly found that Manchester United had agreed a deal with Sporting Lisbon.

So, what does this all prove? That perhaps, sometimes, it is better to listen to a manager’s instincts and get the players that he wants even if it means paying a bit more. In the long term, it could prove to be the cheaper option.


Spreading the Word: Aly Cissokho's Rags to Ritches

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Tuesday, June 16, 2009 by

At a time when players are changing clubs for sums in excess of ₤50 and ₤80 million, it is hardly surprising that little notice is given to a transfer that amount to just ₤12 million. Even more so when there are no British club involved.

Yet there is plenty that is noteworthy in Aly Cissokho’s move to AC Milan.

Two years ago, Cissokho made his debut at Geugnon in what was a desperate season for them. Anchored at bottom practically from the first day, they were relegated to the French Third Division having won just five games all season.

Eager to avoid playing at such a lowly level, Cissokho moved to Portuguese side Vitoria de Setubal. It was a good move for him, but only just. True, they played in the Portugues Primera Liga but that was about the only positive thing about them. A squad of limited ability coupled with financial problems that saw the players going some two months without being paid, there was never any doubt that they were going to struggle.

So it proved to be yet Cissokho did well enough to attract Portuguese giants Porto to make a move fore him in January. Initially it looked like a stop-gap move, a player signed purely to bolster the squad in case of emergency. Yet that wasn’t the case.

A series of injuries meant that a chance quickly came his way and suddenly Cissokho found himself playing in the Champions League against Manchester United. It was the ultimate test and Cissokho played exceptionally well. As he did for the rest of the season where he helped the side to the Portugues League and Cup double.

That would have been enough to signify a fairytale ending, yet there was more to come. Both Marseilles and Lyon had expressed interest in signing him before, out of nowhere, Milan came in and tabled a ₤ bid

Now all that Cissokho has to do is replace the living legend that is Paolo Maldini. A next to impossible task for many defenders yet, for the man who has made it all the way from Guegnon to the top, not even that will be too much to ask.

I realise that this article has absolutely nothing to do with Liverpool yet it is too good a story to let pass by. Not to mention that it proves that there’s good talent everywhere if you’re willing to look hard enough.


A Look At:: The Rivals Game

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Monday, June 15, 2009 by

Book Review: The Rivals Game by Douglas Beattie

If you've ever read Four Four Two's regular feature More Than A Game, then there's no doubt that you'll love this book. For the premise behind it is similar: take two clubs where there's a derby and look at what makes games between them particularly fierce.

This isn't as easy a thing as one might think. Objectivity is essential as otherwise you might soon find yourself faced with angry fans of this or that club who feel that you've put them in a bad light.

It is, therefore, a major credit to Douglas Beattie that he pulls this off extremely well. The historical aspects that lead to the rivalry of each derby are looked - indeed this is historical basis is the strength of this book - yet it is interlaced with comments from those who have an attachment to either one of the teams as well as the author's personal experiences from watching the games.

The only criticism that I can lay on 'The Rivals Game' is on its cover design. For some reason they've gone for a shot of fans fighting in order to, I'm assuming here, portray the fierce nature of these games. Given that fighting is rarely mentioned in these books and certainly not glorified it is a strange and frankly offputting choice.

If I really wanted to be pedantic, - could say that he should have looked at relatively smaller derbies, the Bristol one for instance or else that between Blackburn and Burnley. That would have given the book a more rounded feel then simply a look at the major derbies.

Yet that's nitpicking because overall this is a good job and one that, who knows, might lead at a follow up book that takes in European derbies.

Looking for something to read during the summer? Why not take a look at our book reviews.


The Lad Can Play: Euro U21 Special

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Friday, June 12, 2009 by

With the supply of live football drying out, tournaments like the European U21 Championships take on added significance for those who are already feeling the first twinges of a withdrawal symptoms.

Yet there is more to these championships as they provide the opportunity of taking a look at some players who could be genuine world stars in coming years. And, whilst most of those making the trip with England are already well known, this is definitely not the case for the other teams in the tournament.

So, if you’re looking to know of any players to keep an eye out for, here’s our list of five talents to look out for.

Javi Martinez (Spain - pictured)
The young midfielder first rose to prominence when Atletico Bilbao paid £5 million for the then 17 year-old. Within twelve months, however, he had justified such a fee with a series of inspiring displays at the heart of Bilbao midfield. An excellent passer of the ball and with great vision he is, unsurprisingly, seen as Xabi Alonso heir.

Mesut Ozil (Germany)
Werder Bremen may have lost Diego to Juventus this summer, but in Mesut Ozil they’ve already identified the player who is to take his place. Alongside the Brazilian midfielder, Ozil impressed in the latter stages of the UEFA Cup showing that he is a player who can handle the pressure that comes with high profile games, proving that he has the character to go with his flair.

Mario Balotelli (Italy)
The son of Ghanaian immigrants who was adopted by an Italian family, Balotelli has often been at the heart of controversy this season both because of the racism directed to him and also for his pig-headedness. Yet his talent is undoubted. A fast and strong striker, he can score exceptional goals. Not for nothing that he finished the season as a regular in Jose Mourinho’s Inter.

Gojko Kačar (Serbia)
One of the more experienced players in this tournament, Kacar was involved in the Serbian team that made it to the final two years back and has already made the step up to the senior national team. An extremely powerful player, he is nominally a midfielder yet can play both in the heart of defence as well as in the centre of attack.

Marcus Berg (Sweden)
There are always doubts about host nations’ abilities to make any inroads in such tournaments and such a sentiment has been expressed about Sweden this time round. There can be little doubts over Berg, however, after the young striker first helped Gotheborg win the 2007 Swedish title before making a move to Dutch side Groningen whom he has helped into the top half of the Dutch league.


In Defence of Andrea Dossena

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Thursday, June 11, 2009 by

Think what you will of Andrea Dossena's qualities as a player - and I know that there are those out there who will think very bad things - yet you can hardly find a fault in his attitude.

Frank about his difficulties in adapting to the language and culture, he kept trying his utmost regardless of whether he was starting the game or being sent on for the final few minutes with the result already sealed.

Now that it has become clear that he is surplus to requirements, he has opted to ask for a transfer rather than keep on collecting his wages and wait for the club to make its move, something that would have put him in a better bargaining position.

The sad thing is that Dossena will simply be categorised as a bad (and extremely strange) buy by Benitez.

In reality, it is probably a bit more complicated than that. Althoguh, slowly, Benitez has managed to build a team that is very strong through the centre, he hasn’t been as successful when trying to improve those out wide. Some, like Mark Gonzalez, promised much but delivered very little whilst the limitations of others – Jermaine Pennant and, potentially, Albert Riera – meant that they could never hit the level of performance that he was looking for.

The financial restrictions imposed on the manager also meant that he couldn’t afford to chase the players that he really wanted. So he tried to go for the clever solution.

Which is what led to last summer’s arrival not only of Dossena but also of Philip Degen. The two share similar characteristics in that they are both better known for their offensive play rather than any defensive attribute. Benitez’s plan clearly was that of using his full-backs in order to open up play against teams determined to hold out for a point.

Unfortunately, although good on paper, that plan didn’t work out as expected. Degen proved to be made of glasss and spent the season out injured. For Dossena, the problem was a bit more complex.

True, he failed to settle. Yet what many fail to appreciate is that at Udinese he played largely as a wing-back in a 5-3-2 system. Primarily his job was that to support the strikers with one of the three central defenders covering up for him.

At Liverpool the tactics were completely different. Expected to play as a more conventional full-back, Dossena still pressed forward probably more than was healthy. All well and good except that his lack of pace made him particularly at risk whenever possession was lost. Teams quickly realised that when faced with a quick player, Dossena was in trouble and promptly set out exploiting that weakness.

The defining moment came in the home game against Hull where Bernard Mendy, normally only a reserve player, tore Dossena to pieces. He never recovered from that game and, tellingly, from that point on his appearances came on the left hand side of midfield.

Coupled with the emergence of Emiliano Insua, and he rapidly became surplus to requirements. That didn’t stop him from scoring two important goals that will long live in the collective memories, the fourth against Real Madrid and Manchester United.

Those goals hinted that he could have a future on the left hand side of midfield yet that would have been trying to patch out the problem. Sadly for Dossena, it is much easier to change and start afresh.


Making Liverpool Big in Asia

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Wednesday, June 10, 2009 by

Whilst Liverpool's tour to Asia this summer has been touted as an attempt to raise the club's profile the reality is that this is an exercise to, as the Americans call it, make a quick buck. Liverpool have already made such trips before, as have other English and European clubs, yet none have had any lasting impact: the only real profit that football clubs have been able to make from Asia has come from the appearance money earned for playing such games.

The issue is one of approach. It is true that there are many football fans in Asian country and it is equally true that Liverpool is a popular club. The problem is that so are Manchester United, Juventus, Barcelona and any one of the big European giants. And it isn't uncommon for people to support three or four clubs at one go.

In other words, there is no affinity for any one club. It is like appreciating a particular actor or actress: you're likely to watch their movies but it doesn't mean that you won't watch anyone else's. And, if that actor suddently starts making bad choices when looking through scripts, then you'll stop watching his movies. Which, translated to football, means that you decide not follow a club when it starts performing badly.

The trick, therefore, is to try and build a relationship with these fans. Which is why the most profitable - in the long term - venture that Liverpool will be making in Asia won't be the team's tour but rather a football centre being set up in India.

Announced earlier this week, the promise is that the 'Abhijit Kadam Football Development Centre' where young footballers will combine their studies with football under the guidance of Liverpool FC coaches will "include, coaching, refereeing, Sports Science, Sports Turf technology and Football Industry Management. Most of the curriculum will be delivered in Pune but students will be offered the chance to complete some of their studies in the UK."

Away from the usual marketing talk, what this project means is that it ensures Liverpool direct involvement in the area. Sure, there is no hiding from the fact that they are in it to make money, but they are giving something in return as well as helping local football. That it is linked with education - a highly valued attribute in many Asian countries - also helps make it an attractive proposal.

On top of everything, however, it also means that all the students who pass through the centre will have a special reason to have a bond with Liverpool FC: they're more likely to become real fans rather than casual ones. Which is what clubs, albeit for their own reasons, are really interested in.


New Academy Head Looking to re-establish a Liverpool Way

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Tuesday, June 09, 2009 by

Re-hauling the overall philosophy at the academy. That is the task that Rafael Benitez has set for new academy head Pep Segura who will be looking to see that all teams in the set-up play in a specific manner and with a particular style.

Talking to the Spanish paper AS, Segura said that as the head of the technical areas at the academy, he will be the reference point for all coaching and training sessions. With a large number of staff at the academy being released last week, which included high profile figures like Hughie Macauley and John Owens, it looks like Segura has already set about his job in an area where, yet again, Liverpool seem to have fallen behind.

“Arsenal and Manchester United having been working well with young players for a number of years and Liverpool is now trying to do likewise,” he said.

“At Arsenal, Wenger has had total control [on the academy] for the past fourteen years. The same is now happening at Liverpool where Rafael Benitez is now involved in the day-to-day operations but also in the players’ contracts as well as the technical staff.”

Benitez newly gained power over the academy is evidenced by the fact that Segura was handpicked by him, contrary to what had happened two years back when Piet Hamberg had been appointed. “He (Benitez) asked me what I was doing and at the time I was at out of work. At that point he asked me to come over for a weekend where he told me that he had thought of me for this role. I thought about it for a couple of days and then accepted.”

Having led Olympiakos to a league and cup double, it might seem surprising that Segura has accepted to move back into youth football. Yet, that is where he seems to be most comfortable at.

“I have been in football coaching for the past twenty-six years but only for the past three years have I been working in the senior game. I was the link between Barcelona B and the first team in my final season at the Nou Camp and then spent two years in Greece.”

Given their success in the Champions League with a squad built around home grown players, it is fashionable to try and copy the Barcelona model. That seems to be what Liverpool have gone for and Segura, with eight years of experience at the Catalan giants, seems perfectly suited to do just that.
“One of the keys to success at an academy is to have a clear training and playing ideology throughout the different age-groups so that the players can learn about their positions. Once that’s in place you can leave them on their own.”

“Then there’s the ability to spot players: Messi, Bojan and Iniesta are there because they’re good. True, they came and liked what they saw so they decided to stay at Barcelona. That is also very important.”

“Yet, the secret to continuing with this production line is that everyone knows what their role is, which makes it all easier. Once you have set up the way you work, then year on year you can build on it and get results. I remember that there were some problems when the 4-3-3 style was imposed but they were overcome and the teams play well.”

Which is not to say that clubs with a distinct ideology between the youth and senior set-ups cannot work but, as Segura hints by using Real Madrid as an example, it is more difficult to integrate players into the senior side.

“It is curious because Madrid have a bigger pool from which to choose from than Barcelona and they always have great players. But that is precisely it: Madrid is a factory of individuals but you need to define the philosophy of the club.”
I recall that Angel Pedraza (a former Barcelona and Real Mallorca player) once told me that he wasn’t the best player of his [youth] side but made it to the first team because there was a gap in his role. The same applies to [Sergio] Busquets who is another example of a player who has been trained for a specific role.

It wasn’t a coincidence neither for Pedraza nor for Busquets. They were chosen because they had specific abilities that fitted into the characteristics of a particular position. Lately, I’ve talked a lot about this with Benitez: if you see what way you want to play and are clear about it then you can say that you need a player to play as a 2, 7 or 11 in this or that team. That way everything is better”

“Pedraza was casual about it or is about Busquets. Arrived with a clear profile is set to play and fit into that idea because his features were those of that position. I've commented a lot lately with Benitez: if you look you see a clear way of working what you need: a 2, 7, 11 in this or that team. And you're all the better.”

Original interview by Tomás Guasch for AS.


An End to the Barry Debate

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Monday, June 08, 2009 by

At long last, the Gareth Barry debate is over. No longer will we hear arguments between Reds who cannot agree whether he would add anything to the side or not. And there will be no further doubts about whether his arrival would force Xabi Alonso out.

Yet the manner in which all these arguments have been settled is undoubtedly surprising. For Barry has left Aston Villa to join not Liverpool or Arsenal, the two clubs that could have given him the Champions League football that he had claimed he was eager for, but rather Manchester City who haven't even qualified for the Europa League.

Inevitably, Barry has claimed that he believes that at Manchester City he has joined a club that is building to challenge, one with a serious project to build a side good enough to win top honours.

That, however, is some way off. Even if they pull off all the transfers that they're claiming, City will still be a top five side at best by next season. Meaning that Barry, at 29, will have wasted a further season.

If this risks sounding like sour grapes, then simply think of Lucas Neill. Two seasons ago he too opted to reject Liverpool in favour of a cash rich club with big ambitions. He too said that he had opted for that move not for the money but because of footballing ambitions.

Well, three seasons later he has just rejected West Ham's offer for a new contract and is looking for a new club. Only that, at 31, he is now past his peak and has certainly lost any opportunity that he had of playing for a big club.

In other words, he made his choice and is now reaping the rewards.

The same applies to Barry. Whether he admits it or not, the truth is that he has gone to Manchester City for the money. He was fully entitled to do that, of course, and good luck to him.

Yet, whilst his bank balance will be considerably better off, it is unlikely that his medal collection will be likewise.