Friday, 30 July 2010

Reds Silence Racists

New manager Roy Hodgson couldn't have wished for a better start to his time as Liverpool boss as we comfortably crushed the Macedonian side FK Rabotnicki, emerging victorious thanks to a brace from the impressive David Ngog.

Hodgson was forced to pick an unusual starting eleven as he was unwilling to risk most of his world cup stars after advice from club doctors suggested that playing them could effect the team's performance later on in the campaign.

Youngsters Martin Kelly, Jay Spearing and David Amoo started the match, with Amoo particularly impressing in an attacking role. Lucas Leiva was given the role of captain in the absence of Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher.

It was a quiet opening period to the match, with neither side creating any clear chances until the 17th minute, when David Ngog took advantage of some terrible defending to give the away side a one-goal lead.

The promising forward latched onto an intelligent free kick from Lucas and dinked the ball over the keeper and into the back of the net after the pass had bounced over the head of a Rabotnicki defender.

It was embarrassing, pub side defending from the Eastern Europeans, however Hodgson's men couldn't care les as Ngog gave us a crucial away goal to take back to Merseyside.

Liverpool tried the same trick several times in the following minutes, with Aquilani twice releasing Ngog, however both the goalkeeper and the offside flag denied him the chance to grab a quick second.

Rabotnicki's first opportunity of any note came on the half hour mark. An ambitious effort from the Brazilian born Macedonian striker Wandeir was comfortably collected by Diego Cavalieri.

With half time approaching David Amoo displayed some wonderful skill to speed past several defenders on the left wing. The 19 year old then put a cross into the box, however it just evaded Milan Jovanovic in the penalty area. It was a tremendous bit of trickery from Amoo, who showed signs of promise throughout his competitive debut.

The second half began in a similar fashion to the first, with neither side claiming superiority over the other and chances at a premium. With 54 minutes gone Wandeir managed to outpace Kyrgiakos however his shot lacked power and didn't trouble the keeper.

A minute later Jovanovic's cross found Aquilani but the Italian midfielder couldn't guide his header goalwards. The game was starting to open up by this point, and Liverpool took full advantaged to score a second and put the outcome beyond doubt.

Just before the hour mark Ngog converted Martin Kelly's fine cross with a clinical close range volley past the stunned goalkeeper. It was a brilliant finish from 6 yards out, as well as a wonderful centre from Kelly, who looked comfortable going forward with the ball at his feet.

Liverpool were now in complete control of the match, and the home side lost heart as it became increasingly clear that there was no way back for them. This was evident to the fans as well, as many of them began to head for the exits with plenty of time left to play.

Hodgson used the rest of the match as a training exercise, with Stephen Darby, Nathan Eccleston and Lauri Dalla Valle all getting run-outs. I was particularly pleased to see the Finnish striker Dalla Valle getting some game time as he was on fire for the under 18's and reserves last season, scoring tons of goals and dominating matches with his powerful performances.

Liverpool ended the match in control, and they must be delighted with what must be the perfect start to Roy's reign. A clean sheet, two away goals and a chance to throw in some of the youngsters all contributed to what was a fantastic evening for Liverpool.

However, the night was tempered with some racist chants from sections of the home support directed at Liverpool's black players, David Amoo and David Ngog. That will disappoint them, however they got their own back in the best way possible.

Ngog scored both goals, silencing both the racists and his critics, whilst Amoo was one of the star performers, and shouldn't allow some stupid, senseless chanting ruin what was a marvellous debut from the young lad.


Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Torres is Staying, Masch is Going

Liverpool supporters were left with mixed emotions yesterday after Roy Hodgson confirmed that Argentina captain Javier Mascherano has asked to leave the club, whilst also all but guaranteeing that Fernando Torres will be plying his trade at Anfield next season.

In a highly anticipated press conference, in which new signings Milan Jovanovic, Joe Cole and Danny Wilson were unveiled, Hodgson said, "He (Mascherano) wants to leave the club. He's made that perfectly clear. I think he wanted to leave a year ago and he wants to leave now. But he's contracted to Liverpool Football Club, so whether he leaves or not is our decision."

This just confirmed the worst kept secret during this summer's transfer season. Mascherano had made it clear that he has no interest in continuing at Liverpool next season by refusing to reply to Hodgson's phone calls. Roy may not have expected a reply, however it was very unprofessional of Mascherano to be so petulant by not responding.

Moreover, so many rumours have been circulated by his agent that it seemed almost inevitable that he would leave the club this summer. However, if Mascherano doesn't want to stay at the club then he should be sold as soon as possible, and for as much money as possible.

Yes, we will certainly miss his tenacity in the midfield battle, however Mascherano has shown himself to be quite simply a mercenary who has displayed a stunning lack of loyalty to the club that effectively saved his career from ruin.

Mascherano was rotting on the West Ham bench, however Liverpool decided to invest a large sum of money in him, £18.6 million after a a loan spell, to bring him to Anfield and a crucial place in Liverpool's first team.

The club have made him the player he is today, and yet he's jumped ship after only one admittedly dreadful season. This just reveals an unacceptable attitude, and Liverpool will be glad to see the back of him.

If we can get anything over £20 million, which is quite likely with Rafa Benitez desperate to sign him for Inter, then it would be a brilliant move for both Liverpool and for Mascherano, and would allow Hodgson more funds to invest in building up the squad.

Moreover, Liverpool have a ready-made replacement in the form of Lucas, who improved significantly last season and should be able to perform well in a holding midfield role.

In much more positive news, Hodgson put an end to month's of speculation regarding the future of Fernando Torres by confirming that Torres will be staying, and that the Spaniard cannot wait for the start of the season.

Hodgson stated, "He (Torres) is looking forward to coming back here on Monday. He is enjoying a holiday...but he has told us he is looking forward to Monday, looking forward to getting back to work and looking forward to playing for Liverpool next season. That's what I know and I suggest all other reports are erroneous."

Whilst a few supporters may have wanted to see Torres leave, in order to raise a massive sum of money for Hodgson to spend this summer, the vast majority of fans will be delighted that he is almost certainly staying at the club for at least another season.

Torres may be injury prone, however he is still one of the best, if not the best striker in the world when fully fit and firing. Also, the prospect of the Spanish striker combining with Steven Gerrard and Joe Cole in a terrific trio is mouth-watering for any fan, and leaves Liverpool with an attack similar to Barcelona's, according to Dutch winger Arjen Robben.

Whilst the loss of Javier Mascherano is not great news for the club, we cannot afford to keep players who are not 100% committed to the cause. Torres' future seems to be on Merseyside, meaning that we will have the services of the best striker in the world for years to come. That can only be good news.


Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Creative Cole Perfect for Reds

Liverpool announced yesterday that they have signed former Chelsea player Joe Cole on a 4-year deal. Liverpool beat off competition from Manchester United, Arsenal and Tottenham to sign the creative midfield player on a free transfer. Cole has flown out to our Swiss training camp where he met up with new manager Roy Hodgson as well as his new teammates, before completing a medical over the coming days.

This news has absolutely delighted supporters and has also led to Steven Gerrard committing his future to the club today. The fact that Gerrard has declared his desire to remain at the club could also lead to Fernando Torres, and possibly even Javier Mascherano, doing the same.

Joe is the perfect replacement for the recently departed Yossi Benayoun, who joined Cole's former club for a fee believed to be around £5 million. He is an inventive player, who can play on both wings or in the hole behind a main striker. Cole also possesses the ability to change a game as a substitute off the bench, which could prove vital in securing critical points in the last moments of games next season.

Cole suffered an injury-plagued campaign last year, missing substantial parts of Chelsea's double winning season. Moreover, he was disliked and under-used by the London side's Italian boss Carlo Ancelotti, who frequently decided to leave the England international on the bench.

However, Cole still played a vital role in helping Chelsea to win both the Premier League and the FA Cup. He started against Manchester United at Old Trafford, and played superbly, scoring the all-important first goal that led to Chelsea claiming a 2-1 victory, putting them in the driving seat in the Premier League title race. Then, he featured for the last 20 minutes as the Blues beat struggling Portsmouth 1-0 in the FA Cup Final.

Despite the excitement of winning the League and Cup double for the first time in Chelsea's history, Cole refused to commit his future to the club, saying that he was now concentrating on England's World Cup campaign.

Cole secured his place on the plane to South Africa thanks to an impressive second half display against Japan in a build up match, where he was comfortably England's best player.

However, unfortunately he played a total of only 44 minutes during England's four games in the tournament, leading to a public outcry from many fans who were disappointed that he hadn't been given a chance. Ironically, these are the same supporters who are now deriding him as "overrated" and "past-it" after he decided to move to the most successful club in British history instead of their lesser sides.

Joe is believed to be on £90,000 a week, leading some to claim that he has only moved to Merseyside because of the money offered him. However, there are many more important factors that encouraged him to join our great club.

Firstly, Liverpool was the one place where he could be guaranteed regular first team football. Both Tottenham and Arsenal have several players who are similar to the London lad, whereas Liverpool were crying out for a creative footballer like Joe Cole to arrive and brighten up the midfield. If he plays well, Hodgson will pick him. It's as simple as that.

Also, Cole is likely to feature in his favourite position at Anfield, which is in the hole behind the main striker. In Liverpool's 4-2-3-1 formation Cole could easily fit in to the second striker role just behind Fernando Torres.

Not only would this allow Cole to play at his attacking best behind a world class striker, it would also mean that Steven Gerrard could dominate play in the middle of the park.

In a similar fashion to the Alonso-Gerrard-Torres axis that worked so brilliantly and efficiently only a couple of season's ago, the Gerrard-Cole-Torres partnership could prove very effective, whilst also solving the problem that we had last season where we found it difficult to link play between the midfield and the attack, mainly due to the fact that we played with two holding midfielders who are simply nowhere near as good as Steven Gerrard at passing a football long distances.

The capture of Joe Cole on a free transfer is magnificent news and confirms what Rafa repeated towards the end of his spell in charge, that Liverpool Football Club will always attract star players regardless of whether we have Champions League football or not.

This news has lifted the air of resignation around Anfield and means I cannot wait for the new season to begin.

Roll on 15th August!


Saturday, 17 July 2010

What do we want from new owners?

On 16th April 2010 Tom Hicks and George Gillett signalled the beginning of the end of their time in charge of Liverpool Football Club. After just over three years of debt, lies and broken promises the American owners had seemingly provided desperate supporters with a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel, by announcing that the club was up for sale.

Hicks and Gillett were finally selling up, and that was, and remains a reason to stay positive despite of the turmoil that currently engulfs Anfield.

Although it feels like the club will never be sold (after all, according to Martin Broughton the club hasn't received any official offers yet), eventually Hicks and Gillett will have to depart Anfield. There is no future for them on Merseyside.

The important part now is ensuring that suitable owners arrive as soon as possible.

Any new owner must start off by providing long-term financial stability, in stark contrast to the Yanks, who began by risking the very existence of the football club by loading us with massive amounts of debt.

With Liverpool's debts presently standing at an unbelievable £351.4 million the club is in severe danger of doing "a Leeds" and plummeting down the football pyramid as top stars are sold to appease the banks.

All senior officials at the club continually state that the star players will not have to be sold to service the debt, however, can we really trust anyone of those liars at the club right now?

Any new owners must have the financial clout to be able to wipe the club's debt clear, or at least significantly remove the threat of excessive debt ruining the club we all love.

After financial stability has been achieved the new owner, whoever that may be, must invest in building up the squad. Liverpool have a strong spine, with a world-class goalkeeper, three very good centre backs, a strong midfield and a sensational striker in the form of Fernando Torres.

However, the squad needs deepening and improving if we are to compete at the highest level for the foreseeable future. The difference between Liverpool and the other top sides over recent season's is that the likes of Chelsea and Manchester United can afford to keep world class players on the bench, whereas we can barely afford to have world class players out on the pitch.

Although we undoubtedly have several world-class players, and many other talented performers, we still need investment in the side, and that must remain a high priority for any new owner.

To provide the manager with resources to buy new players the new owner must increase revenue streams. Admittedly, the people who Hicks and Gillett employed, namely Christian Purslow and Ian Ayre, have done quite well in this area, with their main success seeing them seal a much-improved shirt sponsorship deal with Standard Chartered.

However, they failed to build a new stadium, something that is crucial to increasing income, and therefore providing additional funds for the manager to spend. Liverpool are generating less income in comparison to our main rivals due to our much smaller stadium size and slightly cheaper ticket prices. Whilst any new owner should endeavour to keep ticket prices at a reasonable level, they must also seek to get started on building a new stadium.

Most importantly, the new owner must respect the traditions of our great club, and uphold the Liverpool Way. They must be respectful and honest to the supporters, they must back the manager and they must not deal with private spats in public, giving the media material to criticise the club.

Bill Shankly put it perfectly. He said, "At a football club, there's a holy trinity- the players, the manager and the supporters. Directors don't come into it. They are only there to sign the cheques."

That's what supporters must be looking for from new owners. Someone to sign the cheques and then let the manager get on with his job.


Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Star Players Provide Positive News

Amidst the doom and gloom that has surrounded Anfield over the past 12 months as results have become more and more disappointing and the financial situation increasingly perilous, some positive news has finally arrived over the summer, with many star names giving strong indications that their futures lie at Liverpool.

Whenever Liverpool have had a below-par season rumours always abound about the future of Steven Gerrard, despite his clear devotion to the club and the city. The media hacks claim that our captain will have to move on to a "bigger" club in order to win the most coveted prize in English football, the Barclays Premier League.

In fact, Gerrard has been close to a move to Chelsea twice in the past. The first time was during the summer of 2004, when Gerrard was unsettled by Liverpool's League form and, for the first time in his career, seriously considered a move away. Thankfully, he decided to give Rafa time to sort the club out, and the local lad ended up lifting the European Cup at the climax of the following season.

Unfortunately, the club stalled on offering Stevie a new contract after the 2005 Champions League triumph; causing our captain to feel unwanted and to therefore reject the new contract once it was eventually offered. Liverpool agreed to sell the player to Chelsea, however, after a long night of soul-searching, Gerrard made a dramatic u-turn, signing a new 4 year deal and confirming his desire to stay on Merseyside for the rest of his playing days.

With Liverpool experiencing one of their worst League season's in recent history last season the murmurings that Gerrard could be set to leave Anfield have begun once again. However, this time it is Real Madrid, and their new manager Jose Mourinho, who are reported to be interested in signing the England international.

Those rumours have no foundation, as Real Madrid's transfer consultant, Ernesto Bronzetti, believes that the Spanish side have ended their interest in Gerrard because of Liverpool's high asking price and the fact that the 30 year old is approaching the end of his career.

He said, "...the president does not agree with (signing) Gerrard because he is 30 and...Liverpool asked for £58 million."

This is great news for supporters desperate to see our talisman remain at the club. Also, Gerrard, along with fellow scouser Jamie Carragher, has backed the appointment of Roy Hodgson as new manager, providing renewed hope that Liverpool will retain the local core of the side next season.

Gerrard said, "The club have made a good appointment in Roy Hodgson...Roy is hugely experienced and I believe he is the right man for Liverpool. I think it's been worth the wait (to find out who the new boss would be) and I'm sure he's just keen now to get on with it and start to quickly put in place his plans for the new season."

Carragher also added, "I'm really looking forward to the opportunity of working with Roy Hodgson as he's got such a great reputation in the game and is one of the most experienced managers in world football. After this period of uncertainty, his appointment has given us all a lift."

This backing for the manager could prove crucial in keeping the players on Merseyside. Both of them sound delighted to be working with the new boss, which can only be good, positive news.

Transfer speculation surrounds the future of star striker Fernando Torres, with all of the top clubs across Europe linked with a move for the Spaniard. However, I am confident that he will stay for at least one more season because Torres was pictured proudly wearing a Liverpool scarf during Spain's World Cup celebrations.

Surely he would never do this if he was intending to leave Anfield this summer?

Torres is also another player to come out in support of Hodgson, saying, "I was happy Hodgson got the job. He did really well at Fulham and I am sure he can do better for Liverpool. He is a very good manager."

Although this news is undoubtedly positive, it is tempered by the revelation that our main man is likely to miss the start of the season due to a ruptured thigh muscle which he picked up in the dying moments of the World Cup final.

If any of our star names is to move on this summer, it appears to be that Javier Mascherano is the most likely candidate to leave the club. He has not come out in support of the new manager, and clearly has a desire to join up with former boss Rafael Benitez at Inter Milan. Mascherano was one of Benitez's favourite players at Anfield, and I am certain that Rafa would be delighted to have the Argentina captain at the San Siro.

However, even if Mascherano does decide to move Benitez has moulded a ready-made replacement for him in the shape of Lucas. Ok, Lucas isn't quite as good as Mascherano at the moment, however the Brazilian is improving and developed significantly last season. Moreover, if the board stick to their promise to allow Hodgson to spend any money he generates through player sales, then the sale of Mascherano could give Hodgson vital funds with which he could bolster the squad.

So, it seems likely to me that Gerrard, Carragher and Torres will all be at Anfield next season, ready to inspire Liverpool to a much-improved display. On top of that, Pepe Reina has already committed himself to a long-term contract, and Dirk Kuyt, another key player in the Liverpool side, has backed the new boss to change our fortunes.

If all these key players stay then we should retain a strong spine, which could prove crucial in re-claiming Champions League football, and re-establishing ourselves as a top side.


Thursday, 1 July 2010

Roy replaces Rafa

Roy Hodgson has been officially unveiled as Liverpool Football Club's new manager, and has signed a deal that will see the 62 year old stay at Anfield for three years. This announcement comes weeks after the firing of former manager Rafael Benitez after the Spaniard had failed to secure Champions League football for the 2010/2011 season.

Hodgson has an impressive CV and has succeeded for many Scandinavian club sides and as manager of Switzerland and Finland, as well as Inter Milan, where he led the Italians to a UEFA Cup Final.

Also, he has been a revelation at Fulham, where both the board and the supporters loved him. Fulham appointed Hodgson in December 2007 and he led them to a stunning survival as the Londoners managed to win four out of their last five matches, including a dramatic late victory at Fratton Park on the last day of the season that confirmed their status as a Premier League club for the 2008/2009 season.

The next season they improved significantly under the reign of Hodgson, achieving a magnificent 7th placed finish, which guaranteed them entry into the inaugural UEFA Europa League.

Although they dropped five places down to 12th position last season Fulham enjoyed a thrilling Europa League run which led them all the way to Hamburg, and a place in the final against the Spanish side Athletico Madrid, who had defeated Liverpool in the previous round.

Unfortunately for Roy the Cottagers fell to a heart-breaking 2-1 defeat when Diego Forlan scored his second four minutes before the end of extra time. All the same, it was a fantastic achievement to take Fulham to a European final, and a factor that must have influenced the Liverpool board's decision when appointing him as our new boss.

Whilst Roy is certainly a decent manager with a good record of doing well at smaller sides, I am worried that he may not have the capabilities to be able to make the massive step up to the level of Liverpool manager. It's all well and good achieving success at the lower level Scandinavian sides but is he really good enough to manage a club the size of Liverpool?

The board have made a managerial decision not based on football, but on finance and politics. Rafa regularly spoke out against the owners lies and lack of support as he realised that they were not fulfilling the promises that they had given him.

On the other hand, Hodgson signs in the full knowledge that he is unlikely to receive financial backing from Hicks and Gillett. He says so himself in an interview with the official site.

When asked about his transfer budget Hodgson replies, "One thing they made clear to me is we have to work within whatever restraints are in place at the club, but they've also made clear that if we were unfortunate to lose somebody then that money would be made available."

Hodgson will be forced to work wearing the same financial handcuffs that Rafa was yoked with, however Hodgson seems much more willing to accept these restrictions in comparison with Benitez.

However, a positive aspect on his appointment is that he appears to have the backing of senior players. Both Jamie Carragher and Steven Gerrard have come out in support of the new manager today, indicating that they are likely to remain at the club, which is great news. Moreover, Fernando Torres is now more likely to stay, as Gerrard looks set to finish his career at Anfield.

That can only be good news, and ensures that Liverpool will still have the same strong spine for next season. Out of the star names Mascherano could be tempted by a move to Barcelona, however even if he does depart then Benitez has nurtured a ready-made replacement in Lucas Leiva.

Personally, I would have preferred to see King Kenny come in on a temporary basis to oversee the playing side until the club is sold, however we must give Hodgson the same backing and support that we lavished Benitez with.

The reality of the situation at the moment is that any manager is going to struggle to achieve success and win trophies at Liverpool as the club is nearing financial meltdown with the current owners still in charge. Until new owners arrive and provide the new manager with money to spend in the transfer window then we cannot really negatively judge the manager, as nobody can satisfy the demands of Liverpool supporters without massive amounts of cash.

Welcome Roy, You'll Never Walk Alone