Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Gillett rejects takeover rumours

Liverpool co-owner George Gillett has again denied rumors that Saudi prince Faisal bin Fahd bin Abdullah al-Saud's 'F6' investment company was planning to make a major investment in the club. Gillett's comments follow an official statement from both owners claiming "there is no agreement with any party and reports to the contrary are wholly inaccurate." Speaking to 'thesportbriefing.com', Gillett said:

"We had a marvellous meeting with them on Saturday and they were impressed with the club, but the academies in Saudi Arabia and North Africa and their possible involvement in NASCAR-type racing in the Middle East were the only items on the agenda," said Gillett on Sky Sports.

He added: "We have entered into a period of exclusive discussions regarding the possibility of introducing NASCAR-type racing to the Middle East, but the memorandum of understanding does not cover anything else."

F6 director Barry Didato confirmed they are exploring commercial opportunities with Liverpool, however their discussions "does not involve the possibility of an immediate investment in Liverpool", and any possible transaction would be "several months away".

"As far as investment in Liverpool is concerned, that would be a long way off. A lot of people have jumped the gun and any possible investment would be several months away," said Didato on Sky Sports.

"The agreement signed (at the weekend) leaves the door open for it (possible future investment in Liverpool), but that was certainly not the focus of it."

Didato added that no talks have been staged between F6 and other Liverpool co-owner Tom Hicks.

"George has a partner there and has his own issues to work through," Didato added. "Mr Hicks will also have his own issues and we are not sure what he wants to do.

"Another issue is the club's debt (of around £245million). Prince Faisal will not put forward investment capital to just clean up a balance sheet. He would only want to use money to take the club forward. It would be long-term money."

"His Highness is open to anything and is open to being a minority shareholder, but he has tremendous favourability towards the brand and institution of Liverpool," noted Didato.

"His Highness would need to be invited by George and it would have to be at the right time for George. There would need to be a shared vision between all of the parties."

Hicks & Gillett deny sale of club is imminent

Liverpool Football Clubs joint owners George Gillett and Tom Hicks have responded to recent reports about the Club's ownership. Press speculation over the weekend reported Saudi prince, Faisal bin Fahad bin Abdullah al-Saud was on the verge of buying into the Anfield club after his Saudi Arabian sports investment company: 'F6', confirmed it had reached an agreement with Liverpool to establish a number of football academies in the region.

The prince, who attended Liverpool's demolition of Hull City at the weekend reiterated yesterday that he was close to purchasing a 50 per cent stake in the club. Speaking to Middle Eastern newspaper 'Al Riyadh', he said:

"The deal will be concluded soon and its value will be between £200m and £350m," said the prince.

He added: "If we finalise the deal, it will be something marvellous because Liverpool is one of the best and most famous clubs in England and the whole world," reports Sky News.

The Telegraph reports the prince and Gillett will hold further talks when the American visits the Middle East in October.

However a spokesperson for George Gillett and Tom Hicks, via the clubs official site, said:

"The owners have jointly retained Bank of America Merrill Lynch and Rothschild to evaluate the possibility of new investors injecting equity into LFC.

"However, the process is at an early stage, there is no agreement with any party and reports to the contrary are wholly inaccurate."

Rafa describes Fiorentina defeat as Liverpool's worst performance in 5 years

Rafael Benítez has described the 2-0 defeat against Fiorentina as Liverpool's worst performance in his time at the club, as Liverpool were rocked by two first half strikes from teenager Stevan Jovetic. The Reds were slow to start and the fast passing Tuscany side were clearly Happy to take advantage of the Anfield clubs sluggish opening 45 minutes, impressing several punishing moves, converting twice.

"Our mentality in that opening period was just not right, we were bad all over the pitch and I cannot really recall a performance like that," said Benítez in the Telegraph.

“The first half was the worst performance I have seen in my time here. We were doing everything wrong. Fiorentina pressed us well and made us make mistakes. When you make mistakes at this level, you get punished. I was not happy with the challenging all over the pitch in the first half. The mentality was not good enough. We were too nervous. They did well, but we did everything badly.”

"We now have Chelsea away at the weekend in an important Premier League game. I believe you will see a different Liverpool in that match, a totally different performance with a different mentality.

"Then we have Lyon home and away in this group, they are the leaders and it means we have to now win them both.

"We certainly will not be as bad again. If you make too many mistakes against such sides, you will be punished. It is very simple.

"Mentally we will have better days than this. We did improve, but we needed to score early in the second-half. We had the chances but we failed to take them."

Fiorentina coach and former Juventus player Cesare Prandelli said: "We were fantastic, that is the best performance I have seen by a Fiorentina side in the four years I have been in charge.

"Liverpool did not play well, but that was because of the performance of my team. We were outstanding."

LFC Alert is back from holiday!

I’ve been taking a well earned break touring Rafa’s, Pepe’s, Albert’s and Fernando’s home country!

If other Reds find themselves on a pilgrimage Español, and hit upon the coastal town of Salou in the Costa Dorada, this site thoroughly recommends ‘Shankley’s Bar’ for your match day experience!

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Benitez says Leeds will be a threat

Reds coach Rafael Benitez believes tonight's Carling Cup clash against Leeds United will present a tough test for his squad and expressed his surprise that the former Premiership club are now plying their trade in league one.

"I believe the game will be a sell-out, and it is a surprise to me that Leeds find themselves in League One these days," said Benitez to Sky Sports.

"Leeds will be difficult, we know they are a big club and we respect their history.

"I have been watching DVDs of their games and it is clear that their supporters are very important to them. They back their team all the time and make it tough for their opponents.

"Those fans are amazing, such loyalty and support, and that has been very apparent to me in watching tapes from last season.

"We know it will be tough. It is a massive club despite the division they are in.

"I have no doubts that this will be a very difficult match. They have quality and they are a big club with great traditions.

"They will want to win this one because of the situation they find themselves in.

"They have passion, quality and the fans are always really behind their team.

"It is a shock and disappointment for everyone to see Leeds in the position they are in now. I am aware that back in previous years, there was a big rivalry between Leeds and Liverpool.

"In those days the clubs met in cup finals, and Leeds have not forgotten those days."

"We will try to manage the squad for the match and use some different players," added Benitez.

"But we want to win and get to the final. In my first season we got to the Carling Cup final and were winning with 10 minutes to go before we conceded an own goal.

"I would like to go to the final again and make amends for that defeat."

Babel set to figure in Carling Cup clash

Liverpool winger Ryan Babel has amended his thoughts about life at Liverpool and now insists he wishes to fight for his place at Anfield. Babel whilst on international duty three weeks ago, accused manager Rafael Benitez of broken promises and then proposed a loan move back to Ajax in January. Now Babel has made a U-turn and is likely to figure in the Carling Cup clash with Leeds United tonight.

“I didn’t say any of those things,” he said. “I did an interview in Holland and I don’t know who in England got hold of it but it was the worst translation I have ever seen," said Babel in the Echo.

"The fact is I'm very happy here and I don't want to leave to go anywhere."

“Yes, there is a lot of competition for places at Liverpool but that’s the same at every top club.

“It was like that when I was at Ajax and that isn’t a problem for me. I didn’t accuse the manager of anything.

“I heard about what was being reported when I was away with Holland.

“When I got back to Liverpool I went straight to the manager and told him it wasn’t true.

“He accepted that and there is no problem. Now I just want to concentrate on playing.”

Babel helped Liverpool secure their victory over West Ham on Saturday with his pin point cross to Torres, which the striker converted via a remarkable header into the net, and the Dutch international says he was happy to be part of the action.

“It was great to be out there and I’m really pleased I was able to help us get a crucial three points.”

“Before I came on the manager said I needed to bring some energy to the game and that I needed to run at them.

“I enjoyed it and that will give me some confidence. Now I hope to carry on like this.

“If I keep working hard then hopefully I can get some more minutes and in the end get a place back in the starting line-up,” he added in the Guardian.

Benítez is set to announce his squad for Leeds this morning and starts could be given to the likes of Babel, Diego Cavalieri, Andriy Voronin and possibly Daniel Agger, who has not played this season due to a back injury.

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Fury as fans are moved to accommodate UEFA sponsors

"Hundreds of Anfield season ticket holders turned up for the Champions League against Debreceni on Wednesday to find they had been moved to accommodate sponsors’ guests," reports the Mirror.

Liverpool fan Keith Ross, a season ticket holder in the Lower Centenary Stand, said: “I was given a seat in the corner at the Anfield Road end and couldn’t see a thing. Lots of us were moved and we were all unhappy."

“There were a few angry scenes with the stewards.

“It’s the first time I’ve been moved and I had no idea I’d end up there.

“It was a restricted view and just not good enough.

“What made it worse was that there were a lot of empty seats in the corporate area.

“They were obviously more interested in the hospitality than the football.

“I’ve been a season ticket holder for nine years.

“I have two tickets that cost me £1,400-a-season.

“I go to every match home and away and follow the club all around the world.

“If this is what it’s going to be like from now on, I won’t be going to any more home games in the Champions League. In fact, I’m thinking of cancelling my season ticket for next season.”

Liverpool, along with all Champions League clubs, must provide seating and hospitality lounges for sponsors and their guests, however according to this story by Derick Allsop it appears to come at the expense of loyal supporters. The story adds that UEFA's "demands have increased, forcing Liverpool to move 2,000 fans from their regular seats."

A club spokesperson said: “It’s the first time Mr Ross has been allocated another seat because UEFA have extended the number of seats they require this season."

“It’s a requirement of all clubs participating in the Champions League, as set out in the UEFA charter.”

The article adds: "Liverpool officials admit they are unlikely to find a satisfactory solution until they have a new stadium."

Torres will get better says Benitez

Liverpool striker Fernando Torres, nicknamed El Nino, has come in for criticism recently, with many people stating he looked an unhappy figure this season. Torres has been in for some rough treatment this term so far, but the Spanish striker showed why he's considered the best in the world in yesterdays victory over West Ham. Skipper Steven Gerrard certainly agrees with that assessment, stating the criticism comes with the territory.

“He seems to be playing okay," said Gerrard in the Star.

“That’s the standard he sets. He was certainly on fire today and got two goals for us. When you’re a top player, you get that sort of criticism.

“We’re building confidence slowly. The two defeats were a bit of a blow but hopefully we can go on a run now.”

Torres who's first goal was a sublime solo effort that seemed near impossible to complete when he received the all. His second was a header from a Ryan Babel cross, who somehow found space between two West Ham players.

Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez said: “I think we deserved all three points. I’m really pleased because the players showed character.”

“Fernando is a very good player."

“Last week he was not scoring and everybody was asking if he was fit or not."

“This week he scores two goals and I was very pleased. He was working hard. He was a threat. The main thing for us is for him to keep working. He’s keen to learn. Hopefully he will get better."

“He’s now fit but if he can’t play one or two games we have Dirk Kuyt or Babel."

“If he keeps playing like he did today I am sure he will be one of the best strikers in the Premier League.”

Media Round-Up: West Ham United 2 - Liverpool 3

The Telegraph
"It must make Rafael Benitez shudder to wonder what he would do without Fernando Torres. Liverpool were stumbling towards two more dropped points now before the Spaniard contrived one of his extraordinary sleights of hand, ghosting through West Ham United's defence for a headed winner that his team scarcely merited."

"The consensus building around Liverpool was that they lacked a lethal threat up front, the dreaded 'X-factor'. Torres emphatically gave the lie to that theory here, although Liverpool still betrayed a worrying susceptibility at the back, twice allowing West Ham back into this pulsating game."

"Torres could not resist the acrobatics, going wide with an extravagant volley, but he needed nothing so theatrical to break West Ham down. In a move of great poise and determination the Spaniard broke down the left flank, beffudling James Tomkins and creating space for himself to nudge a crisp shot beyond Green."

"referee Andre Marriner awarded them a fortuitous penalty, deeming that Hines had been shoved to the ground by Carragher. Diamanti duly stepped up to dispatch the kick but, in connecting the ball, tottered, with television replays clearly showing that he had taken too touches."

"Benitez was furious, and his players protested loudly to Marriner that the goal should have been ruled out but the score stood. Such a perceived injustice galvanised Liverpool, who redoubled their attacking energies"

The Guardian
"The captain could smile. Liverpool are level on 12 points with the Manchester clubs, a win behind Chelsea. "It was important to get the three points, and hope the sides above us drop some" he said, before praising Torres who, quaintly, had attracted criticism recently but now has five league goals this campaign in a total of 55 in 91 games for Liverpool."

"He's been playing OK to me," was Gerrard's verdict of the streaked-haired wonder. "He's scoring and was on fire today with the two goals."

"A purring Benítez is a collector's item. But later even he could not resist. "I'm really pleased with him. The main thing for us is if he can keep his mentality," Torres' countryman said, before offering a scary thought. "He is a very good player and hopefully he can get better."

The Times
"Normal delivery has still not resumed at Liverpool. Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard are back in their most creative places, the goals and wins have started flowing again, yet there is something fundamentally awry with a Rafa Benitez team that defends like Postman Pat."

"Liverpool were imperious going forward, carving wide holes in a laudably adventurous West Ham and scoring three times. Watching Jamie Carragher and Martin Skrtel attempting to halt little Zavon Hines and bustling Carlton Cole, however, was not good for the manager’s nerves. Benitez’s team left with three points, but play like this against the elite teams and there will be no Premier League trophy at Anfield this year."

“I’m not worried about the other teams,” said Benitez. “My concern is if we can improve, if we can defend as a team well, if we cannot make mistakes and we can continue scoring goals. When you talk about individual mistakes you know it is easier to find a solution. So Carra knows, Skrtel knows and we know that is just a question to be focused. We can do it, no problem. But if we cannot then I will say to Torres he has to score more goals.”

"The opener was coming. Insua stole possession from Hines and raced down the left wing. The Argentine’s pass fed Torres at the edge of the box, enabling the striker to spin round James Tomkins before elegantly lifting the ball over Green. A goal to steal your breath away."

"West Ham seemed outclassed, all the more so when Matthew Upson and Behrami were both substituted through injury before 30 minutes had passed. Then Carragher gifted West Ham a penalty."

"With a quarter of an hour left, Johnson drove into a box he used to defend. The ball ricocheted back, but only as far as Ryan Babel, who looped his cross to the back post. Torres leaned back and over his marker to twist a header into Green’s bottom corner. Liverpool are back in the top three; even with their stellar striker they’ll go no higher with a defence like this."

The Independent
"Fernando Torres scored the first of the evening and had the last word too with a winning header, his vision clearly unimpaired by the three black eyes he has collected in the last few weeks."

"Liverpool have now scored 16 goals in six League games - five of them from Torres - though what was surprising was the laxity in their defence. Jamie Carragher, who conceded a penalty, and Martin Skrtel looked shaky for such an experienced partnership and offered West Ham some hope until the finish."

"the accident-prone Carragher handed them a goal, shoving Hines as the youngster raced to the byline and conceding a penalty. Diamanti slipped as he took it, Liverpool protesting in vain that he touched the ball twice before it flew past Pepe Reina. "

"But when a first attempt on goal for some time materialised with quarter of an hour left, it brought a goal. Johnson, marauding forward in his favoured fashion, had a shot blocked, the ball running out to the right for Babel to cross and Torres, rising between Faubert and Tomkins, to head in. "He was very cheap," Benitez said of the £22m striker who has scored 55 times in 91 games. At today's prices, who could argue?"

The Mirror
"Liverpool’s lead was restored in the 41st minute when Benayoun’s corner was headed goalwards by Gerrard and although the ball seemed destined for the net, Dirk Kuyt got the final touch from close range."

"Where there is Fernando Torres, there is hope."

"In reality, this was not Torres at his imperious best. He wasn’t even the best player on the pitch – that honour fell to West Ham’s 20year-old livewire Zavon Hines."

"But there is no denying the Spaniard’s goal sense and it was enough to clinch a victory that took Liverpool up to third place in the table."

Saturday, 19 September 2009

Hicks says stadium will be built once the global recession eases

Liverpool co-owner Tom Hicks insists Liverpool's planned new stadium will be built once the global financial market settle down. The Reds new stadium has stalled since the American owners declared "The shovel needs to be in the ground in the next 60 days," in Feb 2007, but Hicks still claims the stadium is still in his plans:

"When we get to the point where the global market settles down and we bring pieces together to finance the stadium (then we can again start building)," said Hicks on Sky Sports.

"It's certainly not anything we have changed our mind on. I don't know about the dates because of the global financial markets, but I know the markets will settle down and get better.

"I'm an optimist. I've been through lots of cycles, although none as severe as this in my lifetime. It's a dynamic world."

He continued: "We have spent a lot of money and we have a fully designed stadium. We have every permit in place, all the city councils' approvals, the judicial reviews on a national basis - everything is done.

"That's a great asset to have just to wait for the markets to open up and be able to do anything. Certainly it will happen."

"We think that the stadium is one of the biggest opportunities for Liverpool to be truly one of the top clubs in the world," he said.

"Liverpool was a famous club around many parts of the world before Manchester United became strong in the last 20 years, and that's a heritage we want to build on and try to get to be as strong as possible. The club's in the best shape in many, many years.

"Rafa (Benitez) has put together an outstanding group of players over the last two or three years. We can always have more, but I think we're doing very well and I think we will have great success on the pitch this year.

"Transactions like this week's new sponsorship agreement can only help to give us the resources to compete right there with the other big guys in the world."

Rafa believes confidence is returning to Reds

Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez believes confidence is returning to his side following three successive wins, ahead of the teams match against West Ham today. After two defeats from their opening five matches the Reds coach thinks that the teams character has returned:

“There has been a big change in training,” said Benitez in the Echo.

“The atmosphere is really good. Everyone is happy and joking – things are much better.

“The players know we are performing well again and they have more confidence. Some have more belief that we can win any game.

“We showed character against Bolton. That was positive but I prefer to score early and take control of a game.

“We played really well against Burnley and then although it wasn’t the best game against Debrecen we still had 25 attempts on goal.

“When you are creating so many chances it means things are going well and hopefully we can carry on like this. We have to stay focused and keep winning.”

“Expectations were so high, especially after only losing two games last year,” he said.

“When we lost those early matches it wasn’t an easy time for the fans, the players or the staff.

“But in that situation it’s important as manager to be calm and analyse things closely. In all jobs confidence is very important and in football maybe more so.”

Benitez has also spoken to wayward winger Ryan Babel’s following his comments while on international duty, saying he wished a loan move to Ajax in January.

“Ryan and I have talked and clarified what he was talking about,” Benitez said.

“With interviews it’s difficult to tell if it’s 100% true and I think he was a little bit misquoted.”

Meanwhile, defender Daniel Agger who is recovering well after his back operation, has returned to full training and could figure in Tuesday night’s Carling Cup tie against Leeds.

Torres aims to hit top form

Liverpool striker Fernando Torres has admitted that he hasn't hit top form yet, but believes he will soon. Following a long season last term and his appearances in the Confederations Cup, Torres nicknamed El Niño, also declared he doesn't need resting.

"It was a really long season for me with so many games for Liverpool and then playing for Spain in the Confederations Cup," said Torres in the Echo.

"I played a lot of minutes and I was a little bit tired.

"I haven't been at my best so far this season but I feel like I'm getting better.

"I'm focused on trying to get back to 100% as soon as possible and I'm ready to play in every game.

"We have a lot of things to achieve for Liverpool this season and I want to stay fit. We have a lot of games coming up and then the World Cup at the end of the season.

"Players always want to play 90 minutes and I'm the same. But of course it's up the manager to manage this kind of situation."

The Reds have had a difficult start to the season, but the Reds number 9 believes three successive wins has boosted the teams confidence ahead of the trip to Upton Park.

"We are recovering the confidence now," he said.

"We have to keep on like this, but also improve and keep working hard because there are difficult games coming.

"There are some players injured and they will come back soon to help the team, but we dont have time to think in terms of the recovery of players and improving then we have to win now."

Benitez demands best from Mascherano

Reds boss Rafa Benitez has demanded the best from Argentinean midfielder Javier Mascherano, following an indifferent start to the season, stating he can win Liverpool games.

"He is a key player for us and will be during the season," said Benitez in the Telegraph.

"He has two more years left on his contract and we would like to keep him," he added. "If we need to talk to him, we will, but he has enough time and he has to play to the level he was before and we will be pleased with him.

"It was difficult for him at West Ham and I remember when I met him he was a little bit low, but as soon as he saw the possibility of coming here he was really pleased. Since then, since his first day, his commitment has been really good.

"Javier has been good for the club and we have been good for him. Thanks to Liverpool he is captain of Argentina, and we have to have the best from him if we want to win more games."

Benitez says the title race is wide open

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez says the title race is wide open suggesting it will take less points to claim the top prize in May:

“There are a lot of good teams in the division now,” the Liverpool manager said. “It will be more difficult for all of the teams to win games and maybe everyone will lose more this season than before," said Benitez in the Telegraph.

“That would be good for us because we have already lost twice this season. But maybe over the next five games all of the others will drop points and we will not, so it will be back to how it was at the start of the season.

“I cannot say how many points you will need to win the title at this stage, because it is so early. But it will be more difficult for everyone.”

“It will be the same throughout the season,” said Benitez, “with difficult games for all of the teams. But all we can think about is our own game and making sure we do our job. We cannot influence any of the other games or what happens in them. We are only concerned with making sure we do what we can.

“West Ham will be very tough, we know that, and probably not the same as the 3-0 win we got at Upton Park last year, when we scored very early. They are a good team, a difficult team, with a good manager who has a strong idea of how he wants to play football.”

Friday, 18 September 2009

Torres will overcome the rough treatment

Liverpool striker Fernando Torres who is currently enjoying his third season with the Reds has received as many black eyes since the Premier League began a few short weeks ago. But the Spanish forward dubbed El Niño, believes he can overcome the rough treatment by adapting to the physical nature of the Premiership:

"It happens," he shrugs. "I have to adapt and protect myself because the referees cannot just try to protect three or four players. They have to look after everyone. England is a physical league, but we have to learn and adapt," said Torres in the Telegraph.

"The players here are strong and physical, but they are at least honest, much more so than in other leagues, including Spain. It is maybe not as physical there but people will try and kick you, or use their elbows. That does not happen here. The defenders are always fighting for the ball."

Torres, has at times looked a frustrated figure during the new campaign, as opposing defences target the striker aiming to halt his dangerous runs and Liverpool manager Rafael Benítez recently advised his protégé to overcome the physical treatment by scoring goals.

"I have spoken to Rafa a lot and he has told me to stop talking to referees, because they are just doing their job," he said. "We have watched clips of my first two seasons and I am just trying to do the things I was doing then. Scoring goals is always the best answer.

"If you get frustrated you cannot win the game. For the good of the team, I have to be focused and beat the defenders.

"Every game, not just the matches with the top sides, is very difficult, because the defenders are very strong. I have to learn to live with it. I have to improve every season.

"My first season does not matter now. I want this one to be better than that was. Three goals in five games is not bad, but I want more."

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Hicks looking for 25% investor in LFC

Liverpool co-owner Tom Hicks has instructed the investment bank Merrill Lynch to find an investor to take a 25 per cent stake in the club according to the Telegraph.

The article claims: "sources in the City have revealed he has tasked Merrill Lynch, the recently-acquired investment arm of Bank of America, with selling shares worth a total of 25 per cent." The story goes on to state: "It is not yet known whether they would come from his holding, that of his partner, the issuing of new shares or a combination of the three. It is thought Hicks has set an asking price of around £100m for a minority stake in the club."

Despite the owners continually declaring their long term intentions for the football club or "franchise" as it increasingly become known as, both have attempted to sell all, or part, of their shares in recent years, Hicks through Merrill Lynch and Gillett through Rothschilds.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Hicks says funds from new shirt deal will be given to Benitez

Liverpool co-owner Tom Hicks has promised to free up funds from the lucrative shirt sponsorship deal with Standard Chartered bank for Rafa Benítez to strengthen the squad and intends to reduce debts at the club. The Texan also revealed Liverpool expect to bring in over £26 million on sponsorship revenue in the next year, including a new deal with Carlsberg, the current shirt sponsors.

"You have to look at cash flow rather than accounting and we intend to operate Liverpool where it has a very strong positive cash flow so we have the resources to be as competitive as possible on the pitch – that's our commitment," Hicks said in the Guardian.

"We had strong, positive cash flows last year. Our debts levels are at a very comfortable level and we are going to continue bringing it down. Our goal is to have less debt than any of the top clubs and that's a commitment we have made and will continue to make."

"It's not sustainable at City, they won't continue to invest like that as it doesn't make good economic sense," Hicks said. "Hopefully they will make the improvements they need to make and then run it more like a business. The smart clubs operate for the long term and you have to look at who have had success for many years."

Hicks also believes Liverpool's new shirt sponsorship agreement with Standard Chartered will unlock new revenue for the club.

"We are seeing for the first time the real power of the brand and the power of a well-managed club," Hicks said. "I feel very good about the entire club. The total sponsorship contracts should probably bring in £25m-£26m of incremental revenue a year. It's a huge development for the club."

"It's not just the £21m that we will develop from the new sponsorship agreement with Standard Chartered because we will have an additional £2m or £3m for the Infinity part of the deal with Standard Chartered," Hicks said.

"We have an existing contract with Carlsberg until the end of the season. Between now and the end of the season we will finalise new arrangements where we will retain the Carlsberg special sponsorship packages and pour Carlsberg products in the stadium. They will be one of our key sponsors, just not on our shirts."

Hicks also intends to hand over funds from the deal to manager Rafael Benítez, he said:
"Knowing Benítez I suspect he's got his eye on part of it," Hicks said.

"As we build our revenues it gives ability to be more competitive on the pitch and, this is a very important one, but we think we have other opportunities in the future as well."

"Everybody involved with Liverpool wants to win the Premier League, it's been too many years and it's our goal," Hicks said.

"I've been in sport for 15 years and sometimes you have to do things to get the players' attention to wake up and really get focused.

"Maybe we have learned the lesson [from the losses], certainly the way we played Saturday [beating Burnley 4-0] showed that we have. We have stability and the nucleus of the team."

"Everything is very stable. I think the management situation at the club has dramatically improved," Hicks said. "There is a real sense of optimism."

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Liverpool 4 Burnley 0

Premiership Match report
Reporter: The Main (Stand) Man





A
gainst a side that have already turned over both Manchester United and Everton, the reds were looking for a convincing display to follow up the hard fought win over Bolton prior to the international break. Enhancing the incentive for the players to put on a good show was the welcome return to Anfield of Michael Shields following the rectification of one of the most glaring miscarriages of justice of our times.

Javier Mascherano was missing after his long trip back to his homeland, with Steven Gerrard dropping back into a central midfield role alongside Lucas, with Benayoun supporting Fernando Torres up front and Riera and Kuyt on the wings. The only change to the back four from the Reebok was the return of Martin Skrtel in place of Kyrgiakos.

It was the visitors who created the first chance with a decent passing move opening up the Liverpool defence with barely a minute on the clock, but Blake could not direct his low shot inside Pepe Reina’s left hand post. It took another five minutes before Liverpool created anything of note, with the ball ricocheting to Dirk Kuyt after Riera’s run into the box. His shot was saved easily enough, though, by Jensen in the Burnley goal, the man known affectionately by the travelling support as ‘The Beast’. The home side were struggling, though, in the opposition half as Burnley repeatedly got numbers behind the ball to thwart any attacking intent. As the clock ticked past the half hour, the reds midfield were starting to enjoy some lengthy spells in possession without the required penetration, and in all truth the away team were coping admirably as they had done recently at Stamford Bridge almost until half time.

An effort from Kuyt after 20 minutes, though, seemed to signal an increase in tempo from the Liverpool team. His effort was marginally wide of the goal, but within 2 minutes Benayoun went close with a header from a Riera cross. Burnley were offering little going forward by this stage, and seemed to be content with attempting to frustrate Liverpool rather than look for opportunities to move ahead. This was soon to prove a flawed tactical outlook, however, as Liverpool finally got the breakthrough in the 27th minute. The ball went out to Johnson on the right flank, and his sidefooted pass was perfectly into the stride of Benayoun. His quick feet found a yard of space and a beautifully placed shot went just inside the far post leaving Jensen with no chance. It could have been two moments later, as an excellent cross from Riera found Benayoun diving in at the front post, but his header was straight at the Burnley keeper and Kuyt was unable to profit from the rebound. The little Israeli then put an effort straight at the keeper from the edge of the box, and by now Liverpool were making all the running. Lucas found himself in yards of space outside the penalty area, and his shot was well saved by Jensen, and Riera’s effort followed this up by going just wide of the keeper’s left upright.

With all this pressure, it was perhaps inevitable that Liverpool should double their lead before the break, and this proved to be the case. A swift move from the Liverpool half left the ball again at Benayoun’s feet. He was not closed down and took a speculative effort from 20 yards, which the goalkeeper was only able to palm down in front of him. Kuyt was alive to the possibility of a rebound and darted in to slot past Jensen. The keeper then spilt another effort from Johnson, but was able to recover before Benayoun could benefit. Jensen was able to atone for his earlier error, though, with a wonderful diving save from Gerrard. The reds skipper found himself in an empty space bigger even than that contained in the Everton trophy cabinet, and as the ball came along the ground to him, he curved a wicked effort towards the top corner, but Jensen sprang to his left to divert the ball around the post.

The referee soon blew the whistle for half time, with Liverpool looking comfortable to say the least. After a start which was worryingly devoid of decent chances, the home side had made the obvious gulf in ability of the two teams pay to establish a lead from which it was unlikely that Burnley would be able to recover. They re-emerged into the bright Anfield sunshine with no changes to the line-up, and with the crowd looking for them to press home their advantage with more goals.

Liverpool were again a little slow to start the half, though, with no clear chances in the first five minutes of the period. A burst from Gerrard brought appeals for a penalty from the Kop, but the captain helpfully left a boot where the challenge had been made, and the referee awarded a freekick outside the box which came to nothing. A tame effort from Kuyt followed after a low centre from Benayoun, and shortly afterward Torres drew a challenge from Howard which brought the first yellow card of the game. Again Liverpool were looking comfortable in defence, and this was allowing forward runs from Lucas, Kuyt and Riera to provide more bodies in attack. The response from Owen Coyle was to bring on Chris Eagles, an ex-Manchester United player who drew a typically warm response from the Anfield crowd.

It was on the hour mark that Liverpool finally killed the game off with a superb third. Fernando Torres picked up the ball on the right corner of the penalty area and he slipped the ball to Gerrard who was moving at pace towards the box. With tremendous control, the skipper brought the ball from under his body to out in front of him, and he had the presence of mind to slip the ball to a completely unmarked Yossi Benayoun to slot home the simplest of goals for his second and Liverpool’s third. Phillipe Degen came on to replace Glen Johnson for the last third of the game, with the England full back looking a little fatigued after his international exertions of the past week.

With this added cushion, Liverpool took their foot off the gas somewhat, and the next ten minutes saw Burnley improving their possession statistic without ever threatening Reina’s clean sheet. Benitez brought Voronin on for Dirk Kuyt in an attempt to provide more attacking threat and hammer home the gulf in class between the sides. Soon after, Liverpool were denied a fourth by the linesman’s flag. Gerrard’s 25 yard effort was again fumbled by the Burnley goalkeeper, but as Benayoun tapped the ball home from the rebound for what he thought would be his hat-trick, he was adjudged to have drifted offside. Gerrard then again went close as he piled through the Burnley defence after a ricochet, but he chose to round the keeper rather than shoot and found the angle a little too acute, his effort hitting the outside of the post.

The final Liverpool change took place as a strangely out of sorts Torres was replaced by David Ngog up front with 15 minutes to go. The Frenchman spent the next five minutes trying to backheel his way into the hearts of the Kop, a series of flicks failing to provide the intended result by setting up more chances. Inside the last ten minutes, however, the game’s outstanding player did get his hat-trick, Benayoun finding himself the beneficiary of some more poor defending by Burnley. After a lucky rebound off the referee, Riera came forward and a series of passes between him, Voronin and Gerrard saw the ball eventually slipped forward to Benayoun. The entire Burnley defence stopped, assuming that the flag would go up for offside, little realising that Jordan had played him on. Benayoun kept his composure, however, and slotted the ball past the helpless Jensen for the icing on the Liverpool cake. Gerrard then went almost made it a five after being released by Voronin, but Jensen was equal to the effort and turned it round the post. Burnley then finally created an opportunity, Nugent was unable to keep his header down from a corner.

Andriy Voronin should then have extended the lead even further after he was sent clear for a one-on-one with Jensen. Gerrard collected the keeper’s clearance and slotted the ball through for the Ukrainian, but he was unable to direct his shot on target, instead chipping the ball wide. Two minutes of injury time went by without further incident, and the referee brought an end to a satisfactory afternoon for Liverpool.

Whilst there are still concerns over the slow starts we have experienced in most games so far this season, the signs are encouraging. We can all hope that the woeful defeat against Aston Villa was the low point of the season, and that further below-par performances can be avoided for the remainder of this period. Some major positives can be taken out of the game, though. Another mention must first be made of Yossi Benayoun, who provided yet another man of the match performance with a display of creativity, guile and skill which only enhanced the game-changing reputation he garnered for himself during the second half of last season. A second clean sheet of the campaign should also not be undervalued, as the defence will thrive only by shutting out opponents for 90 minutes and evading troubles from set-pieces that have plagued us so far this season. Whilst Liverpool would always have been expected to win the three points in this fixture, in truth the margin of victory could, and should, have been much greater, an encouraging way to go into our opening Champions League encounter with Debreceni on Wednesday evening.

Monday, 14 September 2009

Media Round-Up: Liverpool 4 - Burnley 0

Liverpool's victory over Burnley has produced mostly positive reviews in the media. I say mostly, but there are still critics churning out the same old criticisms of Benitez and his team, whipping dead horses like his use of zonal marking and debating if the team does posses actual title credentials. Out of the so called 'top four', Liverpool have received the most negative headlines, even after a win. It is interesting to note that Arsenal's defeat at the hands of 'would be' title contenders Manchester City, did not deliver any 'Gunners in crisis' headlines. Liverpool have not been so lucky.

The Telegraph
"Among the 44,000 in Anfield’s rickety stands, Michael Shields yesterday watched Liverpool with an open mind. For 41/2 arduous years, he has been kept away from the team, and the ground, he loves. At 2.55pm, flanked by his family, he took his seat in the directors’ box, after a low-key entrance, a guest of the club and a free man."

"He has missed four years of claim and counter-claim about Rafa Benítez’s management, culminating in a barrage of criticism for the Spaniard’s sale of Xabi Alonso, for his side’s poor start to the season, their continued reliance on zonal marking and their weakness at set pieces."

"Few fans will have attended Anfield yesterday or, indeed, this season, so free of prejudice and agenda as Shields. After witnessing a Liverpool performance of confidence and precision, of power and control which swept Burnley aside with contemptuous ease, which could have led to twice as many goals as the four they managed, he may have left Anfield wondering why all talk of titles is deemed so foolish on Merseyside, why so many fans harbour doubts about the state created by 2005’s 'Rafalution’.

"Shields’s response to his first visit to Anfield since Liverpool won their fifth European Cup, four long years ago, will have been just as awestruck, just as optimistic. In that, too, among his fellow fans he may be alone, for now. If Liverpool can keep this up, though, he will not be for long."

The Guardian
"Gone here were the horrors of Liverpool's last home league match – the 3-1 defeat to Aston Villa – instead, Rafael Benítez's side displayed the relentlessness and deadliness to suggest they can, after all, better last year's second-place finish. Bar a first-minute strike from Martin Paterson that slid just wide of Reina's near post, the men in red were rarely threatened by Burnley."

"Yossi Benayoun was superb throughout this contest, as he has been since the tail end of last season, and played a defining role in releasing Liverpool from their initial sluggishness. His clever running worried Burnley throughout, and it was fitting that the Israeli should score his third hat-trick since arriving on Merseyside from West Ham in July 2007."

The Times
"At kick-off on Saturday afternoon, Liverpool and Burnley lined up as equals according to the Barclays Premier League table. Within a couple of hours, any ideas that such an unlikely equality could last had been ruthlessly dismissed."

"Liverpool scored four times but, such was their dominance as the game wore on, could have underlined their superiority with several more goals."

"it was a string of poor home results against teams from whom they should have taken maximum points that cost them the title last season."

"The penny finally appears to be dropping, though, with Stoke and Burnley on the receiving end of four-goal hidings."

"Then Benayoun provided a wonderfully incisive finishing flourish and what had been a contest increasingly turned into a procession."

The Independent
"Hat-trick one game and the substitutes' bench the next. That is the scenario facing Yossi Benayoun, yet Liverpool's reluctant substitute knows Rafa Benitez well, hence he has already accepted he may be missing when the team launch their Champions League campaign on Wednesday."

"Even if the Israel international feels aggrieved about his lack of starts this season, he certainly was not prepared to air them in public on Saturday. "Everyone wants to play all the time – I don't know anyone who is happy to sit on the bench," Benayoun said after the third hat-trick of his Anfield career. "But at Liverpool that can happen because there are so many good players. You have make sure you take the chance when you are on the pitch."

The Express
"Burnley were swatted aside, though the confidence Liverpool"

"There have been so many tensions simmering below the surface at Anfield in the opening weeks of the campaign that piecing together self-belief is key as Benitez seeks to build momentum before the trip to Chelsea on October 4."

"When Liverpool manager Benitez imparted the well-worn cliche about taking each game as it comes after this win, he was not being evasive, just realistic."

“We have been talking about rebuilding the confidence of the squad,” said Benitez. “Everyone was talking about the challenge of winning the Premier League before the season, but people were expecting us to win the title in September. That is impossible. We have to improve but you can see that we can play well and score goals. That is the way forward for us.”

"Benayoun, who revelled in a role on the right of midfield , has arguably been the club’s most consistent player since the start of 2009 and is beginning to thumb his nose to the notion that he is more effective off the bench than when starting."

"Brazilian midfielder Lucas has adopted that same outlook and the smattering of applause he received when taking a corner in front of The Kop suggests he is on the verge of a breakthrough in his battle to be taken seriously by Liverpool fans."

Dalglish says new sponsor deal will help Rafa

Reds legend Kenny Dalglish believes the new £80m sponsorship deal that was officially announced today, can help Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez bring more trophy's to Anfield.
Speaking about the deal, the new club ambassador Dalglish said:

"Like every other Liverpool fan, I want the best assets of this club to be on the pitch - and this deal will help that," said Dalglish on the official site.

"If it can help Rafa and increase his budget - well that's what everyone wants.

"Success on the pitch leads to success off it and vice versa. It all leads to the same thing - a lot of happy Liverpool supporters. This is a fantastic deal for everybody."

Dalglish who met with executives at Standard Chartered prior to today's announcement believes the new partners fit perfectly with the clubs traditions.

"The size of this deal commercially is very important, but equally as important are the people involved," he said.

"Standard Chartered are good, solid people. I've met them before and they're very good."

"The importance of the support Liverpool have in the Far East is very important for them because they have their base there as well as the Middle East and Africa," he added.

"Our support out there was highlighted during our pre-season tour, and I think that time helped make up both minds that this would be a fantastic opportunity.

"This only endorses what a lot of people already knew - that this is one of the most important clubs in world football."

Liverpool officially announce new £80m shirt sponsorship deal

Liverpool football club today officially announced their new shirt sponsorship deal. As reported on this site on Thursday, The Anfield club have struck a four-year agreement with London-based international bank Standard Chartered, who will become their main sponsor from July next year until the end of the 2013-14 season. The record busting deal is believed to be worth £80m over 4-years and is the biggest in the club's history, sending the Reds to the top of the shirt sponsorship tree alongside bitter rivals Manchester United who announced an £80 million four-year deal with Aon in June.

Liverpool Managing Director Christian Purslow says the club's sponsorship agreement signals the start of an exciting new era at Anfield.

"I am tremendously excited," Purslow today told the official site. "It's a hugely important day in the history of Liverpool Football Club.

"This is the largest commercial agreement we have ever entered into. To have attracted a partner of the calibre of Standard Chartered Bank says everything about where we are trying to take this football club.

"Standard Chartered are one of the world's leading banks. They're a global company, as we are, and their aspiration to be the best bank in the world matches our aspiration to be the best at what we do.

"They operate in a number of markets around the world where we have a long term plan to increase the family of Liverpool fans and this agreement will be very helpful to us in doing that.

"Many branches in these countries will effectively be a shop window for Liverpool Football Club and a means of attracting more supporters to the cause.

"We aspire to be the best at what we do on and off the field. This is the first commercial agreement the club has entered into which can truly be described as the best of its kind in world football.

"I hope this tells everyone, especially our fans, what we are trying to do with this football club in the future."

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Gillett says new shirt sponsorship deal will please and surprise fans

There appears to be more movement in Liverpool football clubs new shirt sponsorship deal. As reported on this site on Thursday, the Reds are on the brink of announcing a new lucrative deal after current sponsors Carlesberg were unwilling to meet the clubs financial assessment reflecting their position as 'one of the most recognisable brands in world football'.

According to the Guardian, the Reds "are set to announce a new shirt sponsorship deal worth £80m over four years – the most lucrative in football history and equal to that of Manchester United."

The London-based international bank, Standard Chartered, are believed to be behind the deal which will start in mid-2010.

The Times says: "The deal with Standard Chartered will be confirmed by Liverpool imminently, with George Gillett Jr, the club’s co-owner, having admitted during a radio interview that he expects a formal announcement to be made on Friday."

The new sponsorship agreement with the London-based international bank will start in mid-2010 once current shirt deal with Carlesberg runs out.

Liverpool co-owner George Gillet had earlier stated that a new deal was close and that supporters would be impressed by the new sponsor.

"I think people will be pleased and surprised," Gillett told a Canadian radio station. "It will be one of the great, worldwide corporations. And I think it will be a sponsor people will be pleased and surprised to be associated with."

Gillett also claims that Liverpool are in excellent financial condition.

"The club is in outstanding shape," Gillett said. "Economically, it's never been stronger. We just paid down our debt very substantially. We have less debt per dollar than any club in the league."

Friday, 11 September 2009

Aquilani will be training in two or three weeks says Benitez

Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez expects to have summer signing Alberto Aquilani training before the end of the month. The £18m signing is recuperating well from ankle injury and is ahead of schedule in his rehabilitation after resuming work in the gym and swimming pool.

"Aquilani has improved, he has progressed in the way that we expected and now maybe in two or three weeks we will see him training," said Benitez to Sky Sports.

"Then we will see how he progresses, but the last scan he had was very good."

Benitez faces left-back dilemma

Rafael Benitez faces a selection dilemma at left-back ahead of Liverpool's Premiership meeting with Burnley. Emiliano Insua has made the position his own in the opening four matches but Fabio Aurelio is pressing for a recall after recovering from injury

The 29-year-old has faced a fitness race this week and Reds boss Rafael Benitez welcomes his return:

"Fabio is a player with quality" said Benitez in the Echo.

"His delivery into the box, especially when we play at home, is excellent. He provides good passes and crosses which is really important.

"He has no match fitness but he is much better and he hasn't been away with his country so he has been training hard. Fabio knows exactly what we expect from him."

"We have really good competition now on the left with Insua, Aurelio and Dossena.

"That means a headache for me but that's good. It’s up to me to pick the right player."

Albert Riera and Ryan Babel are both fighting for the left wing role and both have complained at their lack of first team action. Babel has even declared he wishes a loan move to Ajax in January but Benitez has dismissed talk of the winger leaving Anfield.

"I've already talked with Riera and that's not a problem and I will talk with Ryan and analyse the situation with him," he said.

"What is clear is that if they want to play then they have to compete.

"Ryan has to perform for us. He has to be ready for this game or the next one because we have a lot of games before January.

"I’m not thinking about the possibility of him going out on loan. I’m just thinking about getting the best out of him."

Mascherano a doubt for Burnley clash

Javier Mascherano is a major doubt for Liverpool's Premier League clash with Burnley at Anfield tomorrow, after picking up a knock in Argentina's 1-0 defeat to Paraguay on Wednesday night.

The 25-year-old midfielder is having treatment, but he is unlikely to be risked after playing two full matches for Argentina in the past week.

Lucas Leiva who has completed a 6,000 mile trip from South America was due back at Melwood today and is expected to play, having not featured in either of Brazil's World Cup qualifiers.

Red's skipper Steven Gerrard is expected to drop into a central midfield role alongside Lucas if Mascherano is not passed fit.

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Gerrard admits his England performance was inspired by Michael Shields

Steven Gerrard has admitted that the news of Michael Shields release inspired his England performance last night. The Reds skipper scored twice in England's 5-1 victory over Croatia at Wembley stadium, booking their place at next summer’s World Cup finals.

The Liverpool captain who returned to Melwood today to start preparations for Saturday’s clash with Burnley said:

“It’s fantastic news both for Michael and his family,” said Gerrard in the Echo.

“I’m really pleased for all of them. It was a good day for me, scoring two goals and qualifying for the World Cup having switched on the television earlier in the day and seeing the news about Michael. It gave me a real boost."

Michael Shields and his family have been invited by the Reds to be guests at Saturday’s game against Burnley. Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez speaking ahead of the match said:

"I think everyone here at Liverpool is really pleased. It was a situation that for a long time we were trying to change.

"The players, the club and the people of Merseyside were pushing, so everyone is really pleased.

"we've had contact before and we will have contact in the future because we were supporting them from the first day.

Asked about if Shield will attend Saturdays game, Benitez said:

"I think that we are trying to do something, but we will see. You cant push him too much, so the main thing now is 'how he feels' and if he wants to come, clearly we would be really pleased."

Reds on the brink of striking new shirt sponsorship deal

Liverpool football club are believed to be on the brink of striking a new shirt sponsorship deal with Standard Chartered, the insurance group. "A deal worth as much as £15million a year is being touted by industry insiders," reports the Times.

The clubs owners believe that Liverpool has frequently been under sold commercially and want a deal that reflects their position as 'one of the most recognisable brands in world football'. It is understood that the Reds have been seeking a financial agreement comparable with United’s £80m four year deal with 'Aon' and Chelsea's new deal with Samsung.

Yesterday the FA announced that they had secured a lucrative £50 million sponsorship deal with Carlsberg. However, "the brewer's decision to renew its contract with the FA almost certainly means the end of the company's long association with Liverpool," reports the article.

Carlsberg first signed up with the Reds in 1992 and were the Premier League's longest shirt sponsor under Liverpool FC. It is believed the Anfield club wanted Carlsberg to double its £7.2million-a-year payments to continue as sponsor, but the brewer has been unwilling to meet the fee.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Aurelio set for comeback against Burnley

Liverpool full-back Fabio Aurelio is set to make his return from injury this Saturday when the Reds take on Burnley at Anfield. The Brazilean who suffered a knee injury whilst playing with his children during the summer, has spent the last few weeks recovering from a cartilage operation. Aurelio aims to prove his fitness by playing in a practice match tomorrow.

"I am feeling good and working hard to try and get back into the squad for Saturday," said Aurelio in the Independent.

"The international break came at a good time for me because I have been able to work hard and not miss too many more games. I'm playing in a practice game on Thursday and I hope to prove my fitness and be involved against Burnley.

"I have been training for three weeks now and I can't wait to get back."

Aurelio added: "The injury could not have come at a worse time. I was with my brother-in-law and some friends playing football and joking around and suddenly I felt something strange in my knee.

"I called my old team Sao Paulo and they examined the knee and found there was a cartilage injury.

"I then phoned Liverpool and got permission to get the knee operated on. It was my holiday and I spent the rest of the time recovering.

"The good thing is it feels fine now, I am now back and hoping to help the team. I played in a practice game last week and I felt good."

Argentinian youngster Emiliano Insua has played in the position so far this season, and Aurelio knows he faces tough competition for a place in the team.

He said: "He is playing really well and he was also good last season so he has a lot of confidence.

"Seeing how well he is doing is not a surprise to me or my team-mates, working with him every day you can see he is a player with quality and can do a very good job for the team.

"We have three left-backs with Emiliano, myself and Andrea Dossena so we all have to keep working hard and make it a difficult decision for the manager."

Justice served as Liverpool fan Michael Shields is released

Michael Shields has been released from prison following a pardon from Justice Secretary Jack Straw. The Reds fan was sentenced to 15 years by Bulgarian authorities following an attack on a barman after Liverpool FC's European Cup victory in Turkey in 2005. He was later transferred to a prison in the UK.

Shields has always maintained his innocence and his incarceration had always been viewed as a gross miscarriage of justice.

Another Liverpool resident, Graham Sankey admitted to committing the crime and signed a written confession, which he later withdrew.

In his statement, the Justice Secretary said:

"I was told in the course of the visit that the man made an oral confession in front of several other people. This episode, I was told, happened on 22 July 2005, a day after the start of Mr Shields' trial in Bulgaria," reports the Telegraph.

"I will not set out in this statement all the evidence that has come to light over the last two weeks but suffice it to say that there is very good reason to believe I was being told the truth.

"This in my view profoundly changed the credibility of the various accounts of what actually happened in this case. I have concluded, having looked carefully at all the evidence now available, that Michael Shields is telling the truth when he says he is innocent of the attempted murder of which he was convicted in Bulgaria.

"That being so I have recommended to Her Majesty the Queen that he should be granted a free pardon. Mr Shields is being released from prison today and will return home to his family a free man."

In December 2008 two high court judges ruled that it was within the justice secretary's power to pardon Michael Shields – but Straw refused to do so in July.

Following his release, Shields who was wearing a black t-shirt with a small red LFC liverbird embroidered on it, said:

"I would like to say a massive thank-you to all the people out there, including Liverpool and Everton fans, in support of me and my family over the last four years by writing letters, protesting and marching," reports the official site.

The Reds fan added: "Your voices were heard. Thanks to you, I knew I'd never walk alone.

"My family have stood by me every step of the way. I would not have made it without them.

"I also want to extend my sympathy to the victim of the unprovoked attack in Bulgaria."

Shields' solicitor John Wheate said the Liverpool fan was "absolutely ecstatic" when he was given the news. His parents had been told of the decision in a telephone call with Mr Straw on Wednesday morning.

Mr Wheate said: "I can confirm he has been pardoned and will be released today. His parents spoke to Jack Straw earlier this morning and I have spoken to Michael myself.

"At first he couldn't believe it after all these years and knock backs. But now he is absolutely ecstatic and so are his family."

A statement read by the Bishop of Liverpool, James Jones, on Michael's behalf read:

"The last four years have been a living hell. Today is the first day of the rest of my life. It's a hard thing to be locked away for a crime you did not commit.

"I was just 18 when I was arrested. I'm now 22 and face having to rebuild a life shattered by the failure of two legal systems: one here in the UK and one in Bulgaria.

"Today is a happy day for me but one of mixed emotion too. I am a free man, yes, but it should not have come to this.

"I face a hard battle to adjust to normality, to find a job, resume friendships and to build an ordinary life.

"I would like to extend my sympathy to the family of Martin Georgiev, who was the innocent victim of an unprovoked attack. He and his family, like me and mine, have been denied justice for four long years."

Liverpool football club expressed delight at the decision saying:

"It's great news that Michael has been granted a pardon by the Justice Secretary Jack Straw.

"We know how difficult the last four years have been for Michael and his family and everyone at the club, the staff, the players and the fans have tried to support them during this time.

"We hope now that Michael and his family will be able to move on with their lives and look to the future."

Monday, 7 September 2009

Hicks claims he is still committed to building new stadium

Liverpool co-owner Tom Hicks claims he remains committed to building a new stadium for the club once "the financial market opens back up". Hicks who will pocket £450m through the imminent sale of his baseball franchise Texas Rangers insists that that money cannot be used to fund a new Liverpool stadium.

“Rangers and Liverpool are totally separate investments, so there is no connection,” said Hicks in the Daily Post.

“I do plan to keep a significant participation in the Rangers. We are close to winning our division. I want to finish what we have started.

“Liverpool will obtain stadium financing when the financial market opens back up. We have all of our permits and will be ready when the market is ready.”

“Christian Purslow is working hard. Liverpool’s new management focus is producing great new commercial results that will become known in due time.”

Carragher says the Reds are thinking about the title and nothing else

Liverpool central defender Jamie Carragher believes the Reds will fight to win the Premier League despite suffering two defeats so far this season.

"There are other teams who could get into the top four this year - but hopefully not at our expense," he said in the Echo.

"We're not thinking about that, though, we're just thinking about the title and not about fourth place.

"A couple of teams have jumped out so far. We've already played Tottenham and Aston Villa and of course Manchester City are the side a lot of people are talking about, but if we start playing the way we can then I'm sure we'll be right up there.”

Meanwhile, left-back Fabio Aurelio has returned to full training and could return to action this Saturday when the Reds face Burnley at home.

Reds Champions League squad announced

Liverpool have announced their 28-man Champions League squad. Youngsters Nathan Eccleston, David Amoo and Martin Kelly have all made the grade, ensuring the Reds fulfill the UEFA quota for home-grown talent. However there is no place for right-back Philipp Degen.

The Reds kick off the group stage at home to Debreceni on September 16.

Champions League squad: Cavalieri, Reina, Martin, Johnson, Agger, Aurelio, Kyrgiakos, Insua, Carragher, Darby, Kelly, Skrtel, Dossena, Aquilani, Gerrard, Benayoun, Mascherano, Leiva, Spearing, Plessis, Riera, Torres, Voronin, Kuyt, Babel, Ngog, Amoo, Eccleston.

Rafa challenges Riera and Babel to fight for their place

Reds boss Rafa Benitez has challenged Ryan Babel and Albert Riera to fight for their place in the Liverpool squad. Both players have recently expressed dissatisfaction at not being able to secure a regular place in the team, with Ryan Babel stating he wished to move back to Ajax on loan to improve his World Cup chances. But the message from Benitez is clear: 'prove yourself'.

He said: "Albert and Ryan both want to play. They play in the same position and so have to compete with each other, which is good for us," said Benitez in the Independent.

"The message is very simple. On the pitch all of the players have to prove something.

"Ryan knows he cannot go now, so he has to impress. He is a good player and we know he has talent. It's important for us to talk with him and see how he progresses over these months.

"With the World Cup at the end of the season the majority of our players will want to impress and if they do well in each training session they will have more chances."

Torres says team is ready to rise to the Premiership challenge

Fernando Torres has stated that although Liverpool FC may not have the spending power of other Premiership clubs, the team is ready to rise to the challenge on the pitch. He also says that if the team works hard to improve, trophies will come.

“I think we are close to getting a trophy but it’s very difficult,” Torres said in the Echo.

“In football at the moment unfortunately money is really important.

“Clubs like Manchester United, Chelsea and Manchester City have a lot of money to spend on good players.

“That’s not the way at Liverpool so we have to try to improve.

“If we are going to get the opportunity to win a trophy we have to do things better than ever. We are ready for the challenge.”

Torres admits to loving life in Liverpool, saying its working class roots remind him of his own upbringing:

"The people are so nice and polite here, and have a lot of respect for players when you are away from the pitch,” he said.

“That is one of the main things for me. In Spain it was difficult for me to go to restaurants or just walk in the street with my friends.

“Now I can do these things and go to the park, walk my dogs and go out for dinner.

“It’s a really working class city and I like that because I was born in a working class part of Spain.

“The people work all week and they go to the ground each weekend to enjoy the team. On the Monday they are working hard again just so they can see their team on the weekend.

“It’s really special to see supporters with my name on their shirt.

“I can understand why they would wear a Stevie G or Carra shirt because they are from Liverpool.

“I only came here two years ago as a foreign player but they love me like Stevie or Carra. That’s amazing and I have to say thank you to them for that.”

Saturday, 5 September 2009

Riera admits to flare up with Benitez

Albert Riera has admitted to having a flare up with Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez. The Spanish winger revealed the incident occurred when he didn't play in the Reds first game of the Premiership against Tottenham. Riera who had played in the Confederations Cup in the summer, joined up with the Reds squad late, along with the rest of the Spanish players and Benitez didn't think his fitness levels where up to scratch.

Speaking to the Spanish press ahead of today's world cup qualifier against Belgium, Riera said:

“I didn’t play the first game because I started training late after the Confederations Cup, like Pepe Reina and Fernando Torres. I was angry and had a flare-up at Benitez, but the day I don’t get angry for being a substitute I will retire,” reports the Echo.

However despite the heated exchange Albert Riera insists he has nothing but admiration for Benitez, stating he is a 'special' manager.

“Benitez is a special coach who defends his own. I know he is with me, because he said so.”

Friday, 4 September 2009

Kuyt says squad is ready to mount serious title challenge

Dirk Kuyt believes the Reds are ready to mount a serious title challenge and believes the fighting spirit of the squad following the 2-3 victory over Bolton last Saturday will kick start the Anfield clubs season:

"Everybody knows we have already lost two times, but the way we beat Bolton where we came from behind twice gives us a much more positive feeling," said Kuyt to the official site.

"I still believe we have a great chance. It's early in the season and the main thing is to focus on our own game and look forward to the next game.

"As long as we start winning our own games from this stage I am sure we will be up there."

"I think we have two big signings. If you talk about Glen Johnson, last season he was one of the better players in the league.

"We have Aquilani as well. Okay we have to wait a couple of weeks before he starts to play games, but with these two signings we have a great team."

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Reina says Reds must take more risks

Liverpool keeper Pepe Reina believes the Reds must take more risks in order to lift the Premiership trophy in May and insists the Anfield club must reduce the number of drawn games by turning them into victories.

"People say we have lost as many games this season as we did in the whole of last season. But last season our biggest problem was drawing games," said Reina on the official web site.

"Those draws meant that we could have drawn the two games, went the season unbeaten in the league, but still not won it. I would rather have lost six of those 11 games and won the other five. Then we'd have finished level on points with United and maybe have won it on goal difference.

"People can point to defeats, but I feel it's draws that make it more difficult. One thing that became clear to everyone at the club before this season started was that we must take more risks if we want to win the league. Even if it means losing a few more games, particularly at home.

"In the short-term that may disappoint a few people but in the long term, it's better to cut out the draws.

"In a league where there is three points for a win, for teams trying to win the title, it's definitely draws that make it more difficult."

Ayala wants more Premiership chances

Liverpool youngster Daniel Ayala is ready for more Premier League opportunities after he played in the Reds first two games of the season.

"I need to keep working hard and prove myself," said The Spanish defender to Sky Sports.

"If I keep training well and playing well for the reserve team then maybe I might get another chance in the Carling Cup later this month."

Ayala was a substitute in the opening day game at Spurs and made his full debut in the 4-0 victory over Stoke.

He said: "It was a fantastic experience to play in front of such a big crowd against Tottenham and I was very excited.

"The manager just told me to go out and play my normal game and enjoy it.

"Then he told me on the Tuesday that I was going to start the next night against Stoke. I was more nervous than I was at Tottenham because it was to be my first senior start at Anfield.

"I was excited to be playing in front of the Kop and when we came out the noise was incredible.

"It was a very special experience to play my first full first team game at Anfield, and to keep a clean sheet made me very proud.

"The manager told me well done at the end of the game, and to keep working hard."

New stadium on hold until recession is over

Liverpool football clubs new stadium will not be built until the global recession is over and credit becomes available to finance the $800 million project reports the Telegraph.

The 60,000-seat Stanley Park replacement for Liverpool's historic Anfield was initially planned to open next year, but the economic downturn forced co-owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett Jr. to halt building work last August citing "global market conditions."

A statement last year promised: "work on the project will be delayed in the short term," adding "we will use this period productively and revisit the plans for the stadium to increase its capacity to 73,000 seats."

However, a date stating when building work would resume was never set and Liverpool's new managing director Christian Purslow confirmed today that the stadium has taken a further set back:

"Construction on the stadium will begin when the current contraction in the banking industry ends and the global financial markets re-establish their equilibrium."

"The centerpiece is to deliver a world-class football ground that everyone can be proud of, a new home for the club with a stadium of at least 60,000 seats, giving the best possible match experience."

The article adds: "Purslow hopes the stadium on the adjacent Stanley Park will be ready in time for 2018 to stage World Cup matches should England's bid to stage the showcase event prove successful."