Posts Tagged Liverpool FC

Will John W. Henry be denied Liverpool FC?

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For most football clubs, the fight on the pitch is more important than what goes on behind the scenes in the boardroom. But for Liverpool FC, it is the fights in the boardroom that have become crucial for their survival.

So when it was understood that there were two “credible” bids, one from John W Henry, the multi-millionaire  owner of Boston Red Sox Major League Baseball team and the other from business interests in Asia to buy the debt-ridden club off the current American owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett, everyone should have breathed a collective sigh of relief.

However, this set the stage for another low  for a club that has always prided itself  for keeping internal matters private. The boardroom war between the American owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett, and the three other directors came into the full public view when an official statement from Liverpool said the board was preparing to approve the sale yesterday. However, Hicks and Gillett sought to block that decision by ousting the managing director, Christian Purslow, and commercial director, Ian Ayre, and appointing instead Hicks’s son and a close ally.

Hicks and Gillett both reiterated “commitment to finding a buyer” but said that they will not accept bids which in their view “dramatically undervalue” the club, which they say had nearly doubled its revenues since they took over.

What this whole mess  most likely means is that while both the offers commit to clearing the £237m Liverpool owe Royal Bank of Scotland and Wachovia (which is due for repayment in nine days’ time), they were not prepared to give Hicks and Gillett much for their shares.

Liverpool chairman Martin Broughton thinks  that the attempt by the club’s owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett to block the sale of the club to John W Henry’s New England Sports Ventures group by changing the board, is a “flagrant abuse” of “written undertakings” and that he is the only person entitled to do such a thing.

In an interview on the Liverpool website the chairman said, “We don’t think it was valid to do it. Essentially when I took the role they gave a couple of written undertakings to Royal Bank of Scotland. Those written undertakings included that I was the only person entitled to change the board and that was written into the articles of the covenant, and also that they would take no action to frustrate any reasonable sale.”

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Broughton also believes that the proposed owners were committed to getting the winning mentality back into the team: “I think the demonstration is: let’s look at what they have done at Boston, what they said in Boston, what they have done in terms of investing in players – and I think you get a high degree of confidence of their willingness to do that.”

The iconic Fenway Park stadium and two championship wins for the Boston Red Sox under John W. Henry’s ownership does seem to suggest that he is the right man to lead Liverpool back to winning ways.

However, Liverpool fans cannot be blamed for being sceptical of any US bid after their bitter experience with Hicks and Gillett’s “leveraged buy-out”.

Article first published as Will John W. Henry be denied Liverpool FC? on Technorati.

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Liverpool Boss Rafael Benitez Leaves by Mutual Consent

Liverpool FC have announced that Rafael Benitez has left the club by mutual consent. The Spaniard succeeded Gerard Houllier at the english premier league club 6 years ago in June 2004. In 2005, his very first season at Liverpool, Rafael Benitez lead the club to Champions League success followed by an FA cup in 2006. He became the first manager in Liverpool’s illustrious history to win major trophies in his first 2 seasons. American businessmen, Tom Hicks and George Gillette took over the club in 2007 marking a new era for Liverpool FC and Benitez. The new owners were quick to back Benitez and Liverpool returned to the finals of the Champions League in 2007 but this time lost to AC Milan.

The fans however were getting impatient and wanted desperately to win the Premier League title back from their fierce rivals Manchester United. The owners made funds available for Benitez so he could deliver the Premier League. A record £26.5m pounds were spent to bring spanish striker Fernando Torres to the club but the premier league title eluded the Anfield faithful.

Last season Liverpool went out in the group stages of the Champions League and finished 7th in the league table, denying them Champions League football this season. Benitez’s tactics on the field as well as his transfer dealings including the £20m spent on the rarely used Robbie Keane and £20m on an injured Alberto Aquilani started to frustrate the fans and friction between the owners and Benitez became more and more public. However, it seems that falling out of the top 4 is what ultimately caused Benitez to lose his job.

Benitez, who had four years left of his five year contract to run, resigned after accepting a severance payment said that he was “extremely sad” to be leaving the club. The former Valencia manager had in the recent months been linked with a move to Juventus and Real Madrid.  The posts at both these clubs have been recently filled since and it seems likely that Rafael Benitez might fill the spot left vacant by Jose Mourinho at at this year’s European Champions Inter Milan.

Liverpool FC which in debt to the tune of £351m and was put up on sale by it owners now focuses on finding a successor to Rafael Benitez. Aston Villa manager Martin O’Neill, Fulham boss Roy Hodgeson as well as former Chelsea manager Gus Hiddink have all been linked with the job. The search for a new manager however could be hindered by the uncertainty surrounding the Liverpool FC’s future ownership and its precarious financial condition.

Article first published as Liverpool Boss Rafael Benitez Leaves by Mutual Consent on Technorati.

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The Open Season: Stronger than Ever EPL

barclayspremierleagueIt has been a weekend of quite a few revelations in the English Premier League. The results from Saturday’s and Sunday’s matches really are an eye-opener, showing us just how much the league has changed since its inception and just how different this season is from the seasons in the past. Being in the top 4 is no longer a done deal or a privy of the traditional top four clubs with Aston Villa, Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City hard on their heels threatening to replace them should they even for a second, take their eye of the ball. Aston Villa quite literally displayed this by scoring off two set pieces in their match against Chelsea.

Unlike past seasons, this season has also seen a lot less draws, which just goes to show that teams are stronger and more confident about being able to take points off of each other and off the Top 4.  Moreover the games in the league are becoming a lot more open and most teams are willing to take some risks to try and win. `Win or lose trying’ seems to be the mantra they’ve come up with after analyzing last years’ results in which Liverpool lost fewer matches than Manchester United and yet ended up second despite having done a double on the then would-be Champions.

There is a newfound confidence in the top half of the table.  West Ham who came back from 2 goals down to draw the match against an Arsenal team in explosive form, goes on to show that more and more teams are beginning to believe that if they take their best game to the top clubs, attack and don’t allow their game to be dictated by the Big 4, they have a very good chance of taking a few points off them. Add to that the fact that the top four are picking points against each other. Manchester United won against Arsenal, Chelsea walked away with all three points in their match against Liverpool and Liverpool beat Manchester United showing that the Top 4 know that a draw against each other just isn’t good enough to guarantee them a top 4 or 5 or six finish in a very competitive premier league season.

Manchester United, Arsenal, Liverpool and Chelsea are going to have to fight for every point. There are just no more easy games for the top teams this season. Tottenham and Aston Villa have improved their squads. Manchester City with the millions they’ve spent in the transfer market are also looking to break into the top four and have quite an impressive squad.

This time, last season, Liverpool were top of the table at 25 points while Portsmouth were seventh and had only 14 points to show. This season, should Manchester City and Aston Villa pick up any points in their games in hand, the gap between the top 7 would be just six points.

This season is probably the most open Premier League season yet, and also the most entertaining. It is a clear indication that the English Premier League has become stronger despite having lost some of its stars to the La Liga and is probably the tightest, toughest, most competitive league in the world.

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Kop Stars Sparkle : Liverpool Win!

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A scintillating performance by Liverpool against Manchester United put Chelsea on top of the table today. Rafael Benitez’s men completely out played the Red Devils who are starting to look more and more like a team that is regretting having let go two big, game-changing players in Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez. Liverpool, who had lost their last 4 games and have been in the news for all the wrong reasons, from protests from fans to owner trouble to lack of funds to a weak bench owing to bad dealings in the transfer market to a manager who many thought had lost the plot seemed to have directed all the negative energy, the criticism, the frustration into playing what can only be described as a stunning game.

Steven Gerrard hadn’t recovered and wasn’t in the starting line-up but many Liverpool fans (and Chelsea fans) breathed a sigh relief when they saw Fernando Torres on the team sheet. Mascherano was also in the starting 11 despite having refused signing a new contract with Liverpool this morning and speculation about him possibly moving to Spanish club Barcelona, who have shown interest in the Argentine midfielder. Mascherano said, “I don’t play football for the money. I play for me to win.”

Thankfully, going by how Liverpool played today, I don’t think Mascherano will be going anywhere.

A Liverpool-Manchester United encounter is always feisty but this season it has got even more bite to it because of both the clubs being tied at 18 titles each. And both clubs had very high stakes riding on this match While for Manchester United it meant going top of the table, 2 points clear of Chelsea FC for Liverpool it meant staying in the race for the title. If Liverpool had lost they would have gone 7 points behind the table leaders and it would have been almost impossible to catch up. Manchester United on the other hand wanted revenge from last season when Liverpool had managed to pull a double on them. It was always going to be a great contest and it lived up to all the hype with the better team on the night taking all three points. Yossi Benayoun who had an absolutely brilliant game, passed the ball past Ferdinand to Fernando Torres who scored the first goal for Liverpool in the 67th minute. It was a trademark Torres goal combining power, skill and class. Ngog scored the second for Liverpool in added time and really put the game past United. The game also saw Vidic and Mascherano being sent off. It is becoming quite a habit for both the players whenever their teams meet. Anfield is one of the toughest places to go to and win. Liverpool boasts of having the best fans in the world and it showed today. The fans were a 100 percent behind their team and relentless in their show of support.

Rafael Benitez in his post-match interview said, “The players showed character and the fans were behind the players, we had 12 men. The mentality was good, everyone was working together, plus the ‘keeper (Jose Reina) to the last fan on the Kop. The players answered a lot of questions, that is the most important thing.”

And for a change, Sir Alex also admitted that his team was second best on the night. He said, “Liverpool were the better team and I am not taking anything away from them at all. They deserved to win the game, as it was a disappointing performance from us. We were not good enough. Last season we lost at home 4-1 to Liverpool which was a travesty but we went on to win the league.”

And some things never change…

Sir Alex also said, “We lost out to one or two major decisions. I felt Carrick in the first half was a penalty kick. He [Carragher] has clearly gone over the top of the ball. If it was outside the box, it would have been a free kick. But the controversial one that everyone will be talking about is when he brought Michael Owen down on the edge of the box.

“He is their best defender, so if he goes off at that stage it would be difficult for them. Their fans put the referee under pressure all the time. This atmosphere is hard to handle for a referee. Whether he had enough experience or not, I don’t know, but he will certainly learn from it.”

Ah…well, I guess its one tiny step at a time towards mastering gracious, honest, ‘poor-performance-admitting’, non-blaming, post match speeches for Fergie.

‘When the going gets tough; the tough get going’ –  Liverpool played a passionate, give-all game with no fear and showed everyone that they are a force to reckon with on their day and why underestimating their threat and counting them out of the race would be foolish.

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Beach Ball Scores: Refereeing In The EPL

Alright, I know you haven’t heard of this yet…Manchester United are signing a brand new player before the Liverpool match.  He has a 100% record against the team from Merseyside.  Not too much is known about this player who scored recently within 40 seconds of coming on the field.  He has taken the footballing world by storm. When you talk about players who can change games, you talk about the brilliant Beach-Ball Balloon.

Ever since the bizarre beach-ball goal at the Stadium of Light last week, which resulted in Liverpool losing a vital 3 points at Sunderland, football fans and the experts have been trying to make sense of it all. It seems incredible that the goal was awarded and everyone but everyone who has been asked about it has been quick to quote the rule out of FIFA  “Laws of the Game’ book which states:

“The referee stops, suspends or abandons the match because of outside interference of any kind. The match is restarted with a dropped ball.”

It is one of the most basic rules of the game. Everyone from the bloke on the street to the greatest footballing minds agrees that the goal should not have stood. This ‘ unanimous agreeing’ in itself is bizarre and terribly rare in football. Liverpool were bad in that game and really can’t blame the beach ball but what I am most intrigued about is, how was it that the referee did not know about this rule?

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Referees are usually picked on by everyone after each game. The losing team almost always wants to partly put the blame on the referee and dare I say, usually they have a point. The referees however, can’t be held 100% responsible for bad decisions because most of these decisions are a matter of interpretation. They are about how the referee interpreted the laws of the game for a specific incident at that particular time in a particular game. They are subjective and usually a shade of grey and annoying when given against your team. That actually makes every game even more interesting. Referees can’t really be called up to explain most of their ‘on-the-spot’ judgment calls. This decision however, is completely different; it was a rare black or white decision. There was no ambiguity, no shade of grey if you like, about it. It just showed that referee simply wasn’t aware of the rules. That is shocking and a shame for a league which is considered among the best in the world. What is really interesting is, that in most leagues, before the start of the season, referees are made to take a refresher course/test. It is no surprise after this crazy incident that the English Premier League referees have to appear for no such test. The referee Mike Jones who awarded Sunderland the now infamous goal has been demoted to the Championship but I wonder if it would have been wiser to send him in for a refresher course than merely getting rid of him from the Premier League. This incident really has started to make me wonder if Sir Alex was maybe right about referee’s not being fit enough. Mike Jones clearly wasn’t fit to be referring that game for lack of knowledge just as Sir Alex believes there are referees who are would fail to pass a fitness test. If the injury to a referee during warm-up before the Chelsea-Aston Villa match is any indicator, then probably the smart Scot might just have accidentally hit upon a very relevant and important concern in his bid distract the world from his team’s mediocre performance.

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Liverpool FC, Go Shopping.

Liverpool lost night to Lyon in the Champions League, extending their losing streak to a woeful 4 matches in all competitions, something that hadn’t happened in the last 22 years.  All Liverpool supporters had been anticipating this fixture with some apprehension for in the past few weeks it was being mentioned in hush-hush tones by the Anfield faithful, that probably they didn’t have a very strong squad. Any doubts that anyone had about that were put to rest last night when in a very important, dare I say ‘must-win’ game against Lyon in the Champions League, Ngog started up-front for the 5-time kings of Europe.  I have nothing against the 20-year old Frenchman, who scored full points for his enthusiasm, grit and determination last night but he just isn’t the finished product yet. I don’t think is deserving of being put in a position where the onus of winning a crucial game for his club is put on his relatively inexperienced shoulders.

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I realise that Ngog had been playing only because Fernando Torres wasn’t fit to play.  Fernando Torres is without doubt one of the best strikers in the Premier League, he counts among 5 best in the world.  So, what I don’t understand is, when you have such a great player in a team, shouldn’t his replacement (when he is not fit to play) , be at least somewhat comparable?  Most top premier league clubs have pretty good options available, in case their preferred striker can’t play. Chelsea have Drogba, Anelka, Kalou and Sturridge and they still get flak about not having enough striking options. Last transfer window the fans were really hoping that they would in invest in new blood.

Manchester United, who have been criticized by some for selling Tevez and letting Ronaldo (almost a striker) go to Real Madrid, have available to them Berbatov, Rooney, Machida, Wellbeck and the recently added Michael Owen who has quite a track record despite his injury woes in the past few seasons

Arsenal, who have the best goal difference in the Premier League this season despite having very few clean sheets have the attacking prowess of Van Persie, Eduardo, Bendtner and Vela.

Tottenham and Aton Villa and Manchester City lower down in the top half of the table are always improving their squad. Tottenham have Keane, Defoe, the tall Crouch for scoring from off set-pieces and the talented  Pavlyuchenko.

Martin O’Neill’s Aston Villa have Carew, Heskey and the pacy Agbonlahor.

Manchester City who have been the most active in the last transfer window really went all out buying strikers this season. They boast of a formidable five quality strikers on their rolls. They have Adebayor, Tevez, Robinho, Santa Cruz and Bellamy, all players with big-game experience and the ability to change games.

Liverpool on the other hand have only Torres and Voronin, Babel, Kuyt, Ngog. 5 striking options just like Manchester City you’d say. Not quite.  Manchester City players or any of the striking options available to the other clubs are used to playing big matches and most are ‘quality’ players comparable with the main strikers and capable of filling in whenever required.  In the Liverpool list, Kuyt and Babel should have been the way to go with Torres out. Voronin though experienced has a tendency to under perform in big matches. I feel Rafael Benitez doesn’t play Babel enough (read not even close to enough).  Liverpool could have greatly used the pace and skill that Ryan Babel brings to the game.  I can’t help but wonder, shouldn’t the sum of the quality of a team always remain constant, meaning, when you have to replace someone as influential as ‘El Nino’ in a game, the entire team must give 10-20% more and the replacement should at least be half as good as the main guy. One super player in a team demands that the quality of the replacements available on the bench be upped. I think Liverpool need to invest in another quality striker very soon. I still think that Rafael Benitez is right for the job and will be able to once again take Liverpool right to the top but the time has come for Liverpool to wake up and realise that the bench needs strengthening. May be a good place to start would be to bring back striker Nemeth who is currently on  loan to AEK Athens. Liverpool have been lucky so far to get goals from midfielders like the Benayoun goal last night (can’t figure out why he was taken off!) but if Liverpool are to be serious contenders for silverware this season, they can’t rely on such goals. Liverpool  can probably offload some of the many ‘average’ players on their squad and invest in a few real quality.  This needs to be done double quick because right now Liverpool have only one striker worthy of playing in the first team of the club which has won  more trophies than any other club in the Premier League. Liverpool need to make sure that Fernando Torres, their main striker relates with the famous Anfield anthem ‘you’ll never walk alone’ .

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Liverpool, Be Grateful For Rafael Benitez!

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A lot of Liverpool fans have been blaming Rafael Benitez, the club’s manager for not having won enough silverware in  the past few seasons. Last Saturday’s loss to Sunderland was the club’s 4th loss and the last straw for them. Now, the fans have been gunning for him and asking for a change of manager. They feel Rafa Benitez has not been delivering and it’s time he found work elsewhere. They blame his team-selection, tactics and activity in the transfer market for Liverpool trailing 7 points behind leaders Manchester United on the League Table. What is interesting is that just a few weeks ago, Cesare Prandelli a former football player and the current football coach of  ACF Fiorentina, praised Rafael Benítez the manager of Liverpool FC. The Italian Cesare said Benitez was his  “role model” for “the way he organises the team and the dressing room”. Liverpool fans having probably spent their Sunday puncturing, kicking and knifing all beach-balls in town without much relief from the pain of the loss. They seem to have decided that it is, in fact, most definitely Rafa Benitez who is to blame for the poor performance. Now, being a Chelsea fan, and having experienced the pain of a loss myself on saturday, I know how much it hurts and how easy it is to ask for a replacement of the manager. Here are some of the things I think we should consider before we ask for Rafael Benitez to pack his bags.

1. The loss at Sunderland was a terribly unlucky. I am not saying that Liverpool played very well but it also can’t be ignored that their was only one goal scored  in the match.  (by a beach-ball)

2. Last year Rafael Benitez’s Liverpool lost fewer games than the Premier League Champions Manchester United. They finished 2nd on the League Table. (call me daft, but that doesn’t sound like a terribly bad result to me)

3. Rafael Benitez, in his very first season at the club in 2005 won the Champions League with a very average team. Just to put that in perpective, Chelsea haven’t won it yet despite having super-stars in the team and changing managers more often than Cristiano Ronaldo demands a penalty.

4. Rafael Benitez comes with a formidable track record. He won the La Liga with Mestalla in the very first season. The club hadn’t won the league in 30 years and he also won the UEFA cup with them. I don’t think 5 years is enough for Liverpool fans to cry drought. Consider, how much time it took for Sir Alex to win some silverware for Manchester United and just imagine how it could have turned out, had the management at Manchester United sacked Sir Alex in those early years. (sigh…if only that would have happened and then Chelsea would have swept in and signed him. Fairies would have danced, chocolates would have grown on trees and in that perfect world we would have all  lived happily.

5. Rafael Benitez with his resume can get any job he wants. A high paying-low pressure job where the owners of the club aren’t bumbling idiots fighting and contradicting each other every step of the way.  But I think Rafa Benitez really cares and believes in the great legacy of Liverpool . Isn’t that what every club should be wishing for, a manager who truly loves the club like a fan?  I can’t forget the way the ridiculous owners of Liverpool tried replacing Benitez with Klinsmann, it was in every newspaper and one can only imagine how humiliating and hurtful it must have been for this great manager. I don’t think anyone could have blamed him for walking out on the club at that time but he stayed. I also can’t think of any top manager who would be willing to take the job at Liverpool which right now, comes with the boardroom circus and the clown owners.

Many fans seem to think that Benitez hasn’t been good in the transfer market and that he has had a lot of money to spend and has not spent it well. I know I was mad when he sold Alonso, but I don’t think we should judge that transfer just yet since, the replacement he bought Aquilani is still to play.

I am not saying that Benitez is always right. He has made his mistakes in the past with tactics and team-selection, just like any other manager. Even Sir Alex the great, messed up his strategy in the Champions League Final against Barcelona. Managers are human after all. All I am saying is that we as fans, tend to be a little too emotional about our clubs (it is our prerogative) but when someone like Cesare, a real professional, definitely more qualified in the ways of football, says he looks up to Rafael Benitez, we are definitely being too hasty in our judgement and need to take a closer, less fanatic and more level-headed view of the situation.

Liverpool play Lyon in the Champions League mid-week and Manchester United on Sunday. Their top players Gerrard and Torres are both injured. I hope for Liverpool and for Rafa that they are fit to start against Manchester United over the weekend for it seems like this will be the ‘make or break’ week for Liverpool’s  title hopes.

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