Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Is Mascherano’s departure a surprise?

You could almost say today’s “Tweets” are tomorrow’s newspaper headlines. Following the world’s leading sports journalists on Twitter is now the fastest media for finding the latest news and football’s own journalist community have fully embraced the social networking site. 

The World Cup was a great example of this, as both squad and eventual team selection were confirmed on Twitter much before any press conferences had begun. Now one website seems to have gone further.

Moments after Twitter was buzzing with numerous headlines surrounding Roy Hodgson’s announcement that Javier Mascherano’s wanted to leave Anfield, I jumped onto the world’s most famous online encyclopedia to do some research. According to Wikipedia: “Javier Alejandro Mascherano (Spanish pronunciation: [matʃeˈɾano], Italian pronunciation: [maskeˈraːno]; born 8 June 1984 in San Lorenzo) is an Argentine footballer who plays as a defensive midfielder for Inter Milan.” Yes that does read, Inter Milan!

On-top of being the world’s greatest trivia argument resolver, is Wikipedia now a Football Oracle as well? With this in mind, I quickly typed in Fernando Torres to see if he too was soon departing Liverpool FC for pastures new. Half expecting to see: “Fernando José Torres Sanz (Spanish pronunciation: [ferˈnando ˈtores], Mancunian pronunciation fernando touris; born 20 March 1984), is a Spanish footballer that plays for Premier League club Manchester City”, I was relieved to find out that Wikipedia has not yet foreseen Torres’ departure.

All joking aside, although it’s a rare mistake from Wikipedia, there is probably no point in them editing it. It looks increasingly likely that Mascherano will leave Liverpool to become an Inter Milan player very soon and you have to say the writing has been on the wall for a while now. Only last summer, proceeding Liverpool’s closest title challenge in almost 20 years, Mascherano was rumoured to want a move to Barcelona, the other interested party. So after the huge disappointment of last season and no prospect of Champions League football next season, is it really a surprise he wants a move this summer?

Even before the World Cup kicked off, Mascherano was dropping hints to Europe's leading clubs that he wanted a move. He had openly stated that his wife wasn't settled in England and want him to leave. Many reports even surfaced that he’d started learning Italian. And to really attract attention he had gracious words of praise for the newly appointed Inter manager and Liverpool's former boss Rafa Benitez. Without knowing what the club had agreed with Mascherano to keep him at Anfield last season or what was said before the World Cup, the timing of his decision seems to be the hugely frustrating to both manager and fans. The difficulty created by this situation must come down to Mascherano himself and the question must be asked why didn’t he announce this sooner?

Hodgson has been trying to contact Mascherano to no avail since he and Argentina were knocked out of the World Cup over three weeks ago. Prior to yesterday’s announcement, he actually played down the reports that Mascherano was ignoring his calls however, now he must be extremely frustrated that the club haven’t been able to use this time or even the time during the World Cup to source the best deal for the star player. Hope now is that Liverpool can get the right price for Mascherano and find a replacement before the season opener against Arsenal. Hodgson was defiant in saying; "The mere fact that the player is a little bit unhappy with his situation and will prefer to leave doesn't necessarily mean that he will leave.”

Despite his public show of authority, he will be desperate to have a team fully committed towards rebuilding the long-term objectives of the club and Mascherano clearly doesn’t share that desire. Hodgson’s defiance is probably more of an attempt to maintain Mascherano’s market value than a sincere wish to make him stay against his will.

If you follow the football statistics company; Opta, on Twitter, you might have seen the tweet that “Liverpool are unbeaten in their last 20 Premier League games without Javier Mascherano in the side” (OptaJoe). However there is no doubting Mascherano’s talent as a world-class midfielder and he will be very hard to replace. The matter is made worse by the fact that it is a world cup summer, notorious for overinflated player valuations and a short transfer window with the club in financial hardship. Whilst Liverpool will be urgently looking to conclude a deal for Mascherano, it is possibly more important to secure a replacement first. If the clubs could agree a transfer involving Sulley Muntari moving in the opposite direction, Inter Milan must be a more attractive offer to Liverpool than Barcelona.

Additional transfer funds from this sort of deal would be extremely valuable to Hodgson as he rebuilds the squad. Not that Muntari is the perfect replacement but with Liverpool’s budget in mind and without the attraction of Champions League football, there are few options available. West Ham’s Parker has been touted as a replacement but he is nearly 30 years old now and West Ham would likely want over 10million for the player.

It is certainly all change at Liverpool over the last month. The recent development with Mascherano has made Torres’ commitment even more important as the club seeks to challenge for the Champions League spots next season. The Mascherano situation is bearing similarity to last years Alonso drama. That transfer happened so late last summer that it left a huge gap in Liverpool’s squad and led to the last minute panic buy of Aquilani who has yet to deliver on his transfer fee. The whole episode definitely had a negative effect on Liverpool’s start to the season which they barely recovered from. It is crucial to avoid a repeat this year and this situation needs to be resolved urgently before the season opens against Arsenal and Manchester City.

Speculation is already rife of the comings and goings from Anfield over the next few weeks and it is certainly clear now that the most pressing and important issues for Liverpool are to fill the vacant left back position and to find a potential replacement for Mascherano.

Whatever happens I will certainly be closely following the Tweets and may even be tempted to test once again the Football Oracle of Wikipedia to keep me up-to-date on developments.

(photo provided by Elemaki)

Monday, July 26, 2010

Fernando Torres' future will be reliant on financial stability

When Fernando Torres fired home a beautifully-placed shot past Petr Cech to open his goal scoring account at Anfield there was no doubt in anyone’s mind that the Spanish striker was something special.

During his time as a youngster at Atletico Madrid he built a relationship with the clubs supporters which ensured that even on his return with Liverpool in both the Champions and Europa League he was greeted warmly by the fans of his hometown club.

At Liverpool the 26 year-old has gone a long way towards building a similar relationship with the Anfield faithful, with his determination, dedication and, obviously, his eye for goal sealing his place as a Kop legend in just three seasons.

Based on all this it might be hard to comprehend just why Fernando Torres is considering his Anfield future. Even more shocking to some would be that, should ‘El Nino’ decide to leave Liverpool, it would be all down to the money.

Torres has never been one to go chasing after big salaries, evidenced by his dedication to Atletico Madrid throughout his teenage years and early twenties despite interest from some of the biggest outfits in European football.

When Torres decided to head for England it wasn’t a decision made because of the attractive salary at Liverpool, rather it was because the Spaniard knew that to take his career to the next level he had to make the step-up to regular Champions League football.

So when I say Torres will leave Anfield because of financial issues I’m certainly not talking about his weekly wage packet.

Instead I’m talking about the ongoing financial mess that currently dominates all news surrounding Liverpool Football Club, with Tom Hicks and George Gillett’s penny-pinching ways becoming a serious cause for concern for the striker.

Since Rafael Benitez’s departure it has been revealed just how many signings the now Inter Milan boss missed out on during his tenure at Anfield, and clearly Fernando Torres knew all about those targets that slipped through the net as well.

That’s why towards the end of last season Torres publicly stated that he believes the club need to be ready to invest in four or five top-class players. A kind of ‘put your money where your mouth is’ statement aimed at the Liverpool board.

That investment, so far, hasn’t come – something which will no doubt worry Liverpool’s number nine. Over the course of the transfer window Liverpool have sold Yossi Benayoun, Emilano Insua and Albert Riera whilst only bringing in two free transfers and a low-price young defender.

Of course Joe Cole’s addition was a huge step in the right direction, as was the signings of both Milan Jovanovic and Danny Wilson. But it’s clear to see that when Torres came out and gave his opinion he probably wanted some bigger name players than what has so far been added.

The club shouldn’t be held to ransom by its top stars, of course, but it’s hard to disagree with Torres’ opinion when you see how much the club struggled with strength-in-depth last season, something which will have to worry Roy Hodgson going into the new campaign.

If the club do make a statement of intent by bringing in some players of the standard needed to get Liverpool back into Europe’s top competition than there’s no doubt in my mind that Fernando Torres will be wearing the red of Liverpool next season.

But if we are put through another summer of discontent due to a lack of signings and a sell-to-buy policy then, despite how much he loves the club, Torres may have to look elsewhere to ensure he meets his full potential.

(photo provided by Jasjohal)  

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Joe Cole in the hole... or maybe not?

My view on how Joe Cole and Milan Jovanovic bring an excellent conundrum to Liverpool’s game.

When news had filtered through that Roy Hodgson had pulled of a bit of a masterstroke by signing the creative and versatile Joe Cole I started to wonder where to play him if fellow new signing Milan Jovanovic is on the same team sheet.

On paper they can both play on the left side of the game as midfielders, however Jovanovic has spent the majority of his career as a striker, only recently being pushed to the chalk line in a similar fashion to Dirk Kuyt.

Cole however started as a wide-man and has gradually worked his way infield to the fit into the role behind the striker in the hole.

Breaking it down I would personally opt for Cole to occupy the left hand side of attack with Jovanovic as the second striker, the main reason for this is I feel Liverpool need more creativity in the middle of the park. While Alberto Aquilani may turn out to be the creative spark he was for Roma, I feel the emphasis has been on stopping the ball getting to the defence in the last season as apposed to setting up attacks.

So to have a possible midfield involving the three creative midfielders in Joe Cole, Steven Gerrard, Alberto Aquilani and Maxi Rodriguez sounds a more interesting to watch prospect for me.

I would also enjoy seeing Cole and Jovanovic swap positions during the match, I feel it could help increase the tempo of the game, much like we saw with England’s performances in the world cup qualifiers.
The change of having to deal with raw pace through the middle and neat tricks on the left, swapping to neat tricks in the middle and raw aggression on the left would help to inspire confusion in any defence next year.

Either way whatever happens I trust that Roy Hodgson has it all under control, and I look forward to seeing it all unfold next year.

(photo provided by Ryu Voelkel)

Selling Fernando Torres would be a mistake, despite what 'Lawro' says

According to ex-Liverpool defender Mark Lawrenson, selling Fernando Torres would have a number of positives for Liverpool Football Club.

Talking on BBC Radio Lawrenson spoke of how Torres simply hasn’t played enough games for Liverpool and should someone like Chelsea come in for the Spanish striker then Reds officials should seriously consider accepting the bid.

Mark goes on to talk about how the sale of Torres would allow Hodgson to add two or three quality players to his squad and really challenge for a Champions League spot.

Of course, there’s many a problem with this short-sighted opinion.

Firstly Lawrenson makes the rather large presumption that Roy Hodgson would be handed the full proceeds of the sale of Fernando Torres, a presumption which totally breaks down his argument when looking at Liverpool’s net spend record under the current ownership.

A number of players have left the club in recent years, including the world-class Xabi Alonso, yet the club have failed to offer the full proceeds of the sale to the manager, resulting in positive net spend for a succession of transfer windows.

It would also be no forgone conclusion that the club could attract two or three quality players after the sale of Fernando Torres.

 The sale of the clubs star-striker would send out a clear message to any new players coming to the club that money is more important than success, and no player, no matter how much they are paid, would want to work under those conditions.

When Fernando Torres arrived at Anfield Liverpool hadn’t had a top-quality striker since the departure of Michael Owen in 2004, and even the now-Judas striker didn’t live up to the standards of Ian Rush and co.

Selling Torres would just result, at best, in the signing of three-players who can ‘do a job’. Players who ‘do a job’ seem to have become somewhat popular at Anfield as of recent and most of them have failed to impress the Anfield faithful.

Selling Fernando Torres won’t help Liverpool get back into the Champions League. In fact it’s more likely to prevent us from doing so. The Champions League needs world-class players and that’s what Fernando Torres is and he is needed – despite what ‘Lawro’ says.

(Photo provided by Polobarba)

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Roy Hodgson's ownership comments will go down well with supporters - but actions speak louder than words

There have been lots of uncertainties surrounding the way in which Roy Hodgson will conduct himself after being given the big job at Anfield. Whilst many doubts still remain one thing’s for certain – Hodgson isn’t a puppet. 

Many worried that the former Fulham boss was brought in primarily to ensure that Tom Hicks and George Gillett, along with their board, got considerably more control over happenings both on and off the pitch after a three-year battle with Rafael Benitez.

Yet today Hodgson has firmly shown that he hasn’t come to Anfield to be used as a doormat for the two American tycoons to run rampant over the club. In an interview with The Liverpool Daily Post the new Reds boss goes as far as to say the main problem at Anfield is its current owners.

“What will lift the supporters is if we get new investment,” said the Liverpool manager. “I know supporters are very anxious for that. We can’t ever deny it.

“All the time we are in our current situation in terms of investment, the supporters are going to be sceptical. You can talk until you are blue in the face but it won’t make any difference.

“The owners are not popular with the fans; the fans want new owners, they want new investment. The gloom, if there is any, is never really going to lift until that day comes.

“I’m not going to dupe Liverpool supporters and say that everything is rosy just because we have signed Joe Cole.”

It has to be noted that Tom Hicks and George Gillett, with the help of Barclays Capital, are searching for someone to buy the club. But even still Hodgson’s shown that he’s ready to fight with a clear swipe at his current employers – a statement of intent from the man who fans have been concerned about since his appointment.

The comments show Hodgson doesn’t have his head in the sand and he knows the problems the club is facing and, most importantly it shows he is ready to take on the gargantuan task that lies ahead during the course of the next season.

The real test of Hodgson’s perseverance will come as the transfer window goes on. So far he's been relatively lucky in the fact he’s snapped up two free transfers and a low cost buy in the form of Joe Cole, Milan Jovanovic and Danny Wilson.

If reports are to be believed then Danny Wilson cost the club an initial £2 million, which leaves the clubs current net spend this summer £8m in the black.

The problems will start to occur when Hodgson wants to start spending some of the money he has recouped and possibly more beyond that. Our board have a good track record of lying to managers about transfer kitties and as they say Leopards never change their spots.

Hodgson has proved that he knows what’s going on in the club and he knows where the problems are coming from. What he now has to be willing to do is stand up to those in authority and ensure he gets what he was promised in order to rebuild this ‘sinking ship’.

If Hodgson really does care for the future of Liverpool Football Club he needs to carry on fro where he started today by turning his words into actions in order to ensure the clubs current owners and board don’t further damage the club so many of us love.

(photo provided by Nick Sarebi

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Support fan representation - save Liverpool Football Club

A successful business has the primary concern of making as big a profit as possible, with the sole aim of pleasing its shareholders.

A good business has no real concern for anything other than profit maximisation, though sometimes it may work towards other things but only in an attempt to ensure further success for the business in the future.

One of the major weaknesses of all business models is the humans that run it. A perfect business would run without humans, without the mistakes that come with being human and without the emotions people posses.

A perfect business would have no real concern for its impact on people so long as it continues to maximise its returns.

That’s why a football club can never be a perfect business.

Unfortunately that message hasn’t got through to Liverpool’s current owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett.

I don’t have to tell you what the two American tycoons have done to Liverpool FC as so many people with much better knowledge of the inner workings of Liverpool Football Club have done it time and time again, but to put it simply they’ve single-handedly undone nearly a decade of rebuilding at Anfield.

That’s why us, as fans, must act now in order to ensure the same mistakes aren’t made in the future.

Tom Hicks and George Gillett’s tenure at Anfield is set to end sometime in the near future, with the club officially up for sale and taking bids.

The sale process has admittedly been slow, with many potential bidders put off by what they perceive to be an overly-high asking price for the club. But with some pressure from the banks there’s no doubt a sale will be forced through over the next couple of years.

But in order to ensure that yet more businessmen don’t take the club for all its worth fans must have their place on the Liverpool board.

Considering I’m a member of Spirit of Shankly –The Liverpool Supporters Union – it’s probably a surprise that I think that fan ownership is an unrealistic prospect for the club. To put it simply I believe there’s not enough fans who will put in enough money in time for the sale of the club.

However, what is certainly a prospect is fans owning a stake in the club which will give them voting power on all major decisions.

It may not be the ideal situation but even being a minority shareholder will give fans a voice and that’s what needs to happen once Tom Hicks and George Gillett finally head out of Anfield.

Whilst a football club can never be a perfect business there is still money to be made and there’s certain to be a number of parties who want to profit from Liverpool Football Club. What fan representation ensures is that those who are out to make money don’t do it to the determent of the club.

That’s why I support the Spirit of Shankly/ Share Liverpool Credit Union scheme which will help bring about at least some form of fan representation.

If you’re concerned about the future of the club I suggest you support the scheme to, otherwise it may mean the club moves from one set of renegade owners to another.

Photo provided by Tracy Olson

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