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Farewell to Fowler, Goodbye to God

Farewell to Fowler, Goodbye to God
Written by Keith Perkins on May 15th, 2007 ▪ Subscribe to TIA Alerts

Surely the most difficult part in writing a tribute to Robbie Fowler has to be in deciding what to leave out. Robbie Fowler was highly rated as an up-and-coming young player in the early 1990’s, ready to earn his way into the senior squad. There were many groans and rolling eyes when he was labelled as the next Ian Rush, simply because there could never be another one. Or could there?

Robbie reached one hundred goals for Liverpool in one game less that Rush, and scored more than thirty goals for three consecutive seasons. What’s more, that was when he was still developing his talents, and during which time he received the PFA Young Player of the Year Award in both 1995 and 1996. He went on to win the FA Cup, the League Cup twice, the UEFA Cup, the Charity Shield, and the UEFA Super Cup before moving on to Leeds United and Manchester City.

There have been so many occasions when we would sit back in awe at the natural talents of the young player who became known as God, and there were also many occasions when we laughed in spite of ourselves at the antics of a mischievous lad who didn’t seem to be able to keep himself out of trouble for very long. Of course I’m thinking of his crawl along the goal line after scoring in the 1999 Merseyside derby, while holding one side of his nose and miming an act that was suggestive of something that he was being accused of at the time. That resulted in a fine and a four game suspension by the FA. That was also at the same time that he received a further two game suspension for provocatively waving his posterior at a Chelsea defender, as a way of taunting him for his allegedly questionable masculinity. Before either of those incidents there was the Cup Winners Cup match in 1997 where he lifted up his shirt after scoring to reveal a tee shirt with a slogan in support of the sacked Liverpool Dockers. That was sufficient for him to be fined by UEFA, but was priceless in how it increased his popularity amongst the people of Merseyside.

Those are the ones that come to mind first, but if I had to choose just one incident then it would be the 1997 match against Arsenal at Highbury where Robbie was apparently tripped in the penalty area as he ran in on goal. From the angle of the television camera, it looked like a sure penalty and it was no surprise that the referee immediately blew his whistle and pointed to the spot. But Robbie got up and faced the referee, shaking his head and gesturing frantically with his hands that it was not a foul and so should not be a penalty. Without the benefit of a replay, and as referees are so inclined, the decision stood. Robbie coolly stepped up to take the kick and the ball flew quite comfortably toward David Seaman’s hands, only for him to parry the shot which was then tapped in by Jason McAteer. The commentator at the time described Robbie’s miss as “justice” for the mistaken call, but there’s a definite suspicion that Robbie wasn’t really trying (McAteer was seemingly unaware of the plot). That’s just one incident that would have faded into obscurity if it hadn’t been for the fact that Robbie received a UEFA Fair Play award for his honesty, countering all of those “bad boy” incidents.

fowler and maccaRobbie was known as a “natural” goal scorer, and he gave us plenty of those to remember. Again, choosing just one or two is an almost impossible task. Should it be the wonder goal against Aston Villa where he dummied with his back to goal at the Kop end, turned his marker (former Liverpool full back Steve Staunton) inside out, and left him standing as he went on a twenty yard run which inevitably finished with the ball almost bursting the net? Or, should it be the four minute and thirty three second hat-trick (still a Premier League record) against Arsenal in 1994? If not one of those, then how about the wonder strike against Manchester United at Old Trafford in 1995? That was another classic Fowler strike where what looked like a run at goal from an impossible angle, on the left side of the area, ended up with the ball flying into the roof of the net with Peter Schmeichel stunned and wondering what had just happened. Actually, the most memorable for me of all Robbie’s goals was in the last match of the 2001 Treble season against Charlton Athletic. That match was described as a “final,” as it was the one that we had to win in order to guarantee entry to the Champions League for the following season. With the score 0-0 at half time, Liverpool came out in the second half determined to break through. Following a corner that should have been easily cleared from the Charlton area, Robbie managed to get a foot under the ball as it travelled away from the goal, and flipped it up over his head where it looped up into the top right corner of the net. That was the first of two for Robbie in a 4-0 win. It’s fitting then that Robbie’s last Premier League appearance for Liverpool should be against Charlton Athletic, and that he may still play a part in the Champions League final later this month. If it wasn’t for Robbie’s wonder goal against Charlton six years ago, we might not be there at all.

It was a sad day for all of us when his transfer to Leeds was officially announced at the end of 2001, but we hung on to the memories of Robbie that we had accumulated over all those years that he was known as God to us. He often said that he would crawl on his hands and knees to come back to Liverpool if given the chance, which showed just how much he missed the club. The feeling was mutual and so it was no surprise that the club jumped at the chance to bring him back on loan from Manchester City in the 2006 January transfer window. His permanent move to his beloved club was made official soon after, and we are all fortunate indeed that he was given the chance to fulfill his desire, and to see him play out his career at the top level.

Inevitably the time has now come for us to say farewell to Fowler or goodbye to God, and wish him well as he looks ahead to new challenges. No matter what Robbie does in the future, I’m sure it will bring success. He’s shown that not only is he a superstar as a player but also that he’s a highly capable businessman. Whatever happens, we can be sure that he’ll never be away from Anfield for long and will use any excuse to return in any capacity.

Until then, thanks for the memories and all the best for the future Robbie – You’ll Never Walk Alone.

Keith Perkins

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The Fowler Story in Pictures

The Fowler Story in Pictures
Written by Matt Ladson on May 16th, 2007 ▪ Subscribe to TIA Alerts

The story of this legendary striker features so many goals, so many memories, so many highlights, controversies, awards and records it would be an understatement to describe it as a ‘colourful’ career!

From the memorable goal against Villa in the FA Cup semi final in 1996; the Brann Bergen training ground strike; putting Gary Neville on his backside then embarassing Schmeichel at his near past in Cantona’s return at Old Trafford; the goals in the two 4-3 thrillers against Newcastle; the Birmingham and Alaves Final goals in the treble cup year; his smashing volley at Leicester in 2001 before he was sold by Houllier; the five goals against Fulham on his home debut; the Merseyside derby winner in front of the Kop and the faster ever Premiership hat trick against Arsenal in 1994.

The player who scored 100 goals for the club faster than the great Ian Rush; the player who won the PFA Player of the Year in 1995 and 1996; the player who finished top scorer in his first four seasons - scoring 18 in his first year and over 30 in the following three until injuries hit.

The same player who, in 1997, took a fine after showing his support for the Liverpool Dockers with a message on his t-shirt, and then won a UEFA Fair Play award after admitting that he had not been fouled by David Seaman at Highbury after a penalty had been given.

The man who left in 2001 but said in his autobiography he felt there was “unfinished business” at Liverpool, then returned in 2006 and proclaimed he “felt like a kid waking up on Christmas morning”.

Ladies and gentlemen, we give you Mr. Robbie Fowler.

Young Fowler Fowler made his debut against Fulham at Craven Cottage on 22 September 1993, he scored once but scored five in the return leg at Anfield two weeks later!

fowler The goals continued to flow with a hat trick in fifth League appearance against Southampton, 18 goals in his first season, 30 in all three seasons there after, and the quickest ever Premiership hat trick against Arsenal in 1995.
Coca Cup Success 1995 1995 saw Fowler get his first taste of silverware, but it was his best friend Steve McManaman who took the plaudits with a virtuoso display, scoring both goals in what was later hailed the ‘McManaman Final’.
England Five England honours soon followed with his debut against Bulgaria on 27th March 1996. There was a strong Liverpool contingent with the national side as Fowler lined up alongside Jamie Redknapp, Rob Jones, Mark Wright and McManaman.
Fowler celebrates The first 4-3 thriller against Newcastle in 1996 saw Fowler and Stan Collymore linking up to great effect - a match which was voted the Premiership game of the decade.
Fowler and McManaman Defeat in the FA Cup Final in 1996 was hard to take, coming against bitter rivals Man United at Wembley.
‘Spice Boys’ Roy Evans’ team of good looking players and attractive attacking football were labelled ‘Spice Boys’ by the media - with girl band the Spice Girls hitting the English pop scene in 96.
Fowler in 96 The goals continued to flow for Fowler and he celebrated scoring on the opening day of the 96-97 season at Middlesbrough.
Fowler scores 100th goal The home match against Boro that same season saw Robbie strike four goals to pass his 100th goal for the club and beat Ian Rush’s record.
Defeat to PSG But title hopes faded with errors from David James in crucial fixtures - and in Europe where PSG’s 3-0 win in the semi final first leg proved too much to overcome at Anfield in the return leg.
Fowler Fowler’s downturn in fortunes began in 1998, after a knee ligament injury kept him out of action for half the season and caused him to miss the World Cup. This also coincided with the rise of Michael Owen who established himself in Fowler’s absence.
Fowler controversy Controversy often surrounded Fowler but he dealt with it in his own way with this celebration in the Merseyside derby in 1999.
Worthington Cup 2001 The League Cup again proved fruitful for Fowler in 2001 as he scored a great volley against Birmingham and won the man of the match award as Liverpool won on penalties in Cardiff.
Uefa Cup 2001 With the FA Cup won days earlier it was Dortmund and the UEFA Cup Final where one of Fowler’s greatest moments arrived, coming on as sub to score a great goal with his right foot into the bottom corner as Liverpool won 5-4 on a golden goal in extra time.
Fowler 2001 Fowler’s overhead goal against Charlton on the final day secures Champions League football for the following season as the Reds finish fourth and win three trophies.
Fowler and Houllier With Emile Heskey and Owen seemingly Houllier’s favoured partnership Fowler is often left out by the boss. In 2001 he scored a hat trick against Leicester but was dropped for the following league game. His last appearance in his first period at Liverpool was against Sunderland when he was substituted at half-time.
Fowler in 2006 In January 2006 on transfer deadline day Rafa Benitez re-signs Fowler from Man City on a free transfer. He celebrates his 31st birthday scoring against Bolton - one of his five goals in his return season.

Fowler says goodbye On May 13th 2007 Fowler said goodbye to the Liverpool fans after their final game of the season against Charlton. But could there yet be one final twist in the Fowler story in Athens on Mary 23rd…?


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Robbie Fowler – My Hero

Robbie Fowler – My Hero
Written by Ste Speed on May 30th, 2007 ▪ Subscribe to TIA Alerts

A couple of weeks ago a little piece of my heart was broken. I knew the day was going to come and I’d been dreading it for a while. Even though I knew it was just wishful thinking, I still held out hope that this day would be postponed for one more year. It was the day it was announced that Robbie Fowler’s time as a Liverpool player has come to an end.

I have so many great memories of Robbie Fowler and watching Liverpool games will never be the same again for me. This season we haven’t seen as much of The Growler as I’d have liked but even when he was on the bench it was still exciting because it was still possible for him to come on and score. He may have lost some pace and injuries may have taken their toll but there is still no doubting his ability to find the goal from anywhere. Wherever he goes to next he still has plenty to offer at a decent level.

I still vividly remember the buzz and excitement when he exploded onto the scene back in September 1993. He scored on his debut against Fulham in the League Cup and then followed it up two weeks later with five goals in the second leg. In only his fifth first team game he smashed his first league hat-trick against Southampton and went on to score twelve goals in his first thirteen games. He finished his first season at Liverpool as the clubs top scorer with eighteen goals. Amazing fairytale stuff when you consider that Ian Rush was still a presence and Robbie was still a teenager.

There have been a number of young players in recent years who have had plenty of hype and had high profiles, Wayne Rooney and Michael Owen are probably the two most notable. However nobody has even come close to matching what Robbie Fowler achieved in his first four seasons at Liverpool.

After a terrific first season he went on to score over thirty goals in each of his next three seasons. Within three years he had scored his first one hundred goals, with the hundredth coming in a game against Middlesbrough when he scored four. During these seasons he scored some very memorable goals that really stand out in my memory and I’m sure they do for you too.

There was the famous four minute hat-trick against Arsenal at Anfield in 1994. I remember another great hat-trick away at Aston Villa in 1996. This was another one where he scored pretty quickly at the start of the game. One of the goals is pretty famous, it’s the one where he nutmegged Steve Staunton with a back heel before smashing it in the top corner. That game was on Sky on a Sunday afternoon and I had stupidly booked a driving lesson at the same time as the game. Fortunately my instructor was fifteen minutes late so I didn’t miss the Fowler blitz! When I told my driving instructor, who was an Evertonian, what had just happened, he had to come into the house and see the score with his own eyes!

I think my favourite Fowler goals during his early days, are the two stunners he scored against Man Utd at Old Trafford in 1995. It was early in the season so Robbie still had the blonde hair from a summer holiday prank. Both goals were absolutely awesome and he beat Peter Schmeichel (the best goalie in the world at that time) from ridiculous angles. Unfortunately for Robbie this game was Eric Cantona’s comeback game after his eight month suspension for the scissor kick into the crowd. Cantona scored with a late penalty to make it 2 - 2 and it was the Frenchman who dominated the headlines afterwards so the two pearler’s from Fowler never got the attention they deserved.

It’s not just amazing goals that made Robbie Fowler so popular with the fans. It was also his propensity to be involved in controversial and often hilarious incidents. Probably the most famous of these would be the goal-line sniffing incident against Everton in 1999 after he’d scored his second goal of the game. This was in reference to the cocaine rumours that were extremely prevalent on Merseyside for many years, mostly spread by Everton fans. I wish I had a pound for every person in the late nineties I met who claimed to know somebody, usually a taxi driver or a relative, who had sworn they’d seen Fowler sneaking into the cubicles in nightclub bathrooms with mysterious white powder. I never really believed it was true (despite convincing arguments thrown at me) but the talk was so strong it really did cause a lot of hurt for Robbie and his family.

Houllier said afterwards in the press conference that Robbie did it as a tribute to Rigobert Song who brought a grass eating celebration from Cameroon. Houllier was laughed out of the press conference (while he himself was deadly serious) and in the papers the next day he was made into a joke. Houllier never forgave Fowler and in Robbie’s autobiography he says he’s been told that this was the moment Houllier considered him to be finished at Liverpool.

Other notable incidents include the moment he showed his backside to Graeme Le Saux of Chelsea just one week after the goal-line moment. There was history with Le Saux and Liverpool stemming from the previous season when he had a punch up in the Anfield tunnel with Paul Ince. Le Saux had given Robbie a few nasty elbows and as retaliation he began making suggestive comments about Le Saux’s sexuality. After Le Saux had complained, Fowler then bent over in a suggestive manner towards him as he went for a throw in and he was booked. Afterwards Robbie received a ban and a £32,000 fine by the F.A.

In 1997 after he had scored a goal in front of The Kop against S.K Brann in the Cup Winners Cup, Robbie celebrated by lifting his shirt to reveal a T-shirt showing support for the striking Liverpool dockers. It’s since been revealed the Fowler and Steve McManaman both contributed funds to the families of the dockers. Many of those dockers and their families were regulars at Anfield and it was this type of support from Robbie that made him God to the supporters. Amazingly he actually received a fine from UEFA for his actions in revealing the Dockers T-shirt.

Ironically that year, he also won a UEFA Fair Play award for admitting that he had not been fouled by David Seaman against Arsenal after a penalty had been given. After unsuccessfully trying to convince the referee to change his decision about the penalty Fowler took it tamely and Seaman saved, the ball rebounded however and Jason McAteer tucked it home.

After Gerard Houllier took charge of Liverpool, Robbie’s career went downhill. He had a knee ligament injury in 1998 that kept him out for the majority of the year. While he was out injured Michael Owen came to prominence and was showing signs of being the ‘new Fowler’ after a memorable World cup and a hatfull of goals for The Reds. Houllier liked to play a counter attacking style that involved playing a lone striker with bags of pace. Unfortunately after he came back from his serious injury, Robbie had lost some of his pace and Houllier preferred to go with Owen and later Emile Heskey who were both a lot faster than him. In both Fowler’s and Owen’s autobiographies they reveal that Houllier told them they were both competing to partner Heskey who was the main man in Houllier’s opinion. Can you believe that? Houllier made some farcical decisions at times (substituting Hamman against Leverkusen) and trying to suggest the hard working but limited Heskey over two of our greatest ever strikers is just absurd.

Despite not getting along with Houllier, he was the team captain during the 2000/01 season while the club captain Jamie Redknapp was out injured for the entire season. This was the year we won the treble and it was definitely Fowler’s most successful under Houllier. Robbie scored in two of the finals. He scored a belter in the league Cup Final against Birmingham City. The commentary is memorable for that one by Clive Tyldesley: “Fowler’s hit, Fowlers goal”. He was a substitute during the 2001 FA Cup Final against Arsenal. This was the Owen show however with his two late goals to steal the cup from Arsenal who had dominated the first eighty minutes. Robbie almost added a third right the end when he went one on one with Seaman.

He was also a substitute for the UEFA Cup Final against Alaves in Dortmund but this time he came on and scored a cracker to make it 4 – 3. That was one of my favourite moments ever in football. I stood in the pub screaming “Fowler, Fowler, Fowler” for about thirty seconds, as my dad and other fellas came bursting out of the gents with pee on their pants after hearing the roars from the rest of the pub. It was great to see him lift another trophy that season, along with vice captain Sami Hyppia.

The start of the 2001/02 season was littered with controversy and fights between Robbie and Houllier and Phil Thompson. It started badly at the Charity Shield when we beat Man Utd. The week before the game the players were practising penalties at Melwood. Phil Thompson was retrieving balls from the goal net when Robbie blasted one that just missed Thommo’s nose by inches. Thompson went beserk and laid into Robbie with his trademark foul language and temper. Houllier informed Robbie that he was dropped for the Charity Shield and wouldn’t play again until he apologised for the penalty incident. Robbie travelled to Cardiff with the rest of the team but ended up leaving before the end and making his own way home.

There was still time however for one more magic moment from The Growler when he scored a hat-trick away at Leicester City in his final full game for Liverpool. Just one month later he was sold to Leeds Utd for £11 million in November 2002. He stayed there for one and a half seasons. Injuries blighted his time there but he still managed to score fifteen goals in thirty one appearances. After Leeds Utd started selling off their big names due to debt, Robbie moved on to Man City where he once again struggled with injury and never really regained the form he showed at Anfield. The most notable moment in his first season with Man City was when he missed a last minute penalty that prevented them from qualifying for the UEFA Cup.

In January 2006 I had moved to Vancouver, Canada. I was at work one day when a text message came from my dad. That was the best text message I have ever received and I still have it on my phone today. The message reads: “Fowler has signed 4 Reds on a free till end of season! How gr8 is that finally a proven goal scorer!” I had no idea at the time that he was even rumoured to be coming back so this text took me completely by surprise. As soon as I read it, I rubbed my eyes and looked at it again, then I jumped out of my chair and began doing a weird form of Irish jig through my workplace in jubilation. When I got home and was able to check on the internet for clarification, I don’t think I stopped smiling for weeks!

He scored an overhead kick in front of The Kop on his first game back but unfortunately it was offside. He had another goal against Charlton ruled offside a few weeks later, although that one was a bad decision. He finally got his return goal, ironically against Fulham, and then he was flying for the rest of the season. He scored goals against, Blackburn, Bolton and Portsmouth, showing that his eye for goal was still there. He also seemed to be playing with a passion and fitness not displayed in years and all of this was enough for Rafa to offer him a one year contract for 2006/2007.

With the purchase of Craig Bellamy and Dirk Kuyt for this season, Fowler hasn’t played very often but when he has played, he’s certainly made a terrific contribution to the team. So far he has scored seven goals this season, that’s only two less than Bellamy who has played a considerable amount more games than Robbie. I truly hope that he manages to get involved at some stage during the Champions League Final. Is it too much to dream that he’ll score the winning goal in his final game?

Whatever you like to call him, The Toxteth Terror, The Growler or simply God, I prefer to use two words to describe Robbie Fowler – My Hero.


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Benitez eyeing move for Lyon midfielder

Benitez eyeing move for Lyon midfielder

May 29 2007

by Ian Doyle, Liverpool Daily Post

Rafael Benitez

RAFAEL BENITEZ is contemplating making Lyon midfielder Florent Malouda his first major signing of the summer.

The France international left-winger is among several players the Liverpool manager is tracking as he prepares to radically overhaul his squad following the Champions League final defeat against AC Milan last Wednesday.

Benitez intimated over the weekend he expects Liverpool to make a major signing by the end of the week.

Malouda, who is available for around £10million, announced earlier this month that he wants to leave Lyon, with the French club’s chairman Jean-Michel Aulas having given the player until June 30 to agree a move to another club.

The 26-year-old was last week named the French league’s player of the year after helping the departed Gerard Houllier’s Lyon to a sixth successive title, contributing eight goals and five assists.

“I want to be sorted quickly,” said Malouda, who is also a target for several other top European clubs. “If nothing happens from now on, that would mean that the clubs who have approached me are not really convinced about recruiting me.

“If that is the case, there is no point in leaving. I don’t want to go wherever.

“If I leave, it will be under the best circumstances, for me and for Lyon.”

Malouda has won 28 caps with and scored three goals with France, and was part of the team that finished runners-up in last year’s World Cup, winning the penalty in the final against Italy from which Zinedine Zidane scored.

Ukrainian striker Andriy Voronin, Brazilian midfielder Lucas Leiva and young Argentine Sebastian Leto will already join Liverpool in the close season.

And the Anfield outfit yesterday confirmed the arrival of Hungarian teenagers Krisztian Nemeth and Andras Simon from MTK Hungaria.

Nemeth, 18, and Simon, 17, appeared for Hungary in last year’s UEFA Under-17 Championships, and will bolster the reserve team squad.

However, Djibril Cisse is almost certain to depart with Marseille keen for the striker to remain at the French club.

Cisse spent this season on loan at the Stade Velodrome, scoring 14 times in 26 appearances including a brace in the dramatic French cup final defeat at the hands of Sochaux.

And Marseille chairman Pape Diouf has reiterated his desire to being negotiations with Liverpool over the player.

“I think in spite of the problems Djibril has experienced, a lot of people would be happy if he was to remain with us, and I think he would be happy to remain with us,” said Diouf.

“We have not been able to give a response to Liverpool because we had a season to finish and they had a Champions League final to play. They have happened and nothing can now stop us starting discussions with them.”

In contrast, Peter Crouch yesterday insisted he was staying put after revealing Benitez has assured him he has a future at Anfield.

Newcastle United manager Sam Allardyce is reported to be ready to table a bid for Crouch, who finished the season as Liverpool’s top scorer with 18 goals.

But Crouch said: “The manager has told me I’m part of his plans and that’s good enough for me.

“At a club like Liverpool there’s going to be competition for places, especially as the manager likes to chop and change.”


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Athens woe prompted Benitez outburst May 29 2007 by Mark Lawrenson, Liverpool Daily Post RAFAEL BENITEZ’S reaction to the Champions League final defeat might have set alarm bells ringing among fans and boardroom members. But I for one won’t be worrying about the future of the manager despite the fact that he sounded pretty fed up with things in the aftermath of the defeat to AC Milan. When you break it down, what he actually said wasn’t anything we didn’t already know. We know Liverpool need better players and have to rebuild the squad again. We know the new owners have to splash the cash to make them more competitive with Manchester United and Chelsea. We know that signings are better made sooner rather than later because bringing in players later on in the summer doesn’t help, as proven by the transfer activity at Anfield last year. I think what Rafa was most upset about on Thursday morning was the fact that he knows he will probably never get a better chance to win a second European Cup. He just transferred this disappointment into his press conference and, because it was his final and arguably most important one of the season it generated the most sensational stories. But I have no doubt it was the result in Athens, rather than concerns over his long-term future with Liverpool, that was really bugging Benitez. That Milan team won’t go down as one of the better teams to have won the European Cup and for long periods in the game Liverpool did manage to subdue them. But when you’re playing well you have to score at those times and that’s what cost Liverpool. If they had done it and won a sixth European Cup there wouldn’t have been the same negative spin on the questioning to Rafa so he might not have made those bold statements and the headlines that appeared towards the end of the week would never have surfaced. But that wouldn’t have done anything to alter the fact that things do need to change at Liverpool. By publicly demanding money from the owners – which they have now agreed to come up with – I don’t think Benitez has put himself under any more pressure than he normally does anyway. He’s been around long enough to know the law of the jungle. Once you establish yourself as a top four club you have to win something and you have to come up with the goods on a consistent basis. This coming season, Benitez’s fourth, was always going to be the one when he really had to produce so what he said last week doesn’t make any difference to that. He can cope with the pressure and the expectation and, when you strip away the disappointment of Athens, he has arguably never been in a better position. They’ve just had a European Cup final they could have won and the new owners have belief in him and will let him do what he wants to do. If that can start now with some new players early in the close season, Benitez will pull himself out of that pit of despair back into Utopia.

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Liverpool deals put on hold for internationals

Liverpool deals put on hold for internationals May 28 2007 by Nick Smith, Liverpool Daily Post RAFAEL BENITEZ’S hopes of finalising new contracts for several key players this week could be frustrated by international commitments. The Liverpool manager, who had put talks on hold until after last week’s Champions League final against AC Milan, is keen to conclude negotiations as he begins the process of rebuilding his squad. Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher have agreed to new deals while Pepe Reina has intimated he wants to extend his stay at the club. But Benitez is likely to have to wait for the trio to put pen to paper given they are involved in Euro 2008 qualifiers. Steve Finnan will also sign a new contract, and Benitez is hopeful Xabi Alonso can agree a fresh deal despite interest from Barcelona. Benitez, who is now on a short holiday, last week revealed his growing exasperation at the length of time taken for contract and transfer dealings to be concluded at Anfield. Those comments prompted a transatlantic conference call on Friday evening involving American owners George Gillett and Tom Hicks, their respective sons Foster and Tommy, chief executive Rick Parry and Benitez himself. And reports over the weekend suggest the Liverpool manager expects the first major new signing of the summer to be on board by the end of the week. With the Spanish league season still ongoing, that would appear to rule out, at least for now, the likes of David Silva, David Villa, Samuel Eto’o and Fernando Torres. Instead, efforts are more likely focused on targets elsewhere, which include Benfica’s Simao Sabrosa, Lyon’s Florent Lamouda and Carlos Tevez of West Ham United. Any new arrival would be the latest step of a major summer overhaul for Benitez’s squad. Mark Gonzalez, Jerzy Dudek, Robbie Fowler and Bolo Zenden have played their last games for the club while the futures of Craig Bellamy, Harry Kewell and John Arne Riise are uncertain. Sami Hyypia could be another to depart, with promoted Sunderland joining neighbours Newcastle United in attempting to capture the Finnish centre-back. Momo Sissoko, though, wants to extend his Anfield career – provided he remains a part of Benitez’s long-term plans. The midfielder will seek talks with the Liverpool manager over his future with Barcelona thought to be tracking the Mali international. Sissoko, who had been struggling with a knee injury, didn’t even make the bench for the Champions League final defeat in Athens last Wednesday. And the 22-year-old said: “At the beginning of the season I played a lot, but then I play, not play, play, not play – for me I am not happy. “Now I'm 22, and I know I am still a young player, but now I need to progress because playing every game is important to me. “I've two years left on my contract and I'm happy with Liverpool. But I need to play football and now after the final I need to know my position.” Meanwhile, reports in Hungary claim Liverpool have signed Krisztian Nemeth and Andras Simon from MTK Hungaria. Strikers Nemeth, 18, and Simon, 17, appeared for Hungary in last year’s UEFA Under-17 Championships.

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Crouch: Rafa wants me to stay

Peter Crouch has revealed Rafa Benitez has assured him he has a future at Liverpool. The beanpole striker had to battle with Craig Bellamy and Dirk Kuyt for a starting berth at Anfield last term and is now having to contend with speculation about his future. Benitez, armed with a sizeable transfer kitty, is set to revamp his squad this summer and both Crouch and Bellamy have been linked with the Anfield exit door. Newcastle chief Sam Allardyce is reported to be ready to table a bid for Crouch, but the England international claims Benitez has told him he has a role to play on Merseyside. "He's (Benitez) told me I'm part of his plans and that's good enough for me," Crouch told Sky Sports News. "At a club like Liverpool there's going to be competition for places, especially as the manager likes to chop and change."

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2007/2008 new kit

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Eto'o admits Liverpool liking

Samuel Eto'o has admitted he would be tempted by a move to Liverpool - amid reports the Reds have already launched a bid for him.

Eto'o has been continually linked with a move to England in recent months, with Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United all credited with an interest.

Eto'o has now spoken about Liverpool particularly - whilst Spanish sources claim the Anfield outfit have offered Xabi Alonso plus cash to Barcelona for the Cameroonian ace.

"The great thing about Liverpool is their team spirit. It is very strong," he explained in the Sunday Mirror.

"But, for me, it is their fans who win matches for Liverpool because they have so much power. They are fantastic. Any player would love to have those types of fans behind him. I have played at Anfield in the Champions League quarter-final so I know all about their fantastic supporters.

"It would be wonderful to have that kind of support as a Liverpool player but I really don't know what will happen in the next two years.

"Every time I turn around so many things have happened and changed. So I can't think about it yet.

"But you never know.

"If I play in the Premiership I will be the first to say. It won't be in the newspapers - I will be the one to break the news!"

Eto'o denied having any contact with other clubs and feels he is set to remain at Barcelona.

"I have not heard anything from Liverpool or anyone else. These things don't come through to me," he said.

"I'm only thinking about next season and I will be here next season. But every year that passes things become a bit more difficult.

"English football has changed a lot for the better over the past few years. I've seen English teams playing matches which have been very exciting.

"It's been like watching a dream team. Chelsea have been spectacular at times - they have played real football.

"And when I saw Liverpool play Chelsea in the Champions League semi-final I was impressed by the way Liverpool played a more strategic, attacking game.

"There was dribbling and great skill in that match. And when we played them I thought, 'Are we playing against Liverpool or a Spanish team?'

"I love the way the fans in England get behind their team. I respect their mentality. They are so positive in supporting their own team rather than, as happens in Spain, being against the opposition.

"That's the big difference between England and Spain."

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Parry plays down Benitez reports

Parry plays down Benitez reports
Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez
Benitez has a long list of reported summer targets
Liverpool chief executive Rick Parry has played down reports that manager Rafael Benitez is unhappy with the progress made over new signings.

Parry insists American owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett will provide Benitez with money for transfers.

"They think Rafa is the right man for the job, they think he's a fantastic coach and they want to provide him with the backing," he told BBC Five Live.

"The position is to focus on getting things done and stop the speculation."

Spaniard Benitez has called for substantial funds so he can strengthen his squad in a bid to challenge Manchester United and Chelsea for the Premiership title

The Reds reached this season's Champions League final, where they lost to AC Milan, but again fell short in the league, finishing the season 21 points behind champions United.

It is now 17 years since Liverpool last won the domestic title.

"The commitment of the owners is absolutely clear," added Parry.


"They are going to provide backing and have made that clear to Rafa and we will be moving forward very positively."

However, Gillett is not convinced the Premiership crown is a realistic target next season.

"I don't know if we are capable of challenging for the title next year," stated the American.

"We want to make progress but it is a multiple-year programme. We want to challenge but we won't do it overnight.

"Manchester United are formidable competitors, Arsenal are one year older, with brilliant young players, and Chelsea are not going to get any worse.

"Next season is up to Rafa Benitez and our chief executive Rick Parry.

"They have a plan and we're working on it. We're right behind it but we've got a big job to do."

Meanwhile, Parry hopes Uefa make positive strides in assessing and reacting to the crowd chaos at the Champions League final in Athens.

Thousands of Liverpool fans failed to get into the ground, despite having tickets, and riot police used tear gas and batons outside the Olympic Stadium to quell disturbances as supporters were turned away.

Uefa spokesman William Gaillard has suggested future finals could be rotated around stadiums with a capacity of at least 70,000 and Parry would back such a plan.

"It has got to be a good idea to stage finals in stadiums that are up to the task," said Parry.

There was real breakdown in procedures by any analysis
Rick Parry

"To have a stadium with no counting systems and no turnstiles in this day and age is simply unforgivable for any standard of game, let alone a major final.

"We produced a report for Uefa the week before predicting, sadly, all of the things that actually did go wrong.

"We told Uefa our intelligence suggested there were 5,000 forged tickets in existence.

"They knew and we knew that thousands would travel without tickets and stressed the need for a proper check at the outer cordon.

"We don't condone the behaviour of Liverpool fans who charged gates, who stole tickets or knowingly had forgeries but, at the same time, we are hugely concerned that many innocent fans with valid tickets did not get in.

"There was real breakdown in procedures by any analysis and the checks at the outer cordon clearly didn't work.

"Short of having 40,000 tickets you are always going to have disappointed people.

"But 17,000 was nowhere near enough. We have seen the numbers in Dortmund for the Uefa Cup final in 2001 and Istanbul for the Champions League final two years ago and it was clear there was going to be the same or even a greater demand in Athens."

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Benitez backed for transfer spree

Benitez backed for transfer spree
Striker Michael Owen
Owen scored 179 goals in 351 games over eight years at Anfield
Liverpool co-owners George Gillett and Tom Hicks have vowed to back boss Rafa Benitez in the summer transfer market.

And American Gillett has not discounted a move for former Reds striker Michael Owen, whose future at Newcastle has been the topic of intense speculation.

"He is a great player but it is down to Rafa's recommendation, not us," Gillett said of the England international.

In an effort to stave off interested parties, new Magpies boss Sam Allardyce met Owen for the first time this week.

Allardyce interrupted his holiday to talk to the 27-year-old in the build-up to the England B international against Albania and outline his ambitions for the St James' Park outfit.


Owen has spent 10 months on the sidelines fighting his way back to full fitness and managed to play in his club's last three games of a difficult season.

But there are reports of a get-out clause in his contract and speculation that he could be available for as little as £9m.

Owen moved to Tyneside in a £17m deal from Real Madrid in August 2005, but has managed only 14 appearances to date following knee and metatarsal injuries, although he has scored seven goals in his first 10 starts.

If Rafa said he wanted to buy 'Snoogy Doogy' we would back him
George Gillett

In eight years at Anfield before his move to Spain, Owen scored 179 goals in 351 appearances.

But Gillett and Hicks are not limiting themselves to Owen after promising Benitez funds to help Liverpool compete for the Premiership next season.

"If Rafa said he wanted to buy 'Snoogy Doogy' we would back him," added Gillett.

"Rafa's feeling is we need more depth because of the rigours of the schedule to be competitive.

"In every sport I participate in, there is a difference between a league season and the play-offs.

"That's where the genius of the manager is so essential and that's where Tom and I have to defer to his background and genius."

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Dudek - We were better in Athens

Dudek - We were better in Athens
Written by Matt Ladson on May 26th, 2007 ▪ Subscribe to TIA Alerts

Jerzy Dudek - the hero from Istanbul two years ago - thinks that Liverpool’s performance was better in Athens than in Istanbul.

Dudek writes on his official website:

“Before the match we believed that there is no way AC Milan is going to play better than two years ago, when they lost against us after the penalty shootout. We were right. On the other hand, our performance was more convincing in Athens than in Istanbul. However, Turkey not Greece turned out to be the place, where we could raise the Champions Cup.”

“It was clear right from the beginning that the first goal will determine the match’s outcome. In the first half, after some mistakes from Milan’s defenders, we came very close to scoring. We played well in this part of the game - we stringed a few nice passes and obtained an advantage. However, when the game is so even, details such as a foul, free kick or a corner kick might became decisive. This was the case in our game. Milan won a doubtful free kick just before the penalty area. The set piece was taken by Andrea Pirlo and Filippo Inzaghi changed the ball’s trajectory, which confused Pepe Reina. We lost a goal in the crucial moment of the match. It determined the whole game.”

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Bring Back Reebok

So, this summer will see our fourth and fifth new kits since adidas took over the kit manufacturing from Reebok last summer. The white third/European kit (worn on, I think, a whole two occasions - Watford and Barcelona away?) and the horrible looking yellow kit are both now retired for white and black replacements.

The new away kit (pictured above right) is white with red trim, unfortunately it sports the Carslberg logo in a horrible green. Surely that green could have been red and at least match the rest of the design? The design though isn’t too bad - the kit overall looks better than the nasty yellow of this season.

The new third kit (pictured left) is an odd choice of colour in that it is black - have we ever had a black kit before? We’re not Man United are we? I always thought the away kit became the new third kit each season, and we alternated between yellow and white for away kits so we had three different colours each season. Obviously not any more. And, to me, the black kit in particular looks more like a training top.

New Premier League LetteringThankfully, the home kit will not change - as per the club charter which states the home kit will remain for two season each time. Mind you, if you have names and numbers on yours then it is out of date as the Premier League (note, the Premier League not the Premiership since it has now been rebranded in the UK) has changed the letters and numbering for this season for a more modern look (click image to left).

The biggest problem I have with all the adidas kits so far, is that are in no way whatsoever unique to Liverpool FC. These designs will be similar if not the same as Chelsea will wear this season - and teams around Europe. In fact, FC Toronto in the MLS already wear our new away kit, just in slightly different colours [Image Link]

adidas come up with a few jersey designs each year which are available to any team in the world from junior league to Sunday league - very nice kits for your local pub team, sure. But the problem is that your local pub team can have pretty much the same kit as Liverpool FC - the same design at least.

Adidas kitsTake a look at the image on the left (click for bigger size), which shows the designs available online and at most good sports retailers. Yes, the same designs as the new away and third kits, just different colours. They are the adidas ‘United’ and adidas ‘Golpe’ ranges for 2007.

At least with Reebok we had some unique designs, for now then ill stick with the retro look thanks.

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Bellamy and Kewell to lead mass exodus from Liverpool

Published: 22 May 2007

The Liverpool manager, Rafael Benitez, will sanction a mass exodus from his squad this summer irrespective of whether they return from Athens with the club's sixth European Cup.

Benitez has impressed upon the club's American owners, George Gillett and Tom Hicks, the need to capitalise on Liverpool's second appearance in the showpiece event in three seasons as he seeks to rival Manchester United and Chelsea consistently in the Premiership, but the radical changes will not be restricted to extensive or expensive in-comings.

At least seven members of the Liverpool squad preparing for tomorrow night's final with Milan are likely to be offloaded under Benitez's long-term plans for Anfield and the figure may well rise if Xabi Alonso finds himself on the substitutes' bench at the Olympic Stadium.

Contract negotiations are not progressing as seamlessly with the Spanish international as with Steven Gerrard, Jamie Carragher and Steve Finnan, who have all agreed new deals that will be signed on their return to Merseyside, and the £10.7m capture from Real Sociedad will be reluctant to commit his future to Liverpool if he is omitted against the Rossoneri.

While Benitez has little desire to lose Alonso at this stage, he is prepared to allow Craig Bellamy, Sami Hyypia, Bolo Zenden, Harry Kewell and Mark Gonzalez to leave following the European Cup Final, while Robbie Fowler and Jerzy Dudek have already been informed their contracts will not be renewed. Several players sent on loan this season, among them goalkeeper Scott Carson, are also available to offers.

Kewell is in contention for a surprise role against Milan, as in Istanbul in 2005,

having missed all but the final week of the Premiership season through injury. His fitness record has been unfortunate at Anfield and, as one of the high earners at the club, Liverpool will be receptive to enquiries.

Bellamy is a target for Aston Villa, plus his former club Blackburn Rovers after one season at Anfield; Hyypia has lost his first-team place to Daniel Agger after outstanding service to the club; Zenden is out of contract and also a major injury doubt for tomorrow; while Chilean international Gonzalez has not justified Liverpool's exhaustive pursuit and has received offers to return to Spain.

"I know we can improve, and we will do that by bringing in new players with character, quality and experience," said Benitez, who arrived with his squad in Athens yesterday afternoon. "I am happy with my players, and I think we are going in the right direction, but this final is just a stopping point on the way. Winning a European Cup is a great thing, we want to be a strong side and win trophies along the way, but the aim is not to simply win this trophy. It is to get stronger and to challenge in the Premier League next season."

Liverpool have agreed deals this summer for Lucas Leiva, a £6m midfielder from Brazilian club Gremio, Argentine left winger Sebastian Leto and the Bayer Leverkusen striker Andre Voronin, but more lauded names are anticipated at Anfield as Benitez spends a £40m transfer budget that could be swelled by sales and revenue from this season's Champions League.

A proven goalscorer is a priority, with Samuel Eto'o, Fernando Torres and Carlos Tevez under consideration, while former targets such as Real Zaragoza centre-half Gabriel Milito and Seville's Daniel Alves are now within the budget allocated by the Americans.

"We will make changes," the club's co-chairman, Tom Hicks, confirmed yesterday. "I think Rafa will be a very busy man after Wednesday. The Istanbul victory was so important for the long-term legacy of the club, and if we can win a second so soon that really establishes us and makes Rafa's job easier to add some players. We've already started that process and next year we want to contend for both the Premiership and Champions League. Actually, we want to challenge for all four competitions.

"I know what Rafa tells me and I make judgements on his judgements. He has told me the types of improvement he feels we need to compete week in and week out. That's the challenge. In the Premiership, you need depth of players and motivated players."

Benitez added: "It is important not to think that, by getting to the final, we have done everything because we have the potential to be one of the biggest clubs in Europe. And by making our second Champions League final in two years, we have shown what can be achieved.

"Now we hope to achieve even more. It will be an important summer. The American owners have now been at the club for a few months and can see what's possible here. Every time I have spoken to them it has been positive and we will be talking again after the final."

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Published: 22 May 2007

There are quite a number of reasons to admire, even love Rafa Benitez. In the snakepit occupied by so many overstated and under-principled football managers, in all the hot and often stagnant air and the cold spirit, he is mostly a model of decorum and, even more importantly, decency.

His status in Merseyside football lore is already for the ages. However, if it should happen that he delivers a second Champions League triumph for Liverpool over Milan, in Athens tomorrow night, delight in this quarter, if we are honest, will not be without a few complications.

This will have nothing do with Rafa the man or the motivator. When his team won in such extraordinary, even surreal circumstances in Istanbul two years ago he handled the glory with beguiling modesty.

Unlike that of the most conspicuous victim of his almost eerie ability to neutralise the strength of the most powerful of opposition, Jose Mourinho, Benitez's reaction to the greatest moment of his career included no attempt to deflect attention from the heroics of his players.

In the post-match dawn he stood away from the microphones and the television cameras, a small, benign smile lighting up his broadly open features as the likes of Steven Gerrard, Jamie Carragher and Xabi Alonso fondled the gold winning medals dangling around their chests.

The cynical might say that it was reality as much as good character which dictated such exemplary behaviour, Liverpool's victory flowing not from a tactical masterplan but an outpouring of physical and emotional strength from the players which could not have been created by even the most brilliant work on the dressing-room blackboard.

However, Benitez wouldn't have been the first coach to cheerfully ride on the fighting instincts of players breaking out of a limited gameplan.

No, the problem has nothing to do with any aspect of Rafa's nature. The trouble is his football. It is not the kind which, beyond admiration for superbly genuine competitive honesty, a not exactly ubiquitous quality in the upper reaches of the game, could possibly lift the soul of a neutral.

If Jorge Valdano's crude assessment that Liverpool's semi-final triumph over Chelsea represented not the beautiful game but "shit on a stick" was excessive, no one could deny that the former football director of Real Madrid had touched on an element of truth. Excrement it wasn't, but nor was it the work of Van Gogh or Cezanne.

The unavoidable fact about Benitez - and one that makes matchwood of one recent assertion that if he delivers a second European Cup in three years, from a standing start in the wake of Gérard Houllier's moribund reign, he is an immediate contender, or better, for the status of greatest manager in the history of British football - is that he puts such a low priority on the ability of outstanding individuals to shape a game.

This was the thrust of Valdano's criticism and, whatever you think of his way with words, there is no question he is a witness of some authority. Few former players on earth are better acquainted with the value of a player free to follow, more than any word from the touchline, his own gut instincts. Valdano scored one of the goals that helped deliver the 1986 World Cup to Argentina. He was also permitted a close-up view of Diego Maradona's last touch in his campaign of bewildering force and virtuosity. It was the lacerating pass which finally demolished West Germany's elaborate plan to have Lothar Matthäus mark Maradona out of the game.

Such individual inventiveness, Valdano argues, is not a key part of the game of Benitez, or Mourinho, and the reason for this, he further suggests, is because neither coach reached the upper levels of the game as players. It is a shaky theory when you consider that Arsène Wenger, the author of some of the most beautiful football ever seen in these islands, also failed to get beyond the foothills as a player.

Yet, still, Valdano hits a nerve in any ultimate assessment of Benitez the coach who has produced such brilliant results in the Spanish League and the knock-out tournaments of England and Europe. In that creatively wretched semi-final against Chelsea at Anfield, Benitez chose to leave out Alonso, a player of infinite ambition and lovely touch in his passing when he first arrived at Anfield.

That surely was a statement that the Liverpool effort would be most vitally concerned with stifling Chelsea. That it worked, via the shoot-out, finally brought unconditional joy to Anfield but there were many doubts expressed on the way to the right result.

At Valencia, Benitez also had a habit of benching one of the local heroes, the beautifully talented Argentine Pablo Aimar. Valencia enjoyed fiestas when two league titles were snatched from the jaws of Real Madrid and Barcelona, but the manner of the triumphs lacked a certain flamenco snap.

If the right result comes in Athens, the odds are that the fine points of Liverpool's performance will be relegated to the margins of celebration - and Benitez will have encouraged still more sweeping assessment of his place in the game. No doubt he will again react to the acclaim with his trademark humility, and that will be still another reason for applause.

There should, though, be no loose talk of the greatest achievement ever by a British club in Europe. That is a place in history which, for all the achievements of Bob Paisley, Joe Fagan, Brian Clough, Sir Matt Busby and Sir Alex Ferguson, still belongs to Jock Stein.

When the Celtic manager took his team to Lisbon to break down the "bolted door" of Helenio Herrera's Internazionale in 1967, he declared that his deepest ambition was a victory for football, something to thrill every neutral. He felt he owed that much to the game and he produced his extraordinary gift with 11 players bred in a 20-mile radius of Glasgow.

It would not be Rafa Benitez's style to make such a promise. There are a number of reasons for this. Some of them are good. One of them is bad. It is the fact that nothing in his football would give any weight to such an undertaking.

At critical moments, Stein reached for the stars; Benitez from time to time benches his most creative players. Don't mention it on Merseyside, but, putting aside all the moral questions about whether they should even have been competing in the Champions League this season, a win for the Milan of Kaka and Maldini and Seedorf will also be one for football - as it should be played. Hand on heart, you can say a lot in favour of Rafa - but of his football, not that, not yet.

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Kaka worry over dangerman Crouch

Kaka worry over dangerman Crouch
AC Milan's Kaka (left) and Liverpool's Peter Crouch
Kaka is wary of the threat Crouch will pose Milan in the air
Champions League final Date: Wednesday, 23 May Kick-off: 1945 BST Venue: Olympic Stadium, Athens Watch (in UK): ITV1 and Sky Sports One Listen: BBC Radio Five Live Updates: BBC Sport website and mobile

AC Milan forward Kaka says his team must pay close attention to Liverpool striker Peter Crouch during the Champions League final on Wednesday.

Kaka and his side are favourites to win in the Olympic Stadium in Athens, but the 25-year-old Brazilian knows all about Crouch's aerial prowess.

"He's a dangerous player in the air, when the ball is in the area he's always an opportunist," said Kaka.

"We will have to pay attention to him if he plays."

Kaka also said Milan are not worried about gaining revenge for their 2005 final defeat to Liverpool, they just want to win the European Cup for the seventh time.

Steven Gerrard runs, marks, knows how to pass, cross, score goals, and is a leader

"For me the motivation is to get to a final and have the possibility of winning the Champions League," he added.

"Everyone's talking about revenge for what happened in 2005 but I think what happened is a thing of the past.

"It happened. We lost that final, Liverpool were the champions and it'll always be remembered that way."

Kaka, who has scored 10 goals in the Champions League this season, paid tribute to Liverpool for reaching the final and lavished praise on Reds captain Steven Gerrard.

"I think Liverpool, differently from Manchester United, play a game that's very characteristic of English football," said Kaka.

"They're a very well-trained team by Benitez and a very tactical team, they mark tight and have all the traits of an English team.

"Steven Gerrard is an excellent, modern player because he's a player who runs, marks, knows how to pass, cross, score goals, and is a leader in the field for Liverpool.

"He's a player that I'd like to have in my team."

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JLA to Athens - the countdown begins

May 21 2007

by Tony Barrett, Liverpool Echo

Liverpool fly out to Athens showing their support for Madeleine McCann

THE Liverpool squad today jetted off for Athens as the mass exodus of fans began.

A relaxed Rafa Benitez led the first team squad into John Lennon airport early this morning for their 10am flight to Greece.

The tracksuited players arrived together on the team bus clutching their ECHO Athens special editions.

They were taken through departures by airport security staff after stopping and signing autographs for fans.

After the four-hour flight, the Liverpool party were being taken to their hotel in a secret location on the outskirts of Athens.

The squad arrived at JLA alongside hundreds of fans, with the first supporters’ plane taking off for Athens at 9.30am.

The Boeing 747 jumbo, carrying 580 fans, was the first of 57 flights leaving the airport in what will be the airport’s busiest 48 hours.

JLA expect to move 13,500 of the 30,000 Reds expected to decamp to Athens between now and the match on Wednesday.

About 8,000 fans will leave Liverpool on the day of the match itself, with 37 charter flights scheduled.

In a bid to reduce disruption to other passengers, marquees have been erected alongside 20 extra check-in desks as part of the so-called Operation Zorba.

Extra buses have been laid on to transfer passengers to and from aircraft, and additional security systems have been put in place.

The John Lennon statue at the airport even joined in the pre-match atmosphere, decked out in a hat and scarf.

Liverpool fan Sean O'Donnell from Everton was among those on the first Athens flight out of JLA this morning.

He said: "I'm just looking forward to getting to Athens because I believe there are already thousands of Reds over there.

"If it's anything like Istanbul it should be some trip.

"The main thing is that the lads come back with the cup though."

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