Thursday, June 28, 2007

Benitez knows way to San Jose

Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez has captured a second top European teenager inside two days, signing Mikel San Jose from Athletic Bilbao.
Just a day after Levski Sofia announced that Bulgarian international goalkeeper Nikolay Mihaylov would be joining Liverpool on a three-year deal, Bilbao confirmed that young defender San Jose was also bound for Anfield.
While Benitez and Liverpool are still locked in talks over their plans to sign Atletico Madrid's striker Fernando Torres, it is also clear the Spaniard remains committed to bolstering younger players at the club.
San Jose, 18, will move for a fee of around £270,000. Bilbao were aiming to use the youngster in their second team next season, but a club statement said: "For us it is bad news, but Mikel has decided on the choice of Liverpool and it was impossible for us to fight against a European giant."
San Jose added: "It was a surprise for me but I have decided to accept the chance at Liverpool.
"I am very excited but now I know that I have to work more each day to get in the first team."
The arrival of Mihaylov will put pressure on England squad man Scott Carson, who has been told that he will be Jose Reina's number two next season and will not be allowed out on loan again.
Mihaylov is the son of Bulgarian soccer federation chairman, Borislav Mihaylov - the former Reading keeper - and celebrates his 19th birthday on Thursday.
He has been a regular in Bulgaria's Under-21 side and has made one full international appearance. He already has Champions League experience, playing for Levski Sofia against Werder Bremen last season.
Although Benitez's only other top-line signing so far this season is Bayer Leverkusen striker Andriy Voronin on a free transfer, two young Hungarians also started training with the club on Thursday.
Krisztian Nemeth and Andras Simon are hoping to make a big impression at Anfield, and hope for first-team action within two seasons.
The teenagers were signed from MTK Budapest and 18-year-old Nemeth said: "We hope that in a year or two we can make our debut in the first team.
"I'm very happy with this, I think this is great news for our whole country. It's a big honour."
Simon, 17, added: "We want to play regular football in the reserves. We will do our best to step forward as soon as it's possible."
The pending arrival of a clutch of new youth talent at Anfield coincides with the announcement of a restructuring of the academy.
Former Ajax player Piet Hamberg was on Wednesday unveiled as the club's new academy technical manager with Under-18 coach John Owens promoted to academy manager.
The pair will work alongside Malcolm Elias, who joined Liverpool from Southampton last summer, and is in charge of recruitment.
The appointments follow the retirement of Steve Heighway after 18 years in charge of the academy.
Chief executive Rick Parry said: "Steve Heighway's departure gave us a chance to assess things and it was felt the role in charge of the academy had become too big for one person so it made sense to separate the two sides of the role.
"We wanted to bring someone in to concentrate solely on the technical side of things, on being out on the pitch coaching, while also having someone in charge of the managing of the academy.
"Steve's great strength was coaching and yet a lot of time in the role would be spent in the office. John Owens has been with us a long time and understands the system and Liverpool, while Piet will be able to concentrate on doing what he does best, which is coaching the young players."

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