Saturday, July 7, 2007

Liverpool to pocket £15m for strike duo
RAFA BENITEZ received a £15m windfall last night – after unloading unwanted strikers Craig Bellamy and Djibril Cisse.
Liverpool finally agreed a £7.5m fee with West Ham for the transfer of Bellamy, and banked a fee in the region of £8m from Marseille after Djibril Cisse's loan deal was made permanent.
But the Reds’ hopes of landing The Hammers' Israeli midfielder Yossi Benayoun were thwarted when West Ham refused to budge on their staggering £8m valuation.
On a frantic day of transfer activity at Anfield, Bellamy was forced to accept he was leaving his boyhood heroes after a solitary season.
But Benitez denied that the decision to sell had anything to do with disciplinary problems.
"It was nothing to do with discipline," he said. "We only had the one problem with Craig and that was not a big thing. I just wanted different types of strikers."
That incident, when Bellamy chased team-mate John Arne Riise with a golf club on a team bonding trip to the Algarve, was quickly forgotten when both players scored in the Champions League tie which followed in Barcelona.
Liverpool tried to include Bellamy in a player plus-cash exchange for Benayoun, but Alan Curbishley dug in his heels and insisted he wanted a straight swop.
Benitez rejected that proposal and it was decided the two transfers would have to be negotiated separately.
Liverpool have had a third offer of £5m rejected but are unlikely to go much higher.
Marseille, meanwhile, agreed to the permanent transfer of Cisse, with the striker delighted to make his loan deal there permanent.
The French club also snapped up midfielder Boudewijn Zenden, released by Liverpool this summer, on a free transfer.
The Dutchman penned a two-year deal after completing a medical.
Meanwhile, Xabi Alonso will try to help Liverpool’s record signing Fernando Torres settle in at Anfield – on and off the pitch.
The midfield playmaker is a huge fan of his Spanish international team-mate – and believes his signing will help Liverpool close the gap on Manchester United next season.
Although Liverpool reached the Champions League final last season, they had a disappointing Premiership campaign and finished 21 points behind the champions.
But Alonso is convinced that the acquisition of Torres can see that gap closed significantly.
He explained: “I am optimistic before the season gets underway that we can go out and fight for the title.
“With Fernando, Peter Crouch and Dirk Kuyt we are going to have one of the best attacks in Europe. It will be our task to help set them up for as many goals as possible.
“Fernando is one of the best forwards in Europe and it will be great for us to have him in the team. I believe that he is going to be a big reinforcement for Liverpool.
“It is necessary for us to have the spirit needed to be champions from the first game.”
Alonso reveals that he scoured the newspapers all summer to see how Liverpool’s pursuit of Torres was progressing.
The 23-year-old finally completed a £20million move this week, and Alonso believes the Spanish contingent already at Anfield will be key to Torres adjusting to his new surroundings in England.
Alonso added: “It is great news that Fernando Torres has now become one of my team-mates at Liverpool.
“There were so many rumours that he was going to come into the Premier League and I was constantly checking the news to see if we had signed him.
“He has shown over the last few years at Atletico Madrid how much quality he has got as a player. It will be a major challenge for him in England but I am convinced he will be a big success over here.
“We will help him to settle in from day one and help him adapt to the club, the city and living in England.”
Reds boss Rafa Benitez, meanwhile, is also thrilled at Torres’ capture.
But he stopped short of declaring that his squad is now ready to mount a title challenge.
“They (Manchester United and Chelsea) have been spending big money for years,” Benitez said.
“Now we are spending some money, but I don’t know if it will be enough to be contenders in one year’s time. I’m sure that it will help, but you at least need to do it. We needed to sign players of this level if we’re going to be contenders.”

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