Liverpool Football Club Month In Review ‘“ August 2006
August started with much anticipation. Five new signings (although if you want to be pedantic, it was only four, as Mark Gonzales was actually signed last season!) and with pre-season well under way, the signs were looking good for Rafa’s Reds.
Craig Bellamy made a great start to his Anfield career, scoring twice in the opening three pre-season games and with the Reds on the road again, travelling to Zurich for their match against Grasshoppers; he was looking to add more to his tally.
But while the team were thinking only of that match, the club in general had more pressing matters to contend with. There was an indication that Liverpool’s Champions League qualifying tie against Maccabi Haifa would be moved to a neutral venue, although it was announced that no decision would yet be taken by UEFA.
This understandably upset all Israeli fans. Cue more arguments in the forums. The Israeli FA was keen for Liverpool to play in Tel Aviv, and the country’s government promised that security for the Anfield side’s visit would be of “the highest standard”. Liverpool, and the English FA, was having none of it, amongst fears that the match or the hotel Liverpool were staying at would become a target.
Jermaine Pennant got his first start against Grasshopper and certainly looked lively, even if Liverpool couldn’t capitalise on his instinct for playing the ball into the danger area. Aside from a small cameo by skipper Stevie G in this match that could have got him a hat-trick, Pennant’s direct approach and tricky feet, combined with better defending and better finishing could have seen a totally different score line. Liverpool conceded two soft goals in the first period. The first, an overlap by Scott Sutter forcing Sami Hyypia to rush out wide to cut him off and failing to prevent a superb ball which Veroljuib Salatic managed to head downward, against the bar and in.
The second was a silly ball across the box from Paletta, who after racing across to the corner to cut out a pass, decided not to boot it up field or into the stands, as you might expect in a more serious contest, he played it square, giving poor Pepe Reina no chance of gathering the ball with David Blumer racing in and sliding home from a difficult angle to make it 2-0 to Grasshopper. This being the final score and second consecutive friendly defeat.
Rafa mentioned the next day on Liverpoolfc.tv that he would still really like to sign another striker before the transfer window closed. The rumour mill went into over drive! Would it be Dirk Kuyt? No, too expensive some claimed. Miroslave Klose? Nicolas Anelka? Obefami Martins? The list went on. The Rumour Mill was flooded with debates and opinions. It’d be a few weeks before things quietened down!
On a side line, former Kop favourite John Aldridge was singing his heart out for charity in Ireland on a programme called ‘˜You’re a Star’. The show is an Irish equivalent of The X-Factor, run by RTE, the countries national broadcaster. Just don’t make it a permanent career move John!!
There was news in the press that the much maligned Champions League qualifier 2nd leg match against Maccabi Haifa would be moved to the Ukraine, with Dynamo Kiev’s stadium the likely host.
Liverpool rounded off their pre-season tour in the worst possible way as Budesliga outfit FSV Mainz netted five second half goals without reply to send the Reds crashing to their third straight defeat. A goal-less first half, marked only by Steven Gerrards goal bound shot which ended up going wide, Mainze capitalised on Rafa’s second half substitutions and goals from Markus Feulner, Tobias Damm, Ranislav Jovanovic, Chadli Amri and Fatmir Pupalovic gave the Bundesliga outfit a 5-0 win. Never mind, it’s only a friendly!
The start of the next week saw the arrival of England’s new boss Steve McClaren at Anfield, on his ‘˜meet the managers and build the bridges’ tour. He still hadn’t made his mind up whom the next England captain was going to be. But it had come down to just two candidates. Our own Stevie G; or Chelsea‘s John Terry. Would Stevie be elected? We’d have to wait and see.
Finally, UEFA made their decision ‘“ we would not have to play in Israel. Phew, thank Christ for that! But where would we be playing? Not sure yet, wait and see. Typical UEFA. More waiting and wondering.
To take our minds off things, the revolving door of the transfer market was still in operation. On 9th August 2006, Djimi Traore finally ended his 7 year stay with Liverpool and sealed his move south to Charlton Athletic. Djimi was a popular member of the dressing room and went with our thanks and best wishes.
The next day the season started for real. Champions League 3rd Round Qualifier, first leg. Liverpool F.C. vs. Maccabi Haifa of Israel. The time had come. Debut goals from Craig Bellamy and Mark Gonzalez handed Liverpool a hard-fought 2-1 win. Although Liverpool had a lot of possession, it was the visiting side that took the lead after half an hour – Gustavo Bokoli silencing the home supporters with a well-taken goal.
Maccabi’s lead didn’t last long though with Bellamy scoring a debut equaliser just four minutes later. The game stayed that way with Crouch missing a header and a deflected free kick from Pennant being saved by the opposition ‘˜keeper Davidovitch, until the 88th minute. Mark Gonzales came on as a sub, and after just a minute or two of being on the field, scored his debut goal to put the Reds 2-1 up in the tie. It’s not over yet though.
The morning after the night before and the wait was over. John Terry had been confirmed as England Captain. Oh well, at least Stevie got Vice Captaincy. And Rafa still refused to be drawn into a slanging match with Mourinho before the Community Shield.
Another player out the Anfield door was Carl Medjani. The French defender who, when signing the lad, Houllier claimed he had beaten off competition from Arsenal, Man Utd and Bayern Munich. Still, the tough centre half never made a competitive first team appearance for us. He was an unused substitute for the first team during the Champions League tie in FBK Kaunas last season. He played in three first team friendlies against Wrexham in 2004 and in 2005 against Bayer Leverkusen and the full 90 minutes against Olympiacos. That was as close as he got. He spent time on loan with French sides Metz and Lorient, and it is the latter who have now signed Medjani on a permanent basis.
Next match, the Community Shield, Liverpool vs. Chelsea ‘“ oh goody! Liverpool issued an ominous warning to their Premiership rivals in Cardiff with a well-deserved 2-1 victory over champions Chelsea in the 2006 Community Shield.
Peter Crouch headed home the winning goal ten minutes from time at the Millennium Stadium to clinch the first silverware of the season. John Arne Riise had earlier given the Reds a 9th minute lead with a tremendous solo effort only for Shevchenko to level matters on the stroke of half-time. Jose looked as miserable as I think I’ve ever seen him. Momo Sissoko got a deserved man of the match award for his tireless box to box play.
On the Monday, UEFA finally announced their decision ‘“ our Champions League 3rd round 2nd Leg tie would be held’¦.da da daaaaaaaa’¦..in the Ukraine. Tie was to be played in Kiev, as had been predicted 2 weeks earlier. Maccabi officials were still angry at this decision because they were still keen to get the tie played in Israel, but it was never going to happen.
And Liverpool’s victory was only a few hours old when another Scouser tasted victory! John Aldridge beat off all other contestants to win the Irish celebrity Karaoke otherwise known as ‘˜You’re the Star’. After belting out ‘˜Lilly the Pink’ and Kopites favourite, ‘˜Ring of Fire’ Aldo won with a landslide victory, donated it to his favourite charity, Temple Street Children’s Hospital, and was offered a record deal by competition judge Louis Walsh! For the Irish charts only I hope ‘“ no offence Aldo lad!
Djimi Traore meanwhile was busy making room on his sofa for a shock arrival and new flatmate. Iain Dowie signed Scott Carson on a year long loan deal. And there we were thinking Dudek was out the door and Carson would be Reina’s back up ‘“ especially after he’s just put pen to paper on a new five year deal at Anfield, but Rafa obviously doesn’t think he’s ready and sent him to join Djimi at The Valley for more experience.
While Gerrard, Crouch and Carragher where enjoying themselves with England against Greece, we also had one last friendly to play, against Lincoln City as part of the deal which brought Jack Hobbs to the club. We took a strong squad to Lincoln, which included Robbie Fowler, Neil Mellor, Stephen Warnock, Fabio Aurelio and Mark Gonzales amongst others. The Liverpool XI came up 2-1 winners, with Gonzales and Besian Idrizaj scoring for the Reds.
Crouch, incidentally, scored 2 as England beat Greece 4-0 on the same night.
More transfer activity ‘“ it just doesn’t stop! Darren Potter left Anfield for a year’s loan with Wolverhampton Wanderers. How much more before the seasons end? Rumours were rife that we had agreed a fee with Feyenoord for star striker Dirk Kuyt. Now, Kuyt didn’t exactly have a particularly good World Cup, and some were questioning the wisdom of his signing ‘“ if it were true ‘“ but you can’t judge a player on 2 or 3 performances in what was a poor World Cup for his country. His record for Feyenoord though, spoke for itself. 71 goals in 101 games. That is good, no matter what league you’re playing in.
Eventually, it was announced that yes, we had signed Dirk Kuyt from Feyenoord for a deal worth around the Â£10 million mark. And if we believe the stories, it’s all thanks to two of the Kop’s mortal enemies. They actually did us a favour ‘“ wow! Fellow Dutchmen Arjen Robben of Chelsea, and Ruud van Nistlerooy, formerly of Man Utd convinced Dirk to come and play in the Premier league. He wasn’t signed in time for our Premiership opener though. Shame really.
It ended a 1-1 draw with new boys Sheffield United. A goalless first half, with injuries to Riise and Carragher to put them both out for 2-3 weeks, Rob Hulse scored first for the Blades just after the re-start, and Fowler equalised for us with a penalty on the 70th minute, after Gerrard had been brought down in the box (although some quarters claimed it was a very controversial move by the ref and a penalty should never have been given. Yah boo, sucks to you is what I say!).
Next stop Kiev for our away leg against Maccabi Haifa on this seasons Champions League journey. And what a journey it turned out to be. The team lost luggage, Gerrard went down with tummy trouble and more injury blows in the match, with Stephen Warnock and Momo Sissoko to add to the recently expanding injury list that included Carragher, Riise and Paletta. Seems like the match was jinxed! Never mind, we drew 1-1 to win the match 3-2 on aggregate and Daniel Agger is really beginning to shine. What a player ‘“ and his best was yet to come’¦.
Two days later, the Champions League group stages were drawn. We were drawn with PSV, Bordeaux and Galatasaray. Not a bad group, all things considered ‘“ but I’m willing to bet all my life savings that not one Liverpool fan is looking forward to the trip back to Istanbul. Yes, it has wonderful memories for all of us of 2 seasons ago ‘“ but we weren’t facing Galatasaray then. Their fans are notorious, and it’ll not be an easy away trip.
Anyway, back to the bread and butter, the Premier League, and on the following Saturday Anfield saw a re-run of last seasons FA Cup final when we hosted West Ham. And what a match it was! A fluke goal from Bobby Zamora on 12 minutes put the Hammers 1 up, but a 30 yard curler into the top corner from Agger equalised on 40 minutes and 4 minutes later, Crouch put us 2-1 up and that’s how it stayed. Dirk Kuyt came off the subs bench for a sensational debut 5 minutes into the second half, and Bellamy scored but his goal was, wrongly, ruled offside. 2-1 to the Reds, final score.
Transfer deadline day fast approaching ‘“ would we sign anyone else? Transfer activity was moving fast and Rafa’s fax machine was burning ink like never before seen!
There were yet more rumours that, yes, we were looking at another signing and one that was treated with great scepticism by most Liverpool fans ‘“ that of Lucas Neill from Blackburn.
Would we get him? Deadline day was almost upon us…’¦.
One day to go, and Rafa’s clearout continued. The transfers out included Neil Mellor’s move to Preston, Florent Sinama-Pongolle signing for newly promoted Spanish La Liga side Recrativo on loan and Jan Kromkamp heading to PSV for a cool Â£2million. That makes a grand total of 21 players moved on by Rafa this summer – guess we had to claim back some of our outgoings somehow! Salif Diao, unfortunately, was not among those leaving the club. He was meant to move to Recreativo with FSP, on a permanent deal, but the greedy git couldn’t agree personal terms and decided he was happy stuck in the Reserves just picking up his wages.
August 31st, transfer deadline day. One helluva lot of activity ‘“ the biggest shock, and most controversial move of the lot was the signing of Carlos Tevez and his Argentian team mate Javier Maschereno by West Ham. Rumours abound that Rafa was still trying to broker a deal for Lucas Neill ‘“ even if it meant Stephen Warnock heading to Blackburn in exchange. Midnight hits and still no deal. Will Lucas buy out his contract to become a free agent, or will we wait until the January transfer window to try again? Guess it’s just a case of wait and see.
Simon Pearce, aka ‘Gothic Red’