Football: Camara keen to show Anfield allegiance

Alex Hayes talks to a foreign import with a point to prove
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The Independent Online
TITI CAMARA should be a man under pressure. While home-grown Premiership players are judged by their performances on the field, the ever-growing foreign contingent have to suffer the extra ignominy of having their off- field allegiances questioned as well.

As a result, when Newcastle lose their first three games of the season, it is the Magpies' imports who are instantly blamed. Never mind that Alan Shearer may not be firing on all cylinders, at least he wears the black- and-white shirt with pride. According to some, it is that simple.

Liverpool's early form has not been quite so disappointing - they followed their opening-day 2-1 away win against Sheffield Wednesday with a surprise 1-0 defeat at home to Watford - but the feeling is that Gerard Houllier's Anfield revolution could be next in the firing line should results fail to materialise soon.

That is a danger of which Camara is acutely aware, although the Ghanaian international believes that the recent attacks on overseas players are unreasonable. "Whether you are a foreigner or an English player," he said at the Melwood training ground, "we're all employed by Liverpool. We're all responsible for the team's performances; the blame doesn't lie with one player. If you look at clubs like Manchester United, Arsenal or Chelsea, they have plenty of foreigners, yet are achieving the goals which they set themselves. But there have been many changes here this summer, so it's going to take some time for the new players to blend with the old."

The Frenchman Patrice Bergues, one of Liverpool's coaches and Camara's manager at Lens during the 1996-97 season, is equally puzzled by the fury at Newcastle. "I think those are the views of certain sections of the media. In any team sport, it is always sad to hold one or two players responsible when in fact it is a joint effort. Singling out foreigners is like blaming the referee. It's an excuse, not a valid reason." Bergues added: "Erik Meijer [a Bosman signing from Bayer Leverkusen] said that our common language is football and our common homeland is Liverpool Football Club. Make no mistake about it, these guys are professionals who are proud to be playing for this club."

It is interesting to hear Camara reflecting on his early memories of Liverpool. He talks fondly about the glory days of the 1970s and 1980s, although it is one of the club's darkest hours which most marked the 26-year-old. "Like most people living in France at the time, my most powerful image of the club was the tragic European Cup final against Juventus in 1985 at the Heysel. But beyond that, Liverpool is a myth. I mean, the club has won everything."

The Liverpool of the Nineties have won very little, but Camara hopes to reverse that trend this season. "I hope to play in as many matches as possible and to be efficient for the team," he said. "We've an embarrassment of riches, and every member of the squad has an important role to play. Hopefully we can all help reach the management's goals."

Nobody at Liverpool will state what those are, although Houllier is probably not quite sure himself what his new-look troops are capable of achieving.

Tomorrow's examination against David O'Leary's very British Leeds will be a real test of Liverpool's new credentials. For Camara, the target is clear: score goals. With Michael Owen still out injured and Karlheinz Riedle the wrong side of 33, the former St Etienne, Lens and Marseille forward has enjoyed an almost unbroken run in the first team since his arrival in June. And he started repaying some of the pounds 2.6m Houllier paid for him by finding the net on the opening day of the season.

"As a new boy, I have it all to prove, so scoring at Hillsborough was great, although then losing to Watford was not good."

The fact that most Liverpool fans seem prepared to give Houllier the time to turn the club's fortunes around will be greeted with relief around the dressing-room. With so many new faces in the team, adaptation was always likely to take more than two League games.

"Football here is very different to the Continent," said Camara. "The Premiership is played at a much higher tempo and is much more physical than in France. You are less protected as a striker, because the referees don't intervene as much. But I am just going to have to get used to it and adapt my game."

Camara has had to do more than simply get to grips with English football; he has also had to swap the moderate climes of Marseilles for a more tempestuous life in Liverpool. "The main difference is that nobody knows me here," he said. "I can walk around town without being recognised, which suits me fine to be honest. I didn't come here to rest or top up my tan." A few more goals would bring an abrupt end to Titi's anonymity.