Football: Smicer forced to stay in Liverpool

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LIVERPOOL FLEW out to Norway yesterday without Vladimir Smicer. The Czech striker is at the forefront of Gerard Houlier's summer foreign invasion aimed at restoring the club to the top again but he has been left behind on Merseyside to recover from food poisoning.

Liverpool play Valerenga today, the first of three friendlies in six days before their Premiership opener at Sheffield Wednesday on 7 August. For Smicer it has been an eventful introduction to his new club following his pounds 4.5m summer move from Lens.

An ankle injury ruled him out of earlier pre-season games, although he was flown out to Belfast after the original party to play 23 minutes of Saturday's 2-0 win over Feyenoord. He scored one stunning goal and could have had another couple, before a bad tackle damaged the ankle he had been having all the trouble with.

"The ankle is okay now, but I am not going to Norway because I have food poisoning," he said. "I picked it up while we were at training camp in Switzerland a fortnight ago. I have lost 10lb since then and am still not over it."

Smicer could well be fit to play in Saturday's friendly at Blackburn and next Tuesday's visit to Manchester City. The Liverpool manager, will need to give all his key players who have been hit by injuries or training delays as many games as possible before deciding his team to face Wednesday.

One player on the mend is Michael Owen, who yesterday pledged he would not rush back into action. The England striker flew out to Norway with the rest of the Liverpool squad but will only engage in light training as he continues treatment on the injury that has dogged him since April.

The controversial programme of treatment for Owen, set out by the German specialist, Dr Hans Muller-Wohlfahrt, is being overseen on the trip Liverpool's club doctor Mark Waller. Owen, who has had just one trip to see Dr Wohlfahrt, the Bayern Munich and Germany national team advisor, said: "I will be guided all the way by the experts, even though every player loves to be involved in the opening day of the season."

However, with Owen, who pulled his hamstring against Leeds United at Elland Road, only expected to return to serious training by the middle of next week, the chances of him being involved at Hillsborough on the opening day seem unlikely.

"It is frustrating to suffer an injury at any time, but this one has taken a bit of time to get over," he said. "At least I have had the close season to work on it, and I am hoping to be back playing as soon as possible."