When confronted by the double leg fracture that almost cost him his leg last season, Djibril Cissé sought reassurance from Thierry Henry that they would, one day, rekindle their international partnership for France. A second threat, to his Liverpool career, has prompted Cissé to ask Henry for advice once again, though it is unlikely that even the Arsenal striker's skill extends to banishing the reservations that Rafael Benitez has in the £14m signing he inherited from Gérard Houllier.
Cissé goes into tonight's Champions' League tie against Real Betis at Anfield with more goals than any other Liverpool player this season and having appeared in every European tie played by the holders, who require only one point to reach the knock-out stages. He still, however, does not have the absolute confidence or support of a manager who admits that Cissé's individual style conflicts with his own football philosophy.
Benitez has shown more faith in the troubled strikers he brought to the club - the £6.3m Fernando Morientes and £7m Peter Crouch - than the flamboyant Frenchman. Saturday's defeat of Portsmouth, Liverpool's fourth consecutive victory without conceding, emphasised that while Cissé has the fortune that Crouch desperately needs in front of goal, his first-half cross drifting over Jamie Ashdown for his 11th goal of the season, it is the England international who remains central to Benitez's plans.
The 24-year-old was withdrawn from his favoured position in attack to the right wing once Luis Garcia suffered a hip injury, and even a vow to increase his workload - "I have to do more to convince the manager, I need to be more consistent because sometimes there will be a 15-minute period when you wouldn't know I was on the pitch" - received a lukewarm response from Benitez yesterday. "The most important thing is not working harder, it is working hard and working well," he said.
Asked if it has been harder to impose his ideas on Cissé than any other player at Liverpool, Benitez admitted: "Yes, it has been. At Auxerre he didn't have any responsibility for defending or the tactics of the team; he could do his own thing. Now at a big club like Liverpool he needs to learn that he has to work for his team-mates, who are also very good players. He has to understand the difference between a club that plays to win games and a club that plays to win trophies. He is now at a club with other stars, such as Carragher, Gerrard, Morientes and Alonso, and he needs to learn how to handle a group like this. If you want to win trophies you need stars and workers."
Unsurprisingly, talk of a return to France in January continues to surround Cissé, who was less than enamoured with Liverpool's unsubtle attempts to sell him this summer. The Marseilles president, Pape Diouf, told L'Equipe yesterday: "He would suit Marseilles and Marseilles would suit him, but he is still playing and scoring for Liverpool. However, things can change."
Cissé has no intention of quitting Anfield, where he still feels like a relative newcomer after so long out through injury, though he admits: "It is not only me who decides." In the meantime he will take solace from Henry, who also initially struggled in England before blessing us with his presence. "Thierry helped me in the darkest days and I can learn from him," said the Liverpool striker. "It was difficult for him at first in England so he speaks from experience when he tells me to keep going and it will come good."
Liverpool (probable, 4-4-2): Reina; Finnan, Carragher, Hyypia, Riise; Gerrard, Alonso, Sissoko, Kewell; Cissé, Crouch.
Real Betis (probable, 4-4-1-1): Doblas; Melli, Gutierrez, Rivas, Lopez; Joaquin, Rivera, Arzu, Munoz; Capi; Edu.
Referee: Eric Poulat (France).Reuse content