Cissé: why I chose Liverpool ahead of Real

The Premiership's cut and thrust has lured French football's top scorer. Alex Hayes speaks to him
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The Independent Football

As someone who has come uncomfortably close to losing his life, Gérard Houllier understands more than most the value of enjoying the present. And yet, such has been his disappointment with Liverpool's season that the Frenchman cannot stop himself from gazing into the future.

Perhaps he hopes that looking ahead will help him forget the worst campaign of his five-and-a-half-year tenure; or perhaps he is genuinely excited at the prospect of pairing Michael Owen with one of the most sought-after strikers in the world. Djibril Cissé is on his way to Anfield, and bringing with him the promise of a brighter dawn.

"I know that Liverpool have been going through a difficult spell," the Auxerre forward said last week, "but clubs experience this. There is bound to be a dip now and again. But that doesn't worry me; all I'm interested in is the club."

Cissé visited Liverpool's stadium and training ground late last year and was so impressed he signed a pre-contract agreement there and then. "I've always wanted to go to England," he said, "and Liverpool just confirmed why I feel that way. At Auxerre, we have perfectly good facilities, but at Liverpool, it's a completely different world. For an ambitious kid like me, it's the tops."

It says everything about his desire to play in front of the Kop that, despite interest from other major European clubs, the 22-year-old Frenchman opted for Liverpool. "I could have gone to Real Madrid," he revealed. "I had an offer from them, but I always preferred Liverpool. I first heard of their interest in me two years ago and was so flattered. They came to me before anyone else. That's why I gave Liverpool my word and that's why I will be joining them."

However, one wonders what would happen if Houllier, the man who masterminded the £9m transfer, were sacked this summer. "I really hope with all my heart that he will still be there next season," Cissé said, "because if I arrive at the club and Gérard is no longer there, it will be a real setback. He is the man who signed me and he is the man to make me a better player."

Such loyalty will be music to Houllier's ears, especially after a campaign in which the club have struggled to secure that all-important fourth place, let alone compete with the top three. "I would join Liverpool come what may," Cissé said. "Of course the Champions' League would be nice, but I am not concerned if Liverpool are in the Uefa Cup. They are a great club, and it won't be long before they lift big trophies again. My hope is that I will be part of that winning team, playing alongside a brilliant striker like Michael Owen, who I am sure I can learn from, but also complement."

Houllier, who insists he will remain at Anfield but knows this will be his last chance to secure the Premiership, will be hoping that Cissé's enthusiasm is infectious. "If I can bring something different then that's great," said France's Ligue 1 top scorer. "I'm determined to show everyone at the club that they were right to trust in me by bringing me to Anfield. They won't be disappointed, because English football suits my game. I like the open and direct nature of the game over there. Attack is the key and that is something I love."

Fellow Frenchman Bruno Cheyrou believes that Cissé will thrive in the Premiership. "Djibril is one of Europe's best strikers," the Liverpool midfielder said, "and he could become the best within two or three years. He's as strong as an ox and quicker than Thierry Henry. I can easily see him scoring 20 to 25 League goals next season."

Anxious not to appear arrogant, Cissé says he expects a tough battle to force his way into the team. In fact, with Emile Heskey almost certain to be sold, perhaps to Birmingham City, and Milan Baros and El Hadji Diouf failing to impress, Cissé is sure to make the starting XI. "Let's wait and see," he said, "because there might be other players joining the club as well. I mustn't get obsessed about that. All I can do is make sure that I finish as the top scorer in France and then stay fit this summer."

Cissé should find the latter relatively straightforward, as he will definitely miss the European Championship finals. It is not that he is not good enough, or that he has fallen out with the French manager à la Nicolas Anelka, but rather that he was suspended by Uefa for four competitive matches following an uncharacteristic moment of violence during an Under-21 game against Portugal last year. "The Euro is gone and that's that," he said. "It's definitely the lowest point of my career, but I'll get over it."

A bright start to his Liverpool career would help see to that.