Liverpool's principal owner, John W Henry, admitted last night that his club were "still a long way behind" Manchester United, who arrive at Anfield tomorrow, and that he quickly realised the legacy of penury from Tom Hicks' and George Gillett's era meant "that it could take years to get the club back where it needed to be".
Henry acknowledged that "Mr Ferguson is a genius" when asked to assess if he felt more or less confident that Liverpool could challenge United for the Premier League title, a year on from his takeover at Anfield. He has always seen Sir Alex Ferguson's side as the standard bearers, in the way that the New York Yankees were in his sights at the Boston Red Sox. United were "well set up going into this year and then were able to insert great, young players", Henry reflected. He has always said that the huge multi-year payroll for a squad of little depth was the unexpected part of his inheritance. "By the time we made the purchase we were aware of a lot of bad contracts," he added last night.
Henry's managing director at Anfield, Ian Ayre, staked a claim for the redistribution of international TV rights this week as part of Fenway Sports Group's determination to derive better value from the club, though Kenny Dalglish inadvertently contradicted Ayre yesterday when the manager said that the overall quality of Premier League competition was more important than elite clubs like Liverpool and United. Tomorrow's Anfield fixture did not "define" the Premier League, Dalglish said. "[The League] has some fantastic football clubs and some great games every week. That's undermining the Premier League [to suggest it is all about Liverpool and United]."
Henry subtly echoed Ayre's controversial contention that clubs should be allowed to negotiate their own international TV deals or fall further behind Real Madrid and Barcelona when he insisted that Liverpool's proposed new or expanded stadium was not the "game-changer" that former MD Christian Purslow once suggested. "[The stadium] is not the full solution," he said. "Barcelona and Real Madrid are dominant clubs because they are able to maximise all aspects of the revenue generation. We have to try to do that as well. It's an important component."
The businessman also rejected suggestions by Liverpool City Council that progress had been made on the logistical sticking points impeding the extension of Anfield and provided an even stronger sense that a new stadium is the only way of expanding capacity. "I'm not sure what they [the council] are referring to but more and more it appears that expanding Anfield is problematical," Henry said. "Our hope was to refurbish and expand Anfield. But that may not be possible."
Dalglish has hinted that Steven Gerrard will make his first Liverpool start in seven months tomorrow, insisting that a training regime which has included two yoga sessions a week has made him fitter than he was before groin problems.
Footballers and yoga...
After the recurrence of an old hamstring problem in 2001, Giggs vowed to reform his lifestyle to revive his career. The Welshman ditched the sports car, bought a new bed and turned to yoga. This year the evergreen 37-year-old brought out a fitness DVD. “Yoga tests parts of your body that you just don't use in football,” has said.
The Spanish winger now shares the same yoga teacher as Giggs after being inspired by the Welshman's renaissance since his move to Manchester City. Viewing the practice as central to injury prevention, Silva commented: “It has given me another way to stretch out my muscles after games.”
The former England goalkeeper is still playing at the age of 41 with Bristol City and credits his fitness regime with his remarkable longevity. "I came to yoga as part of my rehabilitation process but quickly saw the benefit of an on going practice," he said. "I now have regular sessions to keep my muscles flexible, my body aligned and my mind free from stress!"
A perhaps unlikely practioner, Keane took up yoga along with Giggs, although it seems he was less dedicated than his team-mate. Recalling his first session, he said: “The women were all quite old, but there was one good-looking one. I watched her stretching for a while.”
The Everton and Australia midfielder has emphasised the mental as well as physical benefits. “People might think that's a bit radical but you have to switch off outside of football. A big part of football nowadays is the mental aspect. It is not all about technique.”
Cahill claims that he tries to do yoga every day, but the Togolese striker, now reformed at Tottenham, is typically more relaxed about it all. “I don't do it every day, that would be impossible, but twice a week with pleasure," he admitted. "I'm not too advanced but I'm getting there.”
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