Mascherano refuses to return Hodgson's calls in signal of intent

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The Independent Football

Roy Hodgson, the Liverpool manager, admitted yesterday he has been desperately trying to contact midfielder Javier Mascherano to convince him to stay at the club, but the Argentine is not returning his phone calls and text messages.

Hodgson said he has had better luck in contacting both Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres, the two other Liverpool players that are the subject of intense interest from other clubs. But he has failed to raise Mascherano, who made it clear earlier this week that he would prefer to be reunited with the former Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez at Internazionale.

Hodgson said: "I have tried to contact Javier. I have left him voice messages and sent him texts but had no reply. To be fair to him, that's not unusual because he's had a tough World Cup and I believe he's gone back to Argentina. It's not always easy to get in touch with people. I have tried to reach him to make clear I am happy to talk with him at his convenience."

Mascherano's departure now seems likely as the player's reluctance to even pick up the phone to his new manager suggests his mind has been made up. Hodgson, however, is confident that this week's trip to Madrid to speak to Torres has succeeded in showing the Spanish striker how much he is prized at Anfield.

Chelsea lead the clubs keen on signing Torres, who tore a thigh muscle in Sunday's World Cup final but could still be fit for the start of the season in four weeks' time. Hodgson said yesterday that Liverpool do not intend to sell the striker they bought from Atletico Madrid for £26.5m three years ago.

Liverpool officials flew to Spain to meet Torres this week to assess his injury and discuss his future. Hodgson said: "I have met with Fernando. I found him to be a very pleasant man and we had a nice conversation. As far as we are concerned he is a Liverpool player and we want him to remain a Liverpool player.

"He is not for sale and we don't welcome any offers for him. We want to keep him. My conversation with him was only short because I had to leave to come to the training camp in Switzerland. We spoke about football, the World Cup, his injury, and I told him how much I am looking forward to working with him.

"Christian Purslow [managing director] was also at the meeting and chatted to Fernando for a lot longer after I left but my chat with him was only about football matters."

Hodgson starts his reign at Liverpool in the same competition he ended his Fulham career, the Europa League. Liverpool were drawn to play either FK Rabotnicki from Macedonia or Armenia's FC Mika in the Europa League third round qualifier. FK Rabotnicki are 1-0 up from the first leg, and the return match will be next Thursday. Hodgson's side will play the first leg at home on 29 July, with the second leg a week later, and will be without Torres, Pepe Reina, Dirk Kuyt and Ryan Babel.

"It is every bit as difficult as I was expecting," Hodgson said, from the club's training camp in Switzerland. "At this stage of the qualifying round there are a lot of teams from countries you don't know too well and teams who probably will not make it to the latter stages of the competition. It is up to us to get as much information as we can in the limited period of time we have. That is what we will do.

"We also have to get as many of our players as fit as we can for the first leg, but we already know the four players involved in the World Cup final won't be involved in these games."

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