Rafael Benitez declared Peter Crouch for sale at a price of £15m yesterday in a move which appears to illustrate how badly he needs sale proceeds to fund new purchases at Anfield.
Benitez's demand appears to price Crouch out of the transfer market and though it might well be an opening negotiating stance it smacked of desperation from a manager who evidently has only one prize asset to sell but wants to bring new talent in, with Sunderland's Kenwyne Jones and Cardiff prodigy Aaron Ramsay also on his radar, as well as Birmingham's Maik Taylor as goalkeeping cover. For Crouch, it raises the prospect of a prolonged spell on the bench watching Fernando Torres prosper.
A less dysfunctional club than Liverpool would not have made the asking price for Crouch, who has one year left on his contract, so prohibitive. But such is the lot of a manager with one co-owner (Tom Hicks) believed to be down to his last £10m and another (George Gillett) desperate to jump ship. It is a predicament which leaves Benitez disinclined to make the sale of Crouch an easy one.
"If we receive a very good offer, and by that I mean £15m, we will consider it. I'm reading about £8m, but if we only receive that then I'd rather keep the player," he said yesterday. But there was also another motive for him to hold on to Crouch just for now – his value to him where he is. If Crouch just sulked on the bench and failed to deliver week after week, the Liverpool manager's calculation would be easier. Crouch delivers often from the bench and now, you might say, he finds himself a victim of his own enthusiasm.
Benitez offered a hint of his irritation with Crouch's unwillingness to accept the new contract offered to him last December, implying that he had played a part in the player's transition from journeyman to top-flight player. "When everybody was criticising him at Southampton when he wasn't scoring goals, I supported him," Benitez said.
"Now he is another player. He is a big name, an international player and everybody talks really well about him. We've offered him a new contract."
But the future does not look good for Crouch if an offer of at least £10m – which realistically seems to be the minimum Benitez would negotiate on – materialises. "He wants to play every week, which isn't easy here because Torres is on fire and Gerrard is playing as a second striker at this moment," Benitez said.
Xabi Alonso, whose future has looked in doubt as Benitez pursues Aston Villa's Gareth Barry, does feature in the manager's plans, though Barry's arrival will clearly make things difficult for him.
"He is our player, he has a contract. Barry can play in three different positions, so I don't think we need to worry about this," Benitez said. This seemed to suggest that Benitez considers the purchase of Barry a foregone conclusion, though he offered a firm riposte to Martin O'Neill's suggestions that Liverpool's public talk on the issue was an attempt to unsettle the player.
"I was surprised with part of his comments. I was talking with him 20 days ago more or less, and he knew everything," said Benitez, whose inference seemed to be that O'Neill was trying to curry favour with fans by his own outburst. "He knew my idea and I knew his idea. I had a private conversation with him. He needed to talk with his owners. I don't have any problem waiting." In what looks like a summer of flux at Anfield, Benitez is also looking for a new assistant manager after Alex Miller accepted an offer to manage the Japanese J-League side JEF United Chiba.
The career of Crouch
England (2005 +) 26 games, 14 goals
Spurs (1998-2000) Trainee; 0 games, 0 goals
Dulwich H (loan, 2000) 6 games, 1 goal
Hassleholm (loan, 2000) 8 games, 3 goals
QPR (2000-01) 47 games, 12 goals
Portsmouth (2001-02) 39 games, 19 goals
Aston Villa (2002-04) 43 games, 6 goals
Norwich (loan, 2003) 15 games, 4 goals
Southampton (2004-05) 33 games, 16 goals
Liverpool (2005 +) 132 games, 40 goals
Anfield spin-off club quick to attract sponsors
The founder of AFC Liverpool, the latest supporter-owned spin-off club in English football, expects to raise between £50,000 and £100,000 annually from a main sponsor and is already in talks with five "household name" companies about a deal, just nine weeks after the club was formed.
AFC Wimbledon, formed in 2002, and FC United of Manchester, formed in 2005, have already shown there is an appetite for fan-driven clubs, and realistic hopes they can climb the game's pyramid. Both were formed in protest at events at Wimbledon and Manchester United, and AFC Wimbledon's rise will see them playing the Conference South next season.
Alun Parry, AFC Liverpool's founder, a lifelong Liverpool fan, stresses that his venture is not inspired by upheaval at Anfield. "We don't see ourselves as a protest club," he told The Independent yesterday. "But Premier League football has become just too expensive, even at Liverpool where they're sensitive to the community.
"What do you do these days if you're a passionate fan who can't get in any more, like so many members of my family?"
The new club already has more than 500 members who have paid £20 on average to join, and Parry expects more than 1,000 will be signed up before the first league fixture on 9 August in the Vodkat North West Counties League, Division Two. Ticket prices will be £2-£5 per game.
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