Meltdown on Merseyside with Torres, Gerrard & Benitez all set for exits; Liverpool, Pompey & Blackburn targetting by prospective buyers; Man United target Brazilian & Scouse kids

Comment & analysis round-up

Quote of the day: “I honestly think that we’re going to be fourth, but for me Champions League qualification isn’t so important. The really important thing is that the club makes a big effort and brings in important players who will improve the quality of the squad. We need four or five top-class players to compete, better than we have here, who will make us grit our teeth and do everything we can to try and keep our places. Without reinforcements next year we will once again be fighting to be fourth. I want to fight next year to win the Premier League, to win the Champions League or the Europa League, but for this there have to be signings. I have this and three more years of my contract. I’ve left my home and it’s clear that I owe Liverpool many things, and I’m very happy here. The fans have treated me like one of their own, but I’m going to think about my future and hopefully it will be here.” – Fernando Torres.

Runner-up: “Like some people before Christmas, I believed we were out of the title race but now I really believe we are back in the hunt. There are eight games to go and we are very much in it. We have the belief that we can go on and do it. The team spirit is very special and we score lots of goals in the last 15 minutes. These are a very big three points for us. Is there a danger of complacency because we have arguably the best run-in of the three teams? My answer to that is have we been in the comfort zone here and at Stoke a fortnight ago? In each game it was 1-1 after 90 minutes but we went on to win. We have showed we have the spirit in both to keep on going.” – Arsene Wenger.

Today’s overview: The question that nobody in the gutter press seems to want to think about. How can it be that on the one hand Rafa Benitez is so bad that the Liverpool board have no faith in the Spanish waiter, but then immediately on the other hand it is accepted that the elite clubs in world football are battling it out to sign up the Anfield boss should he get his P45. Is it really that Liverpool’s rubbish is Real Madrid’s treasure?

The big news this Sunday, as reported by Chris Bascombe, is that ownership, manager and funds at Liverpool could all be about to experience significant changes in the next few months. Reaching for the stars the hack coughed “Rafa Benitez is considering his Anfield future as Liverpool chiefs line up a new £100million investment in the club. The Kop boss has reached breaking point and accepts it is now virtually impossible to take the team forward. But off the field, the club has lined up a spectacular deal with the Rhone Group – reported to be worth £3billion – to dilute the controversial ownership of Tom Hicks and George Gillett. The New York-based private equity firm have begun due diligence with a view to buying around a 40 per cent stake in the club.”

Stopping just short of suggesting there is any evidence to back up his claim, Chris Bacombe goes on to claim that Rafa is set for Real and Jose could replace him at Anfield. “With Benitez’s beloved Real Madrid once more beginning to make discreet overtures for his services, there is an acceptance at Anfield they will be scouring the market for a new manager in the close season. New owners would almost certainly want to install their own man and if there is major funding available, Jose Mourinho would be top of that list.”

Adding more smoke the Benitez-out fire with as much of a scintilla of evidence to back up his claims, Bill Mills barks “Liverpool are preparing for life without Rafa Benitez. He goes into today’s clash with Portsmouth with the Reds’ season in ruins and boardroom support for him collapsing… The Spaniard is just 12 months into a five-year contract and Liverpool would prefer a mutually agreed end to his six-year reign. Real Madrid and Juventus both have Benitez on their wish-list of potential new coaches, while Inter Milan face the prospect of losing Jose Mourinho this summer.”

On the future employment of the Special One, Paul Smith argues that a return to the Premier League looks off the cards right now. “Mourinho is unlikely to take the Liverpool job with restrictive spending in place and realises that a move to City will almost certainly damage his chances of landing the Manchester United job one day. He would relish the opportunity to succeed Sir Alex Ferguson at Old Trafford. But as things stand it looks odds on that he will move to Madrid in the summer.”

Heading off on a tangent, Paul Wilson examines why Los Blancos go through so many managers. “The politics surrounding the presidential system appear mostly to blame for Real going through good coaches at such a wasteful rate, and it is no coincidence that settled managers such as Wenger and Ferguson have developed an antipathy to the way Real go about their business. Madrid may have more luck with edgier Iberians such as Mourinho or Rafa Benítez. Neither is fancied to stick around indefinitely with his present club, and both are on the Real radar. It would not be the greatest surprise to see one or the other at the Bernabeu next season. If Real stay true to form, the other one can be expected to turn up a season or two later.”

Liverpool are far from being the only Premier League club being eyed by prospect buyers.

Adam Carroll-Smith details that “TV’S Secret Millionaire Rob Lloyd is leading a multi-national consortium that will make a bid to rescue penniless Portsmouth. The Cheshire property developer has pledged £10million up front with funds from a New York hedge fund to cover the club’s debts, believed to be around £80million.”

The value-for-money buy though, as made public by Alan Nixon, could be Blackburn Rovers. “Blackburn Rovers’ owners want a knockdown £25million for the club – with THREE potential buyers. The bank working for the Jersey-based Jack Walker trustees has cut the asking price almost £20m from the last time there was serious interest three years ago. Rovers have been offered to several interested parties by their middlemen Rothschilds, with a trio of individuals and groups, mainly with Middle East links.”

One club unlikely to be sold without drastic measures being taken, according to James Corrigan, is Manchester United. “If the Theatre of Dreams turned into an echo chamber, the Glazers would soon be on their way. The protest on the balance sheet is something they would most definitely understand. It won’t come to this, because it is contrary to the very nature of the supporter which is, of course, to support the team. But the sad fact is it would have to come to this before the fans could wield any meaningful influence by their widespread dissent. Otherwise they can carry on singing when they’re winning and the owners can remain impervious to the words and their message. What a mess.”

Foreign investors are also looking at bailing out the Bluebirds according to Mario Risoli, but with one important proviso. “Cardiff City’s £6million rescue package is likely to come with one stipulation – the exit of under-fire chairman Peter Ridsdale. Sport of the World understands that Malaysian property tycoon Dato Chan Tien Ghee is prepared to stump up the cash provided Ridsdale walks out of the door.”

Shifting topics, Patrick Collins risks being labelled a traitor by speaking in cliches as he talks down the quality of English managers compared to their foreign equivalents. “In the eyes of most English managers, football is a game played by passionate ruffians. The harder you kick, the more you care and the less foreign players understand your caring. It is a nonsense, of course, but that’s the way the thinking goes. None of this suggests that English managers are incapable of operating at the highest levels. From Ramsey to Clough to Paisley to Robson, the precedents are illustrious and persuasive. Yet England is not producing its Ferguson or its Wenger. It cannot offer an O’Neill or a Moyes. Instead, it gives us Cockney caricatures and people who want the ball belted high, long and often. There are those who contend that there is little wrong with English football which could not be cured by many more English managers. Personally, I doubt they are right and I doubt that public opinion is with them.”

Pompous twat Piers Morgan once again invokes hatred by this week turning on David Beckham’s scarf wearing antics. “Compared with genuinely loyal United heroes like Giggs, Scholes and Neville, Beckham’s been a treacherous, money-grabbing, club-hopping, fame-hungry, egotistical little weasel who likes nothing better than making everything all about HIM. And nothing personified this more than when he swooped to pick up the green-and-gold anti-Glazer protest scarf and wrapped it round his tattooed neck… Because the very last thing David Beckham would ever want to associate himself with is rich, fatcat Americans exploiting soccer for pure commercial gain. Which is why he currently resides in Los Angeles, choosing to play pub football over proper football because rich, fat-cat Americans line his Armani pockets with millions of dollars to exploit soccer for pure commercial gain.”

Not only is love-rat Ashley Cole still trying pathetically to save his marriage, but Neil Ashton reports the full back is struggling to hold onto his World Cup dreams. “Ashley Cole’s World Cup dreams are virtually over after it was revealed he will not play for Chelsea again this season.”

With months still to wait out until the transfer window reopens, hacks across the nation happily fart stories that boarder on a series of lies.

The worst offender appears to be Steve Bates in The People who sticks the knife in the back of every Red Scousers writing “Real Madrid have made Steven Gerrard their No.1 transfer target – and believe they can land the Kop superstar for £30million… Their pursuit of the England star will rock Liverpool fans, who now face the nightmare scenario of losing their talisman AND star striker Fernando Torres.” Paul Hetherington then bowls in with his sixth sense that “even a hint that Gerrard could be prised away from Anfield would see the big-spending Spanish giants face fierce competition from the Premier League’s richest club – Manchester City.

Manchester United are set to splash the cash again for a young Brazilian according to The Mirror. “Manchester United are chasing another boy from Brazil – and will make a move for Corinthians’ Dodo this summer to kill off ­interest from Real Madrid and Barcelona. United have an agreement that gives them first option on the 18-year-old until he turns 21 in 2013.”

Staying at Old Trafford, the Reds are said to be tracking Everton’s Jack Rodwell and Dan Gosling while the funds from such deals could allow the Toffees to snap up Stephen Ireland from Manchester City. Everton could have a battle on their hands though as Liverpool are also eyeing up Ireland according to the Mirror on Sunday.

Staying on Merseyside, Joseph Yobo is said to want out of Goodison Park while Villarreal and Sevilla are reportedly battling over Albert Riera’s signature from Liverpool. Elsewhere, West Ham are linked with Birmingham duo Liam Ridgewell and Sebastian Larsson.

Pete Jensen storms in with the over-the-top nonsense that “Manchester City are in pole position to snap up Real Madrid striker Gonzalo Higuain – because the Argentinian has fallen out with Cristiano Ronaldo. And the Eastlands side also want to take Fernando Gago off Real’s hands in a £45million double swoop.”

But who will be the manager at Eastlands when the summer comes around? Rory Smith puts the cat amongst the pigeons writing “Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini has emerged as a contender to replace Marcello Lippi in charge of the Italian national team when the 61 year-old steps down after the World Cup in South Africa.”