Gerrard has Benitez´s ´full support´

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez threw his weight behind club captain Steven Gerrard on Wednesday after the England midfielder was charged earlier this week with assault in an alleged bar brawl.

“Steven is our captain and a key player for us, but more than this, I know him as a nice person,” Benitez told the club’s official website.

“I sat down with him this morning and had a very good talk with him about the situation and I was also able to speak at length with our club lawyer,” the Spaniard added.

“Steven explained to me what had happened and I told him he has my full support and backing, along with everyone else at the football club,” said Benitez, back at Liverpool’s Melwood training ground for the first time since his kidney stone operation a fortnight ago.

“He’s trained with the other lads this (Wednesday) morning after a couple of days off for the squad and is keen now to focus solely on his football.

“We’ve worked very hard to get into the position we’re in going through to the New Year and all of us are determined to keep that progress going.

“We’ll do whatever we can to support Steven in the weeks ahead, but we’re now concentrating on our preparation for the FA Cup game at Preston this weekend.”

Gerrard, released on police bail, is free to play in Saturday’s match.

The 28-year-old was charged along with two other men who were also arrested at around 2:30am local time (0230GMT) Monday after the incident at the Lounge Inn restaurant and bar in Southport, near Liverpool in northwest England.

The venue’s disc jockey, a 34-year-old man, required hospital treatment after suffering facial injuries.

According to the Evening Standard, Gerrard had a dispute with the DJ over a song he wanted played.

The Sun daily cited a witness as saying the DJ “pushed Gerrard in the chest, and almost instinctively Gerrard hit back with his elbow”.

A spokesman for Merseyside Police said Gerrard and his two co-accused would be appearing at North Sefton Magistrates’ Court on January 23.

Monday’s incident occurred hours after Liverpool won 5-1 at Newcastle United on Sunday, with Gerrard scoring two goals. Also charged were John Doran, 29, and Ian Smith, 19, both from Liverpool.

The Reds head into the New Year with a three-point lead over Chelsea at the top of the Premier League table.

Liverpool won the last of their record 18 English titles in 1990 and keeping star player Gerrard’s ongoing availability is widely considered essential if they are to win the Premier League this season.

A Liverpool spokesman said Tuesday that Gerrard had been an “outstanding servant” to the club and promised him “all the support he needs at this time.”

Gerrard, who could be jailed for up to five years if convicted, has played 70 times for England and captained his country.

Press reports said Gerrard’s current status would not affect his England career.

Wed 31 December, 2008
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Lavezzi may be Real Madrid’s next target

Italian side Napoli should be prepared for several major bids for support striker Ezequiel Lavezzi during the January transfer window.

Manchester United and Chelsea were reportedly already interested in the 23-year-old, but the two English giants are now joined by Real Madrid who are willing to spend 40 million Euros on the player, according to Gazzetta dello Sport.

So far, Real Madrid attracted Klaas Jan Huntelaar and Lassana Diarra but the Spaniards may be looking for a player that could connect Madrid’s midfield with its attackers.

The young Argentinian joined Napoli from San Lorenzo de Almagro in the 2007. This season, he scored four goals in 13 appearances.

Wed 31 December, 2008
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“Given not going anywhere:” Kinnear

Newcastle United manager Joe Kinnear has denied that keeper Shay Given will be leaving St. James’ Park during the January transfer window.

Given had been linked with both Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur in recent days but Kinnear aims to hold on to his key players for the second half of the season, he told The Journal.

“He won’t be leaving – he has no interest in that whatsoever. He loves the football club,” Kinnear said.

“He’s part of the city and that suits us because he’s a world-class goalkeeper. He’s very happy here, he’s very comfortable at Newcastle United.

Given attracted more interest after his good performance against Liverpool on Sunday. The Magpies did lose 5-1 but things could have been much worse if it wasn’t for the goalie.

“Shay’s performance against Liverpool was brilliant and that got picked up. But ask the Geordie fans and I think they already know how good he is. They know their football, so to be one of their favorites says it all about how good he is.

“He’s the best goalkeeper in the Premier League by a mile,” the coach concluded.

Wed 31 December, 2008
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Apologetic Fuller says his future in Stoke´s hands

Stoke City striker Ricardo Fuller apologised to the club's fans Wednesday after being sent-off for slapping his own captain Andy Griffin in the Premier League defeat against West Ham last weekend.

But the Jamaica forward was unsure if his words would be enough to keep him with the Potters, whose 2-1 loss to West Ham last Sunday left them in the relegation zone.

Fuller, who accused Griffin of “disrespecting” him, told Sky Sports on Wednesday: “It (the incident) happened and that's all. I'm sorry for the fans especially as we didn't get the three points.”

The bizarre flashpoint came just moments after Carlton Cole's equaliser for the Hammers at Upton Park as Fuller lost his cool following a row with Griffin over who was responsible for the goal.

“It was just one of them things. It shouldn't have happened. I just simply said to Griff 'clear the ball out' and he was rude and disrespectful. It's all done and dusted now.

“What he said was bad but what I did was worse and I'm probably going to be suspended for three or four games now.”

Stoke chairman Peter Coates insisted Monday the Potters wanted to keep Fuller but the forward, asked if the clash with Griffin signalled the end of his time at the Britannia Stadium, added: “Who knows? It's up to the club.

“I give my all for Stoke, all the time,” said the 29-year-old, who joined from second-tier Ipswich in 2006.

“Maybe I give too much. Maybe that's why I am in this position now because I was trying to do so much for football and for Stoke City because I am a Stoke City player at the moment and that's all I care about – Stoke City, the team and myself,” added Fuller, who has scored six goals so far this season.

“Anything that goes, goes, I'm okay. It's not a position any football player would like to be in. It's one of them things and I've just got to get over it. It will go away anyway, it's just a matter of time. Time is always the master.

“I'm sorry for what happened, especially for the fans who have been great this season. Hopefully, it will never happen again. It's not a position I like to be in. I'm so passionate, I love to do football work and I love to do football work for Stoke City. Anyway, it's up to the club.”

Coates told the club's official website that Stoke had no plans to offload Fuller during the January transfer window.

“It hasn't entered our heads to sell him,” he said. “We're absolutely sure we want to keep him.

“Ric's a good player and you don't sell your good players.

“He's a big player and an important player, he helped to get us here (the Premier League), and he'll stay at the club.

Wed 31 December, 2008
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Gerrard back in training

The day after his release from prison, Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard was back in training earlier this morning.

Gerrard, who was arrested on Sunday after a bar brawl and charged with assault, has been released on bail.

The club has stood by its talisman throughout the ordeal.

Gerrard will have to wait approximately three weeks until his first court appearance and the worst case scenario is that he could spend the next five years in prison, if found guilty.

Gerrard is due to appear in court for an initial hearing on the twenty-third of January with John Doran and Ian Smith, who are friends from the Huyton area of Liverpool where he grew up and were charged with the same offences.

Merseyside Police released three other men on bail pending further inquiries.

Wed 31 December, 2008
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Real Mallorca takeover by Freddy Shepherd still on

Real Mallorca are still in talks with former Newcastle United chairman Freddy Shepherd about a possible takeover, the Spanish Primera Liga club said on Wednesday.

“At the moment there is only contact with Freddy Shepherd, the only party formally interested in buying the club,” Mallorca spokesman Hector Romero told Reuters.

Former Mallorca president Vicenc Grande put his 93 percent stake in the club up for sale after his Grupo Drac real estate company filed for insolvency in June.

Grande was replaced this month as president by an associate, Joaquin Garcia, who said he had until the end of January to find a new investor.

Romero said the club would not provide any financial details but a source close to the situation said in June that Mallorca were on sale for around 40 million euros ($56.7 million).

Shepherd, who lives in Mallorca for most of the year, was on holiday until Jan. 10 and unavailable for comment, said an official at Shepherd Offshore in Newcastle.

An outspoken and controversial figure during his spell with the English Premier League club, Shepherd said in late June he was in talks to buy Mallorca, currently struggling one place above the relegation zone in Spain’s top league.

Grande had been close to selling his stake to British businessman Paul Davidson for a reported 38 million euros but the deal fell through in November.

Mallorca shareholders are due to hold their annual meeting on Jan. 30 and Romero said a vote could be held then on a possible takeover.

If no agreement was reached with a buyer, shareholders would have to decide whether Garcia would continue as president or be replaced, he added.

Mallorca said on Tuesday they had signed Israeli goalkeeper Dudu Aouate from Deportivo Coruna as cover for injured first-choice keeper Miguel Angel Moya and Romero said this was proof the club was financially sound.

“It’s clear that the international economic situation makes the functioning of all companies more difficult and our club is no exception,” he said.

“But to meet the contractual rights of players you have to make financially solvent guarantees.”

Wed 31 December, 2008
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Can Newcastle and Mike Ashley repair the wounds?

As we come to the end of the year one group of people who must be feeling a little confused are Newcastle United fans. 2008 has certainly been a year of mixed emotions for them and 2009 looks as though it will be little different.

Uncertainty

As we all now know, owner Mike Ashley has confirmed the club are no longer for sale and says that he hopes his decision will end the uncertainty over the Magpies’ future. Ashley had initially put the club on the market back in September when former manager Kevin Keegan’s sudden departure led to the fans turning against Ashley and Dennis Wise in all sorts of ways. The ‘Cockney mafia out’ campaign meant that neither man felt welcome at St James’ Park.

However, despite the media and Ashley’s people themselves claiming that there was plenty of interest in buying the club, it would appear that no suitable offers were actually forthcoming meaning that Ashley has now taken the decision to remain in charge.

Ashley said in Newcastle’s matchday programme,

“I am happy to end the uncertainty fans may have had about the future direction of Newcastle United. I know just how important that is to you. I have withdrawn Newcastle United from the market, and for me 2009 will be the year in which we drive the club forward together. Even when I haven’t been at games I have remained a keen supporter, kicking and heading every ball and cheering the team on TV and being the first to congratulate Joe whenever there’s a good result. When I took the decision to put the club up for sale in September I made a point of saying two things were very important. Firstly, any potential buyer would have to show they had the best interests of Newcastle United at heart and had both the commitment and finance to be worthy custodians of such a fine football club before I would even consider doing a deal. And secondly, I gave you my word that as long as I remain owner, this club would continue to be run responsibly at all levels. I hope you will accept that I have stood by that pledge.”

Mike Ashley originally bought the Magpies in the summer of 2007 and in January this year he brought the fans idol Kevin Keegan back to manage the club. This was a popular move and one that was sure to win over the Toon Army. Some sceptics suggested that was the reason for the appointment rather than it being a carefully planned football decision, but either way, it was an appointment that went down well on Tyneside.

The Messiah

So 2008 started pretty well for Newcastle fans with the return of ‘The Messiah’ although early results under Keegan were disappointing. This was not too much of a problem however because firstly, Keegan would be given as much time as he needed to turn things around by the fans, and secondly, as far as they were concerned, anything was worth getting rid of Sam Allardyce.

However, what did become an obvious problem fairly quickly was the fact that Keegan wasn’t happy with his role and the role of others at the club. In particular, he was unhappy with the role of Dennis Wise and the club’s transfer policy in general.

Hate campaign

Keegan left just a few weeks into the current season when the row over the club’s transfer policy, spiralled out of control. The fans were distraught at the loss of Keegan who had managed to turn things around sufficiently last season but was struggling again now. A hate campaign ensued against Ashley and he decided he had no option but to sell the club.

Sceptics were at it again when the sale was announced. Ashley had priced the club at a level whereby a sale seemed unlikely. Was the sale just a ploy to give Ashley some breathing space from the Keegan furore before returning to the club?

Those who said so at the time will be feeling pretty smug with their ‘I told you so’ smiles at the moment, but we’ll never know if that was really the case.

Genuine

Clearly, something had to be done before the transfer window opened as Newcastle are in need of players and who would go to a club in turmoil and officially for sale? What ever anyone thinks about Ashley, I believe that we all know he is a genuine Newcastle fan and he would have known that he had to make a move now.

Whether this is a spur of the moment move or one that he had always planned is open to conjecture. Whether he will be welcomed back with open arms by the Newcastle fans or not is also open to conjecture.

The one thing about which I am relatively certain is that Dennis Wise will never be accepted by the fans and if Mike Ashley really wants to stay and drive the club forward, he will have to do so without Wise.

Hatred

I don’t know what to believe about the current situation and I still feel that if an offer was made to buy the club that was financially sensible for Mike Ashley he would take it. He is a Newcastle fan but he can’t ignore some of the hatred that was directed towards him and his family after the Keegan affair.

If he is genuine in his desire to stay with the club, backs Joe Kinnear with some funds and sacks Dennis Wise, it is just about possible that the old wounds could be healed. I just fear for the club that all three of those points may be questionable.

Wed 31 December, 2008
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Scolari happy with his players

Chelsea manager Luiz Felipe Scolari said that despite his team’s 2-2 draw against Fulham on Sunday, he is pleased with his players.

He added that the players remain positive and they had a very good practice yesterday after having watched the video of the Fulham match.

The focus was now on their next match, against Southend in the FA Cup.

Wed 31 December, 2008
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Hans Westerhof sacked by Vitesse Arnhem

Vitesse Arnhem have sacked coach Hans Westerhof after a disappointing first half of the season, the Dutch top-flight club said on their website (www.vitesse.nl) on Tuesday.

The sixty-year-old Westerhof, who had spells with Ajax Amsterdam and PSV Eindhoven, joined the club in July but became the third coach to be sacked before the winter break after Roda JC Kerkrade’s Raymond Atteveld and Utrecht’s Wim van Hanegem.

Vitesse are fifteenth in the eighteen-team league with fifteen points from seventeen matches, four more then bottom side Volendam.

Wed 31 December, 2008
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Aston Villa’s John Carew could miss rest of the season

Norway and Aston Villa striker John Carew’s back injury will take longer to heal than previously thought, his agent told Norwegian broadcaster NRK on Tuesday.

Carew, who last played on 22 November, told Norwegian media last month that he would be sidelined for four to five weeks.

“It is hard to say when John will be back. Maybe in February, maybe in March or later,” Per Flod told NRK.

“This is an injury that will take time. It is important that John is completely healed.”

Wed 31 December, 2008
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