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Friday, Jan. 14, 2005

PREMIER REPORT

Morientes fired up to join Liverpool


LONDON -- Last summer Liverpool sold Michael Owen to Real Madrid for £8 million, the England striker becoming the third choice behind Raul and Ronaldo at Bernabeu Stadium.

Christopher Davies

On Thursday, Liverpool paid Real £6.3 million for Fernando Morientes who had dropped to fourth in the Real pecking order following the arrival of Owen.

While it wasn't quite a straight swap (and a six-month gap) between Owen and Morientes, Liverpool fans will be wondering which club has the better deal from a footballing perspective. In business terms both clubs can be satisfied with the respective transfers.

Owen joined Real because he would not sign an extension to his Liverpool contract, which meant he would have left Anfield for nothing this summer, so accepting the £8 million from Madrid was an offer Liverpool could not refuse.

Morientes cost Liverpool £6.3 million which, from Real's viewpoint, is a good price for a player who had become a permanent substitute following his return from Monaco where he spent the 2003-04 season on loan.

It is remarkable that a player with Morientes' pedigree could not establish himself with Real, even accepting the big-name transfer policy of Team Galactico.

Just about any striker would be proud of Morientes' record.

Having cut his teeth in Spain with Albacete, he netted 28 goals in 66 league matches for Real Zaragoza and was snapped up by Real Madrid in the summer of 1997.

He quickly made his mark at the Bernabeu, scoring 12 league goals and four in Europe as Real lifted the Champions League in his first season. Not bad for starters.

Morientes' debut for Spain could hardly have gone better, scoring twice in the opening five minutes against Sweden and he has since established an international scoring record of one goal every one-and-a-half games.

He continued to score freely for Real and enjoyed six good seasons there, which brought him a further two Champions League winners' medals, although he often found himself playing in the shadow of Raul, who remains No. 1 in the hearts of the fans even though the captain is a pale shadow of the player he was a couple of seasons ago.

The problems began for Morientes when Ronaldo arrived at the Bernabeu three years ago, assuming immediate galactico status and therefore undroppable.

Cash-strapped Real, desperate to offload players in 2003 allowed Morientes to join Monaco on loan, thus saving his salary of around £60,000 per week.

It was with Monaco that Morientes almost joined a group of true football legends. Had Monaco beaten FC Porto in the 2004 Champions League final, "Moro' ' would have stood alongside the likes of Paolo Maldini, Jose Hector Rial, Marquitos and Phil Neal as a four-time winner of European club football's top prize. Even so, three winners' medals in the trophy cabinet is still a hat trick of some significance.

Morientes netted 105 goals in 259 Spanish League games and last season scored 10 in 28 with Monaco, for whom he was also top goal scorer in the Champions League. For Spain, Morientes has 23 goals in 36 appearances.

The suspicion is, that had Morientes been French or German it is a record that would probably have made Real buy him, but as a home-produced forward he found himself surplus to requirements behind the foreign legion of galacticos.

FERNANDO MORIENTES will have few language problems at Anfield. Apart from former Valencia coach Rafael Benitez there are fellow countrymen Xavi Alonso, Luis Garcia, Josemi and Antonio Nunez, plus Argentina's Mauricio Pellegrino.

"There are Spanish players there, a Spanish manager and a game against Manchester United coming up," said Morientes. "I am hoping to make my debut [on Saturday]," he said. "And you can't ask for more than a debut against Manchester United. It would be a great debut for me and even better if the team wins. All I can do is hope that the medical goes well and I am registered in time to play."

Having played in the Champions League for Real this season, Morientes is ineligible for Liverpool's clash with Bayer Leverkusen next month but is nonetheless keen to focus on a new chapter in his career.

"Not being able to play in the Champions League is a shame," he said. "But I probably wouldn't have played much had I stayed [in Madrid]. Now I have to help Liverpool qualify to play next year.

"I am going with hope and promise I will work like any other player and try to make the club greater than it already is, although bearing in mind their history, that is not going to be easy."

He prefers to remember the good times rather than the more recent frustrations at the most successful club in European football history. He said: "The last six months have not been a good time for me. If you decide to go in mid-season it is because something is not working. I had no option other than to tell the club what I thought and hope they would accept my decision.

"I had several offers but I think the best for me and my family was Liverpool's. I am happy for that reason, but sad because it has been eight years here at Madrid and I will never forget them. I am grateful the club have accepted my wishes to go to Liverpool rather than other better offers they could have had. All I can say is thanks to all the clubs who were interested.

"One of them was Lyon but when their offer came in I had given my word to Liverpool. The Lyon offer came later and I had made my decision. I wanted to go to England."

Morientes admitted he might have been better advised to have left Real even sooner.

He said: "I am not sorry about anything I have done here, although maybe it would have been better to leave at the start of the season.

"But I want to thank the club. They have given me almost everything in the eight years I have been here and all I can do is thank them.

"I am very proud of having played here [with Real]. I am going after having won a lot of titles and that is important."

Christopher Davies covers Arsenal and the Republic of Ireland for the London Daily Telegraph.


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