Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez hailed Steven Gerrard yesterday after he was cleared of an alleged assault, voicing confidence that his captain would be mentally ready for the new season.
Gerrard was accused of being part of a group that injured a man at the Lounge Inn nightclub in Southport, near Liverpool, England, on Dec. 29.
Gerrard was found not guilty on Friday and celebrated his high-profile acquittal by playing for Liverpool reserves just hours later.
The England star scored a goal in their 2-2 draw against neighbors Tranmere Rovers, but Benitez said he would not travel to Singapore to join the rest of the squad for the final days of their Asian tour.
“We are really, really pleased with the news, which means he can now play football and focus on football, but the plan is to rest him and he will start again next week,” Benitez said.
His non-appearance in Thailand and Singapore put a dampener on the much-hyped Asian swing, with some fans upset after his image was used prominently in promotional material to sell tickets.
His court date was set before the trip to Asia was announced.
Benitez said he hoped supporters understood that, despite the trial being over, Gerrard needed to be treated with care as the new season was just weeks away.
“We were in touch with him every day and knew what was happening, and we were confident everything would be OK,” he said. “Now we need to take care of him, he must rest. I have to protect my players. We have already lost two to injury [defender Martin Skrtel and forward Nabil El Zhar]. I’m sorry for the fans that we can’t bring Gerrard, but he is the captain of the team, so he is a key player for the rest of the season. I hope the fans can respect the decision. We have other big names like [Pepe] Reina, [Xabi] Alonso, Fernando [Torres] and [Javier] Mascherano and they are all here.”
Asked if Gerrard would be mentally ready for the new campaign given the stress he has been under, Benitez said: “He’s alright, he scored a goal against Tranmere on Friday night.”
■SPURS KEEN ON VIEIRA
Tottenham Hotspur manager Harry Redknapp has admitted that former Arsenal captain Patrick Vieira is keen to quit Inter for a shock move to White Hart Lane.
Vieira earned hero status at Arsenal during his nine-year spell with the Gunners, but the France midfielder is looking for regular first-team action after falling out of favor at Inter and Redknapp believes he would gladly join his former club’s bitter rivals.
If Vieira does sign for Spurs, he would risk angering Arsenal fans who regard him as a legend, but Redknapp insisted that wouldn’t stop the 33-year-old returning to north London.
“I’m still interested in Patrick, I would like him,” Redknapp said. “What’s he done wrong? He hasn’t killed anyone, he’s just a great player who played for Arsenal. If he wants to come to Tottenham, it shows you about his character. He’s not interested in money. He wants to come and play, he’s a fantastic player and wants to play here.”
Redknapp’s priority is to find cover at centerback after Jonathan Woodgate joined Ledley King and Michael Dawson on the injury list this week.
All three could miss the start of the season, but Redknapp also wants a defensive midfielder to protect his back four and has inquired about Real Madrid’s Lassana Diarra as well as Vieira.