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Barcelona 5 hours ago
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By ESPN Staff
Jan 5, 2007

Rafa not put off Mascherano bid by FIFA rules

Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez has left the way clear for Javier Mascherano to arrive at Anfield after revealing he is not put off by FIFA rules seemingly restricting the West Ham midfielder's move.

Benitez refused to comment directly today on reports he is on the verge of ending Mascherano's miserable stay at Upton Park by making him his first signing of the new year transfer window.

But he did indicate he is unconcerned by the rules which dictate a player cannot play for more than two clubs in the year starting July 1 - affecting Mascherano, who has already turned out for Corinthians and West Ham.

Benitez said: 'There are a lot of similar situations with players who have played for three clubs in the same season, and in some cases four, so I think it is not a problem.

'We are watching good players and we want to find someone who can add more balance but at this moment we are focusing on the next game, and we are not talking about players.'

Earlier reports indicated Mascherano has already undergone a medical at Anfield and is ready to sign a deal which would represent a big gamble on obtaining the required FIFA clearance.

Juventus have already cooled their interest in Mascherano, who has made just three starts since arriving in the summer alongside Carlos Tevez, reportedly for this very reason.

Meanwhile, ahead of his side's FA Cup third round clash with Arsenal, Benitez has also reiterated his desire to keep midfielder Xabi Alonso and striker Peter Crouch at the club.

Alonso had been linked with a move away from Anfield but Benitez said: 'It is clear that Xabi will stay with us and also Peter Crouch. We do not want to sell players and I am not thinking about this.'

Benitez intends to make more changes to his line-up but insists he will still name a strong team as his side bid to successfully defend the trophy they won so dramatically in Cardiff last May.

Craig Bellamy is set to return to the starting line-up meaning Crouch could once again be left kicking his heels on the bench, but Benitez is convinced his players are happy with his rotation system.

Benitez added: 'If you play for a small club you might play one game a week but when it is a big club such as Liverpool you are in all competitions and it is two games a week.

'This would be a big problem and when you explain the situation to the players I think they understand.'