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 Posted by ESPN Staff
Jun 29, 2007

Benitez closing on major Liverpool signings

Rafael Benitez believes he is on the brink of the major signings, including Fernando Torres, that he needs to boost Liverpool's squad ahead of the new Premier League season.

The Anfield chief was guarded today on the belief that Liverpool and Atletico Madrid had struck a deal in principle to bring striker Torres to Merseyside.

But sources close to the club insist that only personal terms with the Spanish international now need to be concluded when he returns from holiday next week.

Although the Madrid club officially played down talk of an imminent move today, a spokesman insisted that no deal had been agreed 'but things might change,' privately they have accepted that the 23-year-old wants to leave.

Benitez did nothing today to deny that a deal is close when he said: 'All I can say is that Fernando Torres is one of the players we have looked at.'

But after the first week of pre-season training, Benitez clearly believes that his top target is within his grasp.

He said: 'You must always be excited at the start of a new season. You must also have confidence in your team and hopefully we will soon bring in the new players that we want to make the squad better.

'We are working on new signings all the time. As I've already said, the spine of the team is in place and now we just need to add to that.'

Anfield officials are now very confident that the Torres deal is set-up. They will pay close to the £27m buy-out clause in the player's contract.

However, it is expected that Torres will have to say he wants to leave to allow Madrid to escape the wrath of their fans, who idolise the player they have called 'the kid' since his debut as a 16 year old.

Djibril Cisse has refused to be a make-weight in the deal, but Liverpool are expected now to sell Luis Garcia to Atletico for £4m.

Benitez would prefer not to lose the adaptable midfielder, but with Mohamed Sissoko signing a new four year-contract yesterday and Javier Mascherano also competing for a midfield slot alongside Steven Gerrard and Xabi Alonso, Luis Garcia's chances of regular football have diminished while he has been recovering from the knee injury that wrecked last season for him.

Benitez is delighted with the new Sissoko deal, saying: 'It's good that we will be able to see the energy of Momo all around the pitch for a few more years. It's a major positive for us.

'The best is yet to come from him. He enjoyed a really good first season but last campaign he suffered some injuries. We have a lot of confidence in him though, and I'm sure we'll see the real Momo again now that he's free from injury.

'He's a player with a lot of energy. For his fellow midfielders and the rest of the team he's really important.'

Liverpool will also have young Brazilian midfield star Lucas Leiva - a £5m capture from Gremio - fighting for a place in an increasingly congested midfield department.

The arrival of Torres along with Ukrainian striker Andriy Voronin, could mean that Craig Bellamy will also be sold to raise the cash for Torres capture. Benitez also wants to sell Cisse and will not allow him another year on loan at Marseille. The French outfit are negotiating for a permanent deal which could go through this weekend.

The sales of Bellamy, Cisse and Luis Garcia could raise £16m, which will make the record-breaking Torres fee easier on Benitez's finances.

And while Benitez seems to at last be getting the top European talent he craves, his end-of-season desire for more youthful recruits is taking shape.

He has signed 18-year-old Athletic Bilbao defender Mikel San Jose, Bulgarian U21 goalkeeper Nikolay Mikhailov, 19, plus Hungarian youngsters Krisztian Nemeth, 18, and Andras Simon, 17, from MTK Budapest.

And Liverpool have also confirmed two more 16-year-olds will be joining the academy from abroad. The Anfield club have signed striker Marvin Pourie from Borussia Dortmund and Alex Kacaniklic from Swedish club Helsingborgs.