LIVERPOOL are involved in a tough negotiating battle with Ajax over Luis Suarez, with the clubs understood to be €10m apart on a price for the Uruguay international.
The obvious need for substantial reinforcements to a squad which looks short of Kenny Dalglish's requirements has left a club which anticipated a relatively low-budget January now hoping for two or three signings.
Aston Villa's Stephen Warnock seems the most probable acquisition, with Dalglish concerned by Paul Konchesky's alienation from Liverpool's fans as well as his struggle for form.
Villa's Ashley Young and Wigan's Charles N'Zogbia are also players of interest, despite Villa's insistence that Young is not for sale, reflecting the absence of creativity in a side which is yet to win under Dalglish.
Suarez satisfies the need for a forceful second striker as well as delivery from the wings.
Contrary to internet reports yesterday, Liverpool's principal owner John W Henry did not meet the player's agent Pere Guardiola at London's San Carlo restaurant on Tuesday night. Henry was in Liverpool for the evening. There has still been no official bid for Suarez but he would also bring more aggression to the side.
Though Suarez is understood to be keen to leave Amsterdam and is attracted by the contingent of Spanish speakers who would help his acclimatisation on Merseyside, Ajax have proved inflexible on price so far. Liverpool are offering €15m, while Ajax want a minimum of €25m.
Ryan Babel, who will move to Hoffenheim in an €7m deal unless a club more attractive to the 24-year-old comes in with a bid for him, was initially offered to Ajax, from whom he was signed, as part of the deal but they were not interested.
Ajax want only to maximise their financial return. They need the money but they believe they can win the Eredivisie -- they are currently fourth, six points off PSV Eindhoven with a game in hand -- which is why they appear to be ready to play hardball.
Ajax may also take into consideration Suarez's mindset. A combustible individual -- he was banned by the Dutch FA in November for seven games for biting an opponent on the shoulder -- Suarez is said to be angered by the Dutch club's refusal to sell him. He was also frustrated last summer when a sizeable bid was tabled which then manager Martin Jol blocked, threatening to leave if Suarez went.
Manchester United had an initial interest in the player, whose performances in Uruguay's run to the World Cup semi-finals underlined his potential.
During negotiations for a contract extension, Suarez pushed for Ajax to sign his friend and fellow Uruguayan Nicolas Lodeiro, which shows how much they value him. Lodeiro has barely played since.
Suarez is out of contract in June 2012 so they need to sell him by this summer. Tottenham had been interested, but Harry Redknapp was understood to have harboured some doubts about his technical merits and has pulled out of the race for his signature. As a consequence Spurs are now pursuing Giuseppe Rossi of Villarreal.
Meanwhile, Liverpool's new chairman, Tom Werner, insisted last night that Dalglish fits the criteria to be the club's long-term manager.
In an interview with the club's TV station yesterday he said: "We've said at his (inaugural) press conference that he fits the criteria that we're looking for in a manager. He's extremely competent, he's excellent at man-management, he knows the philosophy of the club and he's been everything we could have hoped for.
"At the same time we are certainly looking at what we can do to strengthen the club in the long term and he would be a candidate."
Of the qualities the new manager would need, Werner said: "You can just study the words and the actions of our great managers, Paisley and Shankly, and I certainly would include Kenny Dalglish as part of that triumvirate. They know what it means to win and what it means to be a big-four club.
"Our intention is not just to become eligible for the Champions League, but to be the best team in the league.
"It is also our intention to improve the club short-term. We know there are ways to improve the club and we do have targets. We hope to announce something but we are going to be driven by long-term decisions."
Werner insisted that the club's owners are prepared to provide money for big-name signings if it benefits the long-term future of the team. "I don't want to get the wage bill down. I want it to increase and we have the resources to do that -- I just think we ought to be performing at a better level than we had been. We already have a very high wage bill and it shouldn't be such that we are 12th in the league right now.
"I expect us to move forward and improve our position. But we are not going to be making decisions which do not improve the fortunes of the club long term." (© Independent News Service)