First things first, yes, we know Damien Comolli doesn't work for Liverpool any more. Still, with the club signing another highly regarded 16-year-old starlet, we would never have been able to forgive ourselves if we hadn't taken what will in all likelihood be our final chance to post the totally not thrown together in five minutes in Photoshop picture of the former director of football and his candyvan…
* When Liverpool booked its place in the FA Cup final, stories about the club and fans being unhappy with the FA's ticket allotment were bound to follow. For years the final has seen the FA reserve the largest single block of tickets for neutrals, Wembley season ticket holders, and various corporate sponsors who add nothing to the atmosphere but line the governing body's pockets with the cash that instead of the game of football itself often seems their main motivating force. This year, to nobody's surprise, is no different, with the clubs splitting roughly 55% of the available tickets and the FA setting aside 45% of Welmbley's capacity for others.
This is in contrast to the semi-finals of the FA Cup and the finals of the League Cup, both of which regularly see the competing sides given an equal plurality that leads to far more supporters in the stands and a far more passionate atmosphere. This year, however, it isn't just the same old complaints about ticketing, as the FA's decision to push back kick-off until 5:15 in a move that will see the final played under floodlights for the first time at the new Wembley means many traveling Liverpool supporters won't be able to easily return home after the match.
This is because of rail line maintenance, which Virgin Trains explained ahead of time to the FA had been set and scheduled since before the current football season began. Combined with it being a bank holiday, it means there will be no trains returning to Liverpool until the following Monday. If the FA had instead scheduled the match at its more traditional 3PM kick-off time, some fans at least would have been able to travel back to Liverpool by rail before the halting of service. And the stuff we were saying the other day about the FA maybe not being entirely and unforgivably evil because they put up cup highlights on Youtube? Yeah, you should probably scratch that.
* Meanwhile, the folks over on Top Drawer Soccer recently had the chance to talk to United States U20 international and Liverpool prospect Villyan Bijev, who's currently out on loan with German side Fortuna Dusseldorf, about his adjustment to playing football in Europe:
The first few months in Germany were definitely a challenge. Coming from the Development Academy and training with a team that's at the top of the second league in Germany was tough. Every aspect of the game was more serious.
My main challenge was adapting to the game mentally and tactically. Leaving home for the first time and entering the football world was tough at first. Luckily for me I quickly realized that this is where I want to be. I want to be a professional footballer and I'm willing to do whatever it takes to achieve that goal.
As for why a young Liverpool prospect is getting his first taste of European football—aside from a short trial period on Merseyside, at least—with the fourth side in Bundesliga 2, the answer lies in passports, work permits, and the politics of the European Union. Bijev is able to claim a Bulgarian passport that would now allow him to receive a work permit in England, but at the time of his signing work agreements with England for one the the EU's newest members hadn't been finalised, which meant the club had little choice but to send him on an immediate loan after his successful trial period.
The 19-year-old Bijev has so far spent most of his time in Germany playing with the reserves, though he came off the bench to make his first team debut on April 6. Fortuna currently sit a point out of third with two rounds remaining in the 2011-12 campaign, with a chance to face the 16th place side in the Bundesliga for promotion should they make up the deficit. By most accounts, Bijev will find his way to Liverpool in time for the 2012-13 season.
* Speaking of youth prospects, late yesterday it emerged that Liverpool had signed Crewe Alexandria's 16-year-old midfielder Dan Smith for £300,000. The highly rated starlet had been expected to sign for Manchester City, with widespread news of a deal being all but done in recent weeks, but with that move falling through for unspecified reasons Liverpool quickly stepped in to snap him up.
Following signings of Raheem Sterling and Jordan Ibe, Smith's arrival marks the third time in a little more than a year that Liverpool has picked up one of the brightest prospects in England before his seventeenth birthday. And though the club's determination to spend big on senior British talent has come in for criticism, it's almost impossible to find fault with their desire to snap up the country's best youth prospects and integrate them into the revamped academy before they've fully developed. In addition to following in the footsteps of the likes of Sterling and Ibe, Smith's arrival from Crewe follows past moves by Rob Jones and Danny Murphy from the Railwaymen to the Reds.
We'll be back with any breaking news, but in the meantime, here's a brief look at Liverpool's newest signing (he's Crewe's number 12, he has a great touch at 2:30 and scores just past the 3:20 mark if you want to skip ahead, and—spoiler alert—he seems to already have the beating Chelsea thing down)…