Benitez backs Pennant sum

Rafael Benitez has admitted Liverpool had to pay top price to get Jermaine Pennant in the summer.

The right winger, who faces his former club Birmingham at St Andrews in the Carling Cup fourth round, cost Liverpool around £7m, for a player who had never totally proved himself in the top flight and had plenty of personal baggage in tow.

It looked a huge gamble for the Liverpool boss, and it has still not fully paid off.

But Benitez revealed Liverpool’s needs were so acute at the time and there were few better alternatives, they were prepared to meet Birmingham’s top asking price.

Benitez said: “Sometimes when you are looking for a player you really need, then you have to pay a little bit more than you wanted to do.

“I do not know many right wingers in this country who are better than Pennant playing in the Premier. Who else, (Shaun) Wright-Phillips at £21m?

“For us it was a decision we needed to make because we needed a specialist for a certain position.

“It is clear he was one of the first choices. I was not thinking too much about the price, only the player and what we wanted.

“We knew we needed to spend money in that position. You could talk about other candidates, but there were not many, and anyone cheaper would not have been as good as Jermaine. And Birmingham knew that.”

Now Pennant could be in line for plenty of stick from his former fans, but Benitez says: “I hope the Birmingham fans will understand what a good player Jermaine was for their club and that we paid them very good money for him.

“It was good business for both clubs. Maybe they will not be cheering him, but I feel they will appreciate the business and what happened.”

He added: “When we decided to sign Jermaine it is because we were looking for a right winger with the right requirements for the job at the top level.

“We needed to see pace and the ability to cross the ball and beat opponents. He was one of the best players in the Premiership for that last season.

“We knew he could cross really, really well. He can do that with an opponent very close to him, and the crosses are good.

“He only needs just one touch at speed, even when the ball is difficult to control. He has a lot of quality and with Peter Crouch and Dirk Kuyt now in the middle, he gives us greater possibilities and options when we are attacking.

“He can get crosses in from very little space on the line, and they are dangerous and accurate. Last season at Birmingham he had Emile Heskey and Chris Sutton aim for, and that was easy for him because of the qualities of those two players in the air.

“Now he needs to know that when playing at home his crosses have to be very good because of the amount of players in the box. Away from home he has to be sure not to cross too early to give his team mates time to get into the box and support.

“He is learning, and the understanding with his colleagues is improving.”

Benitez sends a team to the midlands, where his side won 7-0 in the FA Cup quarter finals in March, with one eye on the crucial Premiership trip to Arsenal on Sunday.

Not even travelling is skipper Steven Gerrard, along with Jose Reina, Sami Hyypia and Luis Garcia, which means the likes of Pennant, Robbie Fowler, Craig Bellamy, Daniel Agger, Mark Gonzalez and Gabriel Paletta are in line for a run out.

Benitez says: “This Birmingham game will not be like last season, it will be a very tough game. It will be different players this time and not the same situation as last season.

“I have spoken to Jermaine about the game, and he said they really want to do well this time. They want to win and will approach the game intent on staying in the competition.”

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