• Europa League

Rodgers to speak to Reds about racism

ESPN staff
February 13, 2013
Brendan Rodgers has taken a strong side to Zenit © Getty Images

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Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers says he will specifically advise his players on handling racist abuse in the Petrovsky Stadium against Zenit St Petersburg, but expects the authorities to deal with any problems.

Zenit have a long history of racist incidents. They were fined in 2008 after fans threw bananas and made monkey chants during a game with Marseille and again in March 2011 - to the sum of £6,130 - when former Brazil international Roberto Carlos was offered a banana.

In December a group of the Russian club's fans published a manifesto calling for sexual minorities and non-Europeans to be kept out of the St Petersburg club. And two months ago QPR and former Anzhi Makhachkala defender Chris Samba labelled the Zenit fans racist and said they "are living in another century''.

Liverpool, who have already written to Zenit and UEFA about the potential problem, will allow Rodgers to address the issue in team meetings but the manager expects UEFA, police and the club to take care of matters in the Europa League last-32 first leg tie.

"I haven't spoken to any of the players at the moment but we still have a few meetings to go,'' said the Reds boss. "I will make reference to it because we have players it maybe could affect but we are here for football.

"We are very hopeful there will be a terrific game and anything that goes on outside the field will be taken care of. It is a social issue, not just a football issue, and it is something over the last 20-odd years that we as a football club and in Britain a lot of work has gone into outside of football to prevent racism.

"I know these are players who want to play and Glen [Johnson] is a very experienced, top international player. It is an issue these young players have experienced in their lives before. Obviously they understand and the likes of young Raheem [Sterling] has been through situations like this (in an Under-21 international in Serbia in October).''

Rodgers is confident any racist abuse would not affect his players, in fact he believes the opposite would be true.

"It is something which will very much unite the players and they will become one group,'' he added. "No-one in life wants to see anyone come under any sort of scrutiny like that.

"You go into the sporting arena and hopefully everyone from football, UEFA, referees and officials will support any player it may affect. There is no doubt if there is anything like that which is untoward then us as a group we will do everything we can to support the player or players. We hope it is a game where the officials and UEFA can take care of all that.''

Meanwhile, Zenit St Petersburg coach Luciano Spalletti accepts his side cannot afford to be second best. The Russian champions have not played a competitive match since mid-December because of the break in the domestic season, but Spalletti does not view that as an excuse.

"We can't play as number two. We'll play an intense match, aggressively,'' he said. "We'll put out players that are most capable of scoring and winning the game - the best players - and we will play to win.''

Unlike in the group stage, when Liverpool left captain Steven Gerrard at home for the clash with Anzhi in Moscow, Reds boss Brendan Rodgers has travelled with a virtually fully-strength side. Spalletti is aware of the danger posed by Gerrard, who has impressed in recent weeks, and leading scorer Luis Suarez.

"If a player like Gerrard is allowed more time than necessary to think he can play any pass he wants,'' the Italian added. "If our defenders allow Suarez to move the way he wants, play one on one, he will cause a lot of problems for the team.

"For Zenit, it's one of the challenges we'd enjoy as Liverpool are a great team. Both teams feature great, strong players, so you have to play a really good match.''

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