Martin Skrtel: Liverpool exit never close
Liverpool defender Martin Skrtel insists that he never came close to leaving Anfield during the summer despite uncertainty over his future.
Skrtel, 28, made only his fifth Premier League start of 2013 on Sunday, turning in a man of the match display as the Reds beat Manchester United 1-0.
The Slovakia centre-back, who missed the start of the season with a knee problem, stepped in for groin injury victim Kolo Toure and it was a happy return for Skrtel, who lost his place to Jamie Carragher in the second half of last season.
Skrtel claimed in May that he would consider a move away from Liverpool and Napoli boss Rafa Benitez was keen to arrange a reunion with his former player, having originally signed him for Liverpool from Zenit St Petersburg for £6.5 million in January 2008.
But Skrtel says that a move was never likely, telling the Liverpool Echo: "The rumours were never as strong as it was made out.
"There was no contact with other clubs because the Liverpool management told me that they were counting on me. That is why a transfer was never in my plans."
Even with the retirement of former club vice-captain Carragher in May, Skrtel faces plenty of competition for a first-team spot this season.
Toure is in contention to return from injury after the international break, while manager Brendan Rodgers signed two more centre-backs on transfer deadline day -- Tiago Ilori from Sporting Lisbon and Mamadou Sakho from Paris Saint-Germain.
Skrtel said: "Players come, players leave. It’s a normal thing and we will see how that develops. I never considered the United game to be a chance to show that I deserved to stay at Liverpool. It was a big derby but I treated it as just another league game."
Victory over United took Liverpool top of the Premier League for the first time since August 2011. They have won their first three league games, in what is their best start to a campaign for 19 years.
And Skrtel believes that Rodgers’ side, who finished seventh last season, can make the leap to claim a top-four place this time around and qualify for the Champions League.
He said: “You may say that the number of clubs competing is increasing from one year to the next. Again we have seen clubs spending big sums of money -- Manchester City, Tottenham, Chelsea and even Arsenal.
“Competition is big but when I look at how we have played, I would say that we belong in the top four.”
Meanwhile, Liverpool have signed centre-back Rafa Paez, who has been on trial at the club during pre-season. The 19-year-old, who has moved to Merseyside from Real Madrid, will feature in Liverpool’s Under-21 squad this season.