Benitez closes on Anfield deal

New contract for Liverpool manager will add on three years to his present terms
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The Independent Football

Rafael Benitez has already agreed the financial bonuses which form part of the imminent new deal that will tie him to Liverpool until 2013 and it could conceivably be signed by the end of the week.

There is a reluctance from within Anfield to place a specific time frame on the deal being concluded owing to the availability, so near to Christmas, of those needed to rewrite what was an outdated four and a half year old contract. But the progression towards agreeing a deal has been under way for weeks and Tuesday's disclosure, by sources close to the club's co-owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett, that a resolution is imminent was not triggered by any particular breakthrough. Though the Americans initially wanted a one-year extension to Benitez's contract, neither appears to have needed any persuading by the Anfield hierarchy when discussions began that a longer-term British model was appropriate.

The result is a deal which will give Benitez three more years to add to the 18 months outstanding on his current contract rather than a particularly substantial increase on his £3.5m a year salary. With the Americans understood still to be looking to find a buyer for the club, one interpretation of their keenness to wrap up discussions is that it will ease a sale – though in the current climate that is looking an increasingly remote prospect, with some financiers now of the view that they would take the £350m needed to pay off the debts incurred in buying it.

One of Benitez's most pressing tasks is to tie up the future of those of his players whose contracts are in need of renewal. The Milan vice-president Adriano Galliani revealed yesterday that the Serie A club, rumoured to be considering a bid of £6.6m, are monitoring the central defender Daniel Agger, who has yet to put pen to paper

on a new deal. "We are going to sign a new defender in January, there's no doubt about that," Galliani said. "We have kept a frequent eye on Agger and his situation at Liverpool and have of course noticed the problems that Agger and Liverpool have on agreeing a new contract. We have a list of three or four names that could be used in defence. Agger is one of those names."

Ryan Babel, whose immaculate, angular header from Lucas Leiva's cross brought the side level in the 3-1 win in Eindhoven on Tuesday evening, has also illustrated the task Benitez faces in keeping squad players happy. Babel revealed three weeks ago that he was unhappy to have started so few games – "It's difficult. I do get frustrated. I'm not a player who wants to wait. I want to be involved now rather than in three or four years' time," he said then – and he has now confirmed that he has spoken to Benitez about the possibility of going out a loan deal. "I have talked to the manager about my future, about maybe a loan somewhere so I can play every week," Babel said. "Ajax was an example, a possibility, not something I was trying to make happen. Rafa has said no. He did not promise me anything for the rest of the season. There were no conditions and I have to accept this."

Babel's candid characterisation of his conversation with the Spaniard was typical of the forthright individual he is and keeping him happy on the sidelines looks like a tough task for Benitez.

Robbie Keane has followed an influential role in the Netherlands – his assist for David Ngog's 77th minute strike was sublime – with a declaration that he intends to be a Liverpool player "for a long time". Keane said: "I've only been here a few months but there's nothing I can do about speculation, that's all part and parcel of being a footballer. If people want to create something that's not there it's up to them but there's no question in my mind. I'll be here past January.

Benitez, meanwhile, has challenged his side to remain top of the Premier League when they return to Champions League action in February. "We now have almost three months to concentrate on the Premier League, and the FA Cup. We would want to go back into Europe next year still top of the table."

Group D

Liverpool results: Marseilles 1 Liverpool 2; Liverpool 3 PSV Eindhoven 1; Atletico Madrid 1 Liverpool 1; Liverpool 1 Atletico Madrid 1; Liverpool 1 Marseilles 0; PSV Eindhoven 1 Liverpool 3.

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