Benitez refuses to give a straight answer after letting 'speculation' run

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The Independent Football

Rafael Benitez would give Liverpool fans no assurances last night that he would still be at the club next season as the saga over the manager's future descended into farce at Anfield yesterday.

Benitez walked out of an interview with Sky Sports and then refused to confirm that he would be at Liverpool next season despite being asked Jeremy Paxman-style on six different occasions to end the uncertainty over his future in his post-match press conference.

Benitez kept referring to the reports that he will join Juventus this summer as "speculation" despite the fact that it was him who keeps making public his rift with the club's hierarchy. The Liverpool manager did at least confirm that he will speak to the club's new chairman Martin Broughton this week for the first time.

Benitez said: "I have four years left on my contract and I still have to talk with the new chairman. Nothing is clear cut, we have to wait. It is not just for me to ask one or two questions. If we have a conversation we will try to keep it private. It is just to talk about the future. You are asking about my future, but the future of the club is more important."

The 2-0 defeat to Chelsea was Liverpool's 11th defeat in the Premier League and set the scene for a miserable post-match lap round the pitch by players, staff and some of their children. For the absentee American owners George Gillett and Tom Hicks there was nothing but scorn; for Benitez there was neither overwhelming support or condemnation.

Later Benitez acknowledged that Liverpool, now seventh and out the running for the Champions League places, had failed to fulfill expectations after their second-place finish last season.

He said: "It's clear it hasn't been the best season. Everyone was expecting us to be at the top, but we've had too many problems. We were in the semi-final of the Europa League on Thursday, and then played [yesterday] in a difficult game. Always the manager has taken responsibility for everything in the last three years. [The game against Chelsea] was similar to lots of game when we have had problems."

If the £16m, four-year deal from Juventus's new president Andrea Agnelli is to materialise then Benitez will have to weigh up the options of managing a side who, like Liverpool, will not be competing in the Champions League next season. Juventus' draw with Catania yesterday means that they cannot catch Sampdoria in fourth place in Serie A.

Having lit the fuse last week by admitting that the Liverpool hierarchy had made no effort to speak to him about his future – principally because they would not stand in his way if he went to Juventus – Benitez yesterday employed his familiar tactic of professing surprise at the ensuing storm he has caused.

He said: "I've heard all the speculation over the last two or three weeks and read a lot of news about a lot of things, but at the moment we have another game to play. I have four more years on my contract so I will not talk too much at the moment.

"We have to be disappointed that we haven't won because we cannot be as close as we want to be to the top four. I will prepare for the next game [against Hull on Sunday] and then start thinking of things for the future. I have read a lot of things in the past."

In accepting that it was the manager's responsibility "for everything in the last three years" there was the suggestion that Benitez was being ironic and referring to the damage that Hicks and Gillett's years in charge have caused. His meeting with Broughton will be crucial to how quickly events move, but it is evident that a decision will have to be made on Benitez's future soon.

Who might replace Rafa?

Martin O'Neill

Said the Liverpool position would probably appeal. But the Aston Villa manager's defensive outlook will raise questions.

Roy Hodgson

With rumours that Jamie Carragher and Steven Gerrard favour an English manager, Hodgson's achievements at Fulham make him another contender.

Mark Hughes

The Manchester United connection may prove to be a deal-breaker but the prospect might intrigue Hughes.

Jose Mourinho

Has asked his representatives to canvas offers and Real Madrid seems the strongest possibility. A financially uncertain Liverpool look like a poorer option.

Kenny Dalglish

Is very close to the club's managing director Christian Purslow. But it is 12 years since he was sacked by Newcastle.