It is either an elaborate wind-up on the Liverpool manager or – more likely – a reflection of the fact that he will struggle to maintain the same midfield for next season. Hours after Javier Mascherano's agent Walter Tamer was seen meeting Barcelona directors in the Catalan city, Xabi Alonso provided a deafeningly unconvincing reply to a question about his commitment to Liverpool.
"Would you be disappointed if you end up having to stay at Liverpool next season?" Alonso was asked after Spain's 1-0 win over Iraq in the Confederations Cup on Wednesday. "I can't answer that question," he replied.
The answer reinforces the sense that Alonso never recovered his commitment to Benitez's cause since the Liverpool manager proved ready to part company with him last summer. Benitez wants to get on with the job of finding the second striker he so badly needs – a cut-price option such as Real Madrid's £5m-rated Argentine Javier Saviola or else Uruguayan club Nacional's attacking midfielder Nicolas Lodeiro, whom Benitez has viewed on DVD, are possible targets – but the end of the Confederations Cup might leave him with a midfield crisis on his hands.
Alonso may not have made his own mind up yet. Real's sporting director Jorge Valdano reiterated this week that he felt Liverpool would not release the player, which might be a negotiating ploy or a genuine acceptance that at £20m Alonso may be a buy too far once president Florentino Perez has spent heavily again on either Franck Ribéry or – more likely – David Villa.
Much of the attraction with Alonso is that he is Spanish and Perez is frequently accused of not signing enough Spaniards. But if Real do complete the signing of Villa, Perez could feel he has satisfied his quota of national signings and only be willing to take Alonso as part of a deal that would include other players. Benitez is keen on striker Alvaro Negredo but he is likely to be involved in any deal that takes Villa to the Bernabeu. The other Real players who interest Liverpool are Saviola and Arjen Robben.
Robben was being lined-up up as part of a £30m three-player package for Tottenham but the Dutchman does not want to move to a club that is not in the Champions League. Real are threatening to leave him without a shirt number next season.
There is a view in Argentina that Mascherano may also be ready to leave Anfield. But Barcelona, who have said they have £35m to spend in total, probably need to cash in on striker Samuel Eto'o before they can consider a bid for the midfielder.
David Moores, who sold his majority shareholding to current American owners George Gillett and Tom Hicks two years ago, has resigned from Liverpool's board of directors. He admitted last year he felt "heartbroken and let down" by the owners.