Balance of power tilts to Benitez

New contract gives manager greater control of transfers but may not end the infighting at Anfield

For once, a contract announcement with impeccable timing. Liverpool were in the thick of their Premier League title race and preparing for the first of what were to be three encounters with Everton in January when Rafael Benitez announced, in no uncertain terms, that he was dissatisfied with the control he was being afforded within the terms of the proposed new deal which had just hit his desk. Last night's announcement of a new five-year contract comes ahead of Liverpool's renewed, if belated, assault on the title.

Though it also arrives against the backdrop of two of the most famous wins in the club's history – eight goals within the space of 100 hours against Real Madrid and Manchester United – the £4m-a-year deal cannot be seen as a direct reward for that. Benitez has been lobbying for weeks behind the scenes for an overriding aim: greater control over whom Liverpool pursue in the transfer market, with his agent Manuel Garcia Quilon rejecting half a dozen contract drafts. The word from both Liverpool's owners, Tom Hicks and George Gillett, was that the "checks and balances" of a corporate structure in which a chief executive operates between them and the manager must be in place at Liverpool, just like Manchester United. But Benitez, determined to avoid a repeat of the situation in July, when his protracted pursuit of Gareth Barry, the Aston Villa midfield player, ended in humiliation with the board vetoing an £18m deal, has gradually moved towards a position in which he feels comfortable.

The tortuous road towards this resolution stretches back to last April when Tom Hicks, seemingly trying to improve his own credibility in a particularly rancorous phase of his relationship with co-owner George Gillett, announced a one-year extension to a contract which expires next summer. It was hardly a ringing endorsement and on 7 November the Americans, aware that the prospect of Benitez's departure would damage their attempts to sell Liverpool, came up with a more positive announcement that contract discussions were starting in earnest. That public declaration created immediate time pressure and Benitez fanned the flames, declaring immediately that he wanted the whole business resolved by the end of that month.

Hicks and Gillett are all too familiar with Benitez's demands to deal directly with them. When they told the Spaniard in October 2007 to stop demanding more money and work through chief executive Rick Parry it presaged one of the longest sulks in Premier League history. Benitez waged the same kind of battle with the owners of the Extremadura club he managed in Spain in the late 1990s, insisting their facilities were inadequate, and the way he ridiculed the players Valencia bought him during a battle for transfer policy autonomy mirrors the recent one at Anfield. That spat brought us his now legendary line: "I asked for a table and they brought me a lampshade."

Parry has represented the prime obstacle to Benitez's ambitions. The Spaniard has taken issue with the way Liverpool's outgoing chief executive operates and with the lack of urgency, as he sees it, with which players are pursued. But Benitez has often been a source of supreme frustration. A favoured strategy has been to insist his board sign a player or lose them to Manchester United. Only last week, Benitez described dragging Parry to a fax machine to secure Lucas Leiva's services, before United might pounce. He made precisely the same warning about Italian defender Andrea Dossena, though to suggest United were interested seems far fetched.

As the Americans gradually ceded greater control towards the manager in the various drafts of the contract, Parry told Hicks and Gillett, a few days before Liverpool travelled to play Real Madrid in the Bernabeu last month, that he would be leaving at the end of the season. That appears to have been a critical staging post in the journey towards persuading Benitez that he will be operating in a different realm in the future.

So is this the end of the interminable power struggles at Anfield? Unlikely, where Benitez is concerned. Hicks and Gillett remain convinced that control of the manager's autonomy is necessary and in the words of one senior executive at Anfield, there is no way they will say to Benitez at the end of a season: "Here's £20m, we'll see you in September." The assiduous search for a replacement for Parry – commercial director Ian Ayres is a contender and former FA chief executive Brian Barwick was at the Liverpool/Real Madrid game – suggests the Americans are not looking for patsy. A strong chief executive means Benitez would have as much of a battle on his hands as ever.

But for now at least, the manager's future is secured and Liverpool have even more potential to achieve the near impossible and topple Manchester United, the champions elect.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Latest in Sport
Sport
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Giants Club: After wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, Uganda’s giants flourish once again

Uganda's giants are flourishing once again

After the wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, elephant populations are finally recovering
The London: After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

Archaeologists will recover a crucial item from the wreck of the London which could help shed more light on what happened in the vessel's final seconds
Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

The invention involves turbojets and ramjets - a type of jet engine - and a rocket motor
10 best sun creams for kids

10 best sun creams for kids

Protect delicate and sensitive skin with products specially formulated for little ones
Tate Sensorium: New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art

Tate Sensorium

New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art
Ashes 2015: Nice guy Steven Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

Nice guy Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

He was man-of-the-match in the third Test following his recall to the England side
Ashes 2015: Remember Ashton Agar? The No 11 that nearly toppled England

Remember Ashton Agar?

The No 11 that nearly toppled England
Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks