Benitez admits Reds overpaid for Johnson

Rafael Benitez, the Liverpool manager, admitted yesterday he had paid over the odds in the £17m deal for full-back Glen Johnson but insisted new Champions League rules, which state sides must have eight home-grown players in their squads for all games, had forced his hand.

There is a view at Anfield that Benitez was also keen to sign Johnson from Portsmouth in order to register an early statement in the transfer market and avoid last summer's frustrating pursuit of Gareth Barry. Hence the decision also to make Johnson one of the best paid players behind Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres, on a salary estimated to be around £80,000 a week.

But events yesterday suggested Benitez is also facing a grave risk of losing at least one of his key midfielders. As the Real Madrid sporting director, Jorge Valdano, indicated that the club had not ruled out a bid for Xabi Alonso, fellow midfielder Javier Mascherano contributed to a sense that he may leave, voicing his appreciation of the fact that Barcelona and Real are interested in him and not asserting his determination to resist their appeal.

"I am very proud and thankful for the interest from Barcelona and Real Madrid. It's good for me to have these two teams interested in me," the Argentine told the Spanish publication Don Balon. "Both teams are very important but at this moment I think that Barcelona is a little bit better and that's why they've won all that they have."

On Johnson, Benitez said: "Sometimes you have to spend a little bit more. You can't compete in the top four of the Premier League unless you spend some money. We were looking for a player of quality and also somebody who is British because of the new Champions League rules. Glen Johnson fits both categories."

Benitez indicated Liverpool could sign at least one player without any leaving – which Alvaro Arbeloa is likely to do, as well as Andrei Voronin, Andrea Dossena and Sebastian Leto – the latter probably to Panathinaikos. "We have a plan," Benitez said. "We can sign one more player if necessary, but that's without any players leaving."

Benitez is understood to have been in touch with Mascherano, though not Alonso, who has told journalists with Spain's Confederations Cup squad in South Africa that his Anfield future is in doubt.

Valdano said of Alonso: "We have possibilities there but I don't want to say anything that will make the negotiation more difficult. We will wait a reasonable amount of time."

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