It was difficult to avoid the impression that there was a spring in Rafa Benitez's step when it was announced, a few minutes before training started at Melwood yesterday, that Rick Parry – the chief executive he considers an impediment to his own control at Anfield – is to leave his position at the end of the season. But Benitez insisted a few hours later that he had not made Parry's departure a condition of his own new contract being signed.
"I never said I won't sign if Rick stays," Benitez said. "It's a decision between the owners and Parry and now we have three months, very important games, so we have to concentrate on these games." Benitez also expects to have no say in who replaces Parry. "My responsibility is just football issues," he said. "It doesn't matter for me."
Benitez has made no secret of his belief that he should not have to answer to Parry where transfer dealings are concerned, but despite the 54-year-old Parry's decision to leave, reached by mutual consent with the club, there is still profound uncertainty about how close to signing the new £4m contract Benitez actually is.
The Spaniard made more positive noises on the issue yesterday. "We were very close, still very close," he said. "There will be conversations in the next week, in a few days with [the owners'] advisers and we will see how we can progress."
The level of control he has been granted by Tom Hicks and George Gillett, which has contributed to Parry's decision to leave, seems to have satisfied him. But Benitez appears to want guarantees from the Americans that they will remain at Anfield for the foreseeable future – an undertaking which they simply cannot provide, given that they do not know whether Royal Bank of Scotland will foreclose on them when they seek to get their loans refinanced in July. Opinion is divided in the City on that point.
Gillett's decision to cede greater control to Benitez, against his instinctive judgement, may be the product of his realisation that his share of the club will be harder to sell without the Spaniard in place. If that is Gillett's thinking, then it further underlines how irrational it would be for Benitez to demand reassurances about who Liverpool's future proprietors will be.
Parry, an accountant by profession who joined Liverpool from the Premier League chief executive's role in 1997, decided to leave in a dignified way, rather than be drawn into more attritional months working with Hicks and having decided that his position at the club has become untenable. In a statement, Gillett said Parry had been "integral to the club's success over the past decade" though Hicks described only Parry's "commitment" to Liverpool – a reflection of the fact that he has long since wanted him to go.
Though Liverpool's midweek triumph in Madrid has lifted spirits at Anfield, Benitez spoke for the first time yesterday of the merits of finishing second in the league table and said the gap between his side and Manchester United cannot be allowed to grow before the sides meet on 14 March at Old Trafford. "We have shown some progress," Benitez said. "The main thing is to win [the league], but if not, show you can be close and going in the right direction and that it will be better for next season."
Fernando Torres will, as expected, miss today's must-win trip to Middlesbrough and uncertainties remain about his availability to face Sunderland at Anfield on Tuesday night. "It is a different question with an ankle," Benitez said. "Muscles are more dangerous, but an ankle you can strap."