Benitez explains contract delay

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Rafael Benitez insisted last night that Real Madrid's longing for him to return to the Bernabeu as manager has not influenced the delay in signing a five-year, £10m, contract with Liverpool.

The Anfield hierarchy, alarmed by reports that Madrid had contacted their manager's agent, Manuel Garcia Quilon, in their efforts to find a successor to their caretaker coach, Juan Ramon Lopez Caro, offered Benitez an extension until 2011 a fortnight ago. Though it has been agreed in principle the contract remains unsigned, and this week the new Madrid president, Fernando Martin, said Benitez was on a seven-man wish-list - Jose Mourinho, Arsène Wenger, Sven Goran Eriksson, Fabio Capello, Marcelo Lippi and Carlo Ancelotti are the others - to return to the club where he spent over 20 years as player and coach.

The announcement has renewed speculation about the Spaniard's future. Benitez, however, insists the delay is procedural - his agent is based in Spain - and that even if he signed the contract today he would remain powerless to prevent Madrid making their public overtures. "[The contract] is not important," Benitez said. "I have three more years left on my current contract but it would make no difference if it was for another two. I could sign the contract now but if Madrid are interested they will keep going. I know what the situation is. The supporters had a poll, I received 30 per cent, and then the president revealed his list. I am not worried about this."

Benitez, who is without the suspended Steven Gerrard at West Bromwich Albion today, has told goalkeeper Chris Kirkland that he can leave Liverpool this summer so that he can play first-team football.