Rafael Benitez, who two weeks ago seemed ready to leave Liverpool for Juventus, appears to have been forced back into the struggle to rebuild at Anfield, with the Turin side having tired of waiting for a decision from him and moving for Sampdoria's outgoing coach Luigi del Neri instead.
Benitez had been given a notional deadline of eight days ago to make a decision on Juventus, where his representatives had cleared most of the obstacles to a £4m a year deal. But Sampdoria announced yesterday that Del Neri had left the club with Milan – another possible destination for Benitez – also seeming off-limits too. Milan are intent on hiring a former player, possibly Frank Rijkaard, to follow Leonardo and with Real Madrid a very distant prospect, Benitez will seemingly have to overcome his differences with managing director Christian Purslow and prepare for another season on Merseyside.
The £60m-a-summer kitty on offer in Turin for the next three years contrasted hugely with the financial position at Anfield where, after the club posted losses of nearly £55m, non-executive chairman Martin Broughton has asked Benitez for a player-by-player assessment of the squad before agreeing on how much will be spent this summer. But the new Juve owner Andrea Agnelli has run out of patience in his pursuit of a successor to Alberto Zaccheroni. There had always been a desire for a strong Italian component to the next management team there and Del Neri, 59, has also outperformed Benitez in the past year.
The former Porto, Roma and Chievo manager only took charge of Sampdoria last year but has guided them to a fourth-place finish in Serie A and a Uefa Champions League spot. Sampdoria's sporting director Beppe Marotta has already confirmed that Del Neri is heading to Turin.
Benitez has not spoken publicly since the goalless draw at Hull consigned his side to a seventh-place finish and a Europa League qualifying round in July. But his words after Liverpool's last match signalled his obvious suspicion of those within the club's hierarchy. "If I stay I won't be thinking of selling Gerrard and Torres. That's just in case 'senior sources' at the club say otherwise and it's an 'exclusive' in some newspapers," Benitez said. Broughton has also made it clear he does not want to part with either of the club's prize assets but it is possible Gerrard and Torres may be keen to depart. It is questionable if the club can actually afford to keep them if they do not find a new owner.
The Liverpool supporters' group Spirit of Shankly (SoS) have been told by the Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore that the limited aegis of the league's "fit and proper" test has prevented more rigorous investigation into Liverpool's proprietors Tom Hicks and George Gillett, despite Gillett's previous insolvency history. SoS disclosed yesterday that Scudamore had told them the test was comparatively limited and focused mainly upon criminal convictions and insolvency relating to football clubs. "In fact the insolvency test was even more limited in that a director had to have been involved in the insolvency of a club twice before they failed the test – and it had to be related to a football club not another business," SoS minutes of the meeting state.
Despite Liverpool's auditors expressing concern about the club's financial results for two consecutive years, Scudamore said the League was satisfied that there was no cause for worry.
Though Chelsea's interest in signing Torres is not as strong as has been suggested in some quarters, Benitez is facing up to the first signs of another summer of uncertainty about Javier Mascherano. The Argentine's on-off move to Barcelona was almost as much of a feature of last summer as Xabi Alonso's to Real Madrid, and Mascherano has left for the World Cup without signing a new contract. He has said in an interview from the Argentina camp that his family are deeply unhappy in Liverpool.