In the past week Rafael Benitez has spent £4m on a new home on the Wirral, enraged many on Merseyside with the description of Everton as a "small club" and witnessed the £470m takeover of Liverpool by two American sports tycoons who asked for a brief lesson on football and a detailed vision for the future. "It will be nice to get back to normal," admitted the Liverpool manager yesterday in what amounted to a reasonable request but a forlorn hope; for this is the day Craig Bellamy returns to Newcastle.
It is two years since the Wales international left St James' Park following his dispute with former manager Graeme Souness and, despite one season at Blackburn following a brief loan spell with Celtic, he has not set foot inside the place since. Bellamy's last encounter with Newcastle fans came in Liverpool's 2-0 victory over Glenn Roeder's side at Anfield in September, when he was visibly incensed by their barracking, the target of a water bottle thrown from the crowd and finally involved in a tunnel confrontation with visiting coach Terry McDermott.
Though Benitez gave no guarantees the striker will start against his former club this afternoon, he did admit that his pre-match routine will involve a quiet word with his £6.5m signing. "I will speak to him before the game just in case, but I am not worried," insisted the Liverpool manager, who was yesterday named Manager of the Month. "He is a professional, his concentration in every game is good and I am sure it will be the same at Newcastle. I will remind him that he doesn't need to do anything special, just play normally and hopefully score goals."
Bellamy has had a fluctuating start to his Anfield career but Benitez insisted: "I'm really happy with him. Against the top sides away this season we haven't performed at the same level, but that is not a problem for Craig Bellamy, it is a problem for the team. We have seen the best of him at times but he can be more threatening and more consistent."
Benitez has Mohamed Sissoko available for the first time in 12 weeks today and, following the game, will take his squad to a training camp in Portugal for five days in preparation for their Champions League date with Barcelona on 21 February.