The Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez wants a new five-year contract signed and sealed before the end of the month and is not rejecting out-of-hand suggestions of it being secured within a week. The absence of the one-year extension to his current deal, which Benitez was promised last April, has led to a sense of drift around Anfield and it was perhaps with this in mind that the club decided to announce yesterday that discussions between the owners, Tom Hicks and George Gillett, would take place next week.
Benitez wants the contract to be a long-term one, though he refused to discuss length of tenure yesterday. "They have to talk to my agent about the conditions of the deal, but clearly the length of the contract is crucial," he said. "If I can stay here for a long time I would be very pleased. It is rare to see managers at clubs for a long time, but that would be the right way."
Benitez's and Liverpool's version of events is that the Spaniard took a telephone call from Hicks last week congratulating him on his team's start to the season and declaring that talk on the contract could begin. Hicks said he was speaking both for himself and Gillett, who had not mentioned the issue when he and Benitez met in London on the occasion of Liverpool's win at Chelsea. "I told him [Hicks] that it had to be done quickly because the team is playing well," Benitez said yesterday. "I do not want to be talking about this for weeks and months. They promised me it would be quick."
A desire to provide a greater sense of stability may explain the decision to announce the discussions on Liverpool's website before they had taken place. "[The timing] is not a question for me," Benitez said. "I am just happy and want this to move forward. For three or four press conferences people have been asking so this was a positive move and we decided to tell people."
The time frame Benitez is calling for is surprisingly short, considering that only on Monday he was discussing the fact that contract talks with Dirk Kuyt had not started and needed to be resolved by the turn of the year. A question mark hangs over Hicks and Gillett coming up with the money, though that would not be their problem if they sold the club, as some believe they will given the current financial climate. Of more immediate importance to Benitez is that a long-term deal would help him keep players whose own contracts are up for renewal. "We have some players who are in the same situation as I am, with one-and-a-half years left on their contract. They want to know who the manager is going to be in the future, and it's the same as when you are signing new players."
Benitez said he and chief executive Rick Parry met central defender Daniel Agger on Thursday for what were "very positive" discussions on the player's future. Of Kuyt he said: "If we talk about players, we can wait maybe one week and then concentrate on them."
Benitez has a real sense of momentum about what he has built up at Anfield. "When you are working for five years to improve the team and you know you are very close to the final product, then it's important you stay to try and do it," he said.
Fernando Torres is back for this evening's visit by West Bromwich after missing six games with a hamstring injury. The Spanish striker is expected to start against the Baggies although Benitez will not make a firm decision until nearer kick-off. He would like to reunite Torres with Robbie Keane, who has managed just two goals this season.