Benitez set deadline to accept Juventus deal
Benayoun ready to join players' exodus as manager is told to sign £3.5m-a-year deal before end of week
Rafael Benitez was coming under renewed pressure from Juventus to take or leave their job offer last night, and, with the Spaniard growing increasingly fearful of Fernando Torres' departure this summer, he wants assurances from the club's executive chairman that money generated from star players leaving will be his to invest.
Though Benitez rejected Roberto Mancini's claims two weeks ago that Manchester City can afford the probably £50m-plus it would take to buy Torres, the Liverpool manager does seem to view that prospect as a genuine risk, with Liverpool reduced to Europa League football, and wants an imminent meeting with the club's executive chairman, Martin Broughton, to address it. "I would like to have a meeting with the chairman sooner rather than later to know his idea about the future," Benitez said last night, in a significant sign that his heart is on Merseyside if he can overcome his doubts.
"Still we are working hard and planning for the future. Liverpool is a massive name in England and again in Europe. Everybody knows about the history of the club and our fans, so we can attract players and improve the squad."
Benitez will also want to discuss with Broughton the Spaniard's own relationship with the club's managing director, Christian Purslow, as well as to know what realistic chances there are of a change of ownership to ease the financial gulf between the club and those in the European elite. Benitez is so in the dark about the running of the club, that he is still unsure who appointed Broughton and where the chairman sits in the chain of command. Benitez must weigh the answers he gets quickly, with Juve making it clear that they want a decision this week on the four-year contract worth £3.5m a year after tax which awaits him in Turin. Though Purslow insists that his relationship with Benitez is in good order, the feeling does not seem to be mutual.
The odds still seem balanced against Benitez staying, given the growing sense yesterday that Liverpool's general state of chaos may see the club haemorrhage players this summer. In the aftermath of the 2-0 home defeat to Chelsea two of the club's best contributors over the past eight months hinted they expect departures and one of them, Yossi Benayoun, indicated that he might be ready to leave Anfield this summer.
"It's very difficult to speak now about next season. We don't know what changes there will be – the players, the staff. So it's too early to speak," the 29-year-old said. "Liverpool is a great club and I enjoy it but a lot of things are happening in this moment and we will have to wait and see. I can't say much. [Rafa] brought me here and I'm grateful for this, but there are people who decide. I don't need to speak for Rafa because he's proved himself during his time here that he's a big manager. The people above will take the right decision for the club."
The Brazilian midfielder Lucas Leiva reinforced the feeling of uncertainty. "Everyone is aware of the doubts over Rafa's future," he said. "We do not know what is going to happen or if some players will come and some will leave. We can only wait."
It is unclear what stance Broughton will take with Benitez on the issue of reinvestment, given the continued uncertainty over a prospective new owner, the £20m loss in income which accrues from Liverpool's failure to qualify for the Champions League and Liverpool's apparent willingness to see the Spaniard go. The club will not sack Benitez but will not stand in his way if he decides that his future lies elsewhere, though there are suggestions that Liverpool's owners, Tom Hicks and George Gillett, are keen that the meeting Benitez has requested with Broughton should go ahead and that they, at least, have some desire to see him stay as the pursuit of a new investor continues.
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