Benitez shakes off boardroom criticism

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The Independent Football

Proof that football has lost the last of its marbles emerged at Anfield yesterday, when the only Liverpool manager to lift two major trophies in his first two seasons at the club was forced to defend his record against vehement criticism from within his own boardroom.

Liverpool have opened an internal investigation into the attack on the style and transfer policy of Rafael Benitez, from one unnamed director in a tabloid newspaper, and quickly announced that the comments did not mirror the views of chairman David Moores, a staunch ally of the Spaniard whose majority shareholding prevents dissenters from having an influence on the manager's future.

At a club that prides itself on unity, however, the exposure of a fundamental rift within the Liverpool hierarchy, along with the despondency at the team's poor start to the Premiership season, has come as a jolt. It was boardroom stability that had a major bearing on Benitez's decision to resist overtures from Real Madrid and Internazionale earlier this year. With the club now in the third year of its search for new investment to fund a proposed stadium move, as well as the ambition of a manager who has had to sell to buy, the outburst has attracted little support.

The Liverpool manager yesterday admitted he was among those who expected the club to challenge for the league title this season - a view he has not altered despite taking only 11 points from nine games. But it was with a sense of incredulity that he appealed for a sense of perspective as he attempts to end Liverpool's 16-year wait for the title.

"In football, and in life nowadays, we are all in a hurry," he said. "Everything changes by the minute and people forget things very quickly, but we must keep a perspective on everything. People have short memories. I don't remember people talking about rotation when we were beating Juventus, Bayer Leverkusen, Chelsea or Milan. And last season, when we won 11 games in a row, people were not talking about Steven Gerrard playing on the right side. They were happy.

"Manchester United went 26 seasons without winning the league, and at Valencia it was 31 years. You need to have perspective and analyse the situation. You can improve a lot, but if the other teams are improving as well then it is more difficult. The important thing is that you know which is the right way and for me to have confidence in my players."

The Liverpool manager, who faces unbeaten Aston Villa at Anfield this afternoon, added: "When you haven't won the most important trophies for years it is normal there will be expectation. But we won the Champions' League and something changed. Because we won that, and the Super Cup and FA Cup the next year, all of us were waiting to be contenders for the Premiership. We have started badly, but we will improve by working harder."

l Wigan have completed the permanent transfer of goalkeeper Chris Kirkland from Liverpool in a deal believed to be worth £3.5m.