Benitez shows strain again as he dismisses talk of sacking

Rafael Benitez was forced to dig himself out of trouble yet again yesterday after his gloominess late last week gave rise to suggestions that he fears he will be sacked by his club's American owners.

In what is now becoming an established pattern, Benitez made an unscheduled attempt to dispel the impression that he does not see a future for himself at Anfield in the long term by publicly refuting the weekend's suggestions that he feels deeply insecure.

Benitez finds himself in a constant bind when it comes to his frustrations at Liverpool, the root cause of which is his belief that he, and not chief executive Rick Parry, should have the say on transfers. Though he is professionally unsettled by the situation, his wife Montse loves the city and their new home in Wirral and the couple's children are settled, and it was this that became apparent as he spoke out yesterday.

"I was shocked when I was told about the stories in the Sunday papers and when I saw them for myself I was even more surprised," Benitez said.

"I don't know how many times I have to say I only see my future at Liverpool Football Club before certain people believe me. But I will say it again because it is really important that everyone understands this I love the club, I love the fans, I love the city and I am very, very happy here. I do not see my future at Real Madrid or Inter Milan or anywhere else. I see my future at Liverpool and this is where I want to stay."

As Parry and the club's owners, Tom Hicks and George Gillett, began an all-day meeting in New York to discuss the two proposed new stadium plans for the club the word out of the Hicks camp was that the future shape of Liverpool's ground, rather than Benitez, was the "only subject on the agenda" Benitez indicated that he believes the weekend stories are a result of a misunderstanding during a private conversation with a group of journalists following the regular end-of-week press conference at Melwood. He was visibly upset as he concluded: "All I can say is that I want to be here this summer and many other summers after that."

A decision is expected to be announced on the new stadium scheme today. It is also clear that talks are still going on regarding Liverpool's overall financing, with the Americans still searching for a deal to refinance their original loans to buy the club, and to find the cash for the new stadium.

The Spaniard's mood would certainly have improved yesterday as the Zenit St Petersburg centre-back Martin Skrtel moved a step closer to becoming the most expensive defender in Liverpool's history, after passing his medical. A 6.5m fee has been agreed with Zenit and personal terms have been agreed with the player.

The Slovakia international centre back will plug the gap left by the long rehabilitation from a broken metatarsal of Daniel Agger and now the injury of Sami Hyypia. Benitez is hoping Skrtel will go straight into the squad for Liverpool's trip to Middlesbrough on Saturday, a match that Fabio Aurelio has also been ruled out of with a minor hamstring injury.

Momo Sissoko, the midfielder in whose ability Benitez's faith has seemed perverse at times this season, seems to be heading out of Anfield for Juventus. Juve manager Claudio Ranieri expressed his desire to capture the Mali international in a deal that could be worth 11m and Sissoko revealed yesterday that he would be delighted to join the Italian club.

"I hope they can find an agreement," he told French radio station RMC. "I am really happy that a club like Juventus want me. Right now, I want a new challenge. The last few months with Liverpool have not gone as I wanted. But this is the nature of football and I now have the chance to go somewhere else and show what I can do."

Liverpool also claimed yesterday that stand-in captain Jamie Carragher was spat at and had beer thrown over him ahead of a confrontation with Luton fans at the weekend. Carragher was pictured standing on a barrier and arguing with supporters in an executive box after the Reds' FA Cup third-round draw at Kenilworth Road.

But Liverpool and, it is believed, the Football Association will not be taking any action against the 30-year-old defender. Liverpool received several calls from supporters yesterday insisting that Carragher was not to blame for what transpired. A Liverpool club source said: "He probably would have been wiser not to get involved, but there is only so much that any human being can take."

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