Benitez stays optimistic over Morientes' Anfield move

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The Independent Online

Rafael Benitez is confident Fernando Morientes will be a Liverpool player before the end of the week - despite giving Real Madrid a 48-hour deadline to do a deal. Although Liverpool have not matched Madrid's £7m valuation of the striker and will not use Steven Gerrard as bait in any form, the fact that Morientes has publicly expressed his desire to come to Anfield gives Benitez considerable optimism.

Rafael Benitez is confident Fernando Morientes will be a Liverpool player before the end of the week - despite giving Real Madrid a 48-hour deadline to do a deal. Although Liverpool have not matched Madrid's £7m valuation of the striker and will not use Steven Gerrard as bait in any form, the fact that Morientes has publicly expressed his desire to come to Anfield gives Benitez considerable optimism.

"I have a lot of confidence," he said. "Why? Because the player wants to come and that is the most important thing. We will wait one or two more days and after that we will look at others. We are listening to the agents and now we have a lot of names." Prominent among those is believed to be Manchester City's Nicolas Anelka.

"Real Madrid said they had two or three offers from different clubs but they need to know the exact nature of the offers and afterwards they will talk with the player," Benitez said. "The other clubs have offered more money but the player has said he wants either to go to Liverpool or stay in Madrid."

Morientes, the leading scorer in last season's Champions' League when steering Monaco, with whom he was on loan, through to the European Cup final, has been offered a return to the principality, while Lyon are thought to be the other bidders.

The presence of Benitez, Anfield's sizeable Spanish contingent and the relatively high wages on offer carry considerable weight with Morientes, who returned to the Bernabeu to find himself fourth-choice striker behind Ronaldo, Raul and Michael Owen. Going back to Monaco would probably mean a reduction in salary and the European Cup finalists would probably have to sell before they could make good their £5m bid.

The main problem, however, is that Liverpool have not come anywhere close to Madrid's valuation of the 28-year-old, although they recognise they will have to raise their initial £3.5m offer. This had led to the suggestion that Madrid would do a deal on Benitez's terms, provided they could have first option should Steven Gerrard ever be put up for sale.

This was adamantly denied by the Liverpool manager. "Steven Gerrard is not for sale and we don't want to sell him. At the moment I don't need to talk with him. He is playing very well. He knows that increasingly the team is playing at his level and he's happy now."

Benitez yesterday welcomed his first signing of the January transfer window, the veteran Argentinian centre-half, Mauricio Pellegrino. Having cancelled his contract at Valencia, where he had fallen out of favour with coach, Claudio Ranieri, the 33-year-old joined Liverpool on a six-month deal. Benitez had offered the man he managed to two La Liga titles a guaranteed extra year, although Pellegrino said he wanted to earn it. That, Benitez conceded, was deeply impressive. However, Pellegrino will not come into consideration either for tonight's Carling Cup semi-final with Watford or Saturday's encounter with Manchester United.

"In Valencia people said he was the manager on the pitch," Benitez said. "He is the type of player any manager would want and I am sure he will be missed in Valencia's dressing-room."

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