Benitez's gesture defended by Lee

Liverpool manager lets assistant take stage to cool conflict with Allardyce
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The Independent Football

Rafael Benitez's assistant Sammy Lee has launched an impassioned defence of the "astute, learned and educated" Liverpool manager in the light of Sir Alex Ferguson's trenchant criticism of the Spaniard, which the Manchester United manager has refused to yield on.

Ferguson yesterday rejected claims emanating from Anfield on Friday that Benitez's so-called "game-over" gesture near Blackburn Rovers manager Sam Allardyce the previous weekend was an innocent response to Xabi Alonso. "I'm not saying [Liverpool are lying]," Ferguson said. "They are hurt by it I am sure they are."

But Lee, who worked as Allardyce's assistant at Bolton Wanderers for two years, said the Rovers' manager did not mention the gesture when they shared an after-match drink together and defended Benitez against Ferguson's suggestions he shows "contempt" for other managers. Benitez, Lee said, was not bothered about being popular with other managers. "You don't win things from being popular. You win things by working hard and being studious – getting the most out of each and every game," Lee said. "It's not about a popularity vote. It's not Britain's Got Talent. This is about results. This manager of ours, rather than being arrogant, which he certainly isn't, he's driven, astute, learned, educated and his attention to detail is fantastic which I've experienced on many occasions. He's bothered about getting the best out of each player.

"We are all sensitive to criticism but all that matters is that we know what we're doing, we know why we're doing it and who we're doing it to. When we gesticulate it is to our players and no one else. That's what [the gesture] was. It was aimed at our players and I'm not going to get involved in a slanging match with Sir Alex and what he thought it was. We know what our gestures are made for pitchside."

Ferguson and Allardyce, he suggested, were "sad". He added: "We like to concentrate on the football and what we can and cannot affect."

Coming from someone who is so reticent with the media, Lee's comments reflect just how indignant Liverpool feel about Ferguson's outburst, though the fact that he was wheeled out to discuss his side's vital League game against Arsenal tonight suggests Benitez wanted to avoid having to respond directly. His assistant questioned why Ferguson's old friend Allardyce had not taken up the gesture with him when he had the chance to after the Blackburn game, which Liverpool won 4-0. "He came into the room and said nothing about it after the match but if he felt that strongly I thought he would have done because we have had a strong working relationship. I'm surprised it came out somewhere else at a different time," Lee said.

Lee, whose side will be missing Steven Gerrard as they seek to leapfrog United in the table again tonight, said there has been a "buoyant" reaction to last Wednesday's Champions League defeat to Chelsea.