Eriksson's departure hurts World Cup hopes, says Benitez

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The Independent Football

Rafael Benitez will be aghast if Liverpool are defeated at The Valley tonight, and not merely as a consequence of his failure to record only a second Premiership win of 2006. The Spaniard became the latest high-profile Premiership figure to join the debate on Sven Goran Eriksson's succession as England manager yesterday but, in stark contrast to his peers, spoke only to voice concern at a campaign he believes has undermined the nation's prospects of success at this summer's World Cup.

Alan Curbishley's credentials as the next England manager will be inevitably enhanced if Charlton overcome the reigning European champions in tonight's rearranged Premiership fixture and Benitez was generous in his praise for Liverpool's second choice to replace Gérard Houllier as manager in 2004. Yet the man who landed the job and spent almost 20 years working within the media circus that is Real Madrid is astonished at the Football Association's decision to announce Eriksson's departure and commence the search for his successor so close to the World Cup, and at the jockeying for position among his Premiership rivals to become the Swede's replacement.

It is a situation that Benitez claimed, would not occur even in his spirited homeland and he warned that it will weaken players' focus and discipline during the most important tournament of their lives.

"So many people are talking about different managers. It is a big surprise for me and it shows no respect for the current manager," insisted the Liverpool manager. "What do you want? To have a new manager in place or to win the World Cup with the manager you have now? If you support your manager you can win the World Cup, then afterwards there is time to change, but to be successful you must have the support of everyone."

Benitez's concerns for Eriksson are based on past experience. His successes in La Liga, the Uefa Cup and the Champions' League have all been built on a fierce team ethic - he resigned at Valencia over a long-running dispute with the club's technical director and has resisted advances to return to Real Madrid because of the firm support he receives in the Anfield boardroom. Now that Eriksson's relationship with the FA has fractured, Benitez believes he cannot expect the same level of commitment from his players.

The Spaniard added: "If players know the manager is going and someone else is coming in then they start to think about other things. A player should only be thinking about staying fit and winning the World Cup, but if a manager says he wants five in attack and you know he's not going to be around in another two weeks and you want to play in defence, then you play in defence. In the end you are going against the team."

This has been an unusually outspoken week for Benitez, who led the criticism of Arjen Robben after he fell dramatically at Stamford Bridge after a push by Liverpool goalkeeper Jose Reina on Sunday. Benitez's comments diverted attention from his team's third successive League game without a win and they travel to Charlton without the suspended Reina and also Steven Gerrard, who suffered a knee injury in the 2-0 defeat at Chelsea.

Gerrard was sent for a scan on Monday and, though it revealed no serious damage, the Liverpool captain will miss tonight's game and possibly Saturday's trip to Wigan.