Euro campaign puts Benitez decision on hold

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The Independent Online

Liverpool attempted to quell the storm created by co-owner Tom Hicks yesterday, as the club manager, Rafael Benitez, indicated that he will reserve judgement on his own future until the conclusion of his side's Champions League campaign.

Hicks delivered the most brutal blow at his disposal at the weekend when, having failed in his demands for the resignation of the chief executive, Rick Parry, he disclosed that Parry had been in on a meeting with Jürgen Klinsmann about Benitez's job.

It is hard to avoid the conclusion that this was a deliberate manoeuvre on Hicks' part to drag Benitez into the dispute, having failed to win any support for his demands last week that Parry should quit. Nowhere in the list of questions put forward by Sunday newspaper journalists which prompted the weekend's Klinsmann revelation was any inquiry about Parry's presence at that meeting. It was Hicks' decision to air it.

Benitez did, indeed, jump in after the Blackburn match on Sunday, by requesting a meeting with Parry, Hicks and co-owner George Gillett. Parry replied yesterday that he was "more than happy" to discuss Hicks' revelations with the manager and when the meeting does occur Parry will presumably tell Benitez that he could hardly have avoided his Klinsmann encounter, which came at a board meeting called by Hicks and Gillett in New York.

Yesterday was a day off for Benitez and his players and it remains unclear whether today might finally presage a discussion between manager and chief executive. Both will be at Anfield, along with the players and around 3,000 fans to remember the 96 Liverpool supporters who were killed at Hillsborough 19 years ago.

Benitez has said he will be discussing developments with his agent, Manuel Garcia Quillon, and the uncertainty the controversy is now creating about his Anfield future might actually play into his hands, with his former club Valencia, Atletico Madrid and Barcelona reportedly monitoring the situation at Anfield.

The dispute will also give him leverage should Liverpool fail to make advances on the title next season. There is a view at the club that Benitez's squad is already strong enough for him to be challenging for the title; he could certainly argue that the breakdown in relations between Hicks and Gillett has prevented him from preparing to rebuild at this critical time.

There is little dissent from the view that the club need to have a clear direction by June at the latest to formulate a plan for summer transfers but as things stand, Hicks and Gillett will not speak, let alone plan investments together.

The extent of the Americans' involvement with Klinsmann appears to have been greater than was originally thought. Reports yesterday suggested that Hicks and Gillett met Klinsmann twice – once in New York where they were joined by Parry and other members of the Liverpool board, and a second time at Hicks' holiday home in California during Thanksgiving weekend in Parry's absence.

Hicks has dismissed as "categorically untrue" weekend reports that the Texan has maintained contact with Klinsmann, who had been given sight of Liverpool's transfer targets.

Gillett and suitor Dubai International Capital (DIC), which is still working to secure his shareholding at the club, are aghast at Hicks' public pronouncements in the last week and his failure, if he wants Parry removed, to seek fellow directors' approval first rather than going public. Even Hicks is unlikely to make further contributions to the argument today. The club are adamant that they do not want any infighting to overshadow the Hillsborough memorial service.

Fernando Torres certainly believes Benitez will be at Liverpool for a long time. He told Spanish radio yesterday that Benitez had "coached in England and Spain and the ideas are the same but the difference is that in Spain he is a coach whereas at Liverpool he is the manager, the coach, the one who signs the players, the one who oversees the youth system, the one who decides who is on his coaching staff.

"Ferguson and Wenger are the examples that in England even when you do not win things managers are given time."

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