Gerrard prepares to join Mourinho

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The Independent Online

The prospect of Steven Gerrard and Milan Baros remaining at Liverpool has receded further following renewed speculation linking the England midfielder with Chelsea and the apparent admission by Valencia that talks have begun to take the Czech striker to Spain.

The prospect of Steven Gerrard and Milan Baros remaining at Liverpool has receded further following renewed speculation linking the England midfielder with Chelsea and the apparent admission by Valencia that talks have begun to take the Czech striker to Spain.

Gerrard has been linked with a move to Stamford Bridge for over a year and the continuing uncertainty surrounding the future of the Liverpool captain has cast a shadow over Raphael Benitez's first season at Anfield, despite the Spaniard's repeated assurances that the player is going nowhere.

There is now a growing consensus, however, that Benitez will soon be forced to admit defeat in his efforts to hold on to his player and that Jose Mourinho has all but secured the services of one of the Premiership's most coveted players.

The Spaniard inherited Gerrard on succeeding Gérard Houllier last summer, after a last-minute change of heart by the England player immediately before the start of the season, when a move to Chelsea appeared certain.

Gerrard's wavering did nothing to erase thoughts that he believes his best chance of winning the title and challenging for the Champions' League lies not at Anfield but in West London and, like his former team-mate Michael Owen, he is likely to move on after growing frustrated at Liverpool's failure to break the Premiership stranglehold of Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United.

But Gerrard remains a totemic figure at Anfield and Benitez is determined that not even Roman Abramovich's millions could prise him away from Liverpool.

"Let me be very clear about Gerrard," Benitez said after his side's emotional victory over Juventus in the Champions' League quarter-final first leg on Tuesday. "We are building a strong team here for the future and that will be a team with Gerrard at its centre. We are not selling him for any money in the world. He is a local boy, a man of the club and is our captain. We are not selling him."

Benitez will undoubtedly oversee a major turnover in his personnel this summer but he was at pains yesterday to distance himself from claims made by Juan Soler, the Valencia president, that the La Liga club has opened transfer talks with Baros. The manager warned that any approach to Baros, who has two years remaining on his contract, was illegal and vowed to investigate Soler's claims.

"He is a new president," Benitez said. "Maybe he didn't know this was illegal. I need to talk to Rick Parry [the Liverpool chief executive] about the situation."

Soler's comments came just days after the Valencia director Eduardo Macia admitted his club's interest in the forward.

"We are negotiating with the Czech [Baros] and with four or five players of the same quality," Soler said. "These players are from Europe and South America and we are trying to do things in plenty of time, both with Baros and with the others."

Baros' future, though, is far from clear, and the player is known to be frustrated at not starting in the Carling Cup final despite Liverpool's lengthy injury list. The return of Djibril Cissé from injury next season could push him further down the pecking order.

Matthew Upson has told Birmingham City he wants to wait until the summer before continuing negotiations over a new contract, but is understood to be keen on a move to Liverpool. Upson is entitled to a new deal after 60 appearances for Birmingham, following his move from Arsenal in January 2003, and has held initial talks. It is thought he is tempted by European football, which would improve his chances of appearing regularly for England.

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