The balance of power at Anfield might have shifted in his favour but the financial realities of life at the club he has signed up to until 2014 were spelt out to Rafael Benitez by Liverpool's co-owner Tom Hicks last night.
The Texan made it clear that the club's next chief executive will make the final decision on new players and indicated that he has made no promises to his manager on a budget for reinforcements, with Liverpool's summer outlay dependent on revenues which will only increase, Hicks admitted, when he has found new investors to help build Liverpool's new stadium.
Benitez has clearly secured control over Liverpool's Academy, which he had been aiming for but which the Americans were uncertain about. "Rafa's going to be in charge of the Academy," Hicks confirmed. The Spaniard's concerns about future stability at the club may also have been assuaged by plans, revealed by Hicks last night, for a proper board – Liverpool currently lack one – that would include "leaders in the UK – business leaders, football leaders", according to Hicks. "We both feel we need to have a proper board that has governance over the day to day operation of the club under the new CEO," he said.
But Hicks also spoke assertively about the authority he expects his new chief executive to have. A successor to Rick Parry, whose departure has cleared the way for Benitez to sign on for five more years, may take six months to appoint, Hicks said, which may make for a tricky summer in the transfer market. But Benitez's public theorising in January about being allocated £20m and told to spend it as he wished will clearly not become corporate practice.
"It's very important that our new CEO or the board has to make the final financial decisions," Hicks said. "Rafa has had his frustrations over the last five years but he will make the recommendations about which players we sign and the new CEO, the owners and the board will make the final financial commitment. That's the way it needs to be and will be in English football."
Even after the 4-1 win at Old Trafford on Saturday, Benitez reiterated the financial gap between his own club and Sir Alex Ferguson's which needed to be bridged. Hicks was bullish about the new stadium which can help make that possible. "We want to build that sucker," he said. But with uncertainty about whether the Americans will be able to persuade banks four months from now to refinance the £350m loans they took out to buy the club, Hicks avoided talk of a specific construction date. "With the economic slowdown the price of concrete, labour and steel have come down and that will save us about 30 per cent on the cost of the stadium. I'm hesitant to pick a date."
While Hicks insisted that he had "never been worried" about the prospect of Benitez signing his new contract, the Liverpool manager had a different take on the four months of tortuous contract revisions. "I was a bit worried," Benitez said. The personal attachment Liverpool fans have formed for Benitez seems to have had a subliminal effect on him – in particular the familiar Anfield banner bearing his image with the words siempre es possible (it's always possible) which Benitez spotted in the Bernabeu last month and whose bearer he met at Melwood last week. These details do count for an individual whose family, and none more than his wife Montse, have formed a deep attachment for the city.
Benitez indicated his priority was to tie up deals for players, including Daniel Agger and Dirk Kuyt who are heading towards the last years of contracts.Reuse content