Rafa Benitez believes he will be manager of Liverpool long beyond the expiry of his contract in two years' time and will eventually lead them to a desperately desired first Premier League title. He made those assertions on Friday at almost the exact time that one leading bookmaker confirmed him as 5-2 favourite to be the next manager from the top flight out of the door. The concurrence of events could be seen as an appropriate summing-up of the confusion surrounding the club.
Sensibly enough, Benitez would not be drawn on who might own Liverpool if and when the title is finally won for the first time since 1990. For all the denials of co-owner Tom Hicks, the feeling on Merseyside and beyond is that Dubai International Capital, thwarted in their bid 12 months ago, will before long take 50 per cent of the ownership from Hicks's disaffected partner, George Gillett, to form a partnership so unstable that Hicks will then cut his losses – or, more likely, maximise his profits – by selling out altogether.
Meanwhile, as the American pair complete their strange transformation from heroes to villains, Benitez is doing what Hicks advised last November: "concentrate on coaching the players we have" in order to ensure that even the absolute minimum requirement of achieving fourth place does not slip away.
When Liverpool trounced Bolton Wanderers 4-0 at the start of December, it was the first time this season that the acknowledged "big four" of the Premier League had occupied the top four positions. In the face of Everton's form – unbeaten in the League this year – Benitez's team have been unable to consolidate that stranglehold, but by playing three games in the next seven days they have a perfect opportunity to do so. This afternoon comes the return game at Bolton, followed on Wednesday by the game in hand they have had ever since August, at home to West Ham, and on Saturday there is a further home game, against ailing Newcastle.
It is significant that the very bookmakers trimming Benitez's odds to go also have Liverpool to finish above Everton in the final Champions' League slot, citing "a stronger squad plus home advantage for the all-important derby game at the end of March". Having concluded the transfer of the midfielder Javier Mascherano (taking his spending past £150 million), Benitez believes the "progress" he continually demands is sure, if slow. "If we have confidence, we will finish in the top four, so we have to be positive," he said. "Aston Villa are also close, as are Tottenham and Manchester City, so we can't just keep an eye on Everton, we have to keep an eye on all of them. And how can you control all of them? Winning your own games."
Taking a 2-0 lead to Milan against Internazionale in the Champions' League next week concludes the club's most important period of the season to date. Of the longer term, Benitez says: "I have confidence I will be here for a long time, not just two years. Can we win the title? Yes. Because we can improve the squad every year."Reuse content