Liverpool are left with more questions than answers

Uncertainty reigns at Anfield despite the end of the speculation over Benitez. Chris Brereton looks at what happens next
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The Independent Football

Why has Rafael Benitez gone now – and who is calling the shots at Anfield?

The uneasy truce that settled over Anfield at the end of the season, once Benitez did not fall on his sword, was always unlikely to last. The divisions at the club were simply too vast.

For his part, the manager was looking for a large summer transfer fund, plus a written guarantee that any money raised by sales would be made available to him. However, the club's hierarchy and, in particular, the managing director, Christian Purslow, who has become increasingly dominant behind the scenes, were wary of granting the Spaniard such leeway.

Despite co-owner Tom Hicks' recent pledge that Benitez would be given a "substantial"transfer budget, the financial reality at the club – estimated to be £351m in debt – precluded any such spending. Moreover, Benitez had squandered much of his credit at Anfield with the poor signings of Robbie Keane and Alberto Aquilani over the past two summers.

After the acute disappointment of last season, when Liverpool finished seventh in the Premier League a year after they had been runners-up to Manchester United, both parties realised they were approaching the endgame. The one possible stumbling block to Benitez's departure was the £16m pay-off the five-year contract he signed in March 2009 guaranteed. Yesterday's deal for a £6m "golden handshake" removed that problem and Benitez departed by "mutual consent".

Will Gerrard and Torres follow

Rafa out of the door?

Few players at Liverpool were close to Benitez, who preferred a professional, even detached, relationship with his squad. However, one who did have a lot of faith in him was his compatriot Fernando Torres. Benitez pulled off a coup in signing him from Atletico Madrid for £26.5m three years ago, and Torres responded with the goals that turned him into the hottest striker in Europe. Despite the frustrations of the past year, when Liverpool's struggles have been compounded by the 26-year-old's injury problems, the forward will be dismayed at the manager's departure and could return from the World Cup demanding a move.

Steven Gerrard, the subject of much speculation linking him with Real Madrid this week, will be less upset at Benitez's going but is likely to see it as a further indication of the club's slide. At the age of 30, the club captain, who has shown great loyalty in the past, knows time is fast running out if he is to secure a big-money move away from Anfield. That time could well be now.

What about a successor to Benitez?

"Liverpool Football Club is much more important than any one individual – it always has been and always will be." Those words, spoken by the former manager Kenny Dalglish just last week, have proved prescient.

As the one individual who has been more important than most at Anfield over the last six years prepares for life after Liverpool, it is Dalglish himself who has become one of the favourites to take over, at least in a temporary capacity.

The legendary former player and manager, who won the Double in his first season in charge in 1985-86, along with Fulham's Roy Hodgson, Mark Hughes and Martin O'Neill of Aston Villa, is likely to be top of the list when the Anfield boardroom nominates a successor to Benitez.

Bringing Dalglish in on an interim basis would assuage much of the resentment aimed at the club's hierarchy while reassuring any prospective buyers that they would not have to deal with a manager they did not choose. Effectively, he minds the shop until new owners bring in their own man.

What now for Benitez?

He is unlikely to have thought it at the time, nor given it much credence in the 1,836 days since, but when Benitez guided Liverpool to their Champions League victory in 2005, he may well have secured his own managerial future. Just not at Liverpool.

After the dramatic events of the last 36 hours, Benitez now finds himself gazing expectantly towards Italy, despite having previously gone cold on the idea of managing in Serie A. Just six weeks ago he had the opportunity to replace Alberto Zaccheroni at Juventus. However, Benitez opted to stay put and Juve instead turned to Luigi del Neri.

All is not lost for Rafa, though, because Internazionale are thought to be interested – and it partly comes down to "that night in Istanbul".

"Benitez has a certain affinity with our fans," the Inter director Gabriele Oriali said yesterday, with the club looking for a coach after Jose Mourinho decamped to Real Madrid. "He is very appealing to us.

"He has already given us great joy, namely the 2005 Champions League win against Milan. Who does not remember Istanbul?"

Of course, it could be a bit of mischief-making from Inter, but the Spaniard's willingness to accept Liverpool's pay-off points to the fact he has another job lined up – and where better than the champions of Europe?

How have the fans taken the news?

It was with a sigh of weary resignation that the Spirit of Shankly (SOS) group outlined its opinion on the removal of Benitez.

For all his faults, Benitez still carried the support of most of the club's fans and SOS, formed in January 2008 to scrutinise the decisions of co-owners Hicks and George Gillett, and of late Purslow, chose not to discuss Benitez the manager. They are far happier looking at the Spaniard's removal in the wider context of the club, insisting it is another staging post in the continued deterioration of Liverpool as a footballing force.

"In some sense, Benitez is merely collateral damage and a victim in the wider farce of the club," a spokesman said. "This is another example of how Liverpool Football Club has become the biggest pantomime in town.

"In terms of who will take over, I think it will be somebody from inside the club and I suspect that means Kenny Dalglish for the time being.

"And when you look at Liverpool in a general manner, who in their right mind would want to take the position on? The position of manager at Liverpool was respected across the world, but now [this] football club looks like a basket case."

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