Liverpool clear decks to make room for £4m Neill

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The Independent Football

Liverpool will spend the final 24 hours of the transfer window attempting to raise funds for their manager Rafael Benitez, despite having a £2m bid for Lucas Neill rejected by Blackburn Rovers last night.

Liverpool had hoped to clear a path for the Australian international's arrival by offloading at least five players deemed surplus to requirements by Benitez before the transfer deadline. Though Rovers thwarted those ambitions by rebuffing the offer of cash plus Stephen Warnock for Neill, the Liverpool fire sale will continue regardless today with Jan Kromkamp, Salif Diao, Florent Sinama-Pongolle and Neil Mellor all expected to depart.

Mellor began the clearance when he signed a three-year contract with Preston North End yesterday for a fee in the region of £500,000. Sinama-Pongolle is due to join Spanish club Recreativo de Heulva on a season-long loan, while Diao is also wanted by the newly promoted La Liga side, and Kromkamp is in line for a £1.5m move to Liverpool's Champions' League group opponents, PSV Eindhoven. Both the Kromkamp and Diao deals, however, are dependent on the players agreeing personal terms and, as of last night, neither was in a position to accept.

Kromkamp moved to Anfield only in January, in a swap deal for Josemi from Villarreal, but has made little impression and favours a return to the Netherlands. Liverpool are prepared to allow Diao to leave on a free transfer if he accepts a permanent move from the club, although the midfielder, signed for £5m by former manager Gérard Houllier in 2003, is reluctant to join Recreativo and would prefer to remain in the Premiership. Portsmouth, where Diao spent the latter half of last season on loan, is a favoured destination.

The departures will enable Liverpool to move again in the transfer market after they budgeted for Champions' League qualification before their place in the group stages was secure.

Benitez has not given up on Neill but, with Blackburn determined to retain a player who has only 12 months remaining on his Ewood Park contract and has declined the offer to extend his stay, Liverpool may have to double their offer.

Neill was responsible for breaking Jamie Carragher's leg in a horrific challenge at Blackburn in 2003, but that will not deter Liverpool from making a final enquiry today, with an improved cash payment or the inclusion of both Warnock and Sinama-Pongolle in a deal worth £4m representing their best hope.

One player who is not scheduled to leave Anfield today is Neill's compatriot Harry Kewell. The Liverpool winger has been linked with a move to Tottenham.

Liverpool, however, would consider only a permanent move for Kewell, who has two years of a £60,000-a-week contract remaining at Anfield. Kewell's agent, Bernie Mandic, said last night: "There has never been a single word from anyone at Liverpool about Harry leaving."

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