Liverpool target Duff as Gerrard cuts ties

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The Liverpool captain ended 13 months of intense speculation over his Anfield future yesterday by informing Parry that he wants to bring his 17-year association with the club to an end. Liverpool had earlier rejected a £32m faxed offer from Premiership champions Chelsea for the services of their 25-year-old captain.

The Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich, however, is determined not to miss out on the England midfielder for a second successive summer and, encouraged by the sudden deterioration of relations at Anfield, is prepared to break the British transfer record.

After a turbulent day on Merseyside, Kenyon contacted Parry in an attempt to finalise a deal before Real Madrid enter a bidding war. But he may have to raise his offer to £35m before Liverpool consider parting with their prize asset. There is even the suggestion that Liverpool could demand a player as well as cash, with Damien Duff, William Gallas and Joe Cole possible targets.

Liverpool had earlier offered their dynamic captain the £100,000-a-week, four-year contract he was seeking when talks commenced last Wednesday. After considering the offer overnight, however, Gerrard informed Parry he was rejecting the deal and wished to sever ties with his boyhood club.

The decision sparked an inevitable backlash on Merseyside, with supporters angered and bemused by the midfielder's decision only six weeks after leading the club to a memorable triumph in the European Cup.

Gerrard later revealed he had been agonising over his future ever since that victory over Milan on 25 May, suggesting he had not opted to go purely in dismay at Liverpool's failure to make him a firm contract offer last week.

The midfielder said: "The last six weeks have been the toughest of my life. The decision I have come to has been the hardest decision I have ever had to make. I fully intended to sign a new contract after the Champions' League final, but the events of the past five or six weeks have changed all that.

"I have too much respect for the club and the people at it to get involved in a slanging match."

Gerrard is known to want his departure confirmed swiftly, an intention that will suit Chelsea as they try to stay ahead of Madrid in the race for the former Anfield hero. Gerrard drove through a crowd of angry fans outside the club's training complex yesterday and would prefer to avoid another hostile confrontation when he is expected back at pre-season training today.

Gerrard, who joined Liverpool as an eight-year-old, has yet to make a formal transfer request but after he made his position clear Liverpool have been left with little option but to sell to the highest bidder.

They would prefer to await developments at the Bernabeu, where interest from Real could drive the player's price higher, although a swift end to a saga that first erupted at Euro 2004 would also suit Liverpool's manager, Rafael Benitez, as he tries to rebuild. There has also been the suggestion - strongly refuted - that Liverpool were keen to bank £30m plus for a player who cost them nothing in order for Benitez to add to his squad.

But a resigned Parry said yesterday: "We desperately want to keep Stevie and we've told him we don't want him to leave. However, in rejecting our offer of a new contract he has indicated he wants to go."

A statement added: "The club has made it crystal clear we want to keep Steven at Anfield.

"Sadly, he has told us that he will not accept our offer of an improved and extended contract because he wants to leave Liverpool. We very much regret the decision he has taken."

Gerrard can expect to command a salary in excess of £100,000 a week from both Real Madrid and Chelsea, although that would have repercussions even for Abramovich as the midfielder Frank Lampard and captain John Terry would seek parity with the club's illustrious arrival.

Gerrard insists that money is not at the root of his disillusionment, and the wage demands he made of the Anfield board were less than Chelsea offered last summer. He is desperate to add a league winner's medal to his collection, however, and having voiced his frustration at Liverpool's poor Premiership form several times last season his dramatic U-turn will have been done with that in mind.

Parry confirmed as much last night: "To be fair to Stevie, it is not an issue of money," Parry said. "Money was not a problem; this is about long-term ambition and a feeling about where he wants to be and winning trophies. Presumably, he feels that is elsewhere.

"The club has to be bigger than any individual," Parry added. "It's the ups and downs of football. We must move on. He has made it clear he wants to go. We have done our best and I think it looks pretty final.

"We sat down with him last summer and we understood his frustrations - it was to do with perceived lack of success. We said, 'Stick with it and see what we achieve' and we thought we achieved quite a lot. What better sign is there that the club is going in the right direction [than winning the Champions' League]?" Parry asked.

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