Roy Hodgson has, temporarily at least, won his battle to keep Javier Mascherano on Merseyside after Internazionale dramatically called off their pursuit of the Argentina captain.
On the same day that the Liverpool manager authorised Alberto Aquilani's loan move to Juventus, the Inter president, Massimo Moratti, phoned Hodgson to tell him he would no longer authorise any bids for his players.
Moratti and Hodgson's relationship goes back 15 years to the time he was appointed manager of Inter and their conversation has ended what seemed a done deal. If Moratti is to be believed, it ends speculation that Dirk Kuyt would be another prime candidate to rejoin his former manager, Rafael Benitez, at San Siro.
"I believe that Inter were only interested in two of our players and they are now not going to buy them," Hodgson said yesterday. "I spoke to Massimo Moratti on Wednesday about the fact they are not going to buy Liverpool players and Dirk comes into that category, doesn't he? Moratti said they were not going to buy."
Although it is conceivable that Mascherano (below) will leave Merseyside, where his wife has failed to settle, he has few escape routes other than Inter. Last summer he came very close to a transfer to Barcelona, prompting the Liverpool hierarchy to promise they would not stand in his way if he played another season at Anfield. Asked yesterday if he would still be interested in signing Mascherano, the Barcelona coach, Pep Guardiola, replied, "We will have to see." In the context of a terse press conference, this equates to a "yes", but the financial situation at the Catalan club makes it far from certain Liverpool will receive an offer.
Should Mascherano, who handed in a transfer request on his first day back at training, stay for at least another six months it would represent a significant victory for Hodgson, after both Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard committed themselves to Liverpool.
His insistence that he would rather run down the remaining two years of Mascherano's contract rather than see him leave Anfield cheaply, appears to have concentrated minds at San Siro, although the danger is that the midfielder, having been promised he could leave, will feel alienated. Should Liverpool sell him in January window it would be for much less than the £25m they could command this summer.
However, the increasing likelihood that Mascherano would stay made the decision to loan out Aquilani that much easier. Yesterday, Aquilani's agent confirmed his return to Serie A was almost complete. "Talks are in progress, the offer from Juventus is in and it is one that excites us," said Franco Zavaglia.
However, Zavaglia's statement, made two days ago, that Aquilani had Hodgson's confidence and was preparing for his "breakthrough season in the Premier League" now appears horribly wide of the mark. "Last year, he came here and hardly played," said Hodgson. "If he has another season like that, his value will be vastly diminished but, most importantly, he will be very unhappy.
"But with Steven Gerrard, Javier Mascherano and Joe Cole here, it is going to be very hard for me to say: 'You will always be the first name on that sheet.' It would be a disaster for him to have another year of hardly any football.
"If he can get regular games for a top Serie A team, it protects the value of the player. We are doing it with a view to bringing him back but first we need to get him back to being the player he was."