The Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez has made clear his irritation with the agent of Javier Mascherano for what he sees as a clear attempt to capitalise on the club's financial uncertainties to engineer a move to Barcelona for the Argentine.
Walter Tamer's suggestion that "the player is going to say 'yes we want to play [at Barcelona]'," is the latest instalment of what is proving a difficult summer for the Liverpool manager, with Manchester City having beaten him to Gareth Barry's signature and the future of Xabi Alonso also looking uncertain.
Benitez is currently on holiday in Spain but was moved yesterday to insist that: "Mascherano has no price." He said: "Barcelona could not afford to match his value to Liverpool Football Club. We do not want to sell and Javier is very happy here. I have spoken to Javier two or three times this summer – the last time was only last week – and he was very happy, very positive."
The Spaniard's indignation is all the greater since Benitez has telephoned Tamer himself about the £20m rated midfielder, to discuss the four or five clubs who have made expressions of interest in him.
"He [Mascherano] gave me the private number of Walter Tamer, and again the conversation was very positive and was all about football," Benitez said. "Walter told me that two clubs with big, big names were asking after Mascherano – and I told him to forget it, that Javier was happy in Liverpool and he was not for sale. So I was surprised to see the agent's comments. He has a long contract and any club can forget about bidding for him. They can offer $40m or even $50m, we don't want to sell."
Benitez, who finds himself with a war on several fronts to retain his midfield players, has also insisted that Alonso "has three years left on his contract and is not for sale", amid suggestions that Real Madrid's Florentino Perez might seek his signature – though Perez offered a suggestion on Tuesday that he had heard Benitez loud and clear.
There has been no official contact with Anfield from Barcelona regarding 25-year-old Mascherano, but Yaya Touré's expected absence on African Nations duty next season combined with contractual uncertainty – he is one of the poorest paid senior players at Barcelona – have prompted a perceived need for defensive midfield reinforcements.
Benitez appears to have his work cut out keeping both Mascherano and Alonso, with a general feeling that Alonso believes he has achieved as much as he can at Anfield and that his personal loyalties to Benitez were irrevocably damaged by the Liverpool manager's willingness to sell him to finance the putative bid for Barry last summer.