Rafael Benitez has until the summer to save his job at Liverpool, with his chances of doing so further curtailed by three injuries which raise profound doubts about his ability to restore the club to the Champions League next season. Yesterday Fernando Torres, Yossi Benayoun and Steven Gerrard were ruled out of action for six, four and two weeks respectively.
The Spaniard has no intention of quitting and despite Liverpool's shock FA Cup exit to Reading on Wednesday the club's owners do not plan to remove him at a time when they are seeking to convey a sense of stability to potential investors during their sale of 25 per cent equity to raise £100m. But in the summer Tom Hicks and George Gillett will revisit the issue of whether Benitez can reverse the decline which has beset Liverpool or whether they should lay out the £20m needed to dismiss him and look elsewhere. Internazionale's Jose Mourinho would seem like a possible candidate, though Liverpool's limited spending power may be an impediment.
A more imminent change of manager cannot be entirely ruled out if Liverpool continue to nosedive to a mid-table position in the Premier League from which securing European football in 2010-11 starts to look beyond them. Failure to qualify for the Champions League would cost the club at least £10m. The prospect of club ambassador Kenny Dalglish, who is close to the managing director, Christian Purslow, assuming control in a temporary capacity until the summer is one which would please many fans. But Benitez looks safe for now.
He will have money from the sale of players at his disposal in the next few weeks and with his medium-term future by no means guaranteed, may feel more acutely the need to spend to make good the debilitating loss of Torres. The striker will be out for six weeks while undergoing surgery on a torn cartilage in his right knee sustained in the first minute of Wednesday's match. Gerrard will be out for two weeks with a hamstring strain and Benayoun suffered a fractured rib against Reading and will be unavailable for between three and four weeks.
Benitez, who has secured a total of £6.4m from the sales of Andrea Dossena to Napoli and Andrei Voronin to Dynamo Moscow, will seek around £10.5m for winger Ryan Babel but will only sell if he can find a better replacement. Realistically, he may struggle to improve his options beyond the arrival of Maxi Rodriguez from Atletico Madrid on a free transfer.
The timing of losing the club's two best players, plus Benayoun, made yesterday a dark day indeed for Benitez. Torres, whom the club had been nursing through an inguinal hernia for weeks in the hope of avoiding surgery, will miss games against Arsenal and Manchester City which are crucial to Liverpool's attempts to secure a top-four place.
However, the striker has backed Benitez and called on the club to provide him with transfer funds. "It's now the owners' turn," Torres told FourFourTwo. "They have to sign players so that this does not happen again. If we want to compete with United and Chelsea we need a much, much more complete squad. We need more genuinely first-class players and we can't let our best players leave."
Though the team were roundly booed from the field on Wednesday night, the view from Liverpool fans' forums yesterday did not reflect unanimous opposition to Benitez. Around 70 per cent of fans felt that a change was needed and that Benitez cannot now turn around the season.
Jamie Carragher apologised for Liverpool's performance in the 2-1 defeat to Reading. "We have to accept they deserved it. But, at the same time, we have got to look at ourselves and the way we performed was not acceptable."Reuse content