Rafael Benitez yesterday launched a stinging attack on the England midfielder Gareth Barry for choosing Manchester City over Liverpool "just for money". Benitez, who has failed twice in his attempts to sign Barry, also said Javier Mascherano and Xabi Alonso were not for sale despite interest in them from Spain.
The Liverpool manager was in forthright mood on the occasion of Glen Johnson's introduction as the club's first major signing of the summer. Signed for £18.5m from Portsmouth, the England right-back is understood to have been fast-tracked into the highest earners at the club on a deal that is worth a staggering £120,000-a-week.
The vast salary offered to Johnson reflects Benitez's determination – some might say desperation – to ensure at least one high-profile signing ahead of City this summer after they signed Barry. Benitez tried and failed to sign Barry last summer, a transfer saga that turned into a squabble with Martin O'Neill who held firm at Aston Villa.
Barry's move to City came out of the blue last month and it meant that he also broke into the £100,000-a-week category. "Maybe it's just me but in this market now, money is not the main thing," Benitez said. "Everyone at this level earns big money. You have to enjoy [it], make decisions, do your best in the right way.
"If it's just for money sometimes you will make mistakes, like Gareth Barry. I won't say too much but it [his move to City] was clearly for money – 100 per cent. It's not a bad thing to miss out on him. The most important thing is to know the passion of the player.
"We did go back again for Barry, but as I said it is all about money, money, money. It is as simple as that. It was difficult, some clubs are offering big money. But he [Johnson] wanted to come here, that was the difference. City have signed a lot of good players, but that is no guarantee they will win anything. It will be interesting to see what happens next season."
Benitez was also adamant that Mascherano and Alonso would not be leaving despite intense interest in the pair from Barcelona and Real Madrid. Benitez said that, like Alvaro Arbeloa, also a target for Madrid, he expected the two midfielders to sign new contracts with the club – not least because they owed Liverpool a debt of loyalty.
"Both players are under contract and we are really pleased [with that]," he said. "We signed Alonso when nobody knew him outside Spain and renewed his contract two years ago, so he was happy, and with Mascherano you know the story about West Ham. Both players owe a lot to Liverpool football club and the fans like them, so we want to keep working with them. They owe the team their loyalty. They both know that.
"When you are in a top side, you can do it [tell players they are staying], so you have to decide about the way to do things but I don't have any problem. We have to be strong enough and if we have to be, we will be."
In the meantime, Steven Gerrard is expected to sign a two-year extension to his current deal, keeping him at the club until 2013. His wages are currently £100,000-a-week flat without bonuses and he was due to renegotiate a deal. However, Johnson's arrival on such attractive terms meant that the Liverpool captain and star player was due an improvement in his salary.
Benitez has said that he did not expect a "big-money signing" beyond the acquisition of Johnson, rather that he was more focused on keeping together a squad that only finished four points behind champions Manchester United last season. Benitez listed Gerrard among his strikers although beyond the captain, Fernando Torres and Dirk Kuyt, Liverpool have precious little cover. They have even recalled Andrei Voronin from his loan spell at Hertha Berlin.
On Johnson, Benitez said: "He was always thinking about Liverpool, so for us to sign a player who wants to come, an England international, with experience of a being at a big club before, is really good, because of his desire to be successful here.
"We knew we had to pay good money because he had good offers. We don't normally spend big money on defenders but he is a really important player, an offensive defender, an England player. We needed quality, someone with something more to stop [Liverpool getting too many] draws, another player to go forward and be a threat from the back."
Benitez said Fabio Aurelio's knee injury, sustained while playing with his son on holiday, will require only one month to heal. As for Johnson, he said he believed he could fulfil his potential at a "Big Four" club after struggling at Chelsea six years ago.
Johnson said: "It was working out until Jose Mourinho... wanted to bring in his own players. That's when it started to go downhill."
* Promoted Real Zaragoza have agreed to sign winger Jermaine Pennant from Liverpool on a three-year contract, the La Liga club said on their official website yesterday. The 26-year-old, who will move as a free agent, played part of last season on loan at Portsmouth.