Jermaine Pennant was officially told by Rafael Benitez yesterday that he can leave Liverpool this summer as the club try to organise their resources to muster a serious bid for the Blackburn Rovers winger David Bentley. Pennant is a long-term target of Newcastle and Benitez is looking, at the very least, to recoup the £6.7m he spent on the player in 2006.
Pennant had been left to wait to learn his fate at Liverpool, although his gradual marginalisation this season, culminating in his omission from the squad for the final two League games, was a clear indicator that his time was up at Anfield. The 25-year-old was also one of three players offered as a potential makeweight in the £10m-rated deal to bring Gareth Barry to Liverpool. Yesterday, Benitez told Pennant, who has also attracted the interest of West Ham, that he could leave if the club got a price they thought was acceptable.
The top target to replace Pennant is Bentley who has already turned down a new contract at Blackburn worth between £40,000 and £50,000 a week – he has three years on his existing deal. Bentley would cost around £15m and is in demand this summer because clubs are eager to recruit young English players in case Fifa push through their quotas proposal that would insist on a certain ratio of homegrown players in every first XI.
For reasons that he has kept to himself, Benitez has insisted that the Liverpool players train from Wednesday to Friday this week although their season is over. While every other Premier League club barring Manchester United, Chelsea and Portsmouth have sent their players on holiday for the summer, the Liverpool manager called his squad in this week. More pressing for Benitez, however, is finding the funds to refit his squad again this summer.
Bentley for Pennant may look like a natural swap but the Liverpool manager will encounter competition from Chelsea and Tottenham for Bentley, although the strength of the London clubs' interest in the player is not yet clear. In the meantime, Benitez is trying to wring as much money as possible out of fees for his saleable assets in order to strengthen his squad.
Peter Crouch, valued at £15m by Benitez earlier this month, is not in talks with Portsmouth, as has been reported. The England striker, who is part of Fabio Capello's squad for the two end-of-season friendlies, is still waiting to learn whether the Liverpool manager is serious about demanding such an unrealistic fee for him. Portsmouth have already denied they were in negotiations for Crouch who has one year left on his contract and has not yet been given permission by Liverpool to discuss personal terms with any other club.
Scott Carson has also expressed dismay at the £10m price that Benitez has imposed on him. Now it seems the Spaniard's prohibitive valuations of both the England goalkeeper and Crouch are beginning to work against him as he tries to raise money quickly for summer signings. Potential clubs are simply waiting for the valuations to drop before they even begin to consider negotiating for the players in question. John Arne Riise has attracted interest from Serie A clubs as well as Newcastle and is another whom Benitez wants to use to raise cash.
The Liverpool manager needs something to break the current impasse in his club's transfer dealings. The Barry deal with Aston Villa is currently going nowhere; Crouch's future is unresolved and there is still the distinct possibility that Dubai International Capital will gain control of the club at some point this summer. Against that backdrop there will have to be some compromise over the next few weeks if Benitez is to get the ball rolling on his plans for this summer.
So far he has tied up the signing of the Swiss right-back Philipp Degen, 25, who will sign a four-year deal when he becomes a free agent later this month. The Borussia Dortmund player has been a long-term target for Benitez and he tried to sign him when he was Valencia manager just before he left for Liverpool in 2004.
Benitez said yesterday he was glad about the return of Sammy Lee to Liverpool as his assistant. "He knows about the passion of the club and about the standards that we set here so that will make it much easier for him to settle into his new role," Benitez said.
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