Friday November 23, 2007
A serious rift was exposed in the Liverpool hierarchy last night when Rafael Benítez had a fit of pique over his January transfer plans and the club's American owners, George Gillett and Tom Hicks, ordered the manager to concentrate on the lavish resources already at his disposal.
In a press conference at Liverpool's Melwood training complex, delayed for 35 minutes while Benítez took a transatlantic call from his employers, the Spaniard, visibly shaken, refused to commit his future to the club and even volunteered his services to England. "Maybe I could be [Steve McClaren's replacement] if I improve my English," he said. Later Benítez said: "I was being serious. You never know what can happen in the future."
Earlier this week the Liverpool manager dismissed interest from Bayern Munich but his commitment is in doubt after Gillett and Hicks told Benítez he would have to wait to discover his next transfer budget. The manager is upset at delays in finalising a £17m permanent deal for Javier Mascherano and indications that, with the Americans hoping to secure a £500m loan against the club in the next few weeks, he will have to sell before he can buy.
Benítez repeated the phrase "I am focused on training and coaching my team" throughout interviews for television, radio and the written press - to whom he used the response 15 times.
He first challenged Hicks and Gillett to spend after the European Cup final in May, when he was not as angry as he appeared yesterday. The Americans responded with a £44m outlay in the summer, with almost half recouped through sales.
In a statement released after Benítez's press conference, Gillett and Hicks said: "We made a significant investment in the playing squad during the summer and desperately want this team to succeed. There are some very important games coming up in the next couple of weeks and all of us need to focus on winning those games and getting the best out of the players we already have at the club. We will leave any talk of buying or selling players until we come across to Liverpool in December and sit down with the manager then." Benítez could miss out on a £6m pay-off if he walks away but, as Liverpool discovered when they courted him at Valencia in 2004, he has a history of falling out with employers over his transfer ambitions.