Thursday, March 19, 2009

Benitez Victorious As He Signs New Liverpool Deal

Rafael Benitez committed himself to Liverpool for the long-term last night, signing a new five-year contract which represents a victory in his battle to wield greater power at the club.

The Spaniard has been at odds since January with the club's owners George Gillett and Tom Hicks, demanding greater control over football issues including his transfer budget and the club's Academy. Benitez will by no means secure carte blanche to spend without his board's sanction. "Transfers will still be handled by the new CEO and owners, based on Rafa's recommendations," one executive familiar with the contract talks said last night. But the balance of power has clearly swung towards him and away from the chief executive's office – where incumbent Rick Parry's departure was announced last month. The exit of Parry may have helped secure 48-year-old Benitez's signature on a deal worth over £4m a year which should keep him at Anfield until June 2014 and extend his career at the club to a decade, should he see it out.

"My heart is with Liverpool Football Club, so I'm delighted to sign this new deal," said Benitez, who arrived from Valencia in the summer of 2004. "I love the club, the fans and the city and with a club like this and supporters like this, I could never say no to staying. I always made clear I wanted to be here for a long time and when I complete my new contract it will mean I have spent over a decade in Liverpool. The club is greatly respected around the world due to its incredible history and tremendous heritage. It is my aim to uphold those values and help create a new chapter in our history."

Though Hicks and Gillett believe in a chief executive holding the kind of powers David Gill enjoys at Manchester United, they were persuaded by Randy Lerner at Aston Villa that a deal allowing Benitez similar control to Martin O'Neill could work.

Amid the threat of Real Madrid seeking Benitez this summer, the Americans needed to retain a world-renowned manager to maintain the optimum financial value of a club for whom they seek investors. Hence a salary which takes Benitez from his current £3m-a-year wage to something like the figures commanded by Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsène Wenger.

It is an outcome which seemed highly unlikely in October 2007 when Hicks and Gillett, antagonised by Benitez's response to their demands that he work through Parry and dubious about his capabilities, sought out Jürgen Klinsmann as a possible successor. Hicks has since had a rapprochement with Benitez but the relationships with Parry and Benitez were damaged fatally.

Parry's announced departure does not seem to have lifted Benitez's mood of late. Even 10 days ago, before the home leg of Liverpool's Champions League tie with Real Madrid, he did not seem to be in high spirits and he is yet to express much pleasure at the prospect of working with a new chief executive. But the wins over Real and Manchester United have since cemented Benitez as the most serious challenger to Ferguson since Jose Mourinho's star began to wane. The new contract also paves the way to new deals for Daniel Agger, Dirk Kuyt, Alvaro Arbeloa and Fabio Aurelio, whose own contract talks had been on hold pending uncertainties about the manager's future being resolved.

Benitez hinted on the day Parry announced his departure that a new deal was dependent on him being granted the security of knowing who the future owners of the club might be. That appeared to be an impossible request, considering the uncertainty still surrounding the finances of the club and the Americans' as-yet putative search for buyers in the Middle East. Some assurances may have been given but Benitez, who has always insisted that the length of the contract and remuneration were not issues, appears to have concluded that the departure of Parry, bringing him the kind of autonomy he has been looking for, is enough.

Hicks, who has been actively courting a consortium including the Kuwaiti Al-Kharafi family to secure new invest in the club, said last night: "It is wonderful news that Rafa has made a long-term commitment to the football club. He has been responsible for the great progress we have made. I know he will continue to build on his achievements as he has a tremendous hunger and desire to bring more success to the club – success our fans and everyone connected with the club deserves."

Gillett, the more likely of the American pair to sell up, added: "With Rafa continuing to manage the team, we can look forward to more great football and success on the pitch. He has special abilities and qualities which are admired here at the club and around the world. Coming after our excellent wins over Real Madrid and Manchester United, this gives us great momentum going into the final stages of the season."

Ex-Liverpool Manager Kenny Dalglish Overjoyed With Rafa Benitez Contract

Kenny Dalglish was overjoyed to hear the news that Rafael Benitez had penned a new five-year deal with Liverpool, and he insisted that, in light of this week's results, the timing was perfect.

Speaking to, Dalglish said, "We've just had two great results against Real Madrid and Manchester United and now the manager - the man we all believe is the right man for the job - has signed his contract. It's fantastic news at the end of a magnificent week.

"I think the timing of this is brilliant for everyone. It allows Rafa plenty of time to prepare for next season, to identify new players he may want to bring into the club and to look at any other changes he may want to make.

"If we'd gone into the summer with his future still undecided then it would have been difficult to make those sort of plans. Now that it's all sorted everyone can settle down and I don't think any Liverpool fan could possibly be any happier at this moment in time."

However, Dalglish stressed that the club's focus must now switch wholly and immediately to on-field affairs as they continue their pursuit of Man United in the Premier League.

"It's been a very positive week for everyone connected with the club, but let's hope it's just the first of a number of positive weeks before the end of the season," continued the Scot.

"This season isn't finished yet and it's by no means a foregone conclusion that Manchester United are going to win the league. We gave them a fright at the weekend so the title race is open again, and then on Friday we'll wait to see who we draw in the Champions League. There are still lots to play for and lots to be excited about.

"As Liverpool fans, I think we're just all really happy right now that the boys are performing very well and that Rafa has ended all the speculation about his future by signing his new deal. It's great news."

Benitez To Turn Attention To Players

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez's new five-year contract is likely to spark a rush of new deals for several of the club's top stars.

The Spaniard ended months of bitter wrangling over his future by signing a new contract on Wednesday night that will keep him at Anfield until 2014.

But, while Benitez has been in protracted negotiations with co-owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett, many of his top stars have put their own futures on hold.

Dutch forward Dirk Kuyt admits he was advised to wait until Benitez's own deal had been concluded before opening negotiations over his new deal.

And Danish defender Daniel Agger's new contract seemed to have stalled some weeks ago.

There could also be likely new deals for striker Fernando Torres, skipper Steven Gerrard and goalkeeper Jose Reina.

The stability Benitez's own deal will bring to Anfield should also trigger similar commitments from several players, some of whom had privately intimated they would consider their futures if the Spaniard left.

Benitez now has control over the club's transfer budget - one of the concessions he insisted on in his new deal - and that should allow him to secure the long-term futures of several star names.

And he will almost certainly now make another bid this summer to bring Aston Villa's Gareth Barry to Liverpool, having failed to sign the England midfielder last summer after weeks of acrimony with Villa chief Martin O'Neill.

Benitez will now be able to plan Liverpool's future in the long term, and said after signing the new deal: "My heart is with Liverpool, so I'm delighted to sign this new deal.

"I love the club, the fans and the city and, with a club like this and supporters like this, I could never say no to staying.

"I always made clear I wanted to be here for a long time and, when I complete my new contract, it will mean I have spent over a decade in Liverpool.

"The club is greatly respected around the world due to its incredible history and tremendous heritage.

"It is my aim to uphold those values and help create a new chapter in our history. Throughout this process, I would like to thank the owners for their hard work in finalising the deal.

"All of us at the club want the same thing, which is to be successful by winning major trophies."

The completion of contract talks with Benitez is the third major boost for Liverpool fans in recent days, coming after wins against Real Madrid in the Champions League and Manchester United in the Premier League.

The 4-1 win at Old Trafford saw Benitez achieve 100 league wins in the third fastest period of time for a Liverpool manager, surpassing Bill Shankly.

Babel Eyeing A Trip To Rome

Ryan Babel has set his sights on a dream appearance in this season's Champions League final in Rome.

The Reds winger enjoyed an impressive display in Liverpool's last outing in the competition during the 4-0 rout of Real Madrid and admits he would love to cap the campaign by showcasing his talents on club football's biggest stage.

"It would be my first time if we went all the way. For a player of my age it would be a dream come true," he told

"If you want to win the Champions League you have to play them all to be the best, so it doesn't matter who we get in the draw.

"I think we have built a good reputation through some very good performances, so let's see what happens and how the other teams respond if they draw us."

Gamblers Back Manchester United To Meet Liverpool In Champions League

British bookmakers have indicated that they have received a flurry of activity from gamblers who believe Manchester United will be paired with Liverpool in the semi-final of the Champions League.

British-based bookmakers William Hill have announced today that many of their punters are backing a Manchester United - Liverpool semi-final in the Champions League. This follows the English clean-sweep in the round of 16 and the Reds' humbling of United in their recent fixture at Old Trafford.

The bookies also added that Liverpool are the popular choice at present to go all the way in the competition and bring yet another Champions League trophy to the bulging cabinet at Anfield.

Graham Sharpe, a spokesperson for William Hill, is quoted by The Mirror as saying, "Whether they want to bet on the coincidence of United and Liverpool being drawn together after their recent Premier League game, or on the conspiracy theory that some way will be found to keep the Premier League clubs together to lessen the chances of one or two of them reaching the final, is difficult to say, but that's definitely the way punters are thinking."

The odds of a United and Liverpool semi-final are 13/2.

For the Merseyside outfit to win the tournament outright, the price currently offered is 4/1.

There are eight teams left in the current stage of the competition: Arsenal; Barcelona; Chelsea; Bayern; Porto; Liverpool; Manchester United; and Villarreal.

Anfield The Key To Barry's Destiny

Martin O’Neill needs a win at in-form Liverpool to have a chance of keeping Gareth Barry at Aston Villa.

Villa’s current slump has seen them drop out of the Champions League qualifying places and without top European football next season, Barry is likely to leave.

He was close to quitting Villa for Liverpool last summer, but Rafa Benitez was not allowed to increase his £18million offer and O’Neill managed to keep Barry despite a furious row with him.

That has been patched up and Barry has been in impressive form. He pledged to stay with Villa until the end of the season, but left his options open after that.

Villa boss O’Neill is convinced that if his side get into the Champions League, Barry will stay, but that Premier League football will not be enough.

Villa have not won a Premier League game since the beginning of February, losing three times and taking only one point to allow Arsenal to overtake them in fourth place.

O’Neill has banned Barry and former Liverpool striker Emile Heskey from talking before the game at Anfield but after Sunday’s home defeat by Spurs, Barry said: “The defeat was another big blow to our season. There are nine games to go and the advantage definitely lies with Arsenal.

“Arsenal will have been watching, realising that. Nine games to go, level on points, but we are low on confidence. However, we are one game away from a good performance and turning it around again so we cannot worry about it too much. We have to be positive.

“We have two tough fixtures coming up and if we deliver a performance of the season in one of them, it could catapult us to a good finish.”

Albert Riera Would Rather Liverpool Didn't Play Barcelona

Liverpool winger Albert Riera is delighted that his team have seen off one Primera Division giant this season, but would rather not face Real Madrid's great rivals from Catalunya, Barcelona, as the Merseysiders look to reach yet another Champions League final.

Rafa Benitez's men battered los Blancos 4-0 at Anfield last week, triumphing 5-0 on aggregate in the tie, and one might expect such form to create a bullish, confident attitude in the Liverpool camp, a feeling of being able to beat anybody.

Riera, however, is a little more circumspect, and would rather the draw didn't set up a match-up with the Spanish league leaders.

"In these kind of matches you can never say that one team is the favourite," the winger told The Liverpool Echo.

"In the last round we played Real Madrid and a lot of people were saying that they were the best in the world because in their previous ten games they had won eight or nine of them and they had been playing really well also.

"But Liverpool played a really good match against them and were able to beat them."

The Catalans, though, are at a higher level than their counterparts in Madrid, Riera believes, adding, "Barcelona are playing unbelievably well this year – their football is really good and I think people are expecting a lot from them and perhaps expecting them to win four or five nil in every game.

"It is not possible to keep this kind of level for a whole year though, but they are a team who I would prefer not to get in the Champions League draw."

Benayoun Calls Off Mission To Moscow After Rafa Talks Israeli Into Staying At Liverpool

Liverpool midfielder Yossi Benayoun agreed personal terms with Spartak Moscow in the January transfer window - before being talked into staying at Liverpool by Rafa Benitez.

The 28-year-old Israel international was on the brink of moving to Russia when he changed his mind after he was promised more first team football at Anfield.

'Benayoun was our prime target in the winter transfer window,' revealed Spartak general director Valery Karpin yesterday.

'We needed a creative attacking midfielder of his calibre in our squad. He was ready to come and play for Spartak but in the end Benitez did not let him leave Liverpool.'

After the deal fell through, Spartak manager Michael Laudrup turned to Brazil international Alex Meschini, who was bought from Porto Alegre-based club Internacional for £4.35million.