Rafa Benitez set for exit as Liverpool FC board seek to agree pay-offRAFA BENITEZ’S six-year reign as manager of Liverpool Football Club was all but over after the Anfield board met to discuss terms of his departure.
The ECHO understands the Liverpool board tonight approved a deal which would see the Spaniard leave with a £3m pay-off.
The move is effectively a vote of no confidence in Benitez and makes his position virtually untenable.
Managing director Christian Purslow declined to comment and would only say he was “locked down in a meeting”. Benitez was unavailable for comment.
The Spaniard is only 15 months into a lucrative five-year contract at Anfield and if the club sack him he is entitled to a £16m pay-off.
However, the club's dire finances – they recently posted record annual losses of £55m – are such that they are not in a position to be able to come up with that sort of money and are hoping a compromise can be swiftly reached which would see Benitez leave my “mutual consent”.
In theory Benitez could dig his heels in and remain at Anfield but that appears unlikely now it's been made clear his services are no longer required.
A parting of the ways has looked increasingly likely after Liverpool suffered a miserable season.
They crashed out of the Champions League at the group stage, lost to lower league side Reading in the FA Cup and could only finish seventh in the Premier League – their worst league position for 11 years.
Their failure to qualify for the Champions League next season will cost the club upwards of £20m.
Throughout the course of the campaign Benitez grew increasingly disillusioned with the club's off-field problems and in particular the lack of funds invested in the playing squad by co-owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett.
The 50-year-old has recently held a series of meetings with Purslow and chairman Martin Broughton in a bid to decide his future.
The club insisted they enjoyed a “constructive” discussion but Benitez was known to be frustrated over the lack of assurances over his transfer kitty for this summer and the club’s ongoing search for new investment.
Benitez was not given assurances by either man that any money he might raise this summer from potential player sales would be handed straight back to him to re-invest in the squad.
Despite the club's £351m debts, Hicks recently claimed the manager would have a “substantial” amount of cash to spend on new players but in reality it's only a maximum of £15m and there was no guarantee he could spend what the club generated by selling their unwanted stars.
With the squad needing major strengthening if Liverpool are going to challenge for trophies next season, the former Valencia coach feared with the limited funds available he wouldn't be able to take the club forward.
And after such a disappointing season there has been no great desire in the Anfield boardroom to bow to Benitez's demands and convince him to battle on.
The board have now decided the current impasse can't be allowed to continue.
If and when a pay-off with Benitez is agreed Liverpool will begin the search for a replacement.
The fact that the club is currently up for Sale
complicates matters as it's unlikely Liverpool could offer anyone a long-term contract until new owners are in place.
Liverpool officials were today refusing to comment on the meeting that took place at Anfield, while Benitez could not be contacted.
It is understood, though, that a parting of the ways between Benitez and the Reds is now almost inevitable, as talks have reached an advanced stage about how much remuneration – among other things – he will receive to go.
Benitez – who has won both the Champions League in 2005 and the FA Cup in 2006 since he arrived at Anfield from Valencia in June 2004 – signed his new five-year contract in March 2009.
Anfield’s hierarchy, though, are trying to negotiate a figure that would be suitable to all concerned.While this has clearly been the most turbulent spell of a reign that has been tempestuous ever since the arrival of Tom Hicks and George Gillett as owners, Benitez had indicated he would be prepared to carry on fighting for the club and fans.
He is adamant that with the right investment in the squad – signing between five and six players and hanging on to key assets such as Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres – Liverpool would be able to challenge the top four once again.
But, much to the dismay of Benitez and supporters, there is no sign that the “substantial” spending Hicks promised last week will come to fruition; to show that, a £2m deal to sign Glasgow Rangers defender Danny Wilson has floundered.
Gerrard’s future, meanwhile, has been the topic of much debate in recent weeks and yesterday, the informed Spanish newspaper Marca published a three-page story entitled ‘Gerrard – Caliente Caliente!’ (Gerrard – Hot! Hot!).
Marca, of course, is the paper synonymous with Real Madrid and the feature had the Liverpool skipper mocked up wearing Real’s famous white kit, claiming that he “muy cerca del Madrid” – in other words, very close to moving to Madrid.
Yet without a significant outlay this summer, it is going to be difficult for Liverpool to push for a European place, let alone them harbouring thoughts about mixing it with those rivals who will be vying for Champions League football.
Benitez, 50, has found his position coming under intense scrutiny ever since Juventus tried to woo him to Serie A in January, to replace the sacked Ciro Ferrara; he has also been linked with Inter Milan.
There have been several occasions when he came back from the brink and ever since the campaign ended with a 0-0 draw at Hull City, Benitez has constantly stated his wish to remain at Anfield – if others felt the same way.
This latest turn of events, nevertheless, show clearly that the mood has changed and it is possible that Benitez spell in the hot seat could be ended before the weekend. THE ECHO