Rafael Benitez has said that Fernando Torres's on-going groin problem may not properly heal this season throwing into doubt his participation at next summer's World Cup.
Benitez will be without Torres for a fifth successive game at Blackburn Rovers today and Benitez had some disturbing news for the Spain coach, Vicente del Bosque, when he declared four hours before the World Cup draw that the striker, integral to Spain's status as one of the World Cup favourites, will be affected by his condition – an iguinal hernia – throughout this season. When that possibility was put to him, Benitez said: ''I think so, yes" – a claim as worrying for Liverpool's pursuit of a Champions League spot next season as it is for his nation.
Benitez is desperate to avoid Torres needing surgery for his hernia, sustained during Spain's 2-1 win over Armenia in qualifying in October. But that outcome cannot be ruled out if the three-week period of rest and physiotheraphy, recommended when the 25-year-old sought a second opinion from a specialist in Valencia, Dr Ramon Cugat last month, does not resolve matters. Benitez's prognosis appears to be based on an assumption that surgery – which could resolve Torres's difficulties after an extended leave of absence – will not be needed.
''We have a good medical staff here and we have a few players who are doing specific fitness work as a precaution against certain injuries. We can do the same with Fernando," the manager said. "Since the first day he was sure he didn't need an operation and after talking to different doctors we feel we have done the right thing with him. You get many different opinions with a groin problem.
''It doesn't really worry me at the moment. We will have to see how he progresses during the season and maybe he can finish the second part of the season stronger because he hasn't played many games in the first half.''
The Spain international had recently only taken part in the occasional light training session before an afternoon's work-out at Melwood on Wednesday but Benitez is confident that the player will play some part in next Wednesday's Champions League encounter with Fiorentina.
Although Torres is close to receiving the go-ahead to resume playing again, his manager's assessment is a disturbing one for Spain.
The Liverpool manager has kept relations as diplomatic as he can while receiving Torres back from international duties with a succession of injuries. Last year, after Torres sustained his third hamstring injury while playing for Spain, lasting just 16 minutes of a match against Belgium, Benitez asked Del Bosque to reassess Torres's training methods. He had sustained only one hamstring injury in the same period at Liverpool.
Since joining Liverpool in July 2007, Torres has not enjoyed a break. After helping Spain win Euro 2008, he spent the last close season representing his country at the Confederations Cup.
Benitez will at least have his captain Steven Gerrard available for the Blackburn game on what will be his 500th appearance for the club.
Benitez was uncharacteristically effusive about the midfielder yesterday, describing him as ''one of the best players I have ever worked with'' and placing him in same bracket as Raul at the Bernabeu.
''He was won a lot already, but if we can win more trophies with him he will go down as one of the best players in history. He can make another 200 or 300 appearances for the club.''