Rafael Benitez, the Liverpool manager, was back on a collision course with the club's American owners last night when, amid growing doubts about their ability to raise the £18m needed to sign Gareth Barry from Aston Villa, they appeared to question his reasons for wanting to buy the England international.
Benitez has been waiting for Tom Hicks and George Gillett – who had told him long before the transfer window opened this summer that he would have to finance any new signings by selling players – to deliver an advance of £18m to cover Barry's purchase, repayable to them after Liverpool had made some sales. That money has still not been forthcoming and – in what may be a means of masking their failure to raise it – it is understood that they have now voiced concerns about Barry's limited sell-on value at the end of a proposed four-year contract which would take him to the age of 31.
They have also queried the player's worth to a club who have an abundance of central midfield players in Steven Gerrard, Javier Mascherano, Xabi Alonso, Damien Plessis and Lucas Leiva. Another issue raised is understood to be the £18m transfer fee which Villa have been asking for all along.
Why these questions were not raised earlier by the Americans is a mystery, adding strength to the suggestions that two individuals whose total cash investment in the club was the £5m they each put in when it was purchased in February 2007 simply cannot raise the money.
Liverpool supporters seem to be dubious about signing Barry, judging by the chants about the midfielder from the Kop during last night's 1-0 win over Lazio at Anfield. Benitez was also left in no doubt that many fans would prefer Alonso to stay.
After the game Benitez refused to be drawn on Barry. "I prefer to talk about other things now," he said. "It's not a question of money. He can play in three different positions. I will try to improve the team if I can. Maybe we need one more player if we can. I don't know when we might bring someone in but we clearly have problems on the left."
After working so hard to get a deal in place for Barry, Benitez will be devastated if it is called off at the 11th hour and such a development would shatter the uneasy peace which has reigned over Anfield this summer, with the Americans experiencing something of a rapprochement with the Spaniard.
Benitez is known to have been bewildered by the lack of a breakthrough on Thursday. It has emerged that he assured the Barry camp that morning that the money would be forthcoming and contact between Anfield and the Americans appears to have followed later that day or yesterday morning.
Barry is desperate to sign for Liverpool but has made it clear that he does not want to be sitting around until transfer deadline day – 1 September – in the hope of a move. He was content at Villa until Liverpool came along and, after a saga which has led to a serious falling out with manager Martin O'Neill, he does not want to end up burning all bridges at the Midlands club for a move which is not to take place. Though Barry's advisers have been careful not to set further deadlines, there is already a feeling that he is being strung along and though they retain some optimism that the Americans' money will be forthcoming, the player appeared last night to be a victim of Liverpool's limited resources.
If the money cannot be raised and the Barry deal is dead, Liverpool will be left once again to reflect on the fact that the Americans, who have saddled the club with debts of £350m, have nothing more to invest and are struggling to raise finance – an even more serious issue with the new stadium development due to start this autumn. Benitez only secured Robbie Keane through the sales of Peter Crouch to Portsmouth for £11m, Scott Carson to West Bromwich for £3.25m, John Arne Riise to Roma for £3.9m and Danny Guthrie to Newcastle for around £2.5m.