Benitez's rift with Liverpool boardroom grows wider
Speculation over Rafael Benitez's Liverpool future intensified yesterday after suggestions from within Anfield that the manager had twice failed to make appointments with the club's new executive chairman Martin Broughton.
On a day when Wigan Athletic manager Roberto Martinez expressed puzzlement at a situation that may see his compatriot Benitez join Juventus within the next week, Anfield sources responded to the manager's seemingly innocuous declaration of intent to see Broughton "sooner rather than later" by suggesting that the manager had not taken his opportunities.
The reasons for the meetings failing to materialise relate to fixture commitments: one meeting planned for 20 April – which Benitez had mentioned at a press conference the night before – clashed with the early train departure needed for the overland trip to Atletico Madrid. The second had been planned for 24 hours before Sunday's Chelsea match, but the manager decided he had to lift his side after their Europa League elimination.
The fact that Benitez's mere declaration of intent to meet Broughton appears to have been called into question magnifies the strained relationships within Anfield, which are understood to be the primary factor driving the manager towards the exit.
Among the issues at the top of Benitez's list for discussion with Broughton, if and when he gets his meeting, is his own relationship with the club's managing director, Christian Purslow. Benitez is expected to ask Broughton why he was not informed two weeks ago when the club made contact with Real Madrid to discuss the possibility of signing Rafael van der Vaart. That was an issue of annoyance and frustration for the manager and evidence, as he sees it, that some at Anfield are attempting to make him persona non grata.
Benitez's other prime concern is the level of spending he will be permitted this summer, with the Spaniard seeking an assurance that any income from player sales will be ploughed back into the transfer budget.
Perhaps crucial to whether Benitez will stay is his own willingness to give ground and tolerate others, though his history of battles with the senior management of clubs he has managed suggests this is by no means certain. Benitez's caustic relationship with Purslow's predecessor, Rick Parry, followed a difficult time with Jesus Pitarch, sporting director at his previous club, Valencia. Benitez criticised Pitarch's signings and was indignant about Parry's failure to sign players he wanted. But the idea of another club being approached about a new acquisition without Benitez having any knowledge certainly takes him into troubling new territory.
Martinez said yesterday that "the whole situation doesn't really make sense" and recalled that Valencia only appreciated Benitez after he had gone, having allowed him to depart for Merseyside six years ago.
"I think Rafa is one of those managers everyone values when he has left," Martinez said. "He was at Valencia, won the league there and when he left most people felt it was time for him to move on and yet they look and now they would like to have Rafa back."