Belfast Telegraph

Inter awaits Rafa but who will take over at Liverpool?

What has prompted Rafael Benitez to leave Liverpool now?





The uneasy truce that settled over the club at the end of the season once Benitez did not, as widely expected, leave, was unlikely to last. The divisions between the two sides were simply too vast.

The manager was looking for a large summer transfer fund, plus a written guarantee that any money raised by sales would be made available to him. However, the club's hierarchy and in particular managing director Christian Purslow, were wary of granting the Spaniard such leeway.

Despite co-owner Tom Hicks' recent pledge that Benitez would be given a “substantial” transfer budget, the financial reality at the club — estimated to be £351m in debt — precluded any such wholesale spending. Morever, Benitez (pictured) had squandered much of his credit at Anfield with the poor signings of Robbie Keane and Alberto Aquilani.

After the acute disappointment of last season, when Liverpool finished seventh in the Premier League a year after they had been runners-up to Manchester United, both parties realised they were approaching the endgame. The one stumbling block to Benitez's departure was the £16m pay-off the five-year contract he signed in March 2009 guaranteed.

Yesterday's £6m deal removed that problem and Benitez departed by “mutual consent.”

Will Gerrard and Fernando Torres follow Rafa out of the door?

Few players at Liverpool were close to Benitez, who preferred a professional, even detached, relationship with his squad. However, one who had a lot of faith in the Spaniard is compatriot Torres.

Benitez pulled off something of a coup in signing him from Atletico Madrid for £26.5m three years ago and Torres responded with the goals that turned him into the hottest striker in Europe. Despite the frustrations of the past year the 26-year-old will be dismayed at the manager's departure and could return from the World Cup demanding a move.

Steven Gerrard, the subject of speculation linking him with a move to Real Madrid, will be less upset at Benitez's going but is likely to see it as a further indication of the club's slide. At 30 the club captain, who has shown great loyalty in the past, knows time is running out if he is to secure a big-money move away from Anfield. That time could well be now.

What about a successor to Benitez?

“Liverpool Football Club is much more important than any one individual — it always has been and always will be.”

Those words, spoken by former manager Kenny Dalglish just last week, have proved to be prescient.

It is Dalglish himself who has become one of the favourites to take over, at least in a temporary capacity.

The legendary former player and manager, — who won the Double in his first season in charge in 1985-86 — along with Fulham's Roy Hodgson, Mark Hughes and Martin O'Neill of Aston Villa, is likely to be top of the list when the Anfield boardroom nominate a successor.

Dalglish's appointment would bring stability and comfort fans in the sense that it would re-introduce a hint of the “Boot Room” philosophy that oversaw the club's success in the 1970s and 80s.

Bringing him in on an interim basis would assuage much of the resentment aimed at the hierarchy while reassuring prospective buyers they will not have to deal with a manager they did not choose.

Effectively, he minds the shop until new owners bring in their own man at a later date.

What now for Benitez?

He can scarcely have thought it at the time, but when Benitez guided Liverpool to their Champions League victory in 2005, he may well have secured his own managerial future. Just not at Liverpool.

After the dramatic events of the last 36 hours, Benitez now finds himself gazing expectantly towards Italy, despite having previously gone cold on the idea of managing in Serie A. Just six

weeks ago he had the opportunity to replace Alberto Zaccheroni at Juventus. Benitez opted to stay put and Juve instead turned to Luigi del Neri.

However, all is not lost because Inter are thought to be interested — and it partly comes down to “That Night in Istanbul”.

“Benitez has a certain affinity with Inter fans,” Inter director Gabriele Oriali said with the club looking for a successor to Jose Mourinho who has decamped to Real Madrid. “He is very appealing to us. He has already given us great joy, namely the 2005 Champions League win against Milan. Who does not remember Istanbul? We like him a lot.”

Of course it could be a bit of mischief-making from a club that was knocked out of the Champions League by Benitez's Liverpool side two years ago, but the Spaniard's willingness to accept Liverpool's pay-off points to the fact he has another job lined up — and where better than the champions of Europe?

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