Rafael Benitez has attempted to reassure Liverpool fans that uncertainty over his future will not seep through to the dressing room ahead of Monday’s crucial derby game with Everton at Anfield.
Benitez revealed on Friday that talks over a contract extension had stalled, sparking fears that the Spaniard is ready to quit the club he joined in 2004.
His current deal expires in the summer of 2010 yet negotiations between Benitez’s agent and Liverpool’s co-owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett have ended without the two parties being able to agree on the extent of the manager’s remit.
Benitez is happy with the financial terms of the deal but has demanded more control over football matters, and is adamant that he should not have to answer to chief executive Rick Parry over the buying and selling of players.
Worryingly for Reds fans, Benitez quit Valencia in June 2004 over a similar issue, famously saying: “I asked for a table and they bought me a lampshade.”
Benitez is negotiating from a position of strength with Liverpool mounting a serious challenge for their first title since 1990, and Hicks has insisted the outstanding contractual issues can be resolved.
Liverpool fans nevertheless will be concerned by the prospect that the coach who guided the club to Champions League glory in 2005 could decide to walk away if his demands are not accepted by the Anfield hierarchy.
Manchester United’s last-gasp win over Bolton on Saturday knocked Liverpool off the top of the Premier League table and Benitez knows that his side cannot afford any lapses in concentration over in what is certain to be a tense finale to the season.
For that reason, the Spaniard was at pains to stress that he did not believe his own situation would prove to be a distraction.
“We have finished the conversation about the contract and now we can talk about Everton,” Benitez said.
“I think it is very clear because I have told the owners of my reasons and explained why. I already have an agreement with one club and that is Liverpool Football Club for one-and-a-half-years.
“Do I think our build-up to the Everton game has been disrupted by this? No. I don’t think so. We had Friday off and I don’t think we have any problems.”
Benitez, who is poised to welcome back Xabi Alonso to the midfield after the Spain midfielder recovered from a foot injury, believes Liverpool are well placed to win the title even though they have dropped crucial points lately.
“No one can win the title in January. Everyone knows this,” he said. “You have to keep calm and analyse the situation. If you want to win the title then it has to be in May.
“To have Chelsea, Arsenal, Aston Villa and Manchester United in the title race is normal.”
Everton manager David Moyes has warned Liverpool that his side are confident of recording their first win at Anfield since 1999.
Despite losing key strikers Louis Saha and Aiyegbeni Yakubu to injury, Moyes’s side have been in terrific form.
“We’ve not played well in the last two Liverpool games so we’re looking forward to this one,” said Moyes, who has a fitness doubt over Nigeria defender Joseph Yobo.
“I’m quite relaxed about it because I see the players, how well they’re doing and if they can show their potential and how they’ve played recently they’ll have nothing to fear.
“They work hard together, they’ve got a great spirit but spirit comes from winning on the pitch, pushing each other hard and demanding from one another and they’ve done that very well.”
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