Juventus linked with shock swoop for frustrated Anfield boss Benitez
RAFAEL Benitez has been made the No1 target to take over as coach of Juventus -- and the Liverpool manager's agent has refused to rule out the idea.
Benitez has grown increasingly frustrated with life at cash-strapped Anfield and developments in Turin will test the Spaniard's determination to see out his contract, which runs until 2014.
Ciro Ferrara is expected to lose his job with the Serie A club in the next few days and while Manuel Garcia Quillon, Benitez's representative, counted out an immediate move, he was less specific about the long term.
"Benitez to Juventus? In football you never know," Quillon said. "Right now, that hypothesis is not correct because he is a very important figure (at Anfield). The idols of the fans are Gerrard, Torres and Benitez.
"I don't know what will happen in four to five months. In football everything changes quickly, but the basic principle is that Rafa still has a four-year contract."
Ferrara is on the brink of losing his job after a run of eight defeats in 11 matches, during which Juventus have gone out of the Champions League and slipped 16 points off the pace in the title race.
Guus Hiddink, the former Chelsea manager, had been approached to take over from Ferrara, but his asking price of €3.5m net just to see Juventus through to the end of the campaign ruled him out of the running.
Hiddink is believed to have asked for €6m per season to take the job on a permanent basis, but that demand was also rejected.
Benitez, who is aware of the interest from Turin, earns in the region of £4m a season and it is unlikely that Juventus would be able to improve upon that amount.
However, John Elkann, the club's vice-president and heir to the Fiat empire, believes an offer of €3m net per year could tempt the 49-year-old, who is subject to a 50pc tax rate in the UK.
The Juventus hierarchy hopes it will be able to take advantage of Benitez's disenchantment with the spending restrictions placed on him by Liverpool as they seek to balance the books and attract much-needed investment.
Benitez revealed yesterday that he does not expect to see any of the reported $500m that Tom Hicks, the club's co-owner, is set to receive for the sale of his Texas Rangers baseball team.
"I don't think so, no," Benitez said. "That is a different company. You have to think about football and business, both things together. This year we have done a fantastic job trying to balance the books and to do the right job for the company. In football, we had to take some risks and we have to improve now on the pitch.
"This year we have had to sell if we want to buy and keep things level. That's part of the risk and sometimes it has gone well and sometimes less well.
"This year we had to do it this way because it was good for the stability of the club, because the investors can see the club is not a risk and maybe they will come in and make it easier to build something for the future.
"When we started here, the value of the squad was £100m, now it's £300m. The value of the club was £85m, now it's £500m. Why? Because we were selling, buying and winning things. We have been trying to create a more healthy club."
That task continues tonight, in a Premier League clash at relegation-threatened Wolves, where Benitez will be able to call upon captain Steven Gerrard, who returned to training over the weekend.
However, Fernando Torres, Daniel Agger, Fabio Aurelio, Glen Johnson and Yossi Benayoun remain sidelined (© The Times, London)