Top stars may follow Benitez out exit door as Dalglish leads search for Spaniard's successor
KENNY DALGLISH will lead Liverpool's search for an experienced manager to succeed Rafael Benitez, whose six-year reign at Anfield came to an end by mutual consent yesterday.
But the Merseyside club may face meltdown with an exodus of key players regardless of the man the Scot identifies as his latest heir.
After a morning of meetings between Liverpool's board, led by chairman Martin Broughton, and the Spaniard's lawyers, a statement on the club's website yesterday afternoon confirmed Benitez's departure.
It is believed he has agreed a severance package worth around £6m to draw a close to his spell at the club, which saw him win both the Champions League and the FA Cup.
Dalglish -- the club's former manager who returned to Anfield in an ambassadorial role last year -- will assist managing director Christian Purslow in assessing potential candidates to take over from Benitez, who is expected to move to Inter Milan in the coming weeks.
Sources at Liverpool have confirmed that the club will not rush any future decision, with no announcement expected before next month at the earliest.
Purslow and Dalglish will look to secure a manager with an established reputation, experience in Europe and who offers a semblance of stability.
The club will not look to appoint an interim manager for the summer. The appointment will be on a long-term, rather than a temporary basis.
Both Roy Hodgson, the Fulham manager, and Aston Villa's Martin O'Neill are the leading domestic contenders, while Mark Hughes is believed to enjoy some support at senior levels in the Anfield boardroom.
The leading continental candidates, the likes of Guus Hiddink, Frank Rijkaard and the former Real Madrid manager Manuel Pellegrini, are likely to be put off by the ongoing uncertainty behind the scenes at Anfield.
Sven-Goran Eriksson is also known to be keen on the job, though the bookmakers' favourite remains Dalglish himself. Liverpool, however, yesterday distanced themselves from that possibility, and the Scot's involvement in the search would seem to preclude his appointment.
Whoever Dalglish and Purslow settle on is likely to be handed around £15m to rebuild Liverpool's squad, which finished seventh in the Premier League last season, though any compensation the club may have to pay would diminish that fund. There are also no guarantees that the core of Benitez's squad will remain at Anfield by the time any appointment is made.
Several key players are believed to have expressed their concern at the continuing uncertainty at the club, despite suggestions from senior sources at Liverpool that Benitez's removal may encourage the likes of Fernando Torres and Javier Mascherano to stay.
Torres is known to be concerned by Liverpool's financial plight, while Mascherano is yet to sign a £100,000-a-week contract agreed several weeks ago. Both may take Benitez's departure as evidence that the club are in no position to offer the stability required to win trophies.
Goalkeeper Pepe Reina recently signed a six-year contract but is understood to be deeply unhappy with developments. "It's obviously a sad day," said Reina. "I was really close to Rafa, it's especially bad news for me. It is surprising, they have been talking about it for a long time now.
"We have to keep growing and build a proper squad. It's sad, he was a manager who trusted me."
Steven Gerrard's future, too, remains clouded. The England international will not make any decision until after the World Cup, but he is unlikely to remain should the club not be able to appoint a top-class replacement for the Spaniard. (© Daily Telegraph, London)