Multi-million pound pay-off on table as Reds pave way for Rafa to wave goodbye
LIVERPOOL have entered final negotiations with manager Rafael Benitez over a multi-million pound pay-off that will see the Spaniard leave the club this summer after six years.
It is understood the club board, led by new chairman Martin Broughton, has concluded that Benitez is no longer the man to deliver progress at Anfield.
Broughton and managing director Christian Purslow are understood to have held a series of meetings with Benitez to discuss his future in the past month and, following consultation with co-owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett, have authorised discussions over the terms of Spaniard's exit.
Benitez has four years remaining on his £5m-a-year contract, potentially entitling him to £20m, but Liverpool hope to agree a reduced compromise figure of no more than £15m.
Club sources confirmed yesterday that negotiations with Benitez had reached a "sensitive" stage, but a Liverpool spokesman declined to make any formal comment.
Interest in him from Inter Milan, seeking a successor to Jose Mourinho but rebuffed by Fabio Capello this week, may play a part as discussions reach a conclusion in the coming days.
The Spaniard's departure, which could be finalised by the weekend, will compound the sense of uncertainty at Anfield in the wake of a poor season.
Liverpool finished seventh in the Premier League and failed to qualify for the Champions League, ensuring they will not play in Europe's elite competition next season for the first time since 2003.
Broughton is also leading the search for new owners to replace Hicks and Gillett and, while the British Airways chairman expressed confidence on taking up his post at Anfield that a deal could be done by the end of the year, there remain numerous barriers to a quick sale.
Hicks and Gillett committed to a full sale of the club in April as a condition of a refinancing deal with bankers Royal Bank of Scotland. The club is £351m in debt, with interest payments last year of £41m contributing to a pre-tax loss of £55m.
Broughton was appointed to work with investment bank Barclays Capital to find a buyer, and it was thought that the potential change of ownership might enhance Benitez's chances of being retained in the short term, but the board's view has changed.
His departure will also increase concern that Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres could follow him this summer.
Spanish newspaper 'Marca' reported yesterday that new Real Madrid manager Mourinho intends to bid for Gerrard, a move Liverpool may struggle to resist given the uncertainty in the dugout and boardroom.
The club's vulnerability may also prompt offers for Torres, perhaps the most prized striker in world football, though his injury-ridden season was a factor in the club's underperformance. Chelsea and Manchester City have expressed an interest in the Spaniard.
Liverpool's declining performance, combined with Benitez's unwillingness to acknowledge failings on his part, is at the heart of the board's loss of faith.
Having guided the club to second in the league in 2008-09, expectations grew that Benitez could end a 20-year wait for the league title in 2010, but those hopes faded after a poor start.
In fact, the club regressed, and his exit will end a volatile six-year tenure notable for European success and political intrigue, but not the title the Kop craved.
Liverpool won the European Cup, the FA Cup and also reached a second Champions League final, but Benitez failed to challenge Chelsea and Manchester United's dominance of the league and appeared increasingly distracted by Anfield's politics.
He took advantage of the rift between Hicks and Gillett to oust chief executive Rick Parry, and secured unprecedented control of the club's academy and football operations, as well as an enhanced contract in 2009.
Benitez also repeatedly complained about a lack of financial backing, but analysis of his spending reveals that of the 'Big Four', only Chelsea exceeded Liverpool's net spending of £122m in those six years.
Ultimately, his accretion of power may have made him unmanageable, and without on-field success to bolster his credentials, the board has sought a fresh start. They will be banking on Liverpool's stature and potential to attract a successor, with Kenny Dalglish a potential interim coach. (© Daily Telegraph, London)