The intrigue surrounding Juventus' interest in Rafael Benitez deepened last night with sources in Italy suggesting that the Turin side have seen the Liverpool manager's contract and have drawn up a new one with a €3m net salary which they believe might be enough to attract him.
Benitez earns €5.3m gross a year at Liverpool but Juventus believe that the nature of the Italian tax system would enable them to pay him €3m and pay his tax themselves. One of the fears at Juventus is that Benitez would want to bring a sizeable and expensive backroom staff with him if attracted to Stadio Olimpico di Torino.
But the Turin side have been led to believe that only two staff would move with him from Anfield -- Benitez's assistant Mauricio Pellegrino and his goalkeeping coach Xavi Valero -- and that Benitez would accept an Italian assistant coach in any future regime, an issue of deep significance to the club.
So determined are the Italian side to land Benitez that they are prepared to bid for Dirk Kuyt, the Dutch international forward, should the Spaniard want him to move as well. He would join Mohamed Sissoko, the former Liverpool player, in Turin.
Benitez, who signed Sissoko for both Valencia and Liverpool, had identified him as his favoured replacement for Javier Mascherano, when the Argentinian was close to leaving for Barcelona last summer. Yossi Benayoun, on the other hand, is not likely to leave Anfield in the near future after Liverpool dismissed speculation linking the Israeli with a £7m move to Dynamo Moscow.
Benitez's agent, Manuel Garcia Quilon, did not dismiss the Benitez-Juventus link on Monday, but he insisted on Tuesday that the Spaniard wanted to stay at Liverpool.
With Benitez aware that his future will come under review this summer, there are grounds for viewing the speculation being fuelled in Italy as a deliberate piece of machination to bolster his Anfield position.
The Liverpool manager yesterday refused to discuss the issue after the dismal 0-0 draw at Wolves on Tuesday night and, though the reticence was typical of him, it hardly created the spirit of unity which the club need as they attempt to build from a position of "hurt".
Instead, it was left to Steven Gerrard to sound the battle cry and the Anfield captain reiterated his belief that Liverpool have what it takes to finish in the Premier League's top four.
The defensive solidity and resolve that Liverpool displayed away to Wolves, and in their previous two matches against Stoke City and Tottenham Hotspur, underpinned Gerrard's opinion.
"We will keep fighting for that fourth spot," the midfielder said. "We've got a couple of home games coming up and if we take maximum points, I'm sure we'll edge into that top four.
"The important thing is that we are playing better. We've turned the corner and we are a much more difficult team to beat now. We are really happy with how we defended as a team against Wolves. I think it is a point gained rather than two lost. We would probably have lost that game 1-0 a couple of months back so we are defending a lot better.
"Confidence was certainly low a few weeks ago but we've had a couple of encouraging results. Stoke away was a tough game and the lads performed fantastically well against Tottenham.
"We are certainly happy with the way we battled against Wolves. Confidence is slowly coming back and results will follow."
Gerrard's upbeat assessment comes despite Liverpool's failure to make the most of a fixture they had been expected to win, against opponents who had been beaten at home by Wigan Athletic 10 days earlier.
"It was a tough game, Wolves made it difficult and the pitch didn't suit us," Gerrard said. "But we battled well, we matched Wolves physically." (© Independent News Service)