Bruce reignites Benitez quarrel
STEVE Bruce has reignited his dispute with Rafael Benitez, accusing the Liverpool manager of showing disrespect to Sunderland over his pursuit of Kenwyne Jones during the January transfer window.
While Benitez was adamant that mixed messages were emanating from Wearside two months ago regarding the availability of Jones, whom he wished to sign on loan, Bruce remains aggrieved that the Spaniard did not discuss the matter with him privately.
The sides meet at Anfield tomorrow -- Jones, the Trinidad & Tobago striker, is likely to return from a hip injury -- with the managers still to engage with each other about that, or any other, issue.
"Rafa must have been getting the information from somewhere, but I thought he'd have the decency to do the honourable thing and ring me," Bruce said. "When the window shut, the nonsense went away and we began to see the best of Kenwyne again.
"I haven't spoken to Rafa since January and I didn't speak to him in January, either. I thought I might have done, but no."
Jones has scored only three goals since early October, but he has approached his best form in recent weeks. Bruce repeated yesterday that while he is under no pressure from the Sunderland hierarchy to generate his own funds, every player, including the 25-year-old, has a price.
"What happened with Liverpool and the notion I wanted to let him go affected Kenwyne," he said. "I told him twice it was nonsense. I said 'if they table a bid, I will tell you about it', but I was not trying to sell him. I never intended to sell Kenwyne. Unless someone like Liverpool comes in with £15m, we all know the situation. I want to build a squad and you don't do that by selling your best players."
Whether Liverpool renew their interest in Jones remains to be seen, but Benitez is not expecting his summer budget to be diminished in the event of his side missing out on qualification for the Champions League.
Benitez no longer believes his team are favourites to finish fourth, claiming that Spurs, who occupy that position in the table, have taken over that mantle.
Pointing to recent experience when the money made available to him has not been increased by qualification for the tournament, Benitez is not expecting any decrease to be implemented by Tom Hicks and George Gillett Jr, the club's co-owners, should Liverpool fail to finish in the top four.
"They (Hicks and Gillett) told me before that it didn't make a big difference," Benitez said. "Every year that we have qualified for the Champions League it hasn't made a big difference so if we don't qualify this time, I don't expect a big difference.
"Tottenham are favourites for fourth because they are ahead. But everything can change in one or two weeks.
"You have to be calm and try to do your job. Sometimes you can look at the games the other teams have to play but I am not doing this, I am concentrating on my team."
The reverse fixture with Sunderland was settled by a goal from Darren Bent that took a marked deflection off a Liverpool-branded beach ball, which already has a home in the National Football Museum.
"It was not a fluke that we beat them, the fluke was the goal," Bruce said of his team's 1-0 victory in October. "I'm sure there will be a few fans taking beach balls down there -- we'll be taking a few of our own!"
Liverpool are in talks with Spartak Moscow as the Russian club continue their attempt to sign Albert Riera. A loan deal involving the out-of-favour winger is the most likely outcome. (© The Times, London)
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