EXCLUSIVE - Liverpool sack Rafa Benitez
Published 20:50 02/06/10 By David Maddock
Rafa Benitez’s Anfield reign is over.
The decision was taken to sack the Liverpool manager tonight, after the club board came to the conclusion he had lost the dressing room.
Player power proved his downfall after several of the Reds’ biggest stars, including Fernando Torres, Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher, made clear their loss of faith in the manager.
Some had even stated privately that they would leave if Benitez stayed.
Benitez, who is on holiday in Sardinia, was hanging on only to negotiate his payoff. He has a £16million clause in his contract that must be paid in full if he is dismissed, and the only detail left to be finalised late last night was just how much of that money he would receive.
The Spanish coach could walk straight into another job after his dismissal at Anfield, with Inter Milan keen to make him the replacement for treble-winning manager Jose Mourinho.
And Liverpool have already drawn up a short-list of possible replacements for Benitez, with the highly respected Roy Hodgson and Louis Van Gaal topping the candidates, along with Benfica manager Jorge Jesus, and - before he accepted the Italy job - Cesare Prandelli of Fiorentina.
Sammy Lee, the current assistant manager of the Reds, will step in as a caretaker in the short-term, until a replacement is announced, with the club hoping to find a successor in the next few weeks.
Benitez has presided over a disastrous season, losing 19 matches and seeing his side slip to seventh place in the table, which has caused major damage to the club’s precarious finances.
More seriously though, he lost the support of senior players at the club, with top stars like Torres, Gerrard, Carragher, Javier Mascherano and Yossi Benayoun offering public displays of their lack of belief in the manager.
The board were left with the painful decision of choosing between Benitez and their world class players, and in the end they decided they simply couldn’t trust the manager to spend the money that would be raised by the sale of so many big names.
The five-man Liverpool board made the unanimous decision over the weekend, and they also have the backing of chairman Martin Broughton, who is thought to believe that the club can only move forward by bringing stability to the football side of the club.
Benitez has always been a highly skilled political operator, and his tenure in the final two years was punctuated by an increasingly fraught situation at Anfield, where he was fighting against his own board and his own team.
The directors have decided that situation can’t be allowed to go on any longer, and they will now move quickly to appoint a more statesmanlike manager who can work with colleagues.
The new boss WILL be given money to spend, with around £20million set aside for new players, with a guarantee, too, that any money from sales will be used solely for recruitment.
The likes of Albert Riera, Ryan Babel, Alberto Aquilani and Benayoun could all be sold to raise another £25m or so, and several fringe players will also be sacrificed, to generate a kitty that could be as much as £50m.
Talks will proceed swiftly over a replacement, with Hodgson’s calm approach sure to make him among the favourites, given the turmoil that has engulfed Liverpool in recent seasons.
Benitez has been exploring possible escape routes over the past six months, and he came close to joining Juventus at the end of the season, until the Italians got a new president who favoured a home-grown boss.
But Inter remains a strong possibility, especially given the news in the past two days that their first choice - Fabio Capello - looks likely to remain with England.
This week, the Milan club’s president Massimo Moratti confirmed he is an admirer of the Spaniard, when he said:
“Benitez is a man I’ve always considered very good, but for the moment he is engaged.”
The Reds boss still wants a pay off, and he was juggling those balls last night, as he prepared to accept a lower compensation figure to ensure he remains in the running for the Inter job.
Benitez though, has certain reservations about following Mourinho - one of his biggest enemies in football - but now that he can no longer remain with Liverpool he may feel he has no other choice but to take the poisoned chalice of following the special one.
Late last night, terms were still being discussed over the pay off, with Liverpool’s opening offer well short of the £16million figure the Spaniard wants, and until that money could be agreed, no announcement would be made.