Liverpool are facing up to the threat of Rafael Benitez walking out on the club in 18 months after the Spaniard turned down a new contract after the owners refused his demands for complete control of transfers.
The club’s two owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett insist they will find a solution to the stand-off but unless they cave in to his demands then Benitez could walk away – just as he did at previous club Valencia over exactly the same dispute.
Benitez is still furious the club failed to secure Gareth Barry from Aston Villa in the summer after they refused to match Villa’s asking price.
Club insiders say as a result the Spaniard is demanding the sort of control over spending, wages and terms and conditions that would make him the most powerful manager in the world – considerably more powerful even than the control Alex Ferguson exerts at Manchester United.
Currently, Liverpool chief executive Rick Parry has control over spending - Benitez gives him a wish-list of players but his is the final call.
Benitez’s current deal runs out in 18 months, and he told the Liverpool Echo: “The owners feel that the manager’s decisions need to be subject to the chief executive.
“But I know that I am subject to results and to our fans and they are the best judges I will ever have.”
He continued: “This is solely about being allowed to manage Liverpool Football Club to the best of my abilities as I see them.
“I believe that this club has the potential to improve – and I just want to be able to help this to happen.
“I will continue to do my job as manager and concentrate on the thing that our fans want me to focus on – winning trophies for them.
“From the first day I came to the club, I have only ever given 100% – and I will continue to do this.”
Hicks and Gillett are trying to smooth things over but the timing of Benitez’s outburst has caused much surprise to them and Parry – not only do the Reds face neighbours Everton on Monday, but by then Manchester United could have overtaken them at the top of the Premier League.
The manager’s rant against Ferguson last week also raised eyebrows among the Liverpool top brass.
Hicks claimed he has no concerns about Benitez’s long-term future and promised the Spaniard would be with the club for years to come.
He said “I will be working with Rafa to get this resolved – and I am just not worried about it at all.
“Rafa is going to be coach of Liverpool for the next five years, and we will work through all this.
“Rafa has been frustrated for a long time at the length of time it has taken certain things to happen. We understand that and are committed to working with him.
“We can fix it – and we will. Rafa wants to be the manager and will be the manager.”
Hicks expects to meet Benitez at the end of this month to discuss any outstanding issues but has made it clear too that the lines of communication have been open and cordial in recent times.
There is a warning for Hicks and Gillett stemming from Benitez’s time at Valencia.
In 2004, after taking the club to two league titles, he fell out with the club’s director of sport, Jesus Garcia Pitarch, over the failure to buy the players he had singled out and resigned.
Hicks and Gillett insisted via the club’s website they would find a solution.
A spokesperson for the owners said on www.liverpoolfc.net: “As Rafa says he enjoys a strong working relationship with Tom and George and they are united behind the team.
“They understand Rafa’s frustrations and are committed to working with him and his advisers to find a solution. They will keep talking, and in the meantime all focus is on the pitch and the next game.”