Liverpool have set no deadline on their search for a new manager following the departure of Rafael Benitez.
The Champions League-winning Spaniard parted company with the Reds by mutual consent yesterday after six years at the Anfield helm.
The development came as no surprise after a night of intense speculation on Merseyside.
The 50-year-old had four years remaining on his contract but has paid the price for the club’s disappointing 2009-10 season, in which they finished a disappointing seventh in the Barclays Premier League.
Benitez is thought to have agreed a £6million compensation package and attention will now turn to the identity of his successor with several high-profile names already in the frame.
Martin O’Neill and Roy Hodgson, managers of Aston Villa and Fulham respectively, are among the favourites – as is Guus Hiddink, despite his recent appointment as the Turkish national team coach.
With owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett planning to sell the club, former Reds boss Kenny Dalglish, now an Academy ambassador, could also be a short-term option.
The club have already said Anfield legend Dalglish, manager from 1985-91, will assist managing director Christian Purslow in the recruitment process.
Installing the 59-year-old Scot, widely regarded as the club’s greatest ever player, would at least be popular with supporters at a time when confidence in the hierarchy is low.
Fans last night gathered in numbers to protest against Hicks and Gillett and the regime which has saddled the club with a debt of £351million.
Although Benitez had lost the backing of a large percentage of fans, a significant hardcore maintained their support and preferred to focus their ire on the American owners.
James McKenna, of the Spirit of Shankly fans’ group, said: “No manager should be undermined by the financial situation of a football club and that is what has happened.
“Last season was disappointing but to me that is a direct consequence of the financial mismanagement of this club.
“Rafa is a world-class manager and he will probably go on to bigger and better things.”
Benitez, who is being tipped as a potential successor to Jose Mourinho at Inter Milan, earned a place in Anfield folklore by guiding Liverpool to 2005 Champions League glory in his first season.
He followed that with FA Cup success in 2006 and another Champions League final appearance 12 months later. After finishing runners-up in the Premier League in 2009, many expected a serious title tilt this year but it failed to materialise.
Early elimination from the Champions League was followed by a failure to finish in the top four and to re-qualify for Europe’s elite event.
Nevertheless, despite failing to land a first domestic title since 1990, Benitez will not be forgotten for his impact and the jubilation of Istanbul 2005.
Benitez said: “I’ll always keep in my heart the good times I’ve had here, the strong and loyal support of the fans in the tough times and the love from Liverpool.
“I have no words to thank you enough for all these years and I am very proud to say that I was your manager.
“Thank you so much once more and always remember: you’ll never walk alone.”
The departure of Rafael Benitez from Liverpool earlier today has immediately given way to speculation over who will succeed the Spaniard in the Anfield hotseat.
Here, Press Association Sport takes a look at some of the leading contenders for one of the most coveted jobs in world football.
Won three league titles, two FA Cups and a League Cup in his spell in charge at Anfield and is widely revered among supporters. Has been out of management since leaving Celtic in 2000 and is one of the men attempting to find a successor to Benitez in his role as a club ambassador, but he could find the chance to take over the hotseat too good to turn down.
The Fulham manager’s stock has risen sharply since guiding the unfancied Cottagers to the final of the Europa League last season. A seventh-placed finish in the 2008-09 Premier League campaign also represented uncharted territory, and Hodgson excelled in the league once again last term as he kept Fulham comfortably in mid-table throughout. Hodgson would bring an avuncular and steadying presence to the Anfield hotseat, but, at 62 years of age, time is perhaps not on his side.
The Northern Irishman has long been touted as a possible Liverpool manager and is one of the front-runners to finally make that a reality. O’Neill is fresh from a campaign in which Aston Villa finished sixth in the Premier League and reached the Carling Cup final and FA Cup semi-finals, but a move to Merseyside might not be straightforward with Villa owner Randy Lerner recently issuing a hands-off warning to the Anfield club.
Out of work since being dismissed by Manchester City in December. The former Wales boss is often criticised for a perceived lack of tactical nous but City’s form did not improve significantly under his replacement, Roberto Mancini. May not be a popular choice due to his links to Manchester United, although that did not stop City appointing him.
Due to take up the post of Turkey’s national coach in August but could perhaps seek to reach an agreement with the Turks to take up this post instead. Is vastly experienced at club and international level and his short spell in the Premier League with Chelsea yielded an FA Cup success.