LIVERPOOL yesterday tied up new contracts for captain Steven Gerrard and Holland international Dirk Kuyt, with star striker Fernando Torres also thought to be close to agreeing an extension.
Reds boss Rafael Benitez ensured the current feelgood atmosphere would continue at Anfield ahead of the crucial Premier League visit to Fulham by confirming the pair’s new deals.
Benitez described Gerrard’s new four-year deal — he has agreed a two-year extension to a current contract that had two years still to run — as “the easiest deal I have ever been involved in”.
Then, just hours later, Dutch forward Kuyt also committed his future to the Merseysiders by accepting a new two-year extension to his own contract, keeping him at the club until 2012.
But the next jewel to be secured in Benitez’s eyes could well be Torres. The Spanish striker is among a clutch of players discussing new terms, with Jamie Carragher, Alvaro Arbeloa and Jose Reina also thought to be in negotiations.
Benitez refused to dismiss suggestions that Torres was considering new terms, only saying: “We are very close to sealing deals with other players, several. There will be more very soon.”
On Gerrard’s deal, one that takes him to 2013 and beyond his 32nd birthday, Benitez said: “He wanted to stay for all his life, that was the key.
“If the captain decides to stay for four more years, maybe until the end of his career, it shows great commitment to the club that everyone can see. It is a very good message for the rest of the players. We have been talking with a lot of them about new contracts so it is the right image to give them.
“It has followed me signing my contract, which was a good thing because it shows to players who will be in charge, who will be the manager in the future, we are going forward in the right direction.
“It has been a good time for the club, but we have to keep winning to start talking about the positives.”
He added: “We must beat Fulham or things will be again bad for us. We must wait to see how things progress because there are a lot of points still to win. Steven’s new contract shows his desire for the club. It is great for him, the fans, the club, everyone connected with Liverpool.
“For me he is one of the best players in the world, although it is difficult to say ‘the best’ with so much talent around. He has got better. He has matured, he is willing to learn in every training session. But he can still improve.
“We have been working very hard this week with a lot of players and agents, and the easiest one has been Gerrard. As soon as we talked to him about an extension, it happened very quickly. No problem.
“It is probably the quickest new deal I have ever been involved in, sometimes they can drag on.”
Kuyt admitted recently that he was advised to delay his own contract discussions until it was clear whether the manager was also staying.
Benitez’s own deal has been the catalyst for several others, including all of his back room staff. On Kuyt, Benitez said: “This is another great piece of news for the club. Dirk had one year left on his contract and we were keen for him to stay. He is a player with great quality who has a big part to play in our future and we are delighted to have reached an agreement. “To have announced new deals for Steven and Dirk on the same day shows how hard everyone is working and that we are moving forward quickly as a club. These are very positive messages and I am very happy.”
But Benitez also knows that the confidence booming from Anfield after three outstanding victories over Real Madrid, Manchester United and Aston Villa could evaporate if Liverpool do not continue that same form now the international break is over.
He said: “People will say that the break came at the wrong time for us, we were playing well and the players were very confident. We had such good momentum before the break. But I believe the players understand how important the situation is now, I have talked to them since they returned from playing for their countries and they know how vital it is to keep putting pressure on Manchester United.
“But they are still favourites. They are a good team with a good manager who has plenty of experience, and they are in a better position than we are.
“We will see maybe on Sunday (after United play Aston Villa) whether they have been affected by us and how we have played recently. But before we start thinking like that, we have to do our own job and win at Fulham tomorrow to go top ourselves.”
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