Rafael Benítez calls temporary truce as fans plan show of solidarity
Liverpool supporters will stage a protest march this evening to signal their
outrage at the possible dismissal of Rafael Benítez. The manager has in turn
indicated that he is willing to make further concessions to the club’s
American owners in the hope of keeping his job.
Benítez’s position remains perilous after recent clashes with the board over
its perceived unwillingness to support him in the transfer market. The
fallout is so serious that the relationship may prove to be beyond repair,
but after what he called a positive meeting with Rick Parry, the chief
executive, on Monday evening, Benítez has adopted a softer stance during the
build-up to this evening’s Champions League match at home to FC Porto, eager
to undo the damage inflicted by his reckless approach towards Tom Hicks and
George Gillett Jr, the owners, over the past week.
Benítez has accepted that he will have less money to spend than he had hoped
during the January transfer window — assuming that he is still in charge —
and has agreed to what he regards as a dilution of his role by leaving all
transfer negotiations to Parry.
The Spaniard believes that, under these conditions, he will effectively be
reduced to the role of head coach rather than manager, albeit not
officially, but he will accept that if it helps to secure his position for
the remainder of the season, even if a parting of the ways looks inevitable
in the long term.
After his surly and critical statements of the past week, Benítez trod a
diplomatic line as he stated repeatedly that his focus was on preparing his
players for the match against Porto, when only victory will keep their
chances of progressing to the knockout stages in their own hands, but
sources close to the Liverpool manager said last night that he is horrified
by the idea of being forced out of Anfield.
“Rafa knows there is interest in him from other clubs but, having been put in
this situation, he will do whatever it takes to stay at Liverpool,” one
source said. “He will accept being head coach. He might not like it, but he
still loves the job, loves the club and loves the city. He does not want to
be anywhere else and nor do his family.”
There has been a sense of shock at the manner in which Benítez’s position has
come under threat and while there has been no word from Hicks or Gillett
since a statement on Sunday that did nothing to deny the depth of their
disenchantment with their manager, the Liverpool players know that they may
be playing for more than the team’s immediate Champions League prospects
against Porto this evening.Steven Gerrard, the captain, talked yesterday of
“stuff going on behind the scenes”, while José Manuel Reina, the goalkeeper,
said that “our commitment for the manager is really deep”.
Rather less deep is the affection of the Liverpool board, with Hicks having
been particularly affronted by Benítez’s behaviour and recent public
statements, but Liverpool fans intend to send a clear message to the owners
this evening by showing their solidarity with Benítez in the form of a
protest march from the nearby Sandon pub to Anfield.
Although the Americans will not be at the match — Gillett’s son, Foster, a
director, may be — a fervent show of support for Benítez would at least give
them something to think about.
“The vast majority of fans are appalled at the thought of axeing Rafa,” Les
Lawson, the secretary of Liverpool Supporters’ Club, said. “It would be a
massive mistake and a massive backward step for the club. Hicks and Gillett
don’t know what they’re taking on if they take on Liverpool supporters.”