IAN RIDLEY: Can Liverpool really afford NOT to sack 4m-a-year Rafa Benitez?
This is where Liverpool's owners find out, as Mike Ashley has done so expensively at Newcastle, that football is a business like no other, involving decisions that make little short-term financial sense but might well have to be made anyway. Do they back or sack Rafael Benitez? On the surface, it would be madness for George Gillett and Tom Hicks, in cahoots with new chief executive Christian Purslow, to dismiss the Spaniard. Benitez is just eight months into a five-year contract, worth £4million a year, and has put in place a whole new, costly, staff having won a struggle for control with the previous chief executive, Rick Parry. Why add to the £10m shortfall in not qualifying for the knockout stages of the Champions League with hefty pay-offs? Struggling: Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez Assuming, that is, the hierarchy could borrow, or raise from a rights issue they are contemplating, the cash to do it. And Benitez has won the Champions League during his five-year tenure, then an FA Cup. There have been other finals, in the Champions League and Carling Cup. More from Ian Ridley, Mail on Sunday Sports Reporter... IAN RIDLEY: After Andre Agassi, how long can tennis go on covering up?31/10/09 IAN RIDLEY: Michael Owen can still play big part in futures of Liverpool and Rafa Benitez24/10/09 IAN RIDLEY: Diego Maradona has to rise above soap opera and release Lionel Messi's gifts17/10/09 Why England would do well to pay heed to this man of influence10/10/09 Ian Ridley: Heart-warming to know Sir Alex Ferguson sees true value of defeat26/09/09 Aston Villa 2 Portsmouth 0: Gift of the Gab gives Pompey sinking feeling19/09/09 FA on to a loser if they jump into bed with the bookies12/09/09 Time to deliver some home truths, Arsene Wenger05/09/09 VIEW FULL ARCHIVE Last season, his team challenged spiritedly for the title almost to the finishing post. Actually, Benitez is a lucky man - hard as it may be to grasp after the week he and Liverpool have had at Fulham and in Lyon - that there remains such a reservoir of support for him among the most tolerant supporters in the Premier League, who may be wavering somewhat but still regard the owners as the culprits if there is blame to be apportioned at Anfield. Benitez is even lucky this weekend that attention is now on the game at Stamford Bridge. Fortunate, too, that the opponents tomorrow are Birmingham at home. Lose, even draw, and more havoc will be cried. A more probable win, though, will give him breathing space through the international break. Breathing space was what that Champions League triumph of 2005 brought him, though of the 14 players used in the final, 12 were inherited. Since then, he has brought in another 76 and released 77, at a total spend of some £220m while recouping £140m. Those who see £80m as an acceptable deficit, given spending elsewhere at the top of the Premier League, ignore some of the pay-offs that have to be made to get players off the wage bill. The net result is doubt about the release of certain players, such as Peter Crouch and Robbie Keane, with Liverpool's striking deficiencies so evident because of the reliance on the man who keeps saving Benitez, Fernando Torres. And recent recruits? Sotirios Kyrgiakos and Andriy Voronin must rank as among the feeblest in Liverpool's modern history. It is also about how Benitez deploys players. Injuries have bitten of late, with Steven Gerrard much too keenly missed and Alberto Aquilani out for so long, but there are too many square pegs in round holes. Ryan Babel often looks average because he is played wide when the untaken chance lately has been for him to partner Torres in preference to Voronin. The feeling persists that the runners-up spot last season, before the departure of the influential Xabi Alonso - and who could blame him going when the manager treated him so casually - was as good as it is going to get for Liverpool under Benitez. Real temptation: Surely the Spanish giants would welcome Liverpool star Fernando Torres with open arms Thus the decision is more a question of whether Liverpool can afford not to sack him. If there is money to be found and spent on the team, do they give it to him or a new man? In January or, realistically, next summer? Perhaps the best thing for Liverpool would be for Real Madrid to dispense with the struggling Manuel Pellegrino - something that could happen should their £226m summer investment not overturn a 4-0 thrashing by a village side, Alcorcon, in the second leg of a Copa Del Rey tie on Tuesday - and then turn to Benitez. The Real sporting director, Jorge Valdano, is not a fan (Benitez's Liverpool, Valdano was memorably quoted as saying by my colleague Rob Draper in these pages last week, are like 'sticking s*** on a stick and calling it art'), but what if Benitez could bring Torres with him? Real might be sorely tempted. Now that - where football meets finance meets emotion - would be some decision for the powers-that-be at Anfield. Controversial: Sir Alex Ferguson It was back on October 3 that Sir Alex Ferguson issued his now famous criticisms of referee Alan Wiley after the 2-2 draw with Sunderland. He apologised a week later. On October 19, Sir Alex was charged with improper conduct. He pleaded guilty on October 27 and requested a personal hearing. Two weeks later, the Football Association have yet to set a date. The case has now dragged on for five weeks, allowing Ferguson to be on the touchline for big games against Liverpool and, today, Chelsea, when he might have been up in the stand. Quite how this squares with the FA's code that high-profile disciplinary cases would be dealt with instantly - and complex cases within 28 days - is uncertain. Surely it cannot be, as the cynics (and naive young managers of other Premier League clubs) suggest, that the game's authorities are frightened of Sir Alex, even when he is so penitent? Newcastle have announced their stadium will henceforth be known as sportsdirect.com@St James' Park. Oh no it won't. Explore more:People:Alberto Aquilani, Ryan Babel, Robbie Keane, George Gillett, Xabi Alonso, Rafa Benitez, Tom Hicks, Rick Parry, Steven Gerrard, Peter Crouch, Alex Ferguson, FERNANDO TORRES, Rafael Benitez, Mike AshleyPlaces:Newcastle, Liverpool, Birmingham, LyonOrganisations:Football Association
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