Benitez revealed yesterday there had been initial discussions aboutMascherano's future but made it clear conditions were attached to anypromise about renewing a contract that has just over two years to run.
World in motion: Argentina skipper Javier Mascherano is fretting almost as much as Diego Maradona about the threat to his country's qualification
The main one concerns snapping out of his downbeat mood overArgentina's faltering World Cup campaign and forgetting aboutBarcelona's ongoing campaign to entice him to the Nou Camp.
Mindful that the current European champions have yet to abandon apursuit that began months ago, Benitez admitted he had personallywarned one of their top officials to call off the hunt.
He sees Mascherano as a key presence in Liverpool's midfield but isready to get tough with the Argentina skipper after sensing he isfretting almost as much as Diego Maradona about the threat to hiscountry's qualification.
Lucas has increasingly been held up as a prime example of the commitment and dedication Benitez is looking for in midfield, and Mascherano will have to follow suit to convince Liverpool's demanding boss he is worth a new deal.
Benitez even suggested Liverpool are owed a debt of loyalty by Mascherano, ahead of today's return to his former club.
He said: 'He has to forget about everything else, like other clubs or the World Cup. It is not easy, but that is where his professionalism has to come through. He has to come back, focus his mind and start thinking about Liverpool.'
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