Liverpool FC have moved to gain the moral high-ground by offering Rafael Benitez a paltry £3 million to resign and walk away quietly. Under the terms of his current contract Rafa would be due around £16m to £20m, if the club were to sack him.
The board came to the decision to ask Benitez to resign after talks had broken down about the size of the transfer kitty on offer for the summer.
After Liverpool had been eliminated from the Europa League by Atletico Madrid, Rafa came clean and said the club needed to sign five or six players if they were to challenge for the league or the Champions League positions.
This first acknowledgement by Benitez would have been seen by the board as their manager admitting that his past five years had been a failure and that for all his spending and rebuilding, the club were back to where they were when the Spaniard first took over from Gerard Houillier.
It was all the board needed to gain the moral high-ground that their manager had been so busy in trying to claim ever since Tom Hicks and George Gillett bought the club in February 2007.
They would have been able to point at the Spaniard's transfer record at the club where he spent some £210 million on 49 players in six seasons and sold 80 for £125 million.
No sooner had the quote slipped from Rafa's lips the board knew that all the cards for the transfer negotiations were in their hand.
Benitez had also openly flirted with the likes of Juventus and Real Madrid to such an extent that he seemed to be hedging his bets.
Following Liverpool's disappointing 7th place finish last season and given the severe financial cloud the club finds itself under, this summer was always going to be a watershed moment in the clubs future. It now looks as if the board and players see it as being better without Rafa.
Since joining Liverpool from Valencia in Summer 2004, Rafa has been seen by many in Red as a kindred spirit. Someone who loves the club as much as they. And that he would give his heart and soul to bring the glory years back to Anfield.
His cause was helped by the Reds winning the Champions League in his first year as manager, beating AC Milan on penalties after a remarkable comeback in Instanbul. That first year, Liverpool also got to the Carling Cup Final only to lose to Chelsea after extra time.
While Liverpool were doing well in the cup competitions their league form dipped badly and they finished fifth after a poor end to the season.
But that Champions League win endeared him to the clubs fans forever, that magical fifth win, that their English rivals, and more specifically Manchester United, haven't even come close to achieving.
The following year Liverpool finished a credible third and won the FA Cup after another roller-coaster final against West Ham, and Rafa was to become the first Liverpool manager ever to win a trophy in each of his first two seasons.
In his third year as manager, Liverpool were expected to challenge for the league, but horrendous form away from home brought that title tilt to a stop by mid November, while the club were knocked out of both domestic cup competitions by Arsenal.
It was after this poor run of results that the first rumblings of Benitez's departure took place. Bookmakers even went as far as suspending betting after the placement of huge bets on Rafa to leave, but he re-affirmed his desire to stay with the club and even got the club to another Champions League Final where AC Milan exacted revenge with a 2-0 win.
The start to the 2007/08 season was disrupted by trouble in the boot room at Melwood as both Pako Ayestrian and Steve Heighway parted company with the club over Benitez wanting to take control over the youth and reserve team set-up.
While that was going on the club was entering into it's boardroom war phase after George Gillett and Tom Hicks taken over the club amid huge fan-fare in the previous February.
The American duo mortgaged the club for some £500 million, including £220 million that was going to be spent on a new stadium, which has yet to materialize. Empty promises to go with their empty wallets.
It then began to emerge that Benitez was in the middle of a conflict regarding transfer spending with the two owners, and in the run up to Liverpool's crucial CL clash with Porto, bookmakers again refused to take any more bets on Rafa leaving his job.
Fearing their beloved manager was about to leave, the fans staged a massive show of support for Rafa before the game, Liverpool ran out 4-1 winners and Benitez stayed in the job. But not before it became known that Rick Parry had approached Jurgen Klinnsmann to become the clubs manager.
Benitez was devastated to hear that Parry had approached another manager, as Rafa felt that the man who brokered the deal to bring him to Liverpool was one of his closest allies, and the following season Benitez set about undermining his new adversary and forcing him to resign.
Their league campaign was over before Christmas and Liverpool were knocked out of every cup competition so 2007/08 proved to be a barren year in more ways than one.
In 2008/09 Liverpool produced their best ever finish to a league campaign under Benitez, 2nd.
But as ever the season was an eventful one in the boardroom. Chief Executive, Rick Parry, deemed Rafa's first choice transfer of Gareth Barry too expensive at £18 million for a player with only two years left on his contract so the pair decided to go for Tottenham captain, Robbie Keane instead.
The £20 million deal was pushed through but it was then that Rafa chose to move against Parry. Benitez practically shunned Keane , and less than six months later the striker was on his way back to Spurs for £12m as Rafa complained bitterly to the board about not having full control of transfers.
With the club in it's best in their best position in some time, and the manager as popular as ever, the board relented and gave Benitez charge of the purse strings and Parry was forced to resign.
It was during the week that Parry tended his resignation, that Liverpool were set to face Real Madrid and Manchester United. Lose one or both and Rafa's future was on the line.
However, the team put in two amazing performances and won both games 4—1 and Parry ended up leaving, but once again bookmakers had suspended betting on the Spaniard leaving his post.
The summer of '09 was meant to all about Liverpool signing one or two key players and making a concerted challenge for the title in 2010 but once again personal dealings with players threatened to take the Liverpool train off the rails.
Xabi Alonso forced Benitez to allow his to join Real Madrid for £30m after their relationship had soured. The prime reason being Rafa offering his Spanish playmaker around in preparation for Gareth Barry's signing the year before.
Alonso, obviously unhappy with his treatment as a key player, made it clear that he did not want to stay working under Rafa and the irony hit home after Xabi left for Real Madrid and Manchester City snapped up Barry for £12m after Rafa had refused to go above £8m, one year earlier and he wanted the player for £18m.
With no focal point in the team Liverpool got off to the worst of starts with losses to Spurs and Aston Villa and by September they were out of the title race.
The bad run was to continue and Liverpool's record made grim reading as the season wore on. Rumours began to surround Benitez about moves to Juventus and Real Madrid, while KPMG's latest financial report on the club made certain that the spending in the summer would be minimal at best.
Hicks and Gillett's further demands that any party wanting to buy Liverpool would not only have to pay them around £600m, build a new stadium (approximitely £500m), and clear the current debt (£490m) have been met with raised eyebrows.
In the end the club finished outside the Champions League positions and the American owners were forced to take action on spending during the summer. It would seem that the size of the transfer kitty on offer to their manager has been the catalyst for this latest move.
One other sticking point was the boards refusal to guarantee to Benitez that certain players would be kept at the club. Steven Gerrard is a known target of Jose Mourinho and Real Madrid, while Barcelona are tracking Javier Mascherano, and Manchester City and said to be preparing another bid for Fernando Torres following last seasons rebuttal after they offered £80m for the star.
By selling just these three players, Liverpool could in effect cut their debt by something like £200m when wages and transfer sales are put together.
Everyone knows that Liverpool's debt is crippling them and that Benitez has the luxury of a huge contract. By asking him to resign the club are putting him in a corner. Rafa has endeared himself to many fans and his refusal to accept the money on offer would be akin to him saying that he wants a full payoff, £16m to £20m.
Such an outlay at this stage would be a huge blow to the finances of the club and would cripple them even further.
It must be said though that Hicks and Gillett are the ones that put the club in this position and that this game they are playing with Benitez is dirty one.
The Spaniard now has the power to hit the club where it hurts and make them hold back on any plans they have for prospective investors, who it would seem would be happier with the likes of Kenny Dalglish and Sammy Lee in charge.
The removal of Rafa has now become a keystone in Hicks and Gilletts sale of Liverpool.
They know it, and Rafa knows it too...
This article was first published on Tiger Beer Global Football where Willie Gannon is the featured blogger.
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