Liverpool land Benítez on his own terms

Valencia coach Rafael Benítez has emerged as the unanimous choice of the LIverpool board to take over as manager.

Rafael Benítez will be named as Liverpool's manager next month, swapping his post with Valencia, the Spanish champions, for Merseyside.

The Spaniard has emerged as the unanimous choice of the board after the sacking of Gérard Houllier and the belated concession that they have missed out on Porto's Jose Mourinho, who might have been their first choice but is to be named as Chelsea's manager.

Liverpool are relishing the prospect of hiring one of Spain's most highly rated coaches. The chief executive Rick Parry has already had a meeting with Benítez's representatives and departed yesterday for a 10-day break in Barbados, where he will be playing in goal for the Liverpool veterans' team, confident that he will unveil the 44-year-old soon after his return.

Benítez, who speaks English, will be offered a four-year deal worth about £25,000 a week, much more than his current salary but a similar package to Houllier's. Though there are still details to be discussed and Valencia remain desperate to retain the most successful coach in their 85-year history, he is understood to be enthusiastic about moving.

His appointment is something of a coup for Liverpool. He took over at Valencia in the wake of the club's second successive Champions League final defeat in 2001 and, with limited funds, was not expected to maintain those heights. Yet in his three years he claimed two Primera Division titles and also celebrated victory in last week's Uefa Cup final against Marseille, a team who had previously beaten Liverpool.

Valencia had not won the Spanish title since 1971 yet his relationship with the club's hierarchy has become strained. He is known to be disillusioned at the lack of money to mount a more coherent challenge in the Champions League and, more significantly, he wants to be allowed to choose whom to sign and whom to sell.

Transfer policy is effectively dictated by the club's sporting director Jesús García Pitarch. "I asked for a sofa and they bought me a lamp," bemoaned the coach in pre-season upon the signing, against his wishes, of the winger Néstor Canobbio. So he admires the English structure, which he experienced at first hand while on sabbatical at Manchester United and in Italy during the late 90s.

Benítez is expected to air his grievances to the president Jaime Orti in the next 24 hours. Valencia had hoped to use it as an opportunity to offer him a new two-year contract, conscious as they are that his current deal expires in 12 months and - because it is recognised in Spain as a standard labour contract - incorporates no compensation should he hand them a fortnight's written notice.

His desire to inform the club only then of his intentions would explain comments made to the Valencia-based Radio Nou yesterday, in which he suggested he might stay. "I am in no hurry to go to Inter Milan, Barcelona or Real Madrid, or any other club," he said. "I want to stay at Valencia. It's already a big club. It's clear that I'm not looking for a team."

Upon moving to Merseyside Benítez will attempt to persuade the Argentinians Roberto Ayala, a highly regarded centre-half, and the playmaker Pablo Aimar, instrumental in two Champions League victories over Liverpool in 2002, to join him in moving from Valencia. The pair's arrival would not be the prelude to a deluge of overseas signings.

Liverpool's clout in the market should be strengthened, with the proposed £64m investment package put forward by Thailand's prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra appearing to edge towards completion. According to Pongsak Ruktapongpisal, the deputy commerce minister who returned to Bangkok yesterday after three days of talks in Liverpool, the Thais will take a stake of about 30% and two seats on the board.

Careful checks are now being made on the club's finances. "I can't say that I am certain it will happen but our chance is now more than 90%," Pongsak claimed. "Everything is in agreement and it will probably take about four to eight weeks to finalise the contract."


Dominic Fifield

The GuardianTramp

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