Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez ended the long running uncertainty over his future on Wednesday by signing a new five-year contract that keeps him at the club to 2014. "My heart is with Liverpool Football Club," said Benitez, who joined in 2004 from Valencia. "So I'm delighted to sign this new deal."
Although the previous deal ran until the end of the 2009-10 season, negotiations over his future beyond that started in November.
Benitez had wanted the matter settled within weeks, but talks dragged on as he fought to secure a more powerful role that reflected how he had improved the club, notably by winning the 2005 Champions League in his debut campaign.
The rejection in January of an initial deal offered by the American owners heightened fears that he could quit. Benitez's strained relationship with chief executive Rick Parry over transfers had been considered to be a stumbling block in the trans-Atlantic negotiations.
But three weeks ago, Parry _ whose position had been untenable since co-owner Tom Hicks demanded his resignation last April _ said he will leave the club at the end of the season.
While Benitez has secured greater control of the youth academy, he will still be answerable to Parry's replacement over squad reinforcements.
"Transfers will still be handled by the new CEO and owners, based on Rafa's recommendations," a person familiar with the talks said on condition of anonymity because the details of the contract were not being released.
Just last week, Benitez let it be known about his pivotal role in bringing players to Anfield. He had to drag Parry to a fax machine two years ago to sign the contract for Lucas Leiva as Manchester United had an agent flying to Brazil to bring the midfielder to Old Trafford.
Benitez further cemented his reputation last week with four-goal demolitions of Real Madrid, the Spanish champion, and Manchester United, the holder of the English, European and world titles. Those victories paved the way for the successful completion of a new deal that would keep Benitez as Liverpool manager longer than the nine-year reign of Bob Paisley, who delivered six English titles and three European Cups from 1974 to 1983.
"I love the club, the fans and the city and with a club like this and supporters like this, I could never say no to staying," said Benitez, who won the FA Cup in 2006. "I always made clear I wanted to be here for a long time and when I complete my new contract it will mean I have spent over a decade in Liverpool. "The club is greatly respected around the world due to its incredible history and tremendous heritage. It is my aim to uphold those values and help create a new chapter in our history." Benitez will have no distractions as he attempts to deliver the club's first English title since 1990.
Saturday's 4-1 win at leader Manchester United kept Liverpool in the Premier League title race, although the club remains four points behind the Red Devils having played an extra match. The five-time European champions reached the quarterfinals of the Champions League with a 5-0 aggregate win over Real Madrid.
"All of us at the club want the same thing, which is to be successful by winning major trophies," Benitez said. Co-owner Tom Hicks said Benitez has masterminded "great progress" in his five years at Anfield.
"I know he will continue to build on his achievements as he has a tremendous hunger and desire to bring more success to the club _ success our fans and everyone connected with the club deserves," Hicks said.
George Gillett, Hicks' partner at Liverpool, has been less of a fan but recognizes that Benitez's talents are much in demand. "With Rafa continuing to manage the team, we can look forward to more great football and success on the pitch," Gillett said. "He has special abilities and qualities which are admired here at the club and around the world.
"Coming after our excellent wins over Real Madrid and Manchester United, this gives us great momentum going into the final stages of the season."