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Rafa's Liverpool future in doubt after dispute

Rafa Benitez puts his future in doubt after he publicly criticised Liverpool's owners after their 3-0 win over Newcastle on Saturday.

sports Updated: Nov 26, 2007 19:27 IST

The future of Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez appears in doubt as a result of his power struggle with the club's American owners.

Benitez's recent complaints that George Gillett Jr. and Tom Hicks have failed to back him in the player transfer market is leading to increased speculation that his time is all but up. "They don't understand the transfer window in Europe," Benitez said after Saturday's 3-0 win at Newcastle.

It was the Spaniard's latest outburst against what he claims is the owners' refusal to let him pursue new signings in the January transfer period.

Most British newspapers on Monday said Benitez was on course to being fired.

"The word from within the club is that the American tycoons have lost all trust in him after recent challenges to their authority and that, despite his popularity with supporters, his dismissal is only a matter of time," The Times said.

Gillett, owner of the NHL's Montreal Canadiens, and Hicks, owner of baseball's Texas Rangers and ice hockey's Dallas Stars, bought Liverpool in March.

On Thursday, the owners ordered Benitez to concentrate on preparing the team rather than on transfers.

The two released a statement Sunday dismissing reports that Benitez been fired and stressing that they would not discuss transfers until their visit to Liverpool in mid-December. They plan to attend the Dec. 16 game against Manchester United. "Despite speculation in today's newspapers, there is nothing new to say," the statement said. "We had a good win yesterday and have got some very important games coming up starting with Porto on Wednesday, followed by Bolton and Reading, before Marseille and Manchester United in a few weeks.

"Both of us, together with chief executive Rick Parry, plan to meet with Rafa when we come over mid-December to make decisions on the team's requirements at that time."

Liverpool spent more than US$103 million in the offseason on new players, including striker Fernando Torres, midfielder Yossi Benayoun and winger Ryan Babel.

Benitez is insistent that he needs to sign new players in January, with Racing Santander defender Ezequiel Marcelo Garay among the targets.

"It's not a draft system," Benitez said Saturday in a slap at the American owners. "We have free players available now. I'm not talking about players that cost money. We need to talk to the agents now, if not we will lose targets."

Liverpool is unbeaten in the Premier League this season and is fifth in the standings with 27 points, six points behind leader Arsenal. The Reds face FC Porto in the Champions League on Wednesday and need a win to stay in contention of advancing to the next round. Benitez's situation mirrors the power struggle between former Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho and Russian owner Roman Abramovich. Mourinho left the Blues in September after long-running feuds with Abramovich. Mourinho has been mentioned as a possible candidate to take over at Liverpool next summer.

Benitez, a former Valencia coach, has been in charge at Anfield since 2004. He has twice guided the club to the Champions League final, winning the title in 2005. The Reds also won the FA Cup in 2006, but the club is still looking for its first English league title since 1990.

First Published: Nov 26, 2007 19:22 IST