Monday, December 3, 2007

'I don't have any personal problems with Hicks and Gillett'

Belated recoveries were not limited to Liverpool's Champions League campaign last night as Rafael Benítez took his first genuine steps towards repairing relations with the club's owners, Tom Hicks and George Gillett.
A fractious week inside Anfield ended with Benítez savouring the most emotional night of his Liverpool reign as supporters marched in support of the manager before kick-off and his players produced an ultimately impressive victory over Porto.
From a renewed position of strength it would not have been difficult for the Spaniard to reinforce his opposition to the transfer restrictions which had cast serious doubt on his future at the club. Instead, he made his clearest peace offering to the Americans, reluctantly accepting their revised work structure and insisting their relationship has not been irrevocably destroyed by his previous outbursts
. "I want to make it clear that I don't have any personal problems with the owners," said Benítez. "We were talking about some issues but it was nothing personal. I was not angry with them, just surprised. I was surprised with the situation in the end because I was trying to improve my club.
"OK, now I know I may have to wait but it was a strange situation. I was just trying to do my best for my club but I don't have any personal problems with Tom Hicks or George Gillett."
The Liverpool manager had suggested a thawing in the damaging dispute on the eve of the game but that merely extended to not aggravating his American employers any further.
He had previously infuriated the pair, and courted the sack, with two petulant public displays after their instructions to freeze his January transfer plans - an order that Benítez took as a lack of faith in his ability to bring the Premier League title to Anfield.
But last night he continued: "We need to talk in the future and we will see what happens then about transfers. This has never been about my ego, but it is my responsibility. I need to take care of my team, my squad and my club.
"It would be a lot easier for me to stay and do nothing, just pick up my wages at the end of each month but I want to be involved. We all want what is best for the club and I think the owners understand that."
Benítez's conciliatory tone was in marked contrast to his stinging criticism of the Americans following Liverpool's win at Newcastle last Saturday, and his insistence that he wants to remain involved in transfer policy, a requirement now handed over to the chief executive, Rick Parry, may yet prove a problem when the manager meets his employers on December 16.
Foster Gillett, George's son and appointed representative on the Liverpool board, was at Anfield last night to witness a fervent show of support for Benítez and his report home will certainly ease tensions with the co-chairmen. "This is not about me being in a stronger position at the club," added Benítez. "I think I am in the same position as before and we need to talk about the future and our ideas."
The possibility of qualifying for the knockout phase of the Champions League with victory over Marseille in France on December 11 will aid Benítez's reconciliation process as much as his post-match words. And the Liverpool manager was also keen to show his appreciation for those supporters who marched in his support before kick-off.
Benítez said: "I think this was the most emotional night I have had here because it is important to get through in the Champions League and because of what has happened in the last few days.
"It was not the most difficult time I have ever experienced, but it was strange. I was just trying to do my job properly and, at the end of the game, I enjoyed it a little bit. I want to say thank you to the supporters."

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