Wednesday, June 16 – 2004
Rafael Benitez was last night facing his first major crisis as new Liverpool manager as fears grew that Steven Gerrard could be about to walk away from Anfield.
The ink was still drying on Benitez’s five year contract when Reds chief executive Rick Parry hinted for the first time that Gerrard may have played his last game for the club.
Parry revealed the Liverpool skipper “was down” when he last spoke to Gerrard before he flew out to Portugal with England.
“The next priority is for me and Rafa to meet and try to persuade Stevie that his future is at this club,” said Parry last night.
“I spoke to him three weeks ago and it was clear that he was not happy. He was down and wants success. His feelings were fairly deep-rooted and they were not expressed idly. We will do everything we can to persuade him that his future lies here, but we are not complacent.”
Those comments were not what Benitez was expecting on his first day in office as replacement for Gerard Houllier.
The 44-year-old Spaniard pledged to do everything within his power to keep the midfield dynamo on Merseyside along with Michael Owen, who has one year left on his contract and has yet to pledge his long-term future to the club.
“I want both players to stay,” said Benitez, who has pledged to bring a winning attitude to a club that has gone 14 years without winning the title and finished a disappointing fourth last season. “When I video tapes of Gerrard I see how important he is and I need to talk to him. He’s a very, very good player. I know he is intelligent and I will try to convince Steven that he can win here.
“I am very ambitious and I hope to make him an even better player. I need to improve and needs to improve.”
Benitez says reviving the fortunes of the former European champions is the biggest challenge of his life.
The tough-talking coach insists he will give everyone a chance but made it clear he will not stand for any substandard performances on the pitch or the training ground.
“I am a very proud man because Liverpool are one of the most important clubs in the world,” added Benitez, who is taking English lessons.
“I will try to do the right things because I know the history of Liverpool is big and wonderful.”
(Copyright: Daily Express, 17-06-12004, by Tony Paskin)
Rafa Benitez, fact file, from Daily Star (June 17 – 2004).