Double lift for Benitez
Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez may be able to move forward more confidently in his quest for summer signings after two significant developments. The first piece of good news came when midfielder Javier Mascherano, upon whom Benitez put a £50million price tag to ward off interest from Barcelona and Real Madrid, spoke in glowing terms about the Spaniard. And it appears the club's American owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett are on the verge of successfully re-negotiating the £350million loan they took out to buy the club two years ago.
With the formalities of the £17million signing of Portsmouth's England right-back Glen Johnson expected to be completed in the next couple of days, it appears plans are back on track at Anfield. The futures of midfielder Xabi Alonso and defender Alvaro Arbeloa, both attracting interest from Real, seem less clear.
Benitez has insisted he does not want to sell Mascherano or Alonso, but if Real are reported to be ready to offer £30million for the 27-year-old Spaniard, then the Reds manager may be tempted to cash in. There have been noises from Mascherano's camp complaining about the fact the Argentina captain is not among the highest earners at Anfield, but the player himself has spoken of his admiration for Benitez.
"[He is] excellent. He's a perfectionist, working down to the smallest detail that you can imagine," said Mascherano, who has three years remaining on his Liverpool contract.
"Fortunately he has renewed his contract, meaning his ties to the club continue and this will give more calm to everybody."
On the reported interest from the European champions, Mascherano said: "It's really flattering. For me, it means great recognition because we are talking about big clubs.
"I feel comfortable at Liverpool, but it's always good to know that teams like Barça and Madrid are interested in you," he said. "I feel very grateful."
One year for Arbeloa
Benitez has acknowledged that he paid over the odds for Johnson and that may ultimately decide Arbeloa's fate.
"Sometimes you have to spend a little bit more," he said. "You can't compete in the top four of the Premier League unless you spend some money.
"We were looking for a player of quality and also somebody who is British because of the new [UEFA] Champions League rules. Glen Johnson fits both categories.
"Alvaro Arbeloa has had a very good season, but he has one year left on his contract. If he signs, that will be good because we will have more competition, but if we get a good offer we will have to consider it," he said.
Real's general manager Jorge Valdano seems confident of being able to sign Arbeloa and said: "The lad only has a year left on his contract with Liverpool and this gives us more possibilities. He can play in two or three positions and this versatility is good. He is another option to evaluate."
All systems go
That Benitez has been able to make his first summer signing will help fend off claims the club are in financial trouble. Much was made of the fact that Kop Holdings, the club's parent company, posted a £42.6million loss in the year to August 2008 and there were growing concerns over the state of the owners' loan.
However, Benitez, who fought so hard to get the control he wanted at Anfield, would not have signed his new contract towards the end of last season had he not been sure of the financial position. Reports suggest Hicks and Gillett, who has already started to raise capital by selling his share in the Montreal Canadiens ice hockey team, are well advanced in their negotiations to have the loan refinanced by the RBS and Wachovia banks. And Benitez is continuing to pursue other transfer targets.
"We have a plan. We can sign one more player if necessary, but that's without any players leaving," he said.
Benitez is also hoping Sebastien Leto and Andriy Voronin, both of whom were loaned out last season, will bring in more funds along with left-back Andrea Dossena, who could return to Italy after just one season at Anfield.