Duo set for new Liverpool deals
Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez believes the fact goalkeeper Jose Reina and midfielder Javier Mascherano are close to signing new contracts sends out a significant statement about the club's future.
Since last summer, starting with Barcelona's courting of Mascherano, there has been constant speculation about several key players, and Benitez himself. That was intensified by Liverpool's poor start to the campaign, but since Christmas things have settled down considerably.
And it is a measure of the faith the players have in Benitez, who is confident he will be in charge for the long term, that two key members of his squad are prepared to commit to contract extensions.
"Everything is very close and no problems," said the Spaniard, who in January was targeted by Serie A club Juventus to take over this summer. "I think we will have news about Reina and Mascherano very soon and that will be very positive for the future."
After speculation about Barcelona's interest in Mascherano drifted away following the closing of the August transfer window, the futures of Fernando Torres, Steven Gerrard, Daniel Agger, Martin Skrtel, Dirk Kuyt, Ryan Babel and, most recently, Reina have been open to debate.
But Benitez, who in the last year has tied the likes of Gerrard, Torres, Carragher and Kuyt to extended deals, said he had no doubts about convincing Mascherano and Reina to commit to the club.
"I was talking with Mascherano and his agent the other day and it is true Javier is happier," said the Reds boss. "The agent had been really good when we were talking in the past and the conversations were very positive. When you talk with Javier he is very settled and happy. Everyone knew about some clubs (being interested in him), but talking with us he was fine."
Asked if a deal would be struck before the end of the season, the Spaniard added: "I think so." Benitez has been delighted with the mentality of 23-year-old, whom he rates as among the top five in the world in his position, in recent weeks. That was especially the case when he was asked to fill in as an emergency right-back against Blackburn last weekend.
"He wants to improve and push and make sure we finish in the top four and I am really pleased with his attitude," Benitez said. "He is captain of Argentina, one of the best teams in the world, so if you say to me 'How many?' I would say there are four or five players at this level in the world and he is one of them.
"It (right-back) was a difficult position for him but he came in and did fantastically. Javier came to my office and I said we were thinking of playing him as a right-back and he said 'Fine' and we finished the conversation. He was so pleased to help that I was also very pleased. We talked about movement, position and what he had to do but the first thing was his attitude. His attitude was fantastic. He said 'Yes, no problem' and off he went."
Benitez has also been impressed with the form of Reina, who has been Liverpool's player of the season. He knows convincing a goalkeeper he rates as the best in the Premier League - Reina currently has 12 clean sheets and is level with Chelsea's Petr Cech - to stay is a huge boost.
"Pepe is another key player and it is 100 per cent he will continue with us," he added. "Since he came from Villarreal always he has shown his character and his passion, his commitment with the club."
Benitez, stressing the word 'know', added: "Now I know 100 per cent that he will continue with us. We are really pleased because I remember at the beginning people said 'For England, in the air he is not the best'. He is the best in England, miles away from the others, and we are really pleased to keep him here for a long time. He is always organising the defenders and is more than a keeper. Sometimes the style of goalkeepers is for them to be really good in the six-yard box, Pepe is really good in the 18-yard box."