Friday’s Back Pages: Hicks wants out?

The morning’s papers still don’t seem to have calmed down on the talk that Rafa Benitez’s days at Anfield are numbered, as we review a few of today’s back pages’¦

Today’s Daily Mirror claims that sources in the business world suggest that Liverpool’s billionaire co-owner Tom Hicks could be set to sell his share in the club, just nine months after taking over the Reds in a joint venture with George Gillett.

City sources confirmed last night that Hicks, who has been at the forefront of the battle with Benitez, is preparing an exit strategy. Barely nine months after arriving at Anfield in a blaze of glory after the £219million takeover, it is understood Hicks has placed a guide valuation of a staggering £1billion on the Merseyside club.

And while that price is seen as ridiculous by City analysts, it emerged last night that Dubai International Capital, the investment group headed by Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, and who were jilted at the alter by Liverpool 12 months ago, could be ready to make a new bid.

The Telegraph goes with a story on quotes from Peter Crouch about how the situation Liverpool are in in the Champions League, needing victory in their final group game to qualify for the next round, is not an unfamiliar situation to him.

Once again it comes down to the last group game, a match which is in their hands, a match which has to be won. For England, Peter Crouch has already experienced the intense disappointment that equation can bring and to taste it a second time with Liverpool in the Champions League might be too much.

“At the start of the season that was something I could never envisage,” Crouch reflected in the aftermath of a a 4-1 victory over Porto on Wednesday night that may have flattered Liverpool but which kept alive their hopes of qualification for the knockout stages.

Tim Rich, for The Telegraph, continues to name Crouch as Liverpool’s fourth-choice striker. Something surely questionable when he was brought on to replace Andriy Voronin on Wednesday night ahead of Dirk Kuyt.

Crouch was asked several times if he supported Benitez, which was an unfair question, mainly because he could only possibly answer ‘yes’ but also because everyone asking the questions knew that of all Liverpool’s players Crouch had most to gain from Benitez’s departure. Not because he dislikes the Spaniard or wants to leave Merseyside but because he is Liverpool’s fourth-choice striker and the most likely candidate to be sold in the January transfer window.

The Daily Star carries the same story, again doubting Crouch’s future at Liverpool.

Crouch has made only one Premier League start this season.

But he has scored four goals in six Champions League games in a season where his future at the club has once again come into question.

But Crouch himself believes he will still be here when the Champions League resumes in February. He says, “I enjoy playing in Europe and if we show the form that we have, we will be playing in Europe after Christmas.”

The Times carries an excellent piece written by Oliver Kay who makes comparisons between Fernando Torres’ old club, Athletico Madrid, and Liverpool.

Fernando Torres must have thought that he had escaped the asylum when he left Atlético Madrid, a club who went through 23 coaches in 16 years under the infamous presidency of the late Jesús Gil. Liverpool were supposed to be everything that his beloved home-town club were not ‘“ sensible, stable and, above all, successful ‘“ but less than five months into his Anfield career, Torres may be beginning to wonder whether Atlético was really so crazy after all.

Kay goes on to discuss the delicate situation between Benitez and the American owners of the club, Tom Hicks and George Gillet. Wednesday night’s protest by fans outside and inside Anfield supporting the Spaniard’s reign as manager may be too little, too late according to Kay. He continues:

Torres possibly overstated the love showered on BenÍtez by his players, given that his relationship with all but a few of them is functional rather than fervent, but, outside of the boardroom, it would be hard to find anyone at Anfield to back the threat to relieve him of his duties. The problem, as José Mourinho found out at Chelsea, is that the feelings of fans and players count for little when the manager has incurred the wrath of the owners.

Absurdly, given his contrition at what became a very public spat last week, BenÍtez remains on thin ice at Anfield. There is a feeling inside the club that his differences with Hicks and Gillett can be overcome in the short term, but that some of the deeper problems are not going to be dismissed by a couple of uplifting victories.

Whilst The Independent’s Sam Wallace also hints that Benitez’s sudden backtracking and calls for peace talks with the owners may not be enough in the American tycoon’s ruthless eyes.

Rafael Benitez took another step backward yesterday in his retreat from the conflict with Liverpool’s American owners George Gillett and Tom Hicks when he said their differences could be explained by having to communicate via email. The lack of direct contact between the two parties, as well as Benitez claiming his English was still not up to scratch, signalled another attempt to placate his bosses.

Only time will tell, surely. But what will happen if Benitez doesn’t get his way and no talks are held before December 16th? Why not discuss the ongoing issue with other fans in the This Is Anfield forums.