Thursday’s Papers: Rafa deal close

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There’s not a lot of Liverpool related news in this morning’s newspapers, with match reports of last night’s Champions League action involving Manchester United and Arsenal (the Mancs drew 2-2 at home to Aalborg and the Gunners went down 2-0 at FC Porto) dominating the back pages. There is, however, a general consensus that Rafa Benitez will put pen to paper on a new contract to keep him at Anfield until 2013 in the immediate future.

Ian Herbert writes in this morning’s Independent of how it could be with great reluctance to club owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett that the Spaniard has been given a three year extension to his current contract, rather than a shorter term deal.

There is a reluctance from within Anfield to place a specific time frame on the deal being concluded owing to the availability, so near to Christmas, of those needed to rewrite what was an outdated four and a half year old contract. But the progression towards agreeing a deal has been under way for weeks and Tuesday’s disclosure, by sources close to the club’s co-owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett, that a resolution is imminent was not triggered by any particular breakthrough. Though the Americans initially wanted a one-year extension to Benitez’s contract, neither appears to have needed any persuading by the Anfield hierarchy when discussions began that a longer-term British model was appropriate.

Herbert again mentions the current instability of the club’s ownership in his article today, suggesting the Americans could sell up for a lot less than the £500million price tag that was floating around earlier this year.

With the Americans understood still to be looking to find a buyer for the club, one interpretation of their keenness to wrap up discussions is that it will ease a sale ‘“ though in the current climate that is looking an increasingly remote prospect, with some financiers now of the view that they would take the £350m needed to pay off the debts incurred in buying it.

James Ducker makes a good defence of Robbie Keane’s form in this morning’s Times, backing the Irish striker to find the goals in the latter half of this season, amid speculation linking him with a move away from Anfield.

Had Fernando Torres not missed so much football because of a recurring hamstring problem this season, Keane might have made more of an impact, but any criticism of the Irishman must be tempered by the fact that Liverpool are top of the Barclays Premier League with the halfway stage fast approaching and have qualified for the Champions League knockout phase as group winners.

As a member of the select band of players to have found the net 100 or more times in the Premier League, Keane’s scoring record is formidable and the forward is convinced that Liverpool fans will see a far better player during the second half of the season.

The Mirror stretches for ideas to fill its weedy little pages yet again this morning by suggesting a move for Fernando Torres is still on the cards for Manchester City boss Mark Hughes.

They are ready to make a world record £50m bid for Liverpool striker Fernando Torres, but accept the Spanish striker will remain loyal to Anfield for now.

And finally, the Liverpool Reserves went down 2-1 at the Reebok Stadium to Bolton Reserves last night. Krisztian Nemeth got the Reds’ only goal, his first of the season.

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