Benitez dangles contract carrot in front of Fowler
Rafael Benitez has held preliminary discussions with Robbie Fowler about the Liverpool star's future at Anfield.
Although Benitez declined to shed any more light on the prospect of Fowler winning a new contract when his current short-term deal ends this summer, the carrot was clearly being dangled for Fowler to finally prove his worth.
But what is becoming increasingly evident is that Benitez is coldly assessing Fowler's long-term potential without any sentimentality, and he obviously has doubts.
Fowler, 30, is expected to start against Bolton on Sunday in a crucial Barclays Premiership game, having had Benitez's requirements spelt out to him.
Benitez said: 'I have been talking with Robbie and I am happy with him. We are not in a hurry and he knows why. We have two clear options, for Robbie to stay or look for another team.
'We need to decide but he knows our idea and is continuing to work as hard as he can on his fitness.
'He knows my ideas, we are happy with him but not in a hurry and he knows why. He clearly understands the situation, it is not a problem between him and us.
'He knows that we need to decide in maybe three weeks or a month, and he needs to continue to work hard but we know he is a good finisher and a good player.
'But we need to know how he will play next season and what level his physical condition will allow him to play at.'
Fowler has previously said he is prepared to be patient and wait for Benitez's decision, but is certainly aware that new strikers could well be signed in the summer and that some of the current four front men at Anfield could become expendable.
It is a game of brinkmanship from Benitez seemingly designed to bring the very best from Fowler, whose form and eye for goal has improved immeasurably in recent weeks.
It is an enviable position for the manager, whose side will be aiming for their sixth consecutive victory against Sam Allardyce's outfit, who have just lost their last three on the trot.
Benitez has Fernando Morientes, Djibril Cisse and Peter Crouch all fighting with Fowler for their futures, and all aware that now is the time to produce.
Even Crouch, the only one of the four who is safe, spelt out his understanding of what is required.
He said: 'You've got to keep progressing at a club like Liverpool, no matter how well you may think you've done in the past.
'You don't stay at a club like this unless you try to improve and continue to work on your game, and that's what I'll be doing.
'That's the same for all players and I'm certainly not going to sit back. I've got to keep on my toes and push on and do as well as I can. I want to crack on from here.
'In many ways I see next season as an even bigger one for me. I want to do more. I want to be here for a long as possible. This is a great club and the place where I want to play my football.'
He added: 'When you're at Liverpool, you've got to keep your standards high. We've players here who've achieved that over many years, such as Jamie Carragher, Steven Gerrard and John Arne Riise.
'They're lads who've been performing week in, week out over many years. They've set a benchmark and they're players I look up to.
'All aspects of my game can be worked on. From my own point of view, I hope I can make everything about my play better.
'That starts with the games we've got coming up because we need to finish as high as we can in the league and think about winning the FA Cup.'
Benitez needs all his strikers on top form as Liverpool continue what is an increasingly difficult pursuit of Manchester United in second place, the Old Trafford men being five points clear with a game in hand.
Benitez said: 'We will keep going until the end of the season to try and catch Manchester United for second place and we won't be giving it up.
'If we can beat Bolton we will be on 70 points and if you analyse our season we have made big progress. We won the Super Cup and almost won the Toyota Cup where we had three goals disallowed which I still find unbelievable.'
Benitez, who has Gerrard back from suspension has been far from impressed with Bolton's style in the past, having lost at the Reebok last season and drawn there earlier in the campaign.
Last term's 1-0 win at Anfield for Liverpool was anything but pretty or convincing.
Benitez added: 'Bolton are a difficult side to play against and they have an effective style. They like to play a physical game and have physical players.
'Sam Allardyce is doing a good job with Bolton with the style of football they play and it won't be an easy game that's for sure.'