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By ESPN Staff
Nov 23, 2007

Hicks urges Benitez to 'quit talking'

Liverpool co-chairman Tom Hicks has put manager Rafael Benitez in his place by telling the Spaniard to 'coach the players we have' rather than complain about not being able to make new signings.

The American has spoken out further after originally issuing a statement with joint owner George Gillett which said they wanted all the focus to be on the forthcoming matches and not off-the-pitch issues.

Benitez was visibly unhappy during his weekly press conference yesterday at which he refused to answer questions on anything other than tomorrow's match at Newcastle.

It is believed his frustration was borne out of a refusal by Hicks and Gillett to discuss potential transfer targets.

Benitez is also keen to secure the permanent signing of Argentina midfielder Javier Mascherano but the lump sum needed to buy out his third-party agreement is proving a sticking point behind the scenes at Anfield.

Hicks, however, was in no mood to back down, pointing to the near £50million Benitez was allowed to spend in the summer on the likes of Fernando Torres, Ryan Babel, Yossi Benayoun and Lucas Leiva.

'After the Champions League final in Athens, Rafa made certain demands of us and we responded to those demands in the summer,' said the American.

'We brought in some good players and spent more money than has ever been spent before at this club.

'We now have some crucial games coming up in the Premier League and the Champions League and we want to see if we can win these games with the players we have.

'This was the message we gave to Rafa recently and I think during the international break he must have grown a bit frustrated about this.

'We told him to concentrate on the games coming up and nothing else and I guess he didn't like that.

'But, for the time being, we just need to be focused on what happens on the pitch.'

Hicks added in the Liverpool Echo: 'George and I will be over in mid-December and that is the time to talk about other issues.

'It is really time for Rafa to quit talking about new players and to coach the players we have.'

The Americans are expected to fly in to Merseyside to watch the home clash with arch-rivals Manchester United on December 16.

By then Liverpool's Champions League fate will be known - they must win their final two group matches at home to Porto on Wednesday and in Marseille a fortnight later - and that will undoubtedly have an impact on the money available for January signings, although Benitez has already been told he must sell before he can buy.

The power struggle is the last thing Liverpool need ahead of a highly-significant five-day spell beginning tomorrow at St James' Park.

Benitez, however, has urged his players to concentrate on the game.

The likes of captain Steven Gerrard and Peter Crouch go into the fixture on the back of being part of England's disappointing failure to qualify for Euro 2008 but their club boss will not let them wallow in self-pity.

'We will talk with them and I'm sure they will be mentally ready for Newcastle because they know it is very important for us,' said Benitez.

'I think they were okay (injury-wise).'

Ukraine's Andriy Voronin, Holland duo Ryan Babel and Dirk Kuyt, Spain's Jose Reina, Norway's John Arne Riise and Finland's Sami Hyypia all played significant parts in their respective countries' Euro 2008 qualifiers on Wednesday and will be assessed late on.

But it is the players who have not been away with their national teams who may provide the necessary impetus, particularly Fernando Torres who was left out of Spain's squad to be able to continue to build up his fitness at Melwood after an adductor injury.

'He was training normally during the week and so I will talk with him and see if he has felt anything but I think he was okay,' said Benitez, who knows how important the club's record signing is to their championship challenge.

'The pace of Fernando running behind the defenders is a key quality. Last season we had (Craig) Bellamy and now we have Fernando - players who can beat defenders.'

The manager also suggested key defender Daniel Agger is close to return after more than two months out with a fractured metatarsal, while midfielder Benayoun is making good progress with a groin injury.

'At least this week we have been training with some players and maybe this international break will give us time to play Agger or Benayoun,' he added.

'Agger is closer. He was training and is improving but after a long time it is always difficult to be sure.'