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Jan 13, 2010

Reading loss must spell the end for Rafa

Time is up for Rafael Benitez - and in truth it's been up for some time now.

• Report: Liverpool 1-2 Reading
• Benitez refuses to discuss his future
• Maxi Rodriguez signs for Liverpool

The FA Cup defeat at Anfield at the hands of Reading amplifies the call for the manager's head. The headlines will be gruesome reading for Benitez on Thursday morning. That is hardly a surprise.

What is a surprise, though, is the intransigence of the club's American owners to do anything about it because, apparently, it would cost too much to dispense with their manager and his large entourage of backroom staff and coaches.

Mark Hughes was dismissed by Manchester City with a far superior record this season. The Middle East owners want instant success, at least a top four finish, if not the title, and sacked Hughes after only half of the season. In came Roberto Mancini, which didn't go down well with the media, but look at the outcome - resurgence at City. No one seems to be bemoaning the loss of Hughes right now.

The same might well happen at Anfield. Yes, it will be a shame for Rafa. He is suffering from constant injury problems to the two key players who could have carried him through this crisis, Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard. Benitez insists he has a good, sound squad that can cope without them. He is wrong. He is papering over the cracks.

He has been wonderful for the club in his time. Mostly the glory has come on the continent, while the fans crave the League title, which has been the private domain of Manchester United and Chelsea for the past five years.

Just as United have stated in their investment prospectus, there is a danger of problems if they cannot find the right man to one day replace Sir Alex Ferguson. It's no good replacing Benitez if Liverpool don't have the right man to take his place.

There can only be a handful of men who would turn Liverpool's fortunes around, and if you want the best, you will have to pay the best. A pot of gold, though, is in short supply at Liverpool right now.

In fact, the decision to stick with Rafa appears to be one about finance, rather than what is best for the team, what is best for the fans, what is best for Liverpool. That is an intolerable situation. Liverpool FC should be bigger than that.

With Rafa only a few months into a fresh five-year deal, everyone knows the team need new direction. How they must be regretting that deal right now.

This week the club's managing director, Christian Purslow, announced that, despite Benitez's remarks to the contrary, there will be no fire sale of top stars such as Torres, Gerrard and Javier Mascherano, if as looks likely the club fail to make it back into the lucrative land of the Champions League.

Top of the agenda is to sift through the multitude of interested clients wishing to invest in Liverpool. Sounds good, but the club has been for sale for some time, or new investors have been sought for a considerable time, and yet there has appeared to be a problem in finding the right formula with two diverse owners to unlock the path to investment.

Liverpool need a Jose Mourinho, or a Guus Hiddink, maybe even a Fabio Capello. None of these guys come cheap, if they will come to Anfield at all. Money speaks these days for the top coaches, and judging by the one free transfer Benitez has been allowed so far in the January window the club are impoverished compared to the high rollers at the summit of the Premier League.

The solution rests with a new owner, or powerful investor, who can shift the inertia that currently grips Anfield.

It's hard to say "I told you so" as it does sound so conceited and egotistical. But here goes ... "I told you so".

Wind back to the start of the season. Expectations were fuelled by such a fabulous second half of last season when Liverpool came so close to taking the title. Many experts tipped Liverpool to win the Premier League.

However, as early as September I forecast that the title was well beyond them, then I suggested they would struggle to make the top four, and soon I was forecasting potential financial meltdown as I could see them slipping out of the Champions League and not getting back for next season.

Months ago I said Rafa's time was up. It is now. It can only be a matter of when, not if.

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