Liverpool co-owner George Gillett has backed Rafael Benitez, claiming he is one of the top five managers in the world and that this season's disappointing results are just a ''blip''.
The club have endured a difficult campaign so far and have fallen well off the pace in the Premier League, compounded by early exits from the Champions League and FA Cup; but Benitez has been unmoved in his belief that he will turn things around and now he has received the backing of Gillett.
''We believe if you were to put a list together of the top five coaches, managers in the world, he would definitely be on that list for us,'' said Gillett, who was united in his agreement with Hicks to give Benitez an improved five-year contract towards the end of last season. ''And we think he's been tossed a curve ball by circumstance, injuries and so forth.
''I think that's been a real challenge to the coach. He's had to really make some innovations and play some players out of position and so forth. And notwithstanding that, they've generally played with a lot of passion. I really believe it's a blip.''
Injuries have certainly compounded Liverpool's problems with striker Fernando Torres, captain Steven Gerrard, right-back Glen Johnson and midfielder Yossi Benayoun all currently sidelined. But they have also been unlucky in other areas, such as when a beach ball on the pitch at Sunderland back in October contributed to the only goal of the game for the Black Cats.
''That was a real low blow,'' Gillett told Canadian radio station Prime Time Sports. ''He (Benitez) has had a struggle getting the morale of the boys back up but we've got a great group of young men.''