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Horncastle: Totti thriving at 40

Italian Serie A

Defiant Benitez rubbishes Juve speculation

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez has dismissed claims he has already agreed a deal to take over at Juventus at the end of the season and repeated his long-term commitment to the Reds.

Speculation in Italy claimed the Turin club had already agreed personal terms with the Spaniard and a delegation were flying to Merseyside tomorrow to thrash out an agreement with Liverpool to release Benitez from his contract at the end of the season.

However, the manager has rejected in the strongest terms suggestions he is ready to walk away from Anfield. Contrary to reports in the Italian media this weekend, I want to make it absolutely clear I have no agreement with Juventus and have not and will not be meeting Juventus or their representatives or any other club,'' he said.

"I have a long-term contract with Liverpool and I'll repeat what I said on Friday. I am happy here and my only focus is to do my job as well as I can to get the team back into to the top four, beginning with the derby against Everton.''

The Italian media had claimed there was already a verbal agreement between the Spaniard and his would-be new employers and a meeting had taken place today with Benitez's lawyers to finalise details of the contract.

There were even reports Benitez would make Liverpool trio Dirk Kuyt, Martin Skrtel and, somewhat oddly considering their fractious relationship, Ryan Babel his first signings.

However, similar sources had suggested on Thursday a Juve delegation was in Liverpool only for that to prove to be false. When asked about the manager's future Kuyt said he did not believe there would be any change at the top.

"As far as I know there is no doubt,'' said the Holland international. "I've not heard there is any trouble or indication the manager could leave so if that is not happening we just want to play football.''

Benitez did not help all the conjecture about his future on Friday when he said he was proud to be linked with one of Europe's top clubs. But he did also say he had a job to do an Anfield and was committed to that.

Co-owner Tom Hicks' surprise visit to watch Saturday's 2-0 victory over Bolton also posed a few questions as to why he had attended a relatively low-key fixture when there was a Merseyside derby next weekend.

He was not, however, bringing a last-minute transfer window war chest for the Spaniard to spend to help Liverpool secure the Champions League football which is so vital to their future. "If he is around I will see him. It is good to see him here. It is always positive,'' said Benitez when asked if Hicks had come for a meeting.

The Liverpool manager stressed Hicks was not involved in the club's transfers in any way and his input was not required nor welcome. "For us we are working hard on a daily basis with the managing director so it is not a big difference,'' added Benitez.

"We have a managing director and a chief scout and we are working together. We don't need more people deciding about any player.''

A group of a hundred or so supporters staged a noisy protest against Hicks and George Gillett's running of the club outside the ground after the match.

Reports today suggested the co-owners' search for outside investment will see them drop their asking price to around £100 million for up to a 50% share.

Should they be successful that could see the beginning of the end of the Americans' tumultuous and controversial tenure at the club but, at the moment, that is still a long way off.


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