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Liverpool dangle £2.5m final bonus

By JOHN EDWARDS - More by this author » Last updated at 22:39pm on 8th May 2007 Steven Gerrard and his Liverpool team-mates are heading for a £2.5million windfall if they can overcome AC Milan in the Champions League final for the second time in three seasons. Liverpool face the Italians in Athens on May 23 knowing they are rated rank outsiders to repeat their Istanbul heroics of two years ago, when they won a penalty shoot-out after trailing 3-0 at half-time to be European champions for a fifth time. Liverpool’s board have offered the players a bonus well in excess of £100,000 per man to make it six. Anyone who has played a part this season is eligible and manager Rafa Benitez’s rotation policy means the total pot looks like being around £2.5m. It is understood the incentive scheme was drawn up at the start of the season rather than in the wake of new owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett taking over two months ago. But they are believed to be firmly in favour of it and may devise an even more lucrative package for next season. As he considered his options for the final, Benitez was quick to dismiss any misgivings over Xabi Alonso’s surprise absence from the starting line-up for the semi-final return leg against Chelsea at Anfield. Barcelona are still interested in signing the Spain midfielder for next season, but Benitez stressed the player remains an integral part of his plans and seems certain to start the final alongside Gerrard and Javier Mascherano. Benitez said: "The players know me and appreciate that if I change one or two of them it doesn’t mean I am disappointed with them. "We will play 60 games next season and need a lot of good players. All the players must be a bit disappointed if they don’t play. I would expect that. "But they need to have respect for their team-mates and look at the wider picture. I’m sure that will be the case with Xabi.

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