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To pinch a favourite phrase of Rafael Benítez’s, here are some facts.

Liverpool v Manchester United: Rafael Benítez is told facts of life - beat Manchester United
Crunch tie: Sunday's game may decide how much more time Rafael Benítez is given at Liverpool Photo: REUTERS

It would cost Liverpool less than £5 million to dismiss their manager but there is no guarantee that either of the men who would jointly top a wish list of successors, Fabio Capello and José Mourinho, would rush to Anfield.

There is also no raging hunger for Benitez’s removal but defeat to Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United on Sunday would quicken the appetite for change – and that’s a fact.

A flying visit to both training grounds on Friday, for audiences with Ferguson at Carrington and Benítez at Melwood, revealed the calm in the champions’ world and the tension scarring Liverpool’s.

If Benítez loses to Ferguson, if United fans throw around beach-balls and taunts about titles, all the attempted improvements behind the scenes will crumble to dust.

Rarely has a game at Anfield been so laden with significance. Despite Benítez’s team patently losing their way on the field, the club have actually gained some direction off it because of two individuals who care deeply about this fallen giant of a footballing institution.

Kenny Dalglish has performed many great services for Liverpool down the years, scoring European Cup winners and managing the team to Doubles, and now enhances his reputation as a local hero by striving to galvanise the assorted factions.

Dalglish’s job lies within the academy but his legend status means access all areas, means everyone listening to his wise counsel. His friend Christian Purslow, the highly likeable and financially-savvy managing director, has joined the Scot in working overtime to unite everyone from dressing-room to boardroom and terrace. The task is far from simple.

The spanners in the works, of course, are George Gillett and Tom Hicks, the co-owners whose continued presence at Anfield is a source of profound embarrassment and frustration for the Kop. Yet the loathed Americans draw some of the fans’ legitimate flak away from Benítez.

Before kick-off, Liverpool loyalists will march in protest at Hicks and Gillett, waving “In Rafa We Trust’’ flags when perhaps they should be asking why he has overspent on so many underwhelming footballers such as Andrei Voronin, Ryan Babel, Andrea Dossena and Lucas.

Squeaks of criticism do slip out but the Kop seems largely behind Benítez. Even the anger that erupted over the manager’s bizarre substitution of Yossi Benayoun during Tuesday’s home defeat to Lyon seems to have dissipated.

“I can guarantee you that over the last two days fans were very supportive,’’ Benítez said. “I was in a big store and four or five fans came up and were all very positive — nobody was asking me about substitutes. 'Just beat United’ was their message. We have better fans than United.’’

As Benítez spoke, his eyes drifted up to an inscription on the wall, a eulogy to the Kop from Johan Cruyff.

“There’s not one club in the world so united with the fans,’’ read the Dutchman’s tribute. “A mass of 40,000 people become the force behind the team.’’ For a footballer who graced the Nou Camp this was praise indeed.

“For [20] years Liverpool have not won the league but the fans are always behind the team, always supporting,’’ Benítez continued.

“I remember Igor Biscan saying that 'if you work hard the fans will be behind you whether you make mistakes or not’. This is the difference between our fans and other clubs’ fans. Against United they will be 100 per cent behind the team, supporting and pushing.’’

So will Dalglish, sitting in the smart seats, intently following every move by Benítez’s men. “Everybody at Liverpool knows Rafa is the right man to get the club through this,’’ Dalglish said.

“No one is panicking. It’s very important that everybody sticks together to get through this. Of course it’s not good for Liverpool to lose four games in a row. The supporters feel it equally as badly as everyone at the club does.

"The players will need to stand up and be counted. For anyone who has any affiliation to Liverpool, then it’s time for them to rally round and channel all their efforts in the one direction.’’

Such words were greatly appreciated by Benítez, who pulled Dalglish to one side at Melwood on Friday to say “thank you’’, realising how such comments will lift his standing among any wavering fans.

“Kenny knows the club and the city, he knows the fans,’’ Benítez said. “When we brought Kenny [back] we knew we were bringing someone with this experience who could help us to stick together.’’

Four hours earlier, and 30 miles away, another Scot could be found calling for patience. Ferguson would rather go beagling with the press pack than leap to Benítez’s defence but he was willing to make a general point about managers under pressure.

“Look, in modern-day football the manager is always going to be the scapegoat, no matter what happens,’’ the United manager said.

“It happens time and time again. You see what has happened to Gareth Southgate [sacked by Middlesbrough]. You scratch your head at that one because he’s a young manager and he’s only had three years in the job. That is the climate we are in. Managers are always going to suffer.’’

Ferguson has never forgotten the calls for his own head in 2005. “You had me written off,’’ he said dismissively of the media. “I was past my sell-by date and should have been puffing on my pipe. I don’t take it personally because it is just the industry we are in. A manager is subjected to that.’’

Benítez remains safe but not because compensation is beyond Liverpool’s admittedly stretched budget. The maths are relatively simple: if sacked, he would be entitled to the remaining four and a half years of his contract at approximately £4.5 million pa, totalling £20.5 million, but this assumes he will not re-find employment before 2014.

If Benítez joined Real Madrid, a possibility next summer, and was paid £4 million a year, Liverpool would be liable for the shortfall, totalling £2 million under the “mitigating the loss’’ procedure. Firing Benítez would not be expensive.

The charismatic Mourinho, not enjoying the best of times with Inter Milan, would immediately be linked with the post. Capello’s reputation is immense but he remains committed to England. One thing is sure, if Liverpool fall behind tomorrow, the United fans will inform Benítez that he’s “getting sacked in the morning’’.

Unlikely. Liverpool’s power brokers have admired the dignified way Benítez handled last weekend’s reverse at Sunderland triggered in surreal fashion by Darren Bent’s shot clipping a beach-ball and wrong-footing Pepe Reina.

Stewards will frisk United fans for beach-balls tomorrow but such searches tend to be quick patting-down exercises, particularly with an impatient queue pushing to get in. And only Baldrick or Rodney would turn up with the beach-ball already inflated. Some will be spirited through the turnstiles and then blown up ready for launching.

United’s famous lyricists have certainly been busy, reworking Anfield’s anthem for an airing on Sunday:

“When you bounce on the pitch, Hold your valve up high, And don’t be afraid of the ball.

At the end of the match, Speaks a Spanish guy

Of the pure injustice of it all.

Roll on, through the wind, Roll on, through the rain, Though your form be tossed and blown. Roll on, roll on.

With air in your sphere, And you’ll never roll alone, You’ll never roll alone.’’

Visiting fans will also be wearing Eric Cantona masks and T-shirts proclaiming “18 titles — and that’s a fact,’’ a riposte to a Liverpool banner from 1994 that declared: “Au Revoir Cantona and Man United. Come back when you’ve won 18 titles’’. United have now, so the pressure really does mount on Benítez.

There is an awareness within Anfield that the manager lacks certain people skills, the much-discussed coldness. Benítez, more forthcoming than usual on Friday, was keen to paint himself as a leader who consulted widely.

“I talk to Sammy Lee, who has won a lot of trophies and knows the city. I talk with people outside Liverpool, like journalists in Spain or friends who played football in the past and have watched our games on TV. They may have another point of view and maybe I use it.’’

And English newspapers? Benítez’s eyebrows lifted slowly like caterpillars entering a hurdle race. “Do you think I would change something from reading the press? No! I am not reading the press.’’ Or paying attention to phone-ins.

“In England you have 60 million managers. Everyone has an opinion and everyone is right – after the game.’’

Benítez stressed that he alone knew the best way to motivate each individual under his command.

“Some need me to push them really hard, others need me to support them a bit. We have a better squad than people think. It’s a question of time.’’

Sunday may decide how much more time Benítez is given.


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