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Benitez poised to quit Anfield with pay-off

Liverpool show Spaniard the door – and a cheque for £3m – as Inter Milan prepare to firm up their interest

RAFAEL BENITEZ’S six-year reign as Liverpool manager looked to be at an end last night after the club offered him a £3m pay-off to walk away.

Benitez would be entitled to around £16m if the Reds sacked him, but with other clubs ready to snap him up he is thought to be ready to cash in and leave Merseyside.

Benitez, 50, endured a woeful campaign last season, finishing seventh in the Premier League and suffering early exits from the Champions League and FA Cup.

The Spaniard’s agent Manuel Garcia Quinlon said: “We don’t know anything more than what’s being said. We’re not saying anything.”

Fulham’s Roy Hodgson, Turkey’s Guus Hiddink and Aston Villa’s Martin O’Neill were last night among the bookmakers’ favourites to replace Benitez at Anfield.

Inter Milan looks Benitez’s most likely destination, after Jose Mourinho left for Real Madrid and Fabio Capello reaffirmed his commitment to England.

Liverpool’s owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett are keen to sell the club, and are likely to find it easier with Benitez and his huge contract gone. And they will be aware that if he prolongs negotiations over his severance deal, he risks being left behind in the running for the Inter job.

The manager is thought to have been made the offer by telephone yesterday, as he is on holiday in Sardinia. Coach Sammy Lee is expected to take temporary charge of team matters.

Benitez earned himself hero status among the club’s fans when he led the Reds to a dramatic Champions League triumph in 2005. He also won the FA Cup in 2006 and steered them to second in the top flight in 2008-09. But his future has looked increasingly uncertain in recent months, with failures on the pitch being compounded by tensions off it.

He is thought to have asked for a substantial transfer kitty in order to rebuild his side over the summer, only to be told by chairman Martin Broughton that only around £5m would be available.

The club’s slide out of the top four and into the Europa League places has also increased doubts over the futures of star duo Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres. Gerrard is expected to join Mourinho at Real, while Torres has refused to discuss his future until after the World Cup.

Benitez suspended winger Albert Riera after he said the club was “a sinking ship”, while there have been suggestions of deeper dressing-room unrest.

FAVOURITES | TO REPLACE RAFA
MARTIN O’NEILL
Aston Villa, 58
Cerebral and passionate Northern Irishman has revitalised Villa after returning to England following trophy-laden spell with Celtic

GUUS HIDDINK
Turkey, 63
Hugely experienced Dutchman showed flair for Premier League in brief stint at Chelsea, but would have to quit a job he has barely begun and would not come cheap

ROY HODGSON
Fulham, 62
Much-travelled Londoner is enjoying huge success at Fulham and has hinted he would be open to another crack at the big time