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Benitez denies talks of rift with owners

LIVERPOOL manager Rafa Benitez is close to signing a new contract after reaching an agreement on his salary, and has denied reports that he is at odds with the club's American owners over controlling transfers.

Benitez still has 18 months remaining on his existing contract, but announced in November that negotiations had begun on new terms and that he wanted a deal signed by the end of the month.

The Spanish manager, who underwent third surgery for kidney stones yesterday, expressed frustration last week about the lack of progress, but insists there is no conflict with co-owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett Jr.

"My agent only received the draft document of my contract yesterday evening," Benitez said on Tuesday. "We have agreed the length of contract and we have agreed the salary. Now we have to discuss my role and my responsibilities as manager of the club."

British newspapers had been reporting that Benitez was demanding full control over transfers, after a failure to sign Aston Villa midfielder Gareth Barry in the offseason, but the manager said that wasn't the case.

While Benitez has enjoyed success in Europe, winning the 2005 Champions League at the end of his first season and returning to the final two years later, his priority is to secure Liverpool's first league title since 1990.

The Reds top the standings, but their ability to stay there was further thrown into doubt on Saturday with a second 0-0 draw this season against lowly Stoke.

Benitez was thrown into the middle of a power battle between Hicks and Gillett, with the former publicly offering him a one-year extension in April despite sounding out Juergen Klinsmann as a replacement months earlier.

While Hicks was seen as Benitez's closer ally, Gillett held lengthy talks with the Spaniard on two visits to England late last year.

But there have been concerns within the Anfield hierarchy about Benitez, including the large turnover of players since his arrival in 2004 and quantity of overseas players in the academy, an issue vice-captain Jamie Carragher has said troubles him.

Just three players ?? captain Steven Gerrard, Jamie Carragher and Sami Hyypia ?? remain from Benitez's first game in charge in August 2004.

The dogged pursuit of Barry in the offseason did Benitez no favors, with the manager expressing public frustration that the owners were unwilling to sanction an outlay of around 18 million pounds (then US$36 million) for the player. The owners viewed that as twice his value.


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