Reuters - Thu, 03 Jun 15:53:00 2010
Liverpool have parted company with manager Rafael Benitez to end the Spaniard's six-year rollercoaster reign at Anfield.
The Premier League club's board signalled the 50-year-old's departure when it approved a reported £6 million pay-off, despite the manager having agreed a five-year contract in March last year.
According to the terms of that deal Benitez would have been entitled to a severance package of around £16m but Liverpool, burdened by debt and financially impoverished, would have struggled to pay him off in full.
Benitez could have remained in his job knowing that the board did not want him there.
But a compromise was reached, paving the way for a possible move into the Internazionale job vacated by Jose Mourinho, who left for Real Madrid after winning the Champions League with the Italian giants last month.
"It is very sad for me to announce that I will no longer be manager of Liverpool FC," Benitez said in a statement.
"I would like to thank all of the staff and players for their efforts.
"I'll always keep in my heart the good times I've had here, the strong and loyal support of the fans in the tough times and the love from Liverpool.
"I have no words to thank you enough for all these years and I am very proud to say that I was your manager.
"Thank you so much once more and always remember: you'll never walk alone."
The club statement added that Liverpool managing director Christian Purslow will work with Kenny Dalglish to find a successor, but that "no timescale has been placed on the process and Liverpool FC will make no further statement until a new manager is appointed".
Aston Villa manager Martin O'Neill and Fulham boss Roy Hodgson are believed to be the front runners to take over.
Liverpool chairman Martin Broughton paid tribute to Benitez.
"Rafa will forever be part of Liverpool folklore after bringing home the Champions League following the epic final in Istanbul but after a disappointing season both parties felt a fresh start would be best for all concerned," he said.
Inter president Massimo Moratti, who said earlier in the week he rated Benitez but could nothing because the Spaniard was with Liverpool, said: "There is no news."
Benitez's departure, after a hugely successful start at Liverpool in 2004-05 when they won the Champions League, comes as little surprise after they finished seventh in the Premier League in the season just ended, their lowest position since 1999.
Liverpool finished second to Manchester United in 2008-09 by only four points and were expected to challenge strongly for the title again. But the departure of Xabi Alonso to Real Madrid for £30m a year ago and injuries that sidelined key striker Fernando Torres for more than 20 matches unbalanced the side.
They made a poor start to the season with defeats to Tottenham Hotspur and Aston Villa in their opening three games, and were effectively out of the title race by the end of October after three defeats in four games to Chelsea, Sunderland and Fulham.
Their failure to advance from the group stages of the Champions League last season and inability to even qualify for the Champions League next season left the board seeking changes.