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Benitez exits Anfield

LIVERPOOL, June 3- Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez has left Anfield by mutual consent, the Premier League club confirmed on Thursday.The 50-year-old’s position had been in doubt since it emerged on Wednesday that talks over his future with Reds chairman Martin Broughton and managing director Christian Purslow had broken down.

His departure had looked inevitable after reports emerged that he had fallen out with the Anfield hierarchy over the lack of funds available to him to rebuild a squad which finished seventh in the Premier League last season and failed to get past the group stage of the Champions League.

Benitez had suggested he would require in excess of 50 million pounds (73.4 million dollars) to put the club back in contention for the Champions League places and even more to contend for the Premier League title.

But he was reportedly told that only 15 million pounds would be available for signings because Liverpool had failed to qualify for the lucrative Champions League.

Liverpool have agreed a settlement with him over the remainder of his four-year contract, which was said to include a 16 million pounds (23.5 million dollars) severance clause.

It is believed Benitez has accepted an offer of around six million pounds (8.7 million dollars) to stop any further wrangling over his pay-off.

Benitez, who had been in charge of Liverpool since 2004 and guided them to Champions League glory in 2005, admitted he was disappointed to be leaving.

"It is very sad for me to announce that I will no longer be manager of Liverpool FC. I would like to thank all of the staff and players for their efforts," he told the club’s website.

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"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."

It has also been suggested that Benitez had lost the support of key players after Fernando Torres, Steven Gerrard and Javier Mascherano were all strongly linked with moves away from Merseyside.

With Inter Milan keen on luring Benitez to the San Siro to take over after Jose Mourinho’s switch to Real Madrid, the Liverpool boss has no reason to stay where he is not wanted.

Benitez joined Liverpool in 2004 after a successful spell with Valencia and led the club to a famous Champions League final victory over AC Milan in Istanbul in 2005.

But although he won the FA Cup a year later and returned to the Champions League final in 2007, where the Reds were beaten by AC Milan, it is Benitez’s failure to end Liverpool’s 20-year wait for the league title that started to rankle with fans who had previously been steadfast in their support for him.

He was unable to build on a second-placed finish in 2008-09 and Liverpool ended last season 23 points behind champions Chelsea.

Broughton gave thanks to Benitez for his achievements in Europe but crucially made it clear that his failure to mount a strong challenge for the Premier League title had played a major role in his depature.

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He said: "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."

Club Ambassador Kenny Dalglish, a former Liverpool player and manager, will assist Broughton in the search for a successor to Benitez.

Roy Hodgson, who led unfashionable Fulham to the UEFA Cup final, Aston Villa boss Martin O’Neill and Turkey coach Guus Hiddink are among the leading contenders to take over at Anfield.

With Liverpool’s American owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett looking to sell up, it is possible a cheap, short-term appointment could be made while the search for a new owner continues.

If that was the case, Dalglish himself, who won three league titles as Reds boss – including their last in 1990, could be a contender for the job.

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