Early Doors

Kiss off, Rafa

Early Doors

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Try as you might, it's impossible to make a group of footballers boarding a plane exciting, no matter where they are going.

You can jazz up your live coverage all you want with information on what food they will be served on the flight, how much leg room Peter Crouch will have or whether Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard are able to sit together in the middle of the plane, but as television goes it's just dull.

Thank goodness, then, for the airwaves being filled with talk of Rafael Benitez being on his way out of Liverpool. The board have met and are preparing to offer him the chance to leave with a £3 million pay-off that is in no way the same as being sacked.

You see, if the club sack him, then he is in line for £16m, as stipulated in the new contract he signed in March last year.

They are effectively asking Benitez to leave and give them £13m as a parting gift which, even by the standards of the Hicks and Gillett regime, is pretty shambolic. The offer amounts to them admitting that they want him gone but they can't afford to honour his contract, and are hoping he doesn't see out the next four years sat cross-legged in the Anfield technical area.

Of course, you can be sure that if Internazionale had approached the club in order to poach Benitez two days ago, that a financially-stricken Liverpool would have tried to squeeze every last penny of compensation out of the European champions.

Inter president Massimo Moratti must be rubbing his hands with glee at the thought that, after pocketing a record amount of cash for seeing his manager move to Real Madrid, another coach with a big reputation on the continent could land on his lap for virtually nothing.

All Benitez's agent Manuel Garcia Quilon said last night was: "We don't know anything more than what's being said. We're not saying anything."

However, it seems certain now that he will be gone by the end of the week. Well, he'll come back and then go, as he was on holiday when the decision was made by his employers. Which was nice.

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Of course, Rafa is not the only Spaniard who could be on the move.

Barcelona finally made their interest in Arsenal captain Cesc Fabregas official with a £29m offer, prompting a strongly-worded statement from the club.

"To be clear," it concluded, "we will not make any kind of counterproposal or enter into any discussion. Barcelona have publicly stated that they will respect our position and we expect that they will keep their word."

All very emphatic, it would seem. But if they really were so outraged, why didn't they report Barca's informal approach of the player? There must have been some sort of contact, otherwise why would the player have gone on to tell his manager he wanted to move?

When United came knocking on Tottenham's door for Dimitar Berbatov two years ago, Arsenal's North London rivals were similarly strong in their refusal to talk. They even threatened to take action against them, until a £30.75m offer (which was a British record for about 10 minutes before Robinho popped up across town) seemed to make Spurs go rather quiet.

There is nothing to stop Barcelona making any more official bids for Fabregas, and you can be sure that the next one will be for a lot more than the first. The original bid was for around the same figure as Man City are prepared to pay for James Milner, surely the biggest pricing iniquity since Thierry Henry joined Barca and Darren Bent arrived at Spurs for the same fee three years ago.

It will be interesting to see how Arsenal fare in what is the latest test case in the power struggle between English and Spanish football. Arsenal, thanks entirely to their manager, have become media darlings thanks to their joyful and (sometimes) effective way of playing the game, and Fabregas is the club's youthful jewel in the crown who many like to claim as a true product of the Premier League.

Barca's image, however, has taken a bit of a bashing in recent times. Whether it is Sergio Busquets's diving and writhing on the field or the club's strong-arm approach to television rights negotiations off it, this saga could herald the rare sight of the Blaugrana being cast as the villains of the piece.  

But if this business continues to drag on for the whole summer, Early Doors will end up hating everyone involved.

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CASH OF THE DAY: The USA will get their hands on a bumper £13.8 million ($20m) prize fund if they win the World Cup, the most expensive incentive in the tournament's history. Each member of the 23-man squad will scoop £617,332 if they lift the trophy.

FOREIGN VIEW: Japan and Ivory Coast will play three 45-minute halves in their friendly match, in order to give their entire squads a decent run out before the World Cup starts. They were originally going to play until the streetlights came on, but several players' mums protested that their dinners would get cold.

COMING UP: Three top nations are in World Cup warm-up action later today. Follow live text commentary of Spain v South Korea (17:00), Italy v Mexico (18:15) and Germany v Bosnia-Herzegovina (19:30) right here.

Naturally, there is also commentary of the latest day's play at Roland Garros as the business end of the French Open approaches. You can also watch the action live from 12:30 on British Eurosport (Sky 410 / Virgin 521) & on the Eurosport Player. 

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