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End of season - but no end to woes of a club on its knees; Everyone needs to pull in same direction.

Byline: Dominic King

THERE was a time, not so long ago, when Liverpool supporters used to ask, then discuss, five straightforward questions.

They went along the following lines: Who are we playing? When and where is the game? Which players are injured? What are our transfer plans? It was a simple time. Occasionally results would go askew and that would lead to some frustration but, in the main, feelings of angst were always assuaged by the fact the club had firm foundations and were capable of recovery.

If only the same could be said now. Pre and post match chatter these days, particularly after Sunday's harrowing defeat against Chelsea, is consumed by one alarming quandary - why? Why has it come to this? The end of the season from hell, which will finish with Liverpool taking the road to Hull, cannot come quickly enough but when the final whistle sounds at the KC Stadium on Sunday afternoon, it will not signal the termination of all woes.

Far from it. Liverpool, as it has been noted on many occasions, is a club on its knees, lacking direction, the rudderless ship sailing into the eye of a storm; each passing day brings about a new, complex set of woes.

Take yesterday's events. After the agenda had been dominated for days of how Rafa Benitez wants to meet new chairman Martin Broughton, a story then appears claiming that Liverpool's manager had cancelled two appointments.

At a time when the club needs everyone pulling in the same direction, to arrest an alarming slide, it is impossible to escape the conclusion that, unless drastic, decisive action is taken, Liverpool are on the verge of falling to a place from where there is no escape.

Browse any Liverpool supporters' forum you wish on the internet and you will see the mood is inescapably dark. Fears are growing that the travails of the past nine months are a worrying sign of things to come.

Benitez has made it quite clear that he wants reassurances about Liverpool's financial climate and, if he is to continue as manager, that is both reasonable and understandable, given what has happened during the past two years.

Unable to escape the feeling that his main priority is to juggle the debt saddled upon it by Tom Hicks and George Gillett, many are wondering whether he has reached breaking point after becoming increasingly disillusioned over broken promises.

Examine the case of Milan Jovanovic, for starters. Despite having worked hard to convince the Serbian international to join on a Bosman transfer, the pre-contract agreement remains hitherto unsigned. Why? "I decided to sign an extension because the squad was good and the money could be there. At the end, things changed," Benitez said after Liverpool's bid to reach the Europa League final was ended by Atletico Madrid.

"We've had a bad season and hopefully things will be different in the future, but at the moment I can't talk about the future because I don't know what's going on."

Nor, it would seem, does anyone else. Though Barclays Capital have been drafted in to oversee the sale of Liverpool, Hicks and Gillett - much to the Kop's increasing chagrin - are not going to riding off into the sunset any time soon.

Broughton's arrival has posed questions over the position of Christian Purslow as managing director; his chief responsibility was to find fresh investment that would lower the level of debt and give Liverpool the scope to start work on building that fabled new home in Stanley Park.

Bar one episode with the New York-based Rhone Group in March, as yet the club is no closer to receiving the significant cash injection the squad that is so desperately needed to get Liverpool back on an even keel.

Should that not happen, riding off into the sunset could become a theme for the summer; the future for Fernando Torres, for one, is far from certain and any number of clubs would be willing to pounce if he gave an indication that he wants to move. Ditto Steven Gerrard.

Both those men are desperate to win football's major prizes wearing Liver Birds on their chest but do you honestly see Liverpool throwing down a title challenge next season to placate their frustrations of not being in the Champions League? Benitez, whose family is settled on Merseyside, wants money to strengthen his squad but critics - and there are a growing number - will ask whether he can be trusted to spend it, given that his last major acquisitions (Glen Johnson/Alberto Aquilani) have failed to pull up trees.

What's more, club officials have been unimpressed with the way he has flirted with Juventus since revealing his "pride" at the initial link with the Serie A club in January; for many reasons, there are significant tensions in the corridors of power.

Yet regardless of that, Manuel Garcia Quilon - Benitez's agent - said yesterday that his client wants to continue as Liverpool manager and it must be stressed there is no real appetite among senior figures to make that change.

So if that is the case, why are the wheels coming off - a point hammered home by the fact they have suffered 19 defeats this season - so spectacularly? Why is the club that made conducting business behind closed doors an art form now showing the world its myriad problems.

Perhaps the situation will become clearer after Benitez and Broughton eventually speak and, inevitably, there will be a full and frank exchanging of views - that meeting simply has to find a resolution to problems that have loitered for years.

If it doesn't, the simple, straightforward life that every Liverpudlian craves - you know, the one that sees them talking about a successful football team - will remain a pipedream and the questions, sadly, will only become more difficult.

CONFLICTING MESSAGES: The Rafa Benitez saga is doing little to improve stability at Liverpool

CAPTION(S):

FUTURE QUESTIONS: The situations regarding (clockwise from top left) Martin Broughton, Milan Jovanovic and the new Stanley Park Satdium are no nearer to a satisfactory conclusion for Liverpool's on and off-field concerns CONFLICTING MESSAGES: The Rafa Benitez saga is doing little to improve stability at Liverpool
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Liverpool Echo (Liverpool, England)
Date:May 5, 2010
Words:1030
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