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Monday, January 7, 2008
Liverpool close in record deal for defender

Liverpool are on the brink of breaking their transfer record for a defender while insisting that boss Rafael Benitez's job is not up for discussion when chief executive Rick Parry holds talks with the club's American owners later this week.

Benitez is about to spend 6.5million on Zenit St Petersburg centre-back Martin Skrtel, the Slovakia international.

The player was due to have a medical today having arrived on Merseyside on Sunday evening, hours after Liverpool had been embarrassingly held 1-1 at Luton in the FA Cup third round.

The replay will now be at Anfield next Tuesday, with the added incentive of a potential home fourth round tie against non-league Havant and Waterlooville or Swansea, who must also replay next week after a 1-1 draw in South Wales at the weekend.

Chief executive Parry was in Russia at the weekend concluding negotiations for Skrtel, and returned to pour cold water on claims that he was flying to the US later in the week for talks with owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett over Benitez's future.

Liverpool's tie at Kenilworth Road was overshadowed by media speculation that Benitez would be sacked at the end of the season.

Hicks and Gillett have already announced that they would be making a decision this week on the design of the revised new stadium plans.

But Parry pointed out today in the Liverpool Echo: 'The appointment is a diary engagement to discuss the new stadium plans, it has been in the diary for a long time to discuss the stadium.'

Skrtel, who was last in Liverpool in early December to play for Zenit against Everton in the UEFA Cup, is rated as one of the most promising young defenders in Europe.

The deal will mark the end of Benitez's search for a new centre-half that began with the unsuccessful pursuit of Gabriel Heinze and which became increasingly urgent in recent weeks following injuries to both Daniel Agger and Sami Hyypia.

Skrtel, 23, has 15 caps and joined Zenit in 2004 and has gone on to make more than 100 appearances in the Russian league.

Benitez's defensive problems started when Agger damaged a metatarsal in September, and he has still not returned to action.

Hyypia made his comeback at Luton from an ankle injury sustained at Derby on Boxing Day, but he looked rusty and short of pace.

Benitez has had to use Alvaro Arbeloa in central defence, but a calf injury ruled the Spaniard out at Luton, and 19 year-old Jack Hobbs was on the bench as the only other option.

Benitez will be keen to see the deal for 6ft 4in tall Skrtel tied up as quick as possible so he can be added to the Liverpool squad, possibly even in time for the trip to Middlesbrough on Saturday.




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