Struggles Both off and on Field Signal Era of Change; Liverpool's Jamie Carragher, Xabi Alonso, Steven Gerrard and Sami Hyypia Stand Dejected after Losing at Stamford Bridge
Byline: IAN D OYLE
IT was a quip that encapsulated the feeling of every Liverpool supporter licking their wounds after the dramatic Champions League semi-final on Wednesday.
"For me the competition finished tonight," said Javier Mascherano. "To me it isn't important whether it is Manchester United or Chelsea who wins. I will not even watch the final - it would just be too painful for me."
The Argentina midfielder won't be alone, although the prospect of losing to United in the final was so unbearable for some Anfield followers that Wednesday's defeat was a perverse blessing in disguise when considering the bigger picture.
Certainly, the Russian authorities and UEFA will have breathed a sigh of relief that the bitter rivalry between the North West giants won't be transported en masse to Moscow.
Perennial Anfield critic William Gaillard's contention yesterday that there are no worries over potential crowd trouble because the European governing body have "never had any problems with either of those clubs' fans" goes against commonsense.
But that, as Mascherano so succinctly stated, is no longer Liverpool's concern.
With another crack at the Champions League next season assured by a fourth-placed finish, the focus at Anfield will now centre on rebuilding on the pitch and a resolution to the problems off it.
Failure to reach Moscow is unlikely to have a significant effect on either Liverpool's finances or their brand image, with business magazine Forbes having this week declared the club the fourth most valuable in the world.
Instead, it's the ongoing struggle for power in the boardroom that will have the most impact over the coming months.
C o-owner Tom Hicks visited the away dressing room after Wednesday's 3-2 defeat to offer encouragement, with Rafael Benitez revealing they had "more positive talks about the future."
Estranged owner George Gillett, however, was absent from Stamford Bridge, as were Dubai International Capital's representatives who declined invitations to sit in the Chelsea directors' box "so as they wouldn't be a distraction at such an important game".
For all the talk, rumour and revelation, ostensibly little has changed behind the scenes throughout a traumatic season for Liverpool.
That status quo is unlikely to last much longer with Gillett still expected to sell his 50% stake to DIC with the period in which Hicks can veto the sale of his partner's share believed to expire later this month.
And something has to give for Benitez to remain at Anfield for the new campaign, the Spaniard having grown tired of boardroom uncertainty that is hampering his future plans.
In the meantime, Benitez will attempt to carry on with his squad strengthening as he admits improvements must be made over the summer for Liverpool to compete for the major honours.
For that to be realised, the club's board must stop the squabbling and back their manager with heavyweight funding as last summer. Even so, Benitez knows he must generate some of his own funds.
It could therefore be a busy transfer window. John Arne Riise, Peter Crouch, Steve Finnan, Harry Kewell, Scott Carson and Charles Itandje are likely to find themselves surplus to requirements, while question marks hang over Andriy Voronin and Jermaine Pennant. …