Rafa just needs to know what his budget is

When Tom Hicks and George Gillett took over at Anfield in
the wake of the January transfer window, Liverpool fans expected an exciting
summer. Tom and George told us as much. Didn't they?

Whatever it was they told us, that's what we assumed. And it
was also what Rafa assumed. Money to be provided so that he could go out and
buy players to take us forwards those steps we need if we're going to fight for
the premiership next season.

Rafa's done quite well already with the relatively limited
funds he's had since his arrival. He's helped realise the potential in Jamie
Carragher that his predecessor Gerard Houllier seemed unable to spot, and found
a partner for him who is the envy of most other clubs in Daniel Agger. He found
us one of the best goalkeepers in Europe. He's improved Steve Finnan to a point
where he became many people's player of the season last time round. In central
midfield he has managed to get the best out of Steven Gerrard – even if that
means playing him somewhere other than central midfield at times – and has
added perhaps £40m worth of talent to join him in Mascherano, Alonso and
Sissoko. This summer was meant to see at the very least the arrival of a
clinical finisher and a left-winger to provide the chances for that clinical
finisher.

But it seems now that this isn't going to happen after all.
Samuel Eto'o and Carlos Tevez seem to be way out of Rafa's real price range. Or
at least he has to assume they are, because he's not getting any indication
from the new owners exactly how much he has to spend. After believing he'd not
have to sell before he could buy, it now seems he's going to have to after all.

His hands are tied; he can't make bids with money he's not
got.

The Liverpool Echo's Chris Bascombe reported yesterday on
how Rafa felt he was going to have to handle transfers this summer. Tevez and
Eto'o would probably cost in the region of £30m to buy if figures bandied about
in the press are to be believed. According to Bascombe, Rafa has now had to get
his scouts to look at alternative targets, admittedly still costing fees that
would break the club's record, but not the choices Rafa was lead to believe he
could buy.

Alarmingly for many Liverpool fans one of those second-choice
names is the former Manchester United striker Diego Forlan. Also mentioned was Real
Zaragoza's 27-year-old Argentinean forward Diego Milito.

The report claims Forlan has an exit clause of €24m from his
Villareal contract and also that Rafa was hoping to make £15m by selling Craig
Bellamy and Harry Kewell.

Bascombe has no reason to lie, and what he's reporting is
what he's been told by Rafa. Or what he's agreed with Rafa that he'll report, off-the-record conversation excluded. As well as raising £15m from selling those players,
Rafa knows the club have got more money this summer from TV money, as well as
doing well financially out of their Champions League run. But the owners just
will not tell him exactly what his budget is. They say he'll be supported, but
Rafa wants to see figures, not words.

Perhaps Rafa was hoping Bascombe's report would shock the owners
into finally letting him know the figure he's working with, and if so it's
certainly got a lot of attention from the national media, who will add more
spin to it. Rafa's not yet been given permission to make a bid for Roma's
winger Allessandro Mancini, although his work to sign Lyon's Florent Malouda is
said to be still ongoing.

What he won't do – according to Bascombe – is waste any time
chasing players he feels he is not going to be given the funds to buy, namely
Eto'o. Of course that means other clubs will move ahead of the Reds in the
queue and if the money does eventually come, it may be too late.

What seems to be most frustrating for Rafa is that the new
owners are unwilling to just come clean, to just admit to the manager they rate
so highly exactly what he can spend, exactly which of his lists of targets he
should be pursuing. One of those lists almost certainly includes Michael Owen's
name, available for a reported £9m due to his contract's minimum fee release clause.

A few weeks back Rafa also confided in Bascombe his fears that
the contract talks for existing players were taking too long. That seemed to
work, with Steven Gerrard, Jamie Carragher, Pepe Reina, and Xabi Alonso all
signing their new deals last week and Momo Sissoko and Steve Finnan set to
follow suit this week.

As well as ensuring he doesn't lose those key players, Rafa
has already signed Brazilian midfielder Lucas Leiva and Argentine youngster
Sebastian Leto, along with Hungarian teenagers Krisztian Nemeth and Andras
Simon. In addition Ukrainian striker Andriy Voronin will arrive on a free
transfer.

But what Liverpool fans want to see is proof – and soon –
that the new owners really do intend to put their money where their mouth is.
We want to win number nineteen, and we want Rafa to be able to buy the players
he feels can bring us that most important target.