Benitez leaves Liverpool

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LIVERPOOL, England (AP) — Rafa Benitez is out as manager of Liverpool after six years in charge, with the club saying it needed a fresh start.

The club issued a statement Thursday saying Benitez was leaving "by mutual consent."

"It is very sad for me to announce that I will no longer be manager of Liverpool FC," the 50-year-old Benitez said in the statement. "I would like to thank all of the staff and players for their efforts."

He said he would always remember the support he received from the Liverpool fans.

"I'll always keep in my heart the good times I've had here, the strong and loyal support of the fans in the tough times and the love from Liverpool. I have no words to thank you enough for all these years and I am very proud to say that I was your manager.

"Thank you so much once more and always remember: You'll never walk alone."

Liverpool chairman Martin Broughton said a poor team performance this season meant Benitez had to go.

"Rafa will forever be part of Liverpool folklore after bringing home the (2005) Champions League following the epic final in Istanbul, but after a disappointing season, both parties felt a fresh start would be best for all concerned," Broughton said.

The announcement came after the Spaniard and his agent had talks with the club on a compensation deal worth $4.4 million for him to depart immediately.

Benitez moved to Liverpool in 2004 after leading Valencia to two Spanish league titles and the UEFA Cup, and he had an amazing start at Anfield.

He led the team to a Champions League title, beating AC Milan on penalty kicks after trailing 3-0 at halftime. The club won the FA Cup the following season and was runner-up to Milan in the 2007 Champions League final.

But Benitez was unable to guide the team to Premier League title. It last won that trophy in 1990 and, in the past few seasons, Manchester United tied its record 18 championships.

After losing Jose Mourinho to Real Madrid, newly crowned Champions League winner Inter Milan is looking for a coach. With Fabio Capello announcing he is staying on as England manager until 2012, Benitez appears to be Inter's leading target.

Among the names mentioned for Liverpool were Guus Hiddink, who is due to start work as coach of Turkey's national team in August; Martin Jol of Ajax; and Fulham's Roy Hodgson, who took the modest west London club to the final of the Europa League this season.

Avram Grant ruled himself out Thursday when he agreed to a four-year deal to take over at West Ham.

American co-owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett Jr., who bought Liverpool three years ago, have put the club up for sale after a public fallout over the running of the club. Liverpool is now heavily in debt and, for the first time since the 2003-04 season, will not be playing in the Champions League.

The lack of success this season has led to speculation that star players such as Steven Gerrard, Javier Mascherano and Fernando Torres could move to other clubs.