David Sullivan has revealed that Rafael Benítez had agreed a deal to become West Ham United’s manager in the summer before Real Madrid stepped in at the 11th hour.
West Ham’s co-chairman said he approached several high-profile managers as a replacement for Sam Allardyce before capturing Slaven Bilic, but Benítez was the closest to joining.
“We were two hours from getting Benítez and then Real came in. We had agreed a contract and everything,” Sullivan said.
“He is a top manager whatever anybody says and I think he’d have done a wonderful job for us. We tried [Jürgen] Klopp as well but he wouldn’t come because he said he wanted a break. But I’m glad with the manager we have got.”
West Ham United will make Manuel Lanzini’s season-long loan from Al Jazira Club in the United Arab Emirates a permanent deal two months earlier than planned, said Sullivan. The Argentinian midfielder, who is currently sidelined with a thigh injury, has scored four times in his 12 Premier League appearances for West Ham this season.
“The contract we have is 100% watertight. We have until April to make it permanent but we’ll probably do it before the due date,” said Sullivan. “He is a fantastic player and a fantastic man. By February or March, he will be a permanent West Ham player.
“He could be a top, top, top player. He’s already sensational and he could be as good as any player in the world.”
Sullivan also heaped praise on the injured Dimitri Payet, who has gained many admirers for some eye-catching performances for West Ham, having been directly involved in nine goals in his 12 league appearances.
“Payet is the signing of the season. He’s the best player I’ve signed in 25 years. He’s a £30m player,” Sullivan said of the 28-year-old signed for an undisclosed eight-figure fee from Marseille.
“He’s a supreme footballer. He makes every player in our side play better. On his day, he’s world class, he’s unstoppable.”