Former Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola.

Liverpool’s search for a new manager took an unlikely and spectacular twist on Thursday night after it emerged they had approached at least four high-profile names, including former Barcelona boss Pep Guardiola.

Anfield officials have cast the net wide in their search to replace Kenny Dalglish by sounding out Guardiola and former England manager Fabio Capello. They have also made formal moves to speak to Roberto Martinez and Brendan Rodgers – in charge of Wigan and Swansea respectively. Wigan chairman Dave Whelan confirmed that he had given permission for Martinez, the bookmakers’ favourite to replace Dalglish, to speak to Liverpool’s American owners Fenway Sports Group.

Aston Villa have also approached Martinez about their managerial vacancy and held talks on Thursday. Daily Mail understands the discussions were positive, to the point that Martinez is giving serious consideration to succeeding Alex McLeish rather than leaping into the highly scrutinised role at Anfield.

Martinez will meet Liverpool officials on Friday.

Liverpool have made it clear that Rodgers and Martinez are not the only candidates on their list and they will not rush any decision. The owners are eager to gather as much information as possible before they fill the post and John W Henry will leave no stone unturned in his bid to find the best man for the job. Guardiola is available after deciding to take a year away from football after a remarkably successful spell at Barcelona.

Didier Deschamps, the Marseille manager who almost succeeded Rafa Benitez in 2010, remains highly regarded at Anfield, while Borussia Dortmund’s Jurgen Klopp and Holland boss Bert van Marwijk also have their admirers. Andre Villas-Boas would have been a contender but the former Chelsea manager appears set to take charge at Roma.

The sense of farce at Anfield deepened on Thursday as the American owners managed to score another PR own goal over Luis Suarez.

Days after sacking their long-serving director of communications Ian Cotton – clearly a casualty of the Suarez debacle – the American journalist Jen Chang, who has worked for Sports Illustrated and ESPN, was appointed in the role.

But, on his Twitter account on December 20, Chang responded to the news of Suarez’s eight-match ban by stating that Patrice Evra, the victim of the racist abuse, should have been charged by the FA, too.

Chang wrote: “Suarez decision aside, why is Patrice Evra not getting charged by FA? Evra admits in evidence he used insulting language towards Suarez.”

Whichever manager takes over from Dalglish, the task facing them will be enormous, and managing director Ian Ayre has admitted the club have to make the biggest decision in their modern history.

Ayre expanded on the reasons for ending Dalglish’s 16-month reign and revealed that not even a win in the FA Cup final earlier this month against Chelsea – to add to the Carling Cup success in February – would have been sufficient to save his job.

He said: “It was a simple decision based on results and if we believed they were going to change. We were 37 points off the winners (Manchester City), 17 points off fourth (place) and had 14 losses. It was never about an individual result – and rightly so. It was always about taking a review of the season in full.”

Liverpool are seeking their fourth manager in less than two years and Ayre said: “It’s absolutely critical we get it right and we move forward. It’s where the club have to be. It’s where everyone wants it to be.

“When John (W Henry) and Tom (Werner) arrived, they said they wanted to win. You can only live on history of success for a certain amount of time. I am under no illusion that we can find a top-class manager to come to this club.”

Liverpool’s continued absence from the Champions League, coupled with their failure to challenge at the top of the Barclays Premier League, has led to a dip in their global appeal. A survey revealed they are only the fourth most popular English club in the important market of South East Asia, and Ayre said: “Nobody is looking for average, mediocre progress. We are looking for progress that will get the club back where we need to be.”

Assistant boss Steve Clarke offered his resignation out of loyalty to Dalglish but it has not been accepted by the club.

Several players, including Suarez, Lucas Leiva and Jamie Carragher, expressed their sorrow that Dalglish had left, but the most poignant tribute came from Steven Gerrard.

The Liverpool skipper, who has just been appointed England captain, said: “The last 24 hours have been a rollercoaster. Kenny is my idol and always will be.” – Daily Mail