“Shocking decision”. “I’m finished with them”. “They’ve betrayed the fans”.
Just some of the reactionary words of Everton fans following the appointment of former Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez as manager at Goodison Park.
Of course, football fans are overly passionate at times, the Merseyside rivalry is intense to say the least and this is the first time that anyone has managed both clubs. This appointment was always going to be controversial, and it was always going to encourage a fierce backlash from a vocal Everton fanbase.
However, if we take the heat and emotion out of the decision, the more considered opinion of many around Everton Football Club is that it is an unnecessary appointment, there were other candidates who would not bring the level of scrutiny and pressure that this one undoubtedly will.
Why would Benitez want all this pressure?
Nuno Espírito Santo, Lille’s title-winning coach Christophe Galtier and even former Toffees bosses Roberto Martinez and David Moyes had been considered by the Everton hierarchy, all would have been less controversial and accepted more freely by the fans.
Majority shareholder Farhad Moshiri, seemingly aided by advice from his long-time business associate Alisher Usmanov, thought differently.
It’s a risky strategy but football is a risky business. Time will tell if it is a shrewd move.
They clearly identified the former Champions League winner as the most experienced and best placed of all the options to manage the club towards a future which will see them build a new 52,000-seater stadium on the Liverpool waterfront.
Moshiri has ploughed vast amounts of money into the club in his five years at the helm, so it is arguable that he has the right to do what he believes is the correct thing to protect his investment.
As for Benitez, the question has been asked, why would he want all this pressure? The simple answer is that he is a football man first and foremost, he is a manager who wants to manage again following spells at Newcastle and in the Chinese Super League which both had difficult times. Throw into the mix that he is still very much based on Merseyside, and it is a job that ticks all the boxes.
He is an experienced and successful coach and out of the candidates available he boasted the most impressive CV. He knows the area, and despite his “small club” comment aimed at Everton while Liverpool manager, he clearly understands the rivalry in the city and what this appointment represents.
He is an intelligent man and will know more than most that he will need to perform from the off.
Rafa Benitez CV
Valencia: La Liga (2002, 2004), UEFA Cup (2003)
Liverpool: Champions League (2005), Super Cup (2005), FA Cup (2006), Community Shield (2006)
Inter Milan: Italian Super Cup (2010), Club World Cup (2010)
Chelsea: Europa League (2013)
Napoli: Coppa Italia (2014), Italian Super Cup (2014)
Newcastle: Championship (2017)
What made Benitez the standout candidate?
Benitez is single-minded, a strong character as well as a respected coach, and he will need all of that, and maybe a little humour to navigate his way into the affections of the Everton doubters.
But most of all, he will need results.
Out of all the candidates who could have taken the job, Benitez will be afforded the shortest honeymoon period of them all. However, Moshiri’s selections, which have mostly been welcomed by the Everton fans up until now, have not worked out for one reason or another, so who is to say this one will not surprise a few.
Everton were not expecting Carlo Ancelotti to just up and leave in the way he did. The club had to rethink and quickly.
On the wider point, Moshiri’s decision shows he is willing to take the club in the direction he wants it to go, regardless of the advice of those with much more experience in how the club works and more importantly how the fanbase think.
It is a risky strategy but football is a risky business and he has put his mouth where his money is, rather than take the easier, safer option. Time will tell if it is a shrewd move.
In truth, this appointment is not really about Rafa Benitez; his arrival is the catalyst for change. Everton as a club are changing.
Gone is the ‘People’s Club’ tag. This is a club on the move and when that happens, tough, controversial decisions are made. This is the high stakes business side of football.
The fans will come to understand that and go along with it in the hope that it brings the success they all crave.
Analysis: Benitez’s Goodison checklist
Sky Sports News reporter Vinny O’Connor:
“It’s a case of where do you start? One of the first duties he’ll have to do is sort out the future of Duncan Ferguson. We know that he was a potential candidate for the job and was one of Ancelotti’s assistants here.
“He’s very much an Evertonian through and through. It would be a big deal to keep him at the football club, and it would help with regards to the attitude of the fans towards him.
“On top of that he has to establish a working relationship with the director of football Marcel Brands. Recruitment then is ultimately key as this squad needs a major overhaul. We know that Carlo Ancelotti wanted to bring in a right-back, an attacking wide player.
“You could also argue that Everton need another attacking option through the middle, potentially another option in midfield. Certainly, they need more dynamism in the midfield and arguably reinforcements at centre-half as well.
“It’s a big job in terms of the recruitment this summer, and ultimately it’s key if Benitez is to get off to a flying start, he needs the players in place. Ultimately it is the results that will unite the fanbase.
“The best way to describe the reaction from the fanbase at the moment is divided. There are those who are willing to give Benitez a chance and will look at his track record as a manager. Notably, his success that he brought at Liverpool and the success he had at Valencia, albeit much earlier in his career.
“They know that he’s renowned as a world-class manager and so will therefore afford him an opportunity here. However, those ties with Liverpool also cause a problem for some of the fanbase.
“Not just the fact that he brought success to Liverpool, but also the fact that he referred to Everton as a ‘small club’ after a Merseyside derby. Evertonians don’t forget those kind of things.
“We’ve seen banners outside of Goodison Park voicing their discontent, and we’ve unfortunately seen a banner outside of his Wirral home which said, ‘We know where you live. Don’t sign’. That’s obviously got a sinister element to it and the police are looking into that matter.
“At the moment, the fanbase is divided and because of the attitude against, it puts added pressure on him.”