While the whole fanbase isn’t exactly 100% behind the move,* Everton made a good move by signing former Liverpool skipper Rafa Benitez as their new manager. Following several days of rumors about the hire, the Premier League club confirmed the news on Wednesday, signing the 61-year-old to a three-year deal.
If the biggest knock is that the new coach used to work for your biggest rival, your team has probably made a solid hire. First of all, Benitez is a proven commodity who has had a ton of success as a manager – even if he’s clearly not an up-and-comer. And he is joining Everton during a summer when other coaching searches across the continent have resulted in much bigger clubs settling for less proven (or recently successful) managers.
A tough time to hire a coach
Given everything we’ve seen the last several seasons, would you prefer Jose Mourinho? (AS Roma). Didn’t think so.
How about Inter Milan, which lost Antonio Conte and replaced him with ex-Lazio boss Simone Inzaghi?
Juventus landed a proven winner in Massimiliano Allegri. The only issue? They decided they were better off with someone else as recently as
five minutes ago two years ago.
And we’re not even gonna get into Tottenham’s nightmare coaching search, at least not in depth. They’re not going to end up with Jurgen Klinsmann, are they??
But it’s worth pointing out that, barring a shocking last-minute twist, the ninth-richest club in the world (per the latest Deloitte Money League) can’t land any of the first 10 (I’m only kinda exaggerating) managers on its list. That means Everton fans, whose club’s ’19-20 revenue of €212M pales in comparison to Spurs’ €446M, ought to be just fine, at the very least with Rafa.
*We’ll (briefly) unpack the backlash from some Everton fans later in the piece.
What are Rafa Benitez’s credentials?
As you might have heard, the highlights of the Spaniard’s managerial career came during his time at Anfield. He won a Champions League title (’05), an FA Cup and a UEFA Super Cup with Liverpool over a decade ago.
But he also won La Liga twice (’01-02 and ’03-04) while managing Valencia from ’01-04 and had success at Inter Milan (where he won the FIFA Club World Cup), Napoli (Coppa Italia) and Chelsea (Europa League).
The Champions League trophy he raised with Liverpool happened when Everton’s current players were kids, and some of the team’s youngest players might not even have been alive when Benitez won La Liga with Valencia. So I understand the skepticism about what Benitez brings to the table at this point.
It becomes even more understandable given his most recent work. Since ’15, Benitez has had a short-lived stint at Real Madrid in ’15-16 – he only lasted seven months before Los Blancos sacked him and turned to Zinedine Zidane — followed by stops at Newcastle (’16-19) and the Chinese Super League with Dalian Professional the last couple seasons.
Still, the guy has shown he can win, even if his best moments are well behind him … or ancient history, depending on how you feel about the early 2000s.
Can he overcome the opposition from fans?
The questions about why their club turned to a manager in his 60s are one thing working against Benitez.
The real problem is the Everton fans who won’t ever forgive him for coaching Liverpool for six years. And not only did he coach their hated rivals, he *newsflash* made the unforgettable transgression of calling Everton a small club in ’07. Despite his best efforts to explain himself, he’ll need a lot of wins to make people forget he said that.
The problem is that this hire is more than just a subject of some angry message board posts – one “fan” was so upset with this that he threatened Benitez and his family, which is scary. I’m confident Benitez will be protected from that psycho, who surely doesn’t represent Everton fans. Still, that’s a concerning, over-the-top move, even by the
passionate batshit standards of English soccer fans.
What should we expect?
Everton faces a litany of obstacles as it competes with the likes of the EPL’s much wealthier Big Six. But Benitez’s track record gives me faith that he can lead a team that finished the past two seasons in 12th place (’19-20) and 10th place (’20-21) to contention for the Europa League, if not more, if he gets support (on the transfer market) and patience from wealthy owner Farhad Moshiri. The good news? If Everton’s plans for its new stadium at Bramley-Moore are any indication, Moshiri is deep-pocketed and, more importantly, willing to spend big.
The other thing I feel confident predicting is that however this plays out, it will keep neutrals entertained. And yes, that might be the reason I’m higher on this move than a lot of pundits.