Rafa Benitez goes, where next for Everton?

IT WAS a marriage of convenience that was doomed from the start, a former Liverpool manager taking over at Goodison Park, a red setting-up camp in the blue zone. “Get out of our club,” almost became a mantra at Everton in recent weeks and it was only a matter of time before the relationship between Rafa Benitez and the club would come to an end.

From scaling the heights at the start of 2020-21 under Carlo Ancelotti, Everton just a season later, are in a relegation battle and they may have to be thankful that there are worse teams in the Premier.

False dawns rise over Goodison every couple of seasons, but it is difficult to see how they can get out of their current mess without taking a long-term view. Everton have lost their way again and the manager’s job is looking anything but attractive in the current circumstances.

Benitez was the wrong appointment on many counts. Firstly, he represents the past rather than the future and given Everton, on and off the pitch, are lagging behind all the top clubs by a distance, they need a dynamic, transformational coach to try and shrink the gulf.

Like José Mourinho, the Benitez style has been overtaken by the Klopp-Conte-Guardiola-Tuchel school. In the early 2000s, his approach worked and he took Liverpool to that dramatic 2005 Champions League success. Since his time at Anfield, his career has increasingly been characterised by short, aborted stints with big name clubs. He was in charge for 22 games at Everton, 25 at Real Madrid and 25 at Inter Milan. His Chelsea role, as an unpopular interim appointment that actually turned out rather well, comprised 48 games. 

His professionalism has always been admired, but will he be in demand now he’s out of a job? Benitez has cited his love of the city and its people to explain his decision to take the Everton job in the first place. Liverpool fans still have a place in their hearts for him and at the Anfield game on the day he was sacked by Everton, the Kop sang his name. A nice touch. 

Everton look absolutely ragged on the field at the moment, one Premier win in 13 games and their latest setback, losing 2-1 at Norwich, underlined the predicament they find themselves in. They are still in the FA Cup and they face Brentford in the fourth round, but relegation is just not worth thinking about.

You have to question the savvy of the Everton board in hiring a former Liverpool man. But equally, are Everton still able to command top, cutting-edge coaches? It would seem not. Carlo Ancelotti suggested they still had it in them, but he didn’t hang around, lured back to Real Madrid. Increasingly, his decision is fully understandable. Bringing in Benitez, a decade ago, would have been a real coup (although still an ex-Liverpool employee), but in 2021, it seemed a little desperate on the part of the club to try and send a message it was still a “player”.

It really isn’t all down to Rafa why Everton are lurching from crisis to crisis. Their transfer market record has been abysmal in recent years, and they’ve spent a lot of money. In 2017-18, their gross spend approached £ 200 million as they tried to deliver a statement of intent. Over the past five years, they have been the fifth highest spender in the Premier with expenditure totalling £ 484 million and net spend £ 220 million. But too many of their signings, such as Davy Klaasen, Theo Walcott and Moise Kean, have been a let-down. 

And yet Everton do have some very good players, they are not in the same category as that other moribund giant, Newcastle United. When you consider they have England’s goalkeeper Jordan Pickford, Richarlison, Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Michael Keane and André Gomes, there’s no shortage of talent when it is fit and working well. 

The club also needs a new director of football after Marcel Brands left in December after three and a half years at Goodison. He looks to have initially carried the can for the current malaise, but now Benitez has followed. 

Who will they find to take over? They would be foolish to install Wayne Rooney or Frank Lampard, the former is not really proven as a coach and the ex-Chelsea midfielder would find it hard to be accepted on Merseyside. There’s talk of Roberto Martinez returning and Brighton’s Graham Potter being on the list of possibles. Duncan Ferguson, who has become Everton’s Ryan Giggs, has been mentioned as a candidate to take the now fashionable interim manager’s role.

Owner Farhad Moshiri took something of a gamble when he appointed Benitez and Everton can ill-afford to make another mistake. More importantly, they need fresh direction to ensure they don’t slip through the trapdoor.

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