It would’ve been improbable to contemplate two decades ago, but Rafa Benitez is the manager of Everton.
The celebrated former Liverpool boss, 61, has long kept a home on Merseyside despite post-Anfield stops at Real Madrid, Napoli, Newcastle United, Chelsea, Inter Milan, and most recently Dalian Professional in the Chinese Super League.
Everton’s announcement of the hire, to no surprise, mentions none of those clubs, merely the accolades, having won European Cup, La Liga, UEFA Cup, Coppa Italia, Football League Championship.
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“We are appointing Rafa because we believe he will bring success to our Club and to Evertonians. To put it simply – we need to be competing at the top-end of the league and to be winning trophies. Rafa is a proven winner with huge experience in coaching internationally and we have secured the best man to achieve that for us.”
Duncan Ferguson and Alan Kelly will stay on Everton’s staff, the latter showing that at least one club hero is on board with the hire of a former Merseyside derby rival.
Benitez says he believes in the ambition of Everton’s leadership. The Toffees hired Carlo Ancelotti before him and have splashed cash on players like Richarlison, James Rodriguez, Allan, and Abdoulaye Doucoure.
🔘 Instilling a winning mentality at Everton
🔘 Why he wanted the job
🔘 Previous comments
🔘 Fulfilling ambitions
🔘 Relationship with Marcel Brands
Rafael Benitez addresses a range of points in his first interview as manager…
— Everton (@Everton) June 30, 2021
“I believe this is a club that is going places,” Benitez said. “I’m determined to play a big part in helping this great club achieve its ambitions.”
And he’s not worried about the fans.
“I have been in Madrid. I have been in Napoli. I have been in Valencia. I still live in Liverpool,” he said. “Every single club that I was there, it was fighting for them. What you are expecting from your manager is you fight for your club. I will try to win every single game. It does not matter the opponent. Why a lot of fans in these cities love me is because I give my all for them.”
Everton has not finished higher than seventh in the seven seasons since David Moyes left Goodison Park and hasn’t finished top four since Benitez was leading Liverpool.
Benitez is 8W-5D-3L all-time in Merseyside derbies, all with Liverpool, but has not beaten his old club in six matches since knocking the Reds out of the 2002-03 Champions League while with Valencia.
He has one win and two draws in seven career matches against Jurgen Klopp, though five were with Newcastle. Benitez and Klopp split a UCL group stage when Napoli and Borussia Dortmund met in the 2013-14.
Will there be vitriol from Liverpool supporters? Yes, though it’s been a while. How about hesitancy from Everton fans? Maybe on style — what will he do with Richarlison, a player Ancelotti encouraged to score 30 goals? — but not substance.
This should be fun.