Rafa’s back on Liverpool.
That’s the news that has caused both upset and intrigue this summer, as Rafael Benítez marked his Premier League return.
When Real Madrid entered into more financial turmoil, this coincided with the sudden departure of legendary player & manager, Zinedine Zidane. Once the usual array of would be managers were dismissed, the Santiago Bernabéu giants settled on a pair of safe & familiar hands to replace Zidane. Carlo Ancelotti was appointed as the returning Madrid manager (after a brief period of speculation) leaving Everton in the process. Whether or not he had a release clause for certain clubs is unclear, with the most important factor being, Carlo was gone.
When Everton saw Ancelotti leave after just one season, it brought their opening optimism (at his appointment) full circle. The installing of one of the worlds most successful ever managers was applauded as a major step forward for the toffees, especially with the owners willingness to invest. Throughout all the changes during their ownership, this departure merely added to the consistent disappointment, since David Moyes left. With a disjointed and underperforming array of well payed players, Carlo was both the personality and coach to lift the blues to within touching distance of their red neighbours, and his first season could be considered a good guess step.
Fast forward some twelve months later from Carlo’s arrival, and the search for a new manager was present once more. Often times clubs will have foresight and preparations in place for when managers choose to leave, a trait which is both common and successful within the Bundesliga. Both Bayern Munich & Borussia Dortmund saw their previous head coach depart this summer, with their replacements selected with careful consideration. The absolute opposite has occurred at Goodison Park, with Everton underprepared for a new search. A new shortlist would have been penned, and the process initiated.
The names that were banded about were either pure speculation or assumption. Nuno Espírito Santo seemed a fair bet (after his Wolves departure), but he eventually found himself in vacant Spurs hot seat. Eddie Howe’s name was mentioned, Graham Potter was admired but dismissed, and even the world class Antonio Conte was a figure in the mix. There was one name though, one recent managerial free agent that was ready for a Premier League return. His residence on Merseyside and listed achievements made the link a viable one, until his name and one of his previous posts was taken into account.
When Liverpool won the Champions League in 2005/06, it was against one of the finest assembled teams in football history. To even make the latter stages of the competition was a remarkable feat for the reds, given their lack of elite players. The game was heralded as Liverpool’s Steven Gerrard versus the brilliant AC Milan, and the final will go down in history. That season also saw Everton finish above the reds in the league, and claim an unlikely 4th spot to secure Champions League qualification. That part was overshadowed and perhaps disrespected given the reds impossible win in Istanbul.
The following years under Rafa saw the Spaniard enjoy tactical banter with Manchester United, Chelsea & of course Everton. Comments were made, on field battles ensued, and Rafa’s claim of Everton to be a small club were never forgotten. These words and his Liverpool achievements, were brought to the fore once more when it became clear he wanted the Everton job for the upcoming season. The toffees fan base was largely fuming, and at points dramatically over the top in their threats to Benítez. With a period of reflection and perhaps acceptance by the fans, Rafa was appointed and that was that. His Liverpool tenure was sneered at, his Newcastle stint accepted, but to imagine Rafa would one day become the Everton manager, was simply unthinkable. And then the unthinkable happened.
In the aftermath of the managerial signing, it’s important to note the value of the new Everton manager. His CV is very good, with exceptional achievements dotted within. His ability to galvanise limited squads is not in doubt, and when backed, proven to work wonders with proven players. At Everton, Rafa is inheriting a good starting lineup with some very good individual players. His early signings have been shrewd in attempting to add depth depth for the coming season. With Andros Townsend & Asmir Begovic arriving on free transfers, he has immediately added much needed experience. Demarai Gray signing for less than £2 million also adds a solid option in wide areas. The returning Moise Kean represents an intriguing option for the coming season, with his potential at the high end of the scale. Dominic Calvert Lewin will act as the spear within a likely 4-2-3-1 system, with Kean acting as a viable rotation option. In midfield, Allan is still operating to an elite level, and there are signs that Rafa could elevate the blues higher this year. There will surely be one or two more additions, with James Rodríguez perhaps headed for the door. On the goalkeeping and defensive front, Rafa would have seen Jordan Pickford enjoy a standout summer, with a defence of good overall quality. The team is good, with the potential to be very good. The next month will be key, and if Benítez is backed, then they could well push for a top 6 place.
The top 4 teams seem set this year, with champion’s Manchester City, Manchester United, Liverpool & Chelsea perhaps too strong not to pull away. The next group is an interesting bunch, with Leicester doing tremendous things ahead of the likes of Spurs, Arsenal, Aston Villa & Everton. With some transfer activity perhaps disruptive to the other teams within that second tier, it may well give Everton the opportunity to make a leap. A period of adjustment aside, Rafa is a very good manager who is proven in building a squad. Rafa often overachieves, and if the Everton fan base are willing to give their new manager some time and even mild support, they could be in for a very satisfying season.