Rafael Benitez’s appointment as manager of Everton is one of the most controversial coaching recruitments in Premier League history. The former Liverpool boss landed the job after extensive negotiations, which took place against a backdrop of fan discontent.
We can confirm Rafael Benitez has been appointed as our new manager.
— Everton (@Everton) June 30, 2021
A Unique Rivalry
The ill-feeling between Everton and Liverpool often surprises people from outside of the city. After all, fans of both clubs work together on a daily basis, Reds and Blues family members coexist without too much fuss. Yet, there remains a divide when it comes to footballing matters and there are certain lines that shouldn’t be crossed.
When Carlo Ancelotti left, very few people betting on football markets were backing Benitez to take over. In fact, former Wolves boss Nuno Espirito Santo was the overwhelming favourite to land the role with betting even suspended at one point.
Liverpool fans will tell you that their rivals have become bitter as a result of watching the Reds lift numerous pieces of silverware over the years – and they might have a point. Since Everton lifted the FA Cup in 2005, the Anfield club has won 15 trophies including one Premier League and two Champions Leagues. Meanwhile, Everton fans will tell you they are born, not manufactured, and that Liverpool are a fake club with no integrity whose mythical status is overstated by a bias media.
Much of this chat can be put down as harmless banter, but there is some genuine animosity below the surface. Former Everton boss Ronald Koeman found out the hard way when he posted a picture of his Christmas tree on social media. The presence of red baubles sparked fury amongst some Everton fans – so much so, that Koeman felt inclined to redecorate the tree and post another snap.
Almost #christmastime #busyfootball#period⚽️🔵⚪️ pic.twitter.com/lppRjY4LfX
— Ronald Koeman (@RonaldKoeman) December 1, 2016
The very thought of hiring an ex-Liverpool manager is a nightmare for most blues; especially one who once referred to them as a small club. On this occasion, however, the Everton board chose to ignore fan opinion and appoint Benitez.
Has Benitez Still Got What It Takes?
Liverpool connections aside, there are genuine concerns as to whether Benitez can still cut it at a top club. Some point to his recent time in China, which looks uninspiring on paper. However, he joined Dalian Pro at the start of a rebuilding project and helped oversee the construction of a £230 million training ground. He took over halfway through a season and quit due to family reasons. With strong foundations in place, Benitez remained on good terms with the club, working in an advisory capacity. Prior to that, he was widely adored at Newcastle United.
Benitez is used to working in difficult situations: he had issues with unpopular owners at Liverpool and Newcastle, was unwanted by the fans at Chelsea, and was sacked at Inter after challenging the owners over transfer funds.
At Real Madrid, he only lost three games but clashes with key players prompted supporter unrest and cost him his job. Despite all of this, Benitez has a CV that most coaches would envy including two league titles, one Champions League, one UEFA Cup, one UEFA Super Cup, one FIFA Club World Cup, and four domestic trophies. They don’t come much more thick-skinned than Rafa Benitez and if anyone can take on this role and succeed, it’s him.
But the biggest positive for Everton is Benitez’s connection with the city. He and his wife are heavily involved in charity work in the region and have strong friendships with staff and fans at both clubs. He may have started life on the red side of the divide but Benitez is an adopted Scouser through and through.