Rafael Benitez gets the Goodison boot after just half a season
Everton have parted ways with yet another coach, firing Rafael Benitez at the midway point of the Premier League program. The Spaniard, a European Champion with old enemies Liverpool in 2005, only took charge in July, to general grumbles from the Toffees’ fanbase. Many Evertonians, perhaps pettily, could not forgive him his Anfield successes, nor his careless remark in 2007 that Everton was a “small club.” He even faced thinly-veiled threats from Everton fans when he joined.
It must be conceded that Everton have looked as bad this season as they have at any time since the early-1990s. With a dismal five wins and nineteen points from half their Premier League fixture program, Everton are hovering increasingly near the relegation line. They came close to an embarrassing knock-out in the third round of the FA Cup against Hull City, having already plummetted out of the League Cup at the hands of lower league Queen’s Park Rangers (albeit on penalties) back in September.
Benitez, often cold and ruthless, also had problems seeing eye-to-eye with his players, especially left-back Lucas Digne, who was arguably the best performer in the Everton squad. This led to Digne’s surprise January move to Aston Villa, to join Benitez’s one-time club captain Steven Gerrard.
Benitez had little luck
It must be said in the other direction though, that this move by owner Farhad Moshiri does seem rash, and seems more an attempt to service fan hostility to Benitez than a real attempt to resolve the team’s problems. For certain, Benitez had an almost luckless time at Goodison. No sooner had he arrived than Everton were slapped with a severe transfer restriction. The club registered losses of over £250 million over the previous three years, all of which were in the red. This violated Premier League Financial rules, and had nothing to do with Benitez.
In fact, Benitez did very well under tight restrictions to secure five new players. Demarai Gray, Andros Townsend, Salomon Rondon, Asmir Begovic and Andy Lonergan all signed for a combined £1.5 million. But these were not the players he really wanted to recruit.
Benitez also had the misfortune of seeing his young star centre-forward, Dominic Calvert-Lewin, unavailable for most of the first half-season due to injury. Injuries also limited playing time for other key players like Richarlison and Yerry Mina.
No space and no time
In short, it is hard to argue that Benitez really got a chance to fashion a team of his own choosing. He had to cope with the handicaps passed on to him by previous managers who had paid too much for players offering too little. This gave him little ‘shoulder-space,’ and it is difficult to picture anyone else in the same position doing any better.
The decision, to repeat, appears to be purely about placating a fanbase who have been at boiling point for the last six weeks. The home thrashing by Liverpool in December left Everton supporters in a permanently foul mood, salt rubbed vigorously into open wounds by visiting fans chanting about “Agent Rafa.” But also dismal defeats by Watford, and on Saturday at Norwich City, have led to a full-on revolt. At Carrow Road, one Everton fan attempted to invade the pitch to confront Benitez directly, while others unfurled a banner instructing him to leave. The temptation to go may have been strong for Benitez, just knowing he faced so much hostility from people who would not give him a chance to make his formula work.
Maybe it is better if Benitez leaves. “Rafa Benitez, Everton manager,” never looked or sounded right. But Evertonian animosity towards Benitez does seem to exceed his ‘crime,’ and now leaves the club searching for a seventh different manager in eight and a half years. And surely that is the real problem at Everton?
Firing yet another manager only enhances the real problem. Everton have not found a coach who can last more than two seasons in the role since David Moyes left in 2013. The job of Everton manager is becoming what the Manchester City job used to be in the 1980s and 1990s; the then-Chairman, Peter Swayles, would constantly bring in a new manager, then fire him as soon as things turned ugly. Expectation exceeded the club’s then-pedigree, and is doing so now at Everton. Moshri must stop being so triggerhappy, and stop blindly hurling excessive money at players who are not good enough, as though the more he spends on a player, the better that player will automatically become.
Wayne Rooney, currently doing a good job managing Derby County, is now being linked heavily with the job. But now may not be the right time for him. At Derby, he helped loosen up a club a bit stuck in its ways. The opposite problem prevails at Everton. Whether a man with a notoriously hot head like Rooney can bring stability to a club that is already too much run by snap decisions is the big question mark.
A sad ending for Benitez
But what a shame it ends like this for Benitez. A coach with a very respectable history on Merseyside, where he won a European Champions League and an FA Cup, got to a second Champions League Final, a League Cup Final, and was a runner-up in the Premier League. He is still regarded with affection by most of the red half of the city. But half a year with Everton and his legacy is spoilt.
Perhaps that sums up the current mess that is Everton Football Club most succinctly.
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