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EDITORIAL: Everton’s Benitez appointment - a time for club unity

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The Board have made their move, but as fans we have our own decision to make

Soccer - Barclays Premier League - West Bromwich Albion v Everton - The Hawthorns Photo by David Davies/PA Images via Getty Images

Nil satis nisi optimum.

Nothing but the best is good enough.

The words loom large wherever you see the Everton crest. While performances on and off the pitch in recent years have made a mockery of that, the spirit of the slogan is what drives us as Evertonians. This is why when we see half-hearted efforts from players we idolize we are irate, and also why when the club makes decisions we deem questionable to living up to that motto we protest.

The appointment of Rafa Benitez as the next Everton manager is one of those decisions. It doesn’t carry the unadulterated ambition of when we brought in no less than Carlo Ancelotti, and it also bears the oppressive weight of making an association with the enemy across Stanley Park. His record over the last few years doesn’t declare automatic success either, which is worrying considering how poorly Everton has done in recent seasons.

Many of Everton’s fans have spoken about their distaste for the choice the Board have made. Some have gone too far and made threats against Benitez. We would like to believe that we are all reacting the way we are because we want the best, and nothing but the best is good enough. Collectively as fans we are emotionally and most certainly financially invested in this club. As such, we have some say in how this club should be run. At the end of the day however, the club could choose to completely ignore those opinions and go with what the Board thinks is right. That could result in alienating certain sections of the supporters, and that is a decision it seems the club’s leadership are comfortable with making.

So with that known, let’s take a look at some of the factors in giving Benitez the reins at Everton, why this is another opportunity for the club to climb back up the table and how we as supporters can make a difference.

Silverware silences all criticism

When you look at Benitez’s trophy cabinet, it’s not necessarily extensive in quantity, but there’s some quality in there. Specifically, there’s some tournament winning-pedigree there - Champions League, Europa League, UEFA Cup, FIFA World Club Cup, UEFA Super Cup, FA Cup, FA Community Shield, Coppa Italia, Supercoppa Italiana, among others. If you close your eyes and forget for a minute that he was at Liverpool, then that’s certainly a manager that we would be pretty proud to have at Everton. While his Red history is taboo, of all the managers that were available this summer, who has won more than he has? Who has managed at the illustrious clubs he has on his resume - Real Madrid, Inter Milan, Chelsea, Napoli, Valencia - that was available and interested in coming to Everton?

It looks like the Board has leaned towards experience when choosing their next manager, especially one that can and has won cups, which realistically are the lowest hanging fruit for the Toffees right now. Much like Manchester City kickstarted their era of dominance with one trophy, any chance we have of matching that kind of meteoric rise must come with either the League Cup or the FA Cup, and the resultant berth in Europe it would offer. If Benitez wins the Blues a trophy to end this nearly three-decade old silverware drought, there is no doubt all Evertonians will celebrate it to the hilt, including every one of these vocal opponents of his appointment.

Football is a mercenary business

For years as Everton fans we’ve castigated Chairman Bill Kenwright for running the club with his heart, and we’ve clamored for leadership that will run Everton like a business, which might be the only way for a mid-sized club to survive in this cutthroat money-driven world. Now that we have a successful businessman in Farhad Moshiri running the club and a Board that appears to be making decisions with their brains and not necessarily with sentiment, we can’t complain when as fans we are feeling unheard. When Sam Allardyce was appointed plenty of us raised a hue and cry about the pedigree of the manager and how unambitious it was. Yet the club did not heed our laments and instead made it official. The results at the end of the season spoke for themselves and the relegation specialist was given the sack after all he got the Blues to play was some very unattractive football which went against the ethos of what the Board considers the club to be.

Similarly, there have been plenty of opinions about having a former Liverpool boss take over as Everton manager. Benitez will not be the first and certainly not the last player or manager to have switched colours in a hated rivalry. Indeed, he has said some derogatory or dismissive things about the Blues in the past, which many fans find unforgivable. But for all the smiling platitudes and wisdom that Carlo Ancelotti spouted, when the opportunity to jump ship to a bigger club came around, he did not look back and made that move. Ancelotti left us not while we were waiting at the altar, but after completing the nuptials and were still on the honeymoon. To add insult to injury Ancelotti even downplayed the Toffees’ ambitions in his comments during his Real Madrid reveal, which did not sound very different from what Benitez had said over a dozen years ago. We can not pick and choose what we want to be offended by depending on whether the person saying them is likeable or not. We could, of course, but that would make us hypocrites.

At the end of the day, the pound/dollar sign will still loom largest, and just like for every one of us making decisions to put ourselves first, footballers will also make the compromises that will put food on their families’ plates and roofs over their heads. Rare is the professional that will still put affection ahead of affluence, and we should stop being heartbroken whenever one does choose personal advancement.

Motivation can be a helluva drug

For a brief minute or so, put yourself in Benitez’s shoes. You have lived on and off for about fifteen years on Merseyside. You are well aware of the rivalry that exists between your former club and Everton. You have also managed at Newcastle, another club whose fans have no love lost with the Blues. As you begin negotiations with the Toffees, there is an immediate backlash from the fanbase about being associated with you. Even Liverpool supporters are dismayed and there is talk about tarnishing your legacy at that club which arguably set the stage for their eventual Premier League success and continued run in the Champions League in later years. Yet, you persist with talks and even as the vitriol gets ramped up and threats are being made to your family about their safety, you still insist that you want to become the next Everton manager.

Given that, the Everton supporters have to be asking themselves, why is the 61-year-old coming to Goodison after all that?

The Spaniard left Newcastle after years of frustration with owner Mike Ashley who rarely seemed to support his manager in the transfer market. Limited in his ambition at the Toon, he maintained a status quo as a midtable club after bringing the side up from the Championship. He then went to China to manage in the Super League, but left by mutual consent following health concerns during the pandemic. During that time, he was linked with the job at Everton following the dismissal of Marco Silva but stayed at Dalian. It is entirely possible that either Benitez is looking for a last big payday as he is close to hitting the shelf life of most managers. The fact that Everton are only giving him a three-year contract versus the four and a half year deal Ancelotti was handed indicates the club is aware of that possibility and are trying to protect themselves.

Another viewpoint is the fact that he still wants the job despite all the hatred shown to him really means there might be something more powerful than money that is driving the man. Ancelotti was on his way out too when he joined Everton, having been fired at Napoli his prospects of managing at a top five league were looking pretty bleak despite all his successes at various previous superclubs. Funnily enough, Benitez has a lot of similar clubs on his resume and has won many of those same trophies too in his career. Could he be using the Everton job as a stepping stone to getting back into the big time? If so, then what makes him a worse choice than Ancelotti, just the fact that the Italian has a ready smile and sold us some clichéd lines about family and tradition while the Spaniard is a former Red that called us a ‘small club’ and we responded by calling him a ‘fat waiter’? Again, the Everton Board only offering him a three-year deal shows that the Blues are covering their own backsides should Benitez decide to jump ship at any point.

Bramley-Moore stadium
The proposed new Everton stadium at Bramley-Moore Dock
Everton FC

Three years to Bramley-Moore

There is a bit more nuance to that three-year contract than is usually relevant in footballing contracts. Three seasons is considered a standard benchmark contract for both parties usually - it allows for a year of bedding in, another to truly prove yourself and then the third is usually a time for either contract renegotiation or else preparing to move on. For Everton however, this carries additional significance as three seasons from this summer gets us to the beginning of the 2024-25 campaign, when Everton are expected to make the historic move from Goodison Park to the Bramley-Moore Dock. An event that will be greeted with great fanfare and go down in club’s history should indeed be led by a club that is trying to be an established top six side in the country, and not scrabbling to make the top half of the table every season.

Giving Benitez a three-year deal gives the Blues an opportunity to repair their recent standings in the table and a chance to see if he could bring European football back to Goodison Park for one last time before vaulting the club to greater things at the new stadium. If the Toffees end the next season midtable, his appointment will certainly start getting questioned, and if that trend continues into his second season it is almost guaranteed he will get the boot, like Silva and Ronald Koeman before him. Which gives the Blues another season and a half to fix the club before the big move.

In modern football, rare is the gaffer that manages to stay at a club for more than three years, especially without winning something. Everton’s previous manager appointments under Moshiri have all failed, and this latest signing doesn’t necessarily show the level of forward thinking that making Graham Potter or Christophe Galtier the next Everton manager would, but it’s more of a ‘safe’ pick. And just like in the world of business, sometimes you take the less risk, lower ceiling option versus the high risk, higher ceiling choice. Benitez gives the Blues a manager that will not set the Premier League on fire with innovative tactics, but his experience will also not let the team fall to pieces at the first signs of adversity. Which is where you, the supporter, come in.

The role the Everton fans play

Goodison Park has a fearsome reputation as a ‘bear pit’, where Everton’s opponents for years have hated coming to. The last year of football without fans in the stands and the correlated abysmal home record last season have shown how much this current team needs the fans on their side to succeed. Over the last decade, the home support has been quick to turn on players and the manager when things have not been going well. That toxicity is not unique to Everton in this social media era, but there is certainly a #EvertonThat© trope that gets rolled out whenever the club disappoints us.

In the last few days we have already seen and heard a sizable proportion of the fanbase hating the appointment, even going to the extent of threatening the man and his family. Many have taken to social media to say they are ‘done with the club’ or some version of that. Like it or not, Rafa Benitez is the next Everton manager, and we can either be on board and support the team, or continue to be derogatory towards him and thereby continue to make things as toxic as possible for the players, which we have seen does not go well either for the team. Choosing one side or the other doesn’t make one a bigger fan than the other.

Everton might be a dysfunctional family club with illusions of grandeur that consistently flatters to deceive, but it’s our dysfunctional family club with illusions of grandeur that consistently flatters to deceive, and we will always love Everton for it, until the end of our lives. That is all.