Over a fortnight after the confirmation of his appointment, Rafa Benitez today held his first Everton press conference where he addressed a number of topics, some related to his past and some looking forward to the club’s future.
Aside from the fact that he has previously managed crosstown rivals Liverpool, a lot of rancor towards Benitez from the Evertonian fanbase has been as a result of comments he had made when he was in charge of the Reds, calling one of the most successful football clubs in the land a ‘small club’ in reference to the manner the Toffees played during a Merseyside Derby.
He has since then attempted to walk back those comments, and that was one of the first topics to come up today.
“I’ve said before, it depends on the context. It’s a long time ago and you are fighting for your club. That is what I will do now.
“If you are the manager you have to defend your club in any context, in this case I will fight for Everton, I will try to do my best every single game and I will try to compete against anyone.
“I’m really pleased that this club is getting bigger and bigger and I am happy with the idea we can challenge and we can compete and I will fight for that.”
There had been some threatening banners placed around the city ahead of his appointment, but the manager, who has remained a resident of Merseyside since his stint at the Reds earlier this century was unfazed.
“Liverpool is my city, we have a very good connection with the red side and the blue side and now, obviously, a lot of the people on the blue side will be pleased if I am successful. I don’t see a big issue
“To be fair, the Evertonians around my place are quite happy and were very supportive. Even the Liverpudlians accepted it was an opportunity for me to come back to the Premier League. It was quite good.
“We will be here working really hard for the team, for the club and then if we do well no one will be talking about what happened in the past.
“I’m thinking about the future, I know they want me to be successful and I’m sure we can do it. I have a great connection with the city, we’ve supported a lot of charities and we have a lot of friends on both sides so, for us, it’s just to enjoy the city – for my family, for everyone.
“I’m really pleased and proud to be here and, hopefully, to do well so that’s the main motivation. The connection with the city keeps me happy here and to come back to the Premier League is a great opportunity.”
Asked about the process of how he joined the Blues, the 61-year-old detailed how the contact happened.
“Modern football is quite complicated. You have too many people around! When someone knew I was available we started the contacts and then little by little we were sharing information, communication, interviews. It was easy for me because I wanted to come back and have a competitive team.
“It was not so easy at the beginning because they had to consider a lot of options but little by little they were convinced I could be an option to have a manager with experience who can win trophies and compete.
“It was what we were looking for from my side and from their side.”
The future of James Rodriguez has appeared to be in turmoil after the departure of Carlo Ancelotti who he has followed in the past. Reports have it that the Blues are shopping the Colombian superstar around, and that AC Milan might be close to a transfer too. Benitez remained vague when asked about the 29-year-old.
“I am sure your friends will be asking about players, but I think it’s better to talk about the team, the ideas, than individuals.
“Everybody has to keep training, do their jobs, and we will continue looking for the best options to improve the team.
“With respect, we don’t talk about individuals. It’s not fair for the other players.”
Benitez insisted that he likes the skill level in the current side, but admitted that there was some room for improvement in the squad.
“The reality is that when you go to any club the manager has an important opinion.
“You have to work in the context of when you have a director of football, the board, the financial restrictions. There are a lot of things you have to put together.
“But I am quite happy with the commitment of the lads. They are training really well. I think we can improve things. If we can add players and they are good for us, I think that is the objective.
“If we improve the players we have, we have good communication between everyone working here and managing the financial restrictions that you have to manage.”
Regarding Duncan Ferguson, who was confirmed as his assistant coach today, Benitez added -
“I knew him obviously because I was following games throughout the years. I watched some of the goals he scored, after watching him on the pitch he could play! If we need a striker still he could play!”
Club captain Seamus Coleman has been in touch with Benitez throughout the process -
“Since I am here I’ve talked with him so many times, I think he’s an inspiration for everyone. 20 minutes before I came here I was talking to him. Can he be the captain? Yes, why not?”