Rafael Benítez has appealed for unity at Everton after being appointed as manager and vowed to show the same fighting spirit at Goodison Park that prompted his “small club” jibe against them while in charge of Liverpool.
The 61-year-old was confirmed on Wednesday as Carlo Ancelotti’s replacement on a three-year contract. Farhad Moshiri, the majority shareholder who led the search for his fifth managerial appointment in five years, claimed that Benítez was “the best man” to deliver success for Everton and had rejected other offers to return to the Premier League.
Benítez is the most controversial managerial appointment in Everton’s history and only the second man to have managed both Everton and Liverpool after Willian Edward Barclay in the 19th century. He received personal abuse and threats before signing the contract, and Merseyside police are investigating a banner that warned “We know where you live” but was left outside the wrong house near the Spaniard’s family home in Wirral. Benítez, however, has urged fans to put personal animosity aside to help the team.
“I know what it means for Evertonians,” he said. “I know what it means for people in the city and the passion they have. I think it is crucial for us to have the fans behind us. This year with the pandemic has been very difficult and football without the fans is totally different. I was following the form of Everton [last season] and obviously away from home they have been fine but not so good at home. Why? Because they didn’t have the fans behind. It is crucial.
“I am expecting the fans – and I know all the things that people talk about – but I am expecting the fans after one year of not going to the stadium to go and stay behind the team. We need the fans behind the team and I think they will be.”
Many Evertonians have not forgiven Benítez for the “small club” comment he made after a goalless Merseyside derby in 2007. On Wednesday he described Everton as a great and historic club, and insists that infamous dig was typical of the resolve he will bring to Goodison.
Benítez explained: “I have been in Madrid, Naples, Valencia, Tenerife, Extremadura and Liverpool. Every single club I was there, I was fighting for them. If you analyse things in that context, what you are expecting from your manager is to fight for your club, and I will do that.
“I am here, I will fight for my club, I will try to win every single game, and it doesn’t matter who the opponents are, or the rivals. It is something you have to do, it is your nature, that you have to try to do your best. And why a lot of fans in a lot of these cities love me is because I was giving everything for them. If you analyse this in that context, then it is very clear I will do the same for Everton.”
Duncan Ferguson, among those considered to replace Ancelotti after the Italian’s surprise return to Real Madrid, will remain as part of Benitez’s backroom team with the goalkeeper coach Alan Kelly. Further appointments, including Benítez’s longtime fitness coach Paco de Miguel, are expected in the coming days. Everton’s first team are due to return to training on Monday.
Everton’s director of football, Marcel Brands, is understood to have been against Benítez’s appointment but insisted the manager “can trust me” and “hopefully we can create that [stability] for a longer period”. Benítez said: “I worked in Spain for years with a director of football. Marcel is a professional. I am a professional. We will work together. The communication between us has to be fluent and we will be talking with each other all the time. I have already been in contact with him. I have the plan [for Everton’s summer transfer targets] and I was already checking on players early this morning.”