Will Everton dare to appoint Rafa Benitez?
Background image: BiloBlue, CC BY-SA 3.0
Marco Silva is under intense pressure at Everton as the Toffees sit 16th in the Premier League. They were been beaten 2-0 at home by Norwich City last weekend. At the time, the Canaries nested in 20th. While the majority of Evertonians are calling for a new manager, a severe lack of options exist to replace the Portuguese.
Former manager David Moyes is currently the bookies’ favourite to take the job but many fans see the potential switch as a step back. Mark Hughes’ name has also been mentioned in relation to the job. He isn't rated as an ambitious choice. Mikel Arteta seems to be the fan-favourite but Pep Guardiola is reluctant to lose his right-hand man midway through the season. In addition, Everton face competition from Arsenal for the Spaniard. As a Gunner legend, the former midfielder might lean towards the Emirates rather than the blue half of Merseyside.
As far away from Mike Ashley and Newcastle as possible, Rafael Benitez currently manages Dalian Yifang in the Chinese Super League. His reported £11.5 million/yr salary also ranks him among the world’s best-paid managers. However, he recently told BBC’s Football Daily Podcast he would be interested in returning to the Premier League. Everton’s majority shareholder, Farhad Moshiri should be straight on the phone.
In terms of honours, Benitez is head and shoulders above the other names touted for the job should Everton decide to part ways with Silva. He has won 12 trophies with six clubs in three countries. Only Moyes, among the other candidates, has any silverware on his CV. A Second Division title with Preston North End in 1999-2000, shortly before he joined Everton, and the FA Community Shield with Manchester United in 2013, shortly after he left, hardly compare to Champions and Europa League titles. The board at Goodison Park must take previous achievements into consideration. If they do, a wider net should only be cast after Rafa has turned them down.
The obvious pitfall is the Liverpool connection. Neither a player nor manager has crossed Stanley Park since Abel Xavier in 2002. The rivalry between the two clubs makes it very difficult for anyone to do so.
Benitez didn’t just manage Liverpool. He oversaw one of the club’s greatest moments, the comeback Champions League victory in 2005 in Istanbul against AC Milan. He always said during his tenure that he would never manage ‘certain clubs’ due to his allegiances. Even though Chelsea didn't, Everton would most probably constitute one such side.
However, Benitez’s wife still lives on Merseyside. He has often spoken of his love for the area. Working there with his family nearby would surely be an attractive prospect. One would hope Liverpool fans can understand that. If so, the question becomes whether Everton can afford to pay Benitez anything near what he’s on in China at the moment? How much of a wage cut would he take to be with his family?
In some ways, it would be a setback if Silva is sacked by Everton. Consider the money Moshiri invested in his project. Hiring a manager with a similar style of play is desirable. The defensive style Benitez employed at Newcastle United is quite different to the possession-based football Silva likes to play. On the other hand, that was a case of needs must. Benitez knows the 4-2-3-1 Silva prefers and bought players to fit, most notably during his time at Liverpool.
Although it would be difficult for Evertonians to accept Benitez as their manager due to his Liverpudlian past, he is simply the best man for the job. Having switched managers four times in five years between 2013 and last year, the club’s next appointment is crucial to their project. It must be the right one. The fans want a winner. Rafa can be that winner if they're willing to back him.