JUST what the hell were Everton thinking when appointing Rafa Benitez in the first place?
And what was Benitez thinking when he accepted the job of manager of the most mismanaged club in the Premier League?
As Benitez packs his bags – his dark 200-day reign ended with a disastrous defeat at Norwich followed by a brief 40-word statement – wasn’t it always going to end like this?
With Liverpool fans mockingly chanting agent Rafa’s name at Anfield as the Evertonians demanded his sacking.
The appointment of a former Champions League winner from Liverpool – who had committed the unforgivable sin of branding Everton a ‘small club’ during his tenure as Anfield boss – was a declaration of civil war against the Goodison Park faithful .
The appointment of a manager who has already worked at a bitter rival rarely ends well – see George Graham (Tottenham after Arsenal), Alex McLeish (Aston Villa after Birmingham), Harry Redknapp (Southampton after Portsmouth) and Steve Bruce (Newcastle after Sunderland).
Patience will be short with such a manager. Especially one like Benitez, whose greatest successes – at Valencia and Liverpool – date back 15 or 20 years.
Chuck in Benitez’s tendency towards security-focused football and internal politics, and owner Farhad Moshiri has never been a winner here.
But just as Moshiri should never have fallen for Benitez in the first place, you have to wonder if the Spaniard had been meticulous in doing his homework on an amateur hour regimen.
It is a club that has become synonymous in the football industry with recklessness in the transfer market – a place where rival clubs and agents offload unwanted players for high transfer fees, wage deals and fees.
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Since taking over Moshiri in 2016, Everton have shelled out transfer fees of £20million or more on 18 different players – the vast majority of whom have been complete failures.
Many of these overpriced, overpaid flops are still on the company’s payroll.
If Benitez had known that the Saudi takeover of Newcastle was about to materialize, he surely would have sat and waited to be transported in a sedan chair to St James’ Park, where he is unconditionally – and strangely – loved it.
A manager’s popularity on Tyneside depends entirely on whether or not he perceives himself to have been a ‘Mike Ashley man’ – because Benitez’s Premier League record was almost identical to Bruce’s and his style of football n wasn’t more attractive.
But a return to Newcastle would have been the perfect fit for both club and manager – and don’t bet against him returning to the North East next season, especially if the Geordie Arabia boys suffer relegation under Eddie Howe.
Benitez has won more internal battles than he has won league matches in the last three and a half months.
One win and nine losses in the last 13 games were in the form of relegation.
Benitez did, however, manage to oust director of football Marcel Brands – after a humiliating 4-1 home defeat in the Merseyside derby last month.
And left-back Lucas Digne, who had the mother of all personality clashes with Benitez, was whipped at Aston Villa last week.
The Frenchman, so popular at Goodison before Benitez arrived, left with a farewell message on the doorstep for his manager, saying “Sometimes it only takes one outside person to destroy a beautiful love story.”
Brazil striker Richarlison, who also endured a rocky relationship with Benitez, scored a consolation goal after being called from the substitutes’ bench at Carrow Road.
Along with Dominic Calvert-Lewin and goalkeeper Jordan Pickford, he is one of the few Everton players to come close to the top six. How long will they want to stay?
So Benitez’s replacement doesn’t face an enviable task, especially as Moshiri’s commitment looks shaky.
The club are currently carrying out a ‘strategic football review’ – which is a start given there has been little evidence of strategy, decent football or the ability to review past mistakes since Moshiri’s arrival .
This review must now include the appointment of a new manager.
Wayne Rooney is a much smarter and more decent guy than is often believed. Yet he remains an inexperienced boss with a colorful personal life.
So, having chosen the least popular candidate imaginable in Benitez, are Everton now performing a reverse ferret and opting for Wayne Rooney’s romantic option?
Rooney’s last meeting, towards the end of his playing days, was short-lived and fruitless – he arrived claiming he was wearing Everton pajamas but headed to Major League Soccer less than 365 nights more late.
England’s all-time leading goalscorer would clearly leap to manager Goodison – especially since, if there’s one big English club that’s less well run than Everton, it’s Derby County.
Rooney did a very decent job in extreme adversity at Pride Park.
He’s a much smarter and more decent guy than is often believed. Yet he remains an inexperienced boss with a colorful personal life.
So are Everton keen to go the sentimental route, which hasn’t worked out in the long run with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer at Manchester United or Frank Lampard at Chelsea?
Rooney would at least put some smiles back on the faces of the Evertonians who have spent the past few months calling Benitez a ‘fat Spanish waiter’ and demanding he be ‘sacked in the morning’.
And as a lifelong Evertonian, Rooney certainly ‘gets’ the club.
Meaning he ‘understands’ that for the past six years Everton have been a complete shambles.
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