Dubai: It was never going to work, and so it has proved.
1 win in the last 13 English Premier League matches has spelled the end of Rafa Benitez’s reign as manager of Everton and the blue half of the city is breathing a huge sigh of relief. It is the kind of run that would have put even the best coaches under severe pressure in retaining their jobs but the fact that the Spaniard was not even wanted by the Goodison faithful due to his connections with city rivals Liverpool meant his controversial appointment a mere six and half months ago was met with derision. And that it is now over, Everton can begin a much-needed healing process.
Benitez was always the wrong man to take over when Carlo Ancelotti left for Real Madrid at the end of the 2020-21 season. The former Chelsea boss had fallen so far off the football grid that his next job after a poor spell at Newcastle was in China. He was the forgotten man of football and had achieved hardly anything of note since winning the Champions League with Liverpool way back in 2005. There were far better options than him to take over from Ancelotti, young coaches who had proven themselves in lower leagues for instance or with smaller clubs such as Graham Potter at Brighton. But Everton owner Farhad Moshiri felt Benitez could prove himself in the hot seat and had the strength of character to handle the fans who simply did not want him there.
He got off to a good start and by October last year Everton were rubbing shoulders with the title contenders for the 2021-22 campaign. Up in fourth spot and just a few points away from the very top, things were looking very good and it appeared to be an astute move by the billionaire British-Iranian owner but then star striker Dominic Calvert-Lewin got injured and would miss the next four months of the season. Everton also lost several other star performers (Yerry Mina, Abdoulaye Doucoure and Richarlison) for long periods and unsurprisingly the team lost form. But, they should have still had plenty in their locker to see off Watford (Everton were winning 2-1 with 12 minutes remaining but catastrophically fell apart and conceded four goals to suffer an embarrassing 5-2 defeat) or Wolves (lost 2-1), and newly promoted Brentford (lost 1-0). There were other embarrassing defeats (Crystal Palace and the 4-1 drubbing in the derby) but had they won some of those games then they would be sitting inside the top 7 of the table and there would not have been as much pressure on the coach.
But Benitez was always going to be one bad defeat away from a major crisis and the turning of a potentially toxic atmosphere at Goodison Park. The fact he has overseen such a woeful run of form without any signs of thing improving in spite of now having a full strength squad to select from meant he just had to go. It was a big gamble hiring him and it has not paid off. It was the worst managerial appointment in Everton’s history and it turned out to be one of the shortest.
Since Moshiri bought the club in 2016 he has sacked Roberto Martinez, Ronaldo Koeman, Sam Allardyce and Marco Silva before Ancelotti’s shock return to Real. So what do Everton do next? Martinez has been tipped to return for a second spell but it is doubtful he would leave the Belgium national team with the World Cup on the horizon, while former striker Wayne Rooney, currently manager of Derby, has been mentioned.
But for me, there can only be one appointment, and that is club legend Duncan Ferguson. He had two spells as a player with the club and has been on the first-team coaching staff since 2014. When Silva was sacked two years ago he took charge of the team for four games in a caretaker role and not only remained unbeaten (won one and drew three) but he got the fans back onside and there was a real feel-good factor around the club. He got a great response the last time and in fact Ancelotti sensationally wanted to take the Scot with him as part of his coaching team to Madrid, that is how highly he is regarded, but he turned the chance down because of his deep rooted love of Everton.
Ferguson was a fearless leader on the pitch during his playing days and proved during his short spell as boss that he can lift a team with his sheer presence alone. Having him on the touchline pulling the strings is something all the fans want to see again, but this time for a much longer period. He may have not the managerial pedigree but he will unite the fan base and bring the passion and pride back to the club and for now that isn’t just what the blue half of Merseyside wants, it is what it desperately needs.