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Time to face the facts – 5 challenges waiting for Rafael Benitez at Everton

Time to face the facts – 5 challenges waiting for Rafael Benitez at Everton
How will the former Liverpool boss get Toffees fans onside after crossing the divide?

Everton’s confirmation of the controversial appointment of former Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez means the Spaniard can now get to work after weeks of waiting.

Here the PA news agency looks at what Benitez will have to focus on first.

Getting fans onside

Gwladys Street banner displayed at Everton

Ever since his “small club” jibe after a 2007 Merseyside derby elevated the level of hostility usually felt by Everton supporters to Liverpool managers above the norm, Benitez’s reputation at Goodison has been low. But his appointment has seen that plumb new depths, with offensive banners placed outside the stadium and the Spaniard’s Wirral home even before his confirmation. Benitez has a singular mind and a thick skin but he has to find a way to quell the noise from any dissenting fans – that has to start before a ball has even been kicked with what he says when he speaks at his first press conference – and the dissent will only subside if results on the pitch are good.

Rodriguez future

James Rodriguez’s move from Real Madrid last season was roundly celebrated by the club and fans alike but injuries meant they never saw his best form for long enough. His return to Colombia days before the final game of the season he was unavailable for because of another problem prompted speculation about the playmaker’s commitment and happiness. The departure of Carlo Ancelotti a man who was instrumental in bringing him to the club, only intensified that. Benitez needs to make a swift assessment of a player who turns 30 in a fortnight – although sanctioning a departure is likely to only antagonise fans further.

Relationship with Brands

Benitez is renowned for wanting to have control every aspect of football operations; he is a man who famously said of one transfer deal by Valencia’s sporting director: “I asked for a sofa and they bought me a lamp”. Everton are wedded to the idea of a director of football, with Marcel Brands being given a new three-year contract in April, and so the Spaniard will have to find a way of working within that system if he is to avoid getting off on the wrong foot with established staff.

Find a role for Ferguson

Everton assistant manager Duncan Ferguson holds up the substitutes board

Talking of established staff, Duncan Ferguson has now been on the first-team coaching team since 2014 and has outlasted five managers: Roberto Martinez, Ronald Koeman, Sam Allardyce, Marco Silva and Ancelotti. Egter, he has never seemed to have a clearly defined role apart from during the four matches in December 2019 for which he was caretaker manager. The former Everton striker is a cult figure with the fanbase and sidelining him would be a risky move for Benitez.

Sort out the squad

Everton’s Fabian Delph and Bernard leave the pitch

Ancelotti started the process of pruning and rejuvenating a squad which had become bloated following the hiring and sacking of five managers in seven years but there is still much work to do. Josh King, Theo Walcott, Yannick Bolasie and Muhamed Besic have already left following the expiry of their contracts, but more dead wood needs to be shifted. Upgrades are needed in all departments, most significantly in midfield, and the likes of injury-prone midfielder Fabian Delph striker Cenk Tosun, winger Bernard Alex Iwobi, Jonjoe Kenny and Mason Holgate could all find themselves surplus to requirements. In addition to Rodriguez, Benitez also has to decide what to do with Moise Kean, a striker who scored 16 goals on loan at Paris St Germain last season at a time when Everton were desperate for a reliable back-up to take some of the pressure off Dominic Calvert-Lewin.