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Everton

Benitez gone, but Everton remain a mess on and off the field

10:00 AM WAT 17/01/2022
Rafa Benitez Everton 2021-22
The ex-Liverpool boss was doomed to fail from the start at Goodison Park, where the problems go way beyond who takes charge of the team

In the end, the biggest surprise was that it took this long.

Rafa Benitez and Everton always looked like a marriage made in hell, and so it turned out. The divorce was confirmed on Sunday, and few tears will be shed at Goodison Park.

The end of an error, you could call it, but that would perhaps be too kind an assessment.

Saturday’s defeat at Norwich City, a side that had lost its previous six Premier League matches without scoring, proved to be the final straw.

Everton may have started the season well enough - they were fourth in the table at the start of October - but they have sunk like a stone since, and this represented rock bottom.

Benitez leaves them in 16th, just six points above the bottom three and having taken just six points from the last 39 on offer. They have not kept a clean sheet since November 7, and have not won away from home in the league since the end of August.

The fans who made the long trek to Carrow Road made their feelings crystal clear. "GET OUT OF OUR CLUB" read the huge blue banner in the away end, while the boos and jeers which greeted the final whistle told their own story.

These are supporters that are falling out of love with their club, and little wonder. In May, it will be 27 years since Everton last won a trophy, 17 since they last finished in the top four and 13 since they last contested a major final.

They are one of English football’s great football clubs, but what have they had to cheer during the Premier League era? Not much, and certainly not enough.

Benitez, it should be said, is not responsible for all their ills. There is a reason why fans sang ‘Sack the Board’ at Norwich. They know the club’s troubles run far beyond the man in the dugout.

But even so, his presence was still a huge problem. His connection to Liverpool meant he started on the back foot, and the passive, defensive style he imposes on his teams meant he would certainly not win the doubters over with entertainment.

He would point to mitigating factors. Losing Dominic Calvert-Lewin for nearly four months left a hole up front, and the absence of players such as Richarlison, Yerry Mina and Abdoulaye Doucoure left holes that simply could not be plugged.

Because make no mistake; Everton’s squad is poor and in need of a major overhaul, whoever is in charge. Benitez knew that when he signed up to a three-year deal in the summer, and it was almost inevitable that he would soon be clashing with Marcel Brands, the director of football.

Everton made four signings before the season, spending less than £2 million ($2.7m) in total, and all of them were Benitez picks. Demarai Gray and Andros Townsend, in fairness, have done well, though the less said about Salomon Rondon the better.

Brands left in December after a hammering at the hands of Liverpool, and Benitez also oversaw the departures of both Dan Donachie, the club’s long-serving director of medical services, and Gretar Steinsson, the head of recruitment.

His last act, prior to the Norwich debacle at least, was to sanction the sale of Lucas Digne to Aston Villa, a move which divided the fanbase.

Digne had been frozen out after a training-ground row, with Benitez publicly suggesting the France international was more concerned with personal stats than with the team’s success.

Everton have signed two up-and-coming full-backs this month, Vitalii Mykolenko and Nathan Patterson, and last week loaned Anwar El Ghazi from Villa, but it will take more than that to turn this ship around. They lack depth and quality in pretty much every area.

How on earth has Farhad Moshiri, the club’s majority owner, managed to get things so wrong? Everton, it bears repeating, have employed six different ‘permanent managers’ in Moshiri’s six years at the club and, under the ‘guidance’ of two different directors of football, committed more than £550m in transfer fees.

They have tried everything, from the ‘Hollywood’ manager - Moshiri’s description of Ronald Koeman - to Sam Allardyce the firefighter and Marco Silva the bright young thing. Even Carlo Ancelotti, the serial winner, could not get them purring. What chance did 'Rafa the Red' have?

The mistakes and missteps have been staggering. Yannick Bolasie, Theo Walcott, Morgan Schneiderlin, Davy Klaassen, Alex Iwobi, Moise Kean, Jean-Phillippe Gbamin, Andre Gomes, Yerry Mina and Cenk Tosun all cost in excess of £20m. None of them have delivered.

Everton threw money at Wayne Rooney and James Rodriguez, superstars on the way down, and allowed others - Klaassen, Nikola Vlasic, Ademola Lookman - to depart without getting the chance to leave a footprint.

Neither Steve Walsh, the supposed architect of Leicester City’s Premier League miracle, nor Brands, the debonair Dutchman brought in from PSV Eindhoven, have been able to find the recipe. While their peers and rivals make smart, long-term moves and have well-defined structures, Everton have bounced from one masterplan to another.

The Benitez experiment should represent a line in the sand, as far as Moshiri is concerned. That appointment was his and his alone, and it did not take a genius to work out that it would end badly.

Where they go from here, who knows? Duncan Ferguson will take interim charge again, and may well be the best candidate for the job permanently, given his association with the club.

The alternatives are not exactly jumping out. Roberto Martinez is the bookmakers' favourite to return six years on from his own sacking at Goodison Park, while Kasper Hjulmand and Frank Lampard have been touted, but they do not look a good fit from here.

Would someone like Graeme Potter, for example, want to play Russian Roulette with his career and leave behind a good thing at Brighton? Whoever it is, one thing is clear. Everton and their supporters deserve better.

Whether they will get it, though, is another matter.