Everton have confirmed the controversial appointment of former Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez as Carlo Ancelotti’s replacement.
Benitez, who won the Champions League and FA Cup with Liverpool in 2005 and 2006 respectively, has agreed a three-year contract to take over at Goodison Park.
He becomes the first man to have managed both Liverpool and Everton since William Edward Barclay in the 1890s. Barclay made the move in the opposite direction to become Liverpool’s first manager after Everton left Anfield for their purpose-built home at Goodison Park and a new club was formed in their place.
It is far from a universally popular appointment, however, with a section of the fanbase totally opposed to the notion of Benitez, whose family home has remained on Merseyside, managing their club.
Despite those dissenting voices, the Everton hierarchy, driven by owner Farhad Moshiri, are confident he represents their best choice for getting the club into Champions League contention after seven seasons finishing outside the top six, with Ancelotti managing only 12th and 10th in one and a half disappointing campaigns.
“I am delighted to be joining Everton. Throughout this process I have been greatly impressed by the ambition shown by the senior representatives at the club and their desire to bring success to this historic club,” said Benitez.
“I believe this is a club that is going places. I’m determined to play a big part in helping this great club achieve its ambitions.”
Supporters’ animosity towards the Spaniard has been raised above the usual level reserved for a Liverpool manager ever since his “small club” jibe after a 2007 Merseyside derby, although he has since sought to clarify he was referring to them having the mentality of a small team in their approach to the game.
However, when it became apparent he was the front-runner to succeed Ancelotti, who made a surprise return to Real Madrid four weeks ago, some fans campaigned against him getting the job.
Offensive messages were hung outside Goodison Park and on Monday Merseyside Police confirmed they were investigating the placing of a “threatening” banner with the words ‘We know where you live. Don’t sign’ hung over a garden wall near Benitez’s home in Caldy on the Wirral.
It is not the first time the Spaniard has had to deal with angry fans protesting his appointment to a post as he faced similar levels of opposition when he took over at Chelsea for the final six months of the 2012-13 season.
He was received with a degree of hostility at Stamford Bridge and, despite winning the Europa League and qualifying for the Champions League with a third-placed finish, he was never accepted by Chelsea fans.
Even though he left Liverpool 11 years ago, and has had six other managerial jobs at Inter Milan, Chelsea, Napoli, Real Madrid, Newcastle and Dalian Professional since, some Everton fans remain steadfastly against his appointment.
Moshiri, however, has faith the Spaniard can restore the club’s fortunes.
“Rafa impressed us greatly with his knowledge and experience but, above all, the passion and hunger he showed to join our club,” he said.
“We are appointing Rafa because we believe he will bring success to our club and to Evertonians.
“To put it simply – we need to be competing at the top end of the league and to be winning trophies.
“Rafa is a proven winner with huge experience in coaching internationally and we have secured the best man to achieve that for us.”
Benitez has a full pre-season in which to evaluate the squad he has inherited, a squad which needs significant pruning and upgrades, but the real test will come when fans return to Goodison Park for the start of the new season.
Duncan Ferguson, who was assistant manager to Carlo Ancelotti, and goalkeeping coach Alan Kelly are to remain on the staff with further backroom appointments expected in the coming days.