LIVERPOOL, England — The terse 40 words from Everton announcing Rafa Benitez’s firing Sunday lacked any expression of thanks, reflecting a challenging 200-day reign that saw fans uneasy at being led by a former managerial rival and never won over.
The Spaniard failed to overcome his successful association with Liverpool, whose stadium is only a mile (1.6 kilometers) from Goodison Park across Stanley Park, and his position became increasingly untenable as Everton sunk closer to the relegation zone.
Everton had only one win in 13 league matches under Benitez, scoring 12 goals and conceding 27 in that time, although key striker Dominic Calvert-Lewin has only just returned from four months out injured to play two matches.
“We knew it wouldn’t be easy, and that it was a big challenge, both emotionally and in terms of sport,” Benitez said on his website on Sunday. “My love for this city, for Merseyside and its people, made me accept this challenge, but it is only when you are inside that you realize the magnitude of the task.
“From the very first day, my staff and myself worked as we always do, with commitment and full dedication, we didn’t only have to get results, but we also had to win over people’s hearts. However, the financial situation and then the injuries that followed made things even harder."
Benitez's name was chanted at Anfield within minutes after the announcement by Liverpool fans during their match against Brentford on Sunday afternoon.
They not only fondly remember his 2004-10 reign, which included leading Liverpool to the Champions League title in 2005, but also his part in the decline of such a fierce, local rival.
The end-game came for Everton with a 2-1 loss on Saturday to a team in the relegation zone — Norwich — which left Everton six points in front of the eastern England side.
“Everton Football Club can confirm the departure of Rafael Benitez as first team manager," the club said in a statement. "Benitez, who joined Everton in June 2021, has left the club with immediate effect. An update on a permanent replacement will be made in due course.”
In contrast to the club's terse statement, Benitez thanked the board, staff, players and fans “who have supported us.”
However delighted Everton supporters are to see Benitez's departure, the ownership will also remain in their sights.
After a lavish and somewhat haphazard outlay of about $750 million on players since Farhad Moshiri became the club’s majority shareholder in 2016, Everton reined in its spending in the summer transfer window following the appointment of Benitez after Carlo Ancelotti went to Real Madrid. Four players came in at a total cost of barely $2 million.
“I am convinced that we would have been better once the injured players were back and with the arrival of the new signings,” Benitez said. “The road to success isn’t easy and sadly, nowadays in football there is a search for immediate results and there is always less and less patience; unfortunately circumstances have determined the results and it won’t be possible to continue this project.”
The fear has become about the danger of relegation — after collecting 19 points from the opening 19 matches and another 19 games to go — rather than trying to qualify for Europe for the first time since 2017 in the Europa League. While Liverpool has won the Champions League (2019) and Premier League (2020) since then, Everton is without a trophy since the 1995 FA Cup and hasn't won the English championship since 1987.
But the club is ambitious for the future with plans to move into a new stadium by Liverpool’s waterfront — costing around $700 million — for the start of the 2024-25 season. Benitez won't be the manager leading the team in it.
Among potential contenders for the job are Wayne Rooney, the boyhood Everton fan turned precocious striker who went on to become the all-time leading scorer for England and Manchester United.
Rooney on Sunday marked a year as permanent manager of Derby. In his first coaching job, the 36-year-old Rooney has had to navigate ownership turmoil at Derby and has remarkably taken the team off last place despite a 21-point deduction for breaking league financial rules.
A more experienced appointment would see the return of Roberto Martinez, who led Everton to fifth place in 2014 which hasn't been replicated since. The Spaniard went to coach Belgium and is now preparing to lead the country at a second World Cup in November having finished in third place in 2018.
Remaining in place at Everton is former midfielder Duncan Ferguson, who has been on the coaching staff since 2014 and has previously served as caretaker manager in 2019 after Marco Silva's firing.
Benitez's successor will be Everton's sixth permanent manager in six years.
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