After a grueling start to his Everton career, Rafa Benitez is grateful that preparations for the season are underway. The team played their second friendly at Finch Farm on Saturday, beating Blackburn Rovers 1-0. This week it’s off to the USA to play in the Florida Cup with a game against Colombian club Millonarios.
The winners meet the winners of the clash between Arsenal and Inter Milan, another former Benitez club.
It’s not quite the calm before the storm. It can be the calm between hurricanes. The 61-year-old knows he needs a good start to the Premier League season, and any downturn in momentum will result in the crowd at Goodison Park replacing him.
The atmosphere at the training ground is positive . The Spaniard is a top notch coach and the players are impressed with the quality of his training sessions. Benitez believes there is a lot of room for improvement in the squad. Ben Godfrey in particular has enormous room for development and should benefit from the new regime.
Benitez was less enthusiastic about other team members. Everton has spent more than half a billion on the transfer market in the past five years, but the spending hasn’t delivered the success fans want. Andre Gomes, Bernard and James Rodriguez are likely to be overwhelmed.
Rodriguez, who earns £ 250,000 a week at Goodison, is the symbol of a flawed recruiting program. The Colombian is tremendously talented but has a questionable work ethic in training. Football director Marcel Brands is under pressure to find a way to exonerate Rodriguez and the others who don’t fit into Benitez’s system.
That will be difficult in a market depressed by the pandemic. Brands whose performance was scrutinized during Carlo Ancelotti’s tenure must produce. There were already signs of friction between the Dutchman and Benitez.
Not everyone at Goodison was happy when the reins of the club were handed over to the former Liverpool boss. With a few exceptions, most employees reacted positively. Aware of the sensitivity of his appointment, Benitez is still trying to attract those who oppose his methods. It won’t take long.
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The manager doesn’t expect large takeovers before the window closes, but he has opposed the loan signing proposal. He needs cash to buy in players he believes will bring Everton into the battle for the top four. That kind of money may not be available this summer and no one can predict how long Benitez will be around. The main question is whether he can improve the team quickly enough. He knows that he can only win Evertonians with results.
It took the intervention of Alisher Usmanov to get Benitez the job. The oligarch is a major sponsor of the club and has a strong influence on owner Farhad Moshiri. Since Moshiri bought out Goodison five years ago, the businessman and Bill Kenwright, chairman, have sometimes pursued different strategies, particularly in the transfer market. Usmanov has suggested that thoughts need to become clearer in the future.
Other changes are also imminent. David Unsworth has been recognized for his work in the academy and coaching the U-23 team, which have won Premier League 2 twice in the past five seasons. Benitez is keen to focus on change and is more interested in bringing out players who can influence the senior squad than in winning at the U-23 level.
The new manager’s working style differs from his predecessors during the Moshiri era. Benitez believes he can move the club forward but understands, given his Anfield past, that things could turn sour on the flimsy pretext. For now, he throws himself into the job. He is determined that whenever Goodison leaves Everton, he will be in better shape than when he arrived.
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