Premier League club Everton named Rafa Benitez as their new manager in a three-year deal on Wednesday despite opposition from some fans to the Spaniard who used to manage arch-rivals Liverpool in the same city.
Everton had been hunting for a new manager since Carlo Ancelotti, who led them to 10th in the league last season, returned to Real Madrid for a second spell.
“I believe this is a club that is going places,” said Benitez, 61, praising the Everton hierarchy’s ambition.
“I’m determined to play a big part in helping this great club achieve its ambitions,” he added, according to the club’s website.
Benitez irked Everton fans in 2007 when he called them a “small club” while he was managing Liverpool.
When rumours surfaced that he may be taking over at Goodison Park – a stone’s throw from Liverpool’s home Anfield – some fans hung protest banners outside the Everton stadium.
Police said one banner near Benitez’s family home in the area read: “We know where you live, don’t sign”.
Benitez becomes the second person to manage both Merseyside clubs after William Edward Barclay, who was Everton’s first boss and later ran the breakaway Liverpool club in the late 1800s.
Wolverhampton Wanderers’ former manager Nuno Espirito Santo was also linked with the vacant Everton job.
“The appointment of Benitez comes after a robust and wide-reaching recruitment process by the club over the past three weeks – a process which has included multiple interviews with several candidates,” Everton said in a statement
‘PASSION AND HUNGER’
Still revered by fans of Liverpool, Benitez managed them from 2004-2010, winning the Champions League in 2005 and the FA Cup the following season. He also led Chelsea to the Europa League title in 2013 as their interim manager.
After two seasons with Napoli and a brief stint with Real Madrid, where he was sacked midway through his first season, Benitez returned to England and took charge of Newcastle United who were staring at relegation in March 2016.
Although the club was eventually relegated to the second-tier Championship, Benitez brought them back up the next season.
But friction between him and club owner Mike Ashley led to his departure in 2019. Benitez moved to the Chinese Super League where he managed Dalian Professional, but left in January citing difficulties due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Rafa impressed us greatly with his knowledge and experience but, above all, the passion and hunger he showed to join our club,” Everton’s majority shareholder Farhad Moshiri 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.”
Everton said assistant manager Duncan Ferguson and goalkeeping coach Alan Kelly would join Benitez’s backroom staff.
They begin the new Premier League campaign with a home game against Southampton on August 14.