Rafael Benitez claims he was “convinced” he was making the right decision when he entered talks to join Everton, where he has promised to fight for his new colours and get the club back up the table.
Everton appointed former Liverpool boss Benitez as their replacement for Carlo Ancelotti recently, following the Italian’s return to Real Madrid. Coincidentally, Benitez also replaced Ancelotti after his last spell in Spain. Now, he is taking the reins for a club at which his presence would once have been unthinkable.
Benitez’s move to Everton was met with some backlash due to his previous connection with Liverpool. Neither fanbase was particularly enthusiastic about his arrival, but some took things too far by displaying offensive banners.
The Spaniard believes that was a minority, though. Speaking in his introductory press conference, he claimed to have been accepted by the vast majority of both sets of fans.
He said (via the Liverpool Echo): “To be fair, the Evertonians around my place are quite happy and very supportive; even the Liverpudlians accepted it was an opportunity.
“About the banners, we can talk about one, two people – you never know.”
He added: “I was convinced when I decided to say yes, or even decided to start talking. It’s not something I’m scared of; it’s the opposite.
“I want to win, I want to do well. That is to be competitive for me, to be ambitious.”
During his time on the other side of the Merseyside divide, he referred to Everton as a small club. However, he was keen to put that in the past and insisted context was important.
“I said before that it depends on the context.
“It’s a long time ago. You are fighting for your club and it’s what I will do now.
“In this case, I will fight for Everton, try to do the best in every single game and fight against anyone.”
Addressing those who were perhaps sceptical about his appointment, he added: “That is football.
“All I can say is I will fight for my team. For me it’s a great challenge and opportunity to do well in the Premier League. I will be the first one pushing to get what we want.”
This move is, of course, not the first time Benitez has been met with a divisive reception. He previously spent time as Chelsea’s interim manager.
Looking back at that experience, he explained how he can win the fans over: “When I was in Chelsea, in Cobham, I was going to the supermarkets and the fans were really good. The majority of the fans every day were fine.
“Liverpool is my city; now obviously a lot of people on the Blues side will be pleased if I’m successful.”
Away from all the noise, the attention will soon turn to the work ahead of Benitez on the pitch. He is inheriting a group who finished 10th under Carlo Ancelotti last season, although they were perhaps capable of more.
Benitez said: “My approach, since I was at Valencia, was one game at a time. I know how the team finished last year; we will try to do better.
“I prefer to walk the walk and see if we can do well.”
He continued: “I am professional and very competitive. I have confidence that we’ve done it before, and we can do it now. We are creating an atmosphere that will allow us to compete at the maximum level.
“The Premier League isn’t easy for anyone. My idea is just to be sure the team has confidence; the players we have are stronger if they stick together. The target is to improve; how much we can improve we’ll have to see.
“The winning mentality has to be there from the first until the last day. I am confident that we will do it, and the conversations with senior players have been in this direction.”
Benitez swerves Rodriguez question but praises Coleman
Following the departure of Ancelotti, there have been some concerns about the future of James Rodriguez. The attacking midfielder was a major coup for the Toffees when he joined from Real Madrid last summer, but his relationship with the previous manager was the main reason behind his decision.
Now that Ancelotti has departed, Rodriguez’s future at Goodison Park is in doubt. But Benitez sidestepped a question about the Colombia international, who he also previously worked with in the Spanish capital.
He responded: “I am sure your friends will be asking about players, but I think it’s better to talk about the team than individuals.”
Nevertheless, he did give an answer about one individual, club captain Seamus Coleman. Still only 32, he remains an important player and will continue to be under Benitez.
The new boss said: “Since I am here I’ve talked with him so many times. I think he’s an inspiration for everyone. 20 minutes before I came here I was talking to him.
“Can he be the captain? Yes, why not?”
Benitez’s first competitive game in charge of Everton will be their Premier League opener against Southampton on the weekend of August 14th.