Benitez swimming upstream to retain Everton ace with exit gathering steam

Richarlison in Everton training with James Rodriguez

Everton boss Rafael Benitez is swimming upstream in his efforts to prevent an early issue regarding the exit of an influential forward, per a report.

News of the Spaniard taking charge at Goodison Park was met with predictable split opinion. Many Toffees fans haven’t forgotten his former ‘small club’ jibe while with bitter rivals Liverpool. However, a senior Everton player has urged fans to get behind Benitez after directly addressing the comment.

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Regardless, Benitez’s past transgressions will quickly be forgotten should he transform Everton into challengers for European qualification.

However, the current crop of Toffees stars could only manage an underwhelming 10th-placed finish last year. And per the latest from the Sun, they could yet be weakened further in the coming weeks.

That’s because Colombian playmaker James Rodriguez is being linked with a premature exit.

The 30-year-old shocked many when moving to Merseyside in 2020. The lure of working with Carlo Ancelotti for a third time was thought to be a major factor behind his decision.

But with the Italian now back at Real Madrid, speculation has begun to swirl over Rodriguez’s future.

The Sun (citing Spanish outlet Marca) reveal that resurgent Serie A side AC Milan are ‘keen’ on signing Rodriguez.

AC secured second spot in the Italian top flight last year and therefore have Champions League football to offer.

Their need in the creative department is strong having lost Hakan Calhanolgu to local rivals Inter via free agency.

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Rodriguez is on their wishlist, and an exit could be on the cards after agent Jorge Mendes is reported to have been drumming up interest since last season concluded.

Napoli and Atletico Madrid are mentioned, but it would appear AC are the frontrunners at present.

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Meanwhile, Manchester United and Arsenal are monitoring the situation after Everton starlet Thierry Small’s attempts to engineer a transfer away.

The 16-year-old made Goodison Park history last season by becoming the Toffees’ youngest-ever debutant. However, that game remains his only first-team outing and it could yet be his last.

United and Arsenal have emerged as potential transfer suitors for Small, with Leeds also having links to his services.

Now, though, The Athletic has revealed that the teenager is looking to ‘engineer’ a move away from Everton.

While Everton returned to their Finch Farm training base last Monday to begin pre-season, Small did not show up.

Indeed, he did not appear for the whole of last week, which marked the beginning of new manager Rafael Benitez’s reign.

READ MORE: Rafa Benitez turns to Chelsea in hunt for new Everton central defender