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Soccer-Former Red Benitez faces uphill task to win over sceptical Blues

Soccer-Former Red Benitez faces uphill task to win over sceptical Blues

FILE PHOTO: Britain Football Soccer - Newcastle United v Derby County - Sky Bet Championship - St James' Park - 4/2/17 Newcastle United manager Rafa Benitez Mandatory Credit: Action Images / Ed Sykes Livepic/File Photo

Rafa Benitez has crossed the Merseyside divide and is the latest to attempt to revive the fortunes of Everton, but he must first win over sceptical fans who have ranged from tepid acceptance to outright hostility at the appointment of their new manager.

Former Liverpool boss Benitez led the Reds to their extraordinary Champions League victory in Istanbul in 2005 during a six-year stay at Anfield in which he infamously once called Everton a "small club".

It was that flippant comment that rankled with Toffees fans when his name was first mentioned as a possible replacement for Carlo Ancelotti, leading to threatening banners being left outside Benitez’s house in Wirral.

But owner Farhad Moshiri is sure he is the right man and has put his own reputation with the club's fans on the line to make what is arguably the most controversial managerial appointment in Everton’s history.

The Spaniard is the second man to lead both Merseyside rivals after William Barclay, who was the first manager of Everton in 1888 and then later the first for Liverpool in 1892.

After years of chopping and changing, and the disappointment of Ancelotti's exit to Real Madrid, Moshiri is desperate for stability in the dug-out, especially as work has begun on the club’s expensive new home in Bramley-Moore Dock.

In Benitez, he believes he has found a steady hand who knows the club, the city and the league.

"I am expecting the fans – and I know all the things that people talk about – but I am expecting the fans after one year of not going to the stadium to go and stay behind the team. We need the fans behind the team and I think they will be," Benitez told reporters.

"I am here, I will fight for my club, I will try to win every single game, and it doesn’t matter who the opponents are, or the rivals. It is something you have to do, it is your nature, that you have to try to do your best."

And a fight it may well be. Everton are hamstrung in the transfer market by Financial Fair Play regulations that mean they have spent only 1.5 million pounds (US$2.08 million) in bringing in wingers Demarai Gray and Andros Townsend, and goalkeeper Asmir Begovic ahead of their season opener at home to Southampton on Saturday.

They have to sell before they can buy after years of profligate spending on signings that failed to live up to their sizeable price-tags. Off-loading some of their players on big wages has also proven a problem.

At a time when Benitez needs to hit the ground running to win over what could quickly become a toxic fanbase, he might not have the tools for the job.

It is clear patience will be required, but Goodison Park could quickly become a cauldron of discontent this season and Benitez, because of his past, the first to get the blame.

(US$1 = 0.7227 pounds)

(Reporting by Nick Said; Editing by Toby Davis)

Source: Reuters


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