Rafa Benitez’s return to management on Merseyside makes him the first manager in the modern era to take charge of both Liverpool and Everton. You have to admire his bravado, writes Steven Scragg.
We have all had that mate who’s wound up in a dysfunctional and loveless relationship. Marooned with a partner who is completely unsuitable, but you cannot seem to get through to them. No matter what they do, it is never appreciated by their other half, yet all common sense goes out of the window for a while. They tend to be a union of convenience at best.
All you can do is let nature take its course and be there when they need you most.
I have no problem with Rafa Benitez taking the Everton job, but I also get why many of their supporters do. That “small club” line will always be the elephant in the room.
You must admire his bravado really.
As passionate a Liverpool supporter as I am, despite being a product of this divided city of ours, I have never followed the rule of hate thy neighbour.
I have cousins who drifted to the blue side, I grew up with some of my best mates getting their football kicks, and a disproportionate number of disappointments, at Goodison Park, rather than at Anfield, no matter how much I tried to coax them over to the brighter side of Stanley Park.
This has helped cultivate me in a no-lose situation when dealing with our blue brethren. Essentially, I annoy the most militant because I cannot be wound up by them, which in turn is greatly amusing, while on the opposite side of the coin I know some wonderfully sound blues who are a joy to talk football with.
Your own perceptions of football and rivals will have been cast at the point of your red indoctrination.
For me, that by and large means 1979/80 and thus part of me always equates Everton to Gordon Lee, and that mad segment on Match of the Day when Tony Gubba showed the nation the Goodison trophy cabinet, where a compartment with bespoke European Cup-sized measurements was occupied by a cuckoo clock. It was an era in which Trevor Ross seemed to miss a penalty every week.
At my point of complete and utter footballing genesis, Everton were not in possession of a starring role. Our challengers were based in the Midlands, at the City Ground, and Villa Park. While I lived through the mid-1980s when Everton were truly relevant, they remain a club that have won just five major trophies within my lifetime.
None of this is meant to be the critical take down it probably sounds like, as I do have respect for them as a historical entity and I will actually miss Goodison once it goes – just as I lament the losses of Highbury, the old White Hart Lane, Maine Road, and The Dell, amongst other wonderful and characteristic old grounds that have been lost to the mists of time, to be replaced by an identikit Meccano structure.
I do not pity Everton, I do not own any vague soft spot for them, I enjoy the comedy sometimes (a bedsheet proclaiming we know where you live, placed outside the wrong house takes some beating), but I wish them no ill will either.
They are like that neighbour who can be sound, or just as easily an arse, dependent upon which way the wind is blowing. That one who occasionally parks his car inconsiderately.
In contemporary terms, Everton have struggled to settle on an approach to their football. They have lurched from pragmatism, to attempted expansion, and back again many times over. They are hamstrung by their last two compelling(ish) eras being David Moyes brand of trophyless not there, but thereabout, and Joe Royle’s dogs of war.
It is as if they do not know what they want to be. For every Ancelotti, Martinez, and Silva they have appointed, there has been an Allardyce, Moyes, and Smith.
Theoretically speaking, Rafa can do a very good job at Goodison. Practicalities are likely to dictate otherwise, however. Even if he does well, he is unlikely to be thanked for it. For examples of this, see his short spell in charge of Chelsea.
Given that spell he had at Stamford Bridge, it did remove the concept of there being any job he would turn down, in the name of partisanship to Liverpool. Taking the Everton job is also geographically handy to the Benitez family home. Take away the pantomime of football, and he would be mad not to take a Premier League job on his doorstep.
There will be a surprising amount of silent Evertonians who are willing to give Rafa a chance, while others will opt for round the clock indignation.
Conversely, there will be a surprising amount of silent Liverpudlians that will not decry him taking the Everton job on, just as long as Liverpool continue to do better than his new employers, while others will opt for round the clock indignation.
Many football supporters are emotion junkies. I am no different, except I tend to avoid the negative ones. Rafa was brilliant for Liverpool, the director of some of the finest moments of my Liverpool supporting life, and then he was ushered to the door by negligent owners. Taking the Everton job does not mean his place among the Anfield furniture is in jeopardy.
A lot of water has passed under the bridge since then, to the point that I am not sure bringing Rafa back to Anfield would ever have worked out. We will never now know the answer to that, but undeniably, football and Liverpool FC have moved on since 2010.
Rafa has struggled to find peace though. His time at Internazionale was cut short, seemingly an ill-fit for Serie A, only to prove otherwise at Napoli. Yet, by all accounts, he was no fan of Naples as an environment. There were stories of him taking walks along litter-strewn beaches, shaking his head and taking photos.
UEFA Cup won at Chelsea, while mocking them for the ‘interim’ tag he was branded with, Rafa eventually headed for home, and Real Madri – only to be unloved and unwelcome. He was sacked, a short few weeks after his team had put ten past Rayo Vallecano.
To Newcastle United Rafa went, where they ‘got him’ – at least on the terraces, if not in the boardroom, where dysfunction reigned until he made a run for China.
The thing with Rafa, is that he is polarising. Either he is understood and adored, or he is misunderstood and cast aside at the first hint of unrest.
And this is where he likely comes unstuck at Everton, for he will be walking into an arena where he is vehemently unwanted by some from the very start. Those who protest the loudest will already be sharpening the end of their pitchfork and lighting those torches in order for them to flame.
Are those silent Evertonians really going to ride into battle for Rafa when he is rounded on by the more militant?
Rafa at Everton will offer an interesting sideshow on Merseyside that will be hard to ignore, no matter what paths it goes down.