For so long before Rafa Benitez was appointed, Everton were been nothing short of chaotic.
Even amid their promising run under Carlo Ancelotti last season, the club’s home form was an embarrassment and they largely relied on the individual quality of Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison going forward. James Rodriguez, meanwhile, doesn’t even know who his team are playing on the weekend.
Despite some admirable investment from owner Farhad Moshiri, they just can’t get it right. At times, it seems that money has blindly been spent to rectify a period of poor spending. Rinse. Repeat. Now, however, things look like changing.
Indeed, if the early portion of the Premier League campaign has taught us anything, it’s that Rafa Benitez taking over as Everton boss looks to be the signing of the summer.
As controversial an appointment as Benitez may have been, Everton have one of the greatest managers in history. Even Ancelotti – who is technically more successful than the Spaniard – has never been as celebrated tactically, or as noted for building teams.
The £1.5m signing of Demarai Gray has already had a transformative impact. No longer do the team look one-paced and, finally, they have someone who can break behind enemy lines after a period in which they appeared to be obsessed with signing No.10s to play in front of an opposition defence.
Andros Townsend has excelled under Benitez’s stewardship before and – with Calvert-Lewin and Salomon Rondon to aim for – looks like a smart signing to further stretch the play.
With Benitez in tow, Everton can get rid of some of the nonsense that has undermined their ambitions to challenge the top six. During his time at Newcastle, it was said that the former Liverpool and Real Madrid coach was worth ten points himself, such is his ability to tactically outmaneuver his rivals. Add ten points to their tally last season and Everton finish fourth.
Clearly, it won’t be as easy as that given the improvements of the likes of Chelsea but it does show how capable Everton are of challenging under Benitez. They’re functional rather than fantastic and, crucially, it’s working.
So often, Moshiri appeared to be swayed by delusions of grandeur. Paying big money for cast-offs from big clubs, there seemed to be an obsession with huge names in lieu of well-thought planning. Style over substance.
Benitez, of course, is a big name himself but was not an easy appointment for Everton. A European Cup-winning Liverpool manager to have called his current employers ‘a small club’ years ago, it was a hugely controversial decision to move for the Spaniard.
Few would doubt Everton could have gone a more simple route. They had already proven willing to pay superstar managerial names enough to move to Goodison Park, so it’s not as if their options would have been particularly limited.
So, sticking to their guns and risking the wrath of supporters has to be commended. While the feeling that Everton fans will turn on Benitez when form starts to dip remains, the early signs look overwhelmingly positive.
The club boasts good players. Not quite elite but good enough to challenge the proverbial big boys when organised correctly. Ancelotti couldn’t do that consistently enough. If there’s one man who can, it’s Benitez.
While at St James’ Park, his team (lower in quality to this Everton outfit) recorded famous wins over the likes of Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester City. Quite how far he can take this expensively assembled Toffees team is looking like one of the most interesting sub-plots to the season.
Finally, Everton are working smart and, in Rafa Benitez, they have a man capable of building something substantial. These are early days but, whisper it quietly, Benitez to Everton might be the signing of the season.
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