“When it came to comfortable and convenient Catteries, ‘The Well’ was without compare” – Little Johnny Flynn
“Fame has been good for Joey. Fucking loves it he does. Just hope he doesn’t get a big head hahaha haha *hurghhh*……Giz a groat and you can gozz on him!” – Tom Norman, penny gaff proprietor, Whitechapel Road
“….the tried-and-tested, proven experienced manager and stellar name. If that is what Moshiri still wants, Benitez is an obvious choice” – Jamie Carragher, phlegm-firing football pundit
Rafa Benitez. An obvious choice.
It’s like a Metropolis gardener (LexCorp Landscaping, like) maintaining green kryptonite is the glaringly obvious radioactive element required to complete Superman’s glorious ornamental rockery. Given the multitude of big stones – shiny or shite-encrusted – in the known galaxy, why go all out for the one option guaranteed to cause the most adverse gut reaction?
Starved of success, entertainment, excitement and hope, for some the only definable identity Evertonians have remaining is being different to them… the red horde. Rightly or wrongly, a deep-rooted mutual loathing of Liverpool FC and everything they and their maudlin, smear-proof media image represent, is the one thing a majority of Evertonians have been able to readily buy into and agree upon in recent times.
The club themselves have not been above playing into this ‘profound difference’ either, promoting themselves as “The People’s Club” on Merseyside, positing that (unlike some of a more plastic persuasion) Evertonians are “Born, not manufactured”, laminating Brian Labone’s famous “One Evertonian is worth twenty Liverpudlians” line and leaving it hanging on the wall in the inner halls of Goodison Park, and gleefully adopting Grand Old Team with its “We don’t care what the red side say” lyrics as a pre-match anthem.
Now the above can be conveniently disregarded as it has suddenly been decided one of this ‘different’ breed was an obvious choice to be declared Everton boss. Rafa Benitez. Not just a former manager of a rival club, but a man synonymous with the red shite.
A man whose face adorns a flag on the Kop along with Shankly, Fagan and Daglish.
A man who Everton’s official club website carried a statement about, opining “Somehow we just expect more of a Liverpool manager."
A man whom, when in charge of Chelsea, had to be told by the club captain to stop carping on about Liverpool.
A man who, upon returning to Anfield, visibly welled up when the tourists started scarf-waving to that droning dirge, despite the fact he was sat in the fucking opposition dug out!
A man who held out hope for years that someday he might get the call to go back, and had his media pals like Guillem Balague let it be known that ‘Rafa would love to be Liverpool manager again at some point… in a time of crisis, all they need do is pick up the phone to Rafa’.
Well, they didn’t… but someone else with the same area code did. He was the ‘obvious choice’ after all. Why?
Because he’s “experienced and still lives local”? Selection criteria as comprehensive as 18-year-old Wayne Rooney’s when settling on that ‘auld slapper’. Because he won the Champions League 16 years ago?
We just witnessed a guy who won it three times (and more recently) serve up ball-shrinkingly boring, safety-first shite for most of the season, along with the second-worst home record in the club’s history, while looking completely clueless and wondering out-loud why we expected modern magic when all he had was methods from the Mesolithic age.
Because of his more recent managerial history? A 5-year win percentage of less than 40%; dismissal from Real Madrid after 6 months – said to be due to unpopularity with both supporters and players; a record at Newcastle that stacks up to Steve Bruce; and doing just enough to pull Dalian Professional through the dark days of the Chinese Super League relegation play-offs by leaving Shijiazhuang Ever Bright in the shade.
And they had the cheek to call Carlo ‘Fantastico’? Fuck me!
What else? Because he’s a “stellar name” like Carragher suggests? Currently such a prize catch that he had been a free agent for over 5 months and, of the last two clubs to take him on, one was in the Far East and the other was falling toward the Championship.
The press love to say we’re going for a ‘big name’ – except we’ve never actually pulled it off without having to first frantically brush away layers of dust and dirt like on a fucking archeological dig.
Following the superhero theme, Everton employing Benitez because he’s ‘a stellar name’ is akin to producing a Spiderman movie and casting Adam bloody West in the lead role: “Admittedly Adam’s best days may be long behind him… in fact, we’ve literally just had to dig the bloke up… but chuck his still decomposing corpse against a wall and he will stick like a clammy bastard and – complete bonus – free webs!”
He certainly wasn’t ‘an obvious choice’ on the basis of the immediate unifying effect his employment would have upon supporters. Anyone with an ounce of sense and a head not chokingly smothered by arse cheeks could foresee this would be an appointment inherent with widely alienating potential.
Even before confirmation from the club was forthcoming, a schism was already forming, with fuming (or forlorn) fans saying they feel so strongly about this selection that they will refuse to set foot in the ground while Rafa is there, along with fellow Blues replying with “Well, fuck off then”, “Good riddance”, “You won’t be missed” etc.
Evertonians turning on each other over a red relic and arguing the merits of a man with possibly outdated methods who our local rivals moved on over a decade ago, who ran this club down in public, and whose last job was sweating his plums off in China while perusing a Saga Holiday catalogue.
A man with a history of dull counter-attacking football, pugnacious public pronouncements, and a propensity for in-fighting.Playing down his (admittedly, in the distant past) public proclamation that Everton were piss-ant by retroactively reasoning “that isn’t what he meant, it was taken out of context”, just because he tried to worm his way out of it years later, when it suddenly suited, as the idea of a Premier League job close to his gaff being a convenient gig began to germinate and he was generously given the opportunity by Carragher to state his case on Sky TV.
Or people say “What does it matter? He called us a small club, so what? Grow up!” etc. While it may be convenient to paint objections on that basis as petty cavilling, proceeding straight to blithe dismissal of such a concern does not make you the ‘bigger man’, ‘a better Blue’, or more reasonable. It just means you’re ready to swallow and stomach what someone else finds unpalatable.
For some, his words will still matter here and now, these many years later, and in this particular situation because, if that is what he believed then, it is likely that is what he believes now (considering the club's on-field fortunes have mainly been on a downward trajectory in the decade plus change since then, we recently finished 10th and 12th under a supposedly world class ‘winner’, and the board conspires to make itself look like an utterly slipshod operation during every shambolic new manager search).
If your own manager – the man tasked with fronting your operation and being the public face of the club – deep-down reckons you’re a poxy, second-rate shower of shite not fit to lick the shoes of your local rivals (but you’ll do as a convenient stop-off point on the road to retirement), then how can he be expected to inspire and imbue others with pride in the shirt, or convince them that this is a club they should feel privileged to represent, one which will provide them with a platform to reach their true potential and possibly compete to pick up tin pots?
Let’s not kid ourselves. We’re not bearing witness to an advanced case of apostasy on Rafa Benitez’s part, but rather pure and blatant expediency. He was desperate for a Premier League job; one materialised not far from his door that would be most handy for him… murky history be damned. All the talk of being tempted by ambition, hunger, proving a point etc, is just the usual smoke and mirrors manager-speak.
Fans of a club who, in recent times, have invited a litany of chancers to rock up and take the piss, irrespective of contemporary track record and/or true suitability to the task at hand, are hardly going to be falling all over themselves to welcome someone of similar faded profile to the last failure… and that’s before you throw in the fact he previously managed your arch-rivals and publicly poured scorn on the club’s standing while sporting a post-match titty lip on live TV.
As a display of malcontent, disapproving bedsheets draped outside a football ground may carry a distinct whiff of mouthy bellend (and one left ‘menacingly’ close to the target’s home taking things much too far) but they are still symptomatic of a sense of disenfranchisement that has been swelling over the past five or six seasons. The influx of a benefactor’s billions was supposed to propel Everton to bigger and better things, but it has merely heightened frustration with continued calamities and failures, while abrading away harmony.
When the club had a lack of funds to fall back on, fans could at least be comforted by the conciliatory belief that players in a blue shirt would, at a bare minimum, bring collective passion and fight to the effort, and for their part supporters would back those on the pitch through thick and thin. That reciprocal relationship has receded to such an extent that occasions in which it is felt in full flow, such as the few games Duncan Ferguson was in charge as caretaker, immediately stand out as raucous rarities.
Now, players are pegged as overpaid mercenaries coming to Everton for a cushy, comparatively pressure-free Premier League gig, considered talented but not pulling their weight, or having the heart for a battle, or lacking talent and written off as ‘Championship at best’.
We’ve seen the sending off of Ashley Williams being met by cheers, Schneiderlin and Delph being booed by their own supporters – the first while coming on as sub following a litany of lethargic displays, the latter getting some back after online arguments with Blues, blasting his own team-mates for being “fucking shit” and telling Holgate to “have some fucking respect, you little prick”.
We’ve had a manager informing one of his own players that it would be a waste of his potential if he spent his career pissing about at Everton, loyal away fans who follow their team all over the country forced to sing “Fuck off, Sam Allardyce” to try and convince the club owner to belatedly blot clean a stain he should never have brought upon the club in the first place, and the last guy to be paid mega bucks basically shrugging his shoulders while saying ‘This shit’s got nothing to do with me’.
We have an owner in Moshiri who already has form for not only ignoring the wishes of a large section of fans for the worse, but also for acting the embarrassing fuckwit:
- Whacking off WhatsApp messages to his mate Jim White and phoning him live on air while sounding arseholed on mulled wine.
- All the “Hollywood of Football” waffle when he admitted to appointing Koeman because he simply wanted “a star to stand on the touch line”.
- Claiming Lukaku vacated the premises because he’d been pissing about with “voodoo”.
- Employing the Equalizer’s elder brother as the club’s first Director of Football due to his unique Chief Scout / PE Teacher past.
- Saying the club cooled on signing Sissoko because he happened to catch Oliver Twist on Channel 5 one night and couldn’t help telling James McCarthy to consider himself ‘one of the family’.
- Futilely chasing after Marco Silva just 8 games into his Watford contract before walking away and employing the vastly different and disgraced safety-specialist Sam Allardyce.
- Justifying the appointment of the aforementioned ‘chuddy chewing, cleaned-up Desperate Dan due in court’ looking dinosaur by saying he rabidly followed his career, read his book, and regarded him as the most underrated manager in the game.
- Bigging up the bag-of-queefs quartet of Tosun, Sigurdsson, Bolasie and Rooney “as our own Fab Four”.
- Bizarrely sending season ticket holders a survey asking them to rate ‘Big’ Sam’s managerial performance so far on a scale of 0 to 10.
- Going back for the unemployed Silva after Watford sacked him for being a shite flash-in-the-pan and still ending up paying £4M in compensation to his former club.
- Bringing in Marcel Brands to oversee all football operations and implement a consistent and sustainable strategy, before immediately ‘John Wayne Bobbit’ing the bloke by taking the biggest decision out of his hands and hiring whoever he happens to have a hunch about as first-team boss. **
Now Rafa Benitez is the ‘obvious choice’ of managerial balm to rub into these wounds and bring everyone back together?
I can readily believe that most Evertonians who were mildly to moderately opposed to his appointment will now be of the mindset to give the man a chance. After all, he’s since been handed the role and, as a fanbase, we like to think of ourselves as fair, reasonable and above rank and file fulmination.
However, we also know it doesn’t take much for football supporters to skew from a shared state of equitability to a splintered throng of flagellating fume. Benitez will be given time, but it will be time as tokenism and likely to be a lot less than would be given to someone lacking his unique baggage.
Unless he’s going to walk in and get off to a great start and then maintain that start, he’s going to get shit. There’s no getting away from it.
You can write the crowd reaction for the early games already. There will be polite applause. The odd gobshite will give him grief right from the start, only to be told by those nearby to knock it on the head, before having to make do with sitting there glaring menacingly like that monobrowed baby off The Simpsons who wore a meffy white hat and thought Maggie was a wanker.
First few bad results, though, and the gobshitery will grow, shouts to ‘shut up and give the man a chance’ will shrivel, murmurings among the more reasonable will start, followed almost immediately by the Family Enclosure becoming the Evertonian equivalent of the ‘Five Points’, circa 1862 (except… err… edgier and with less elaborate headwear… along with a much more theatrical villain named ‘Bill’).
Gabby Agbonlahor was speaking recently about his time playing under Alex McLeish when he became Aston Villa boss, after previously being in charge of rivals Birmingham City. He mentioned that, every single time Villa were losing a game, the atmosphere swiftly became “poisonous” in the stands and this pressure made it doubly difficult for the players to perform. For him, it was never likely to work and the fans were always going to turn, as there had been resistance to the mere possibility of McLeish being in charge, even before pen touched paper.
If the atmosphere at Goodison Park does take a similar rapid turn for the worse, then you wonder (1) how long it will take for our players to wilt and begin to wrangle for change; and (2) how long Benitez will bite his tongue and refrain from taking a pop back, as was his wont in the past. My worry is that the answer to both will be ‘not long at all’.
Displays of disaffection and disillusionment are not simply going to cease and disappear for good just because Benitez has now landed the gig, to the chagrin of those opposed. They will simply be put on the back burner until the first opportunity to bemoan a bad decision, or a dodgy run of results, and then the buildup of bile is likely to pour straight back out.
Or, as they put it in the film from which the title for this article was filched:
Reporter: “As sad as the spectacle of these billboards might be, this reporter for one hopes this finally puts an end to the strange saga of the three billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri.”
Mildred: [drives by and shouts] “This didn't put an end to shit, you fucking retard; this is just the fucking start. Why don't you put that on your Good Morning Missouri fucking wake-up broadcast, bitch?”
** I spent a few days sick as a dog after starting to write this and came out of a fever to see Farhad has been at it again, handily providing his reasoning as to why Benitez was ‘an obvious choice’.
Clearly I was wrong to suggest he has gone against fan opinion in the past. In fact, it’s the complete opposite. Moshiri has always, always listened to the fans in the past, sometimes to a fault, but this time he’s going it alone, going with his gut.
Not only that, but he is also the ‘biggest Everton fan’ of them all (cut to Bill’s head exploding like the bloke from ‘Scanners’) and everyone else will eventually come to see it his way when they get a load of the new guy’s unbelievable work ethic – conveniently forgetting he came out with exactly the same rhetoric about Allardyce:
“I know he [Allardyce] is a man who gives it his all and is focused 24 hours a day on the Club.”
“The man [Benitez] will be first in, last out at Finch Farm, who gives everything.”
Still, if that wasn’t reassuring enough, confidence levels must surely have been sent through the roof when Moshiri revealed that Rafa “on his computer has maybe 3,000 players' details.”
Cut to: Benitez booting up his Dell and Moshiri’s mouth dropping open in amazement:
“What voodoo is this? So, we are the blue circles and who are the other circles again? Look how fast we are… and this name here has ‘wonder kid’ next to it. We must sign him, Rafa, we must, before word gets out!”
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