The End of an Error

As many predicted, Farhad Moshiri lost his high-stakes gamble with the appointment of Rafael Benitez. The Spaniard's removal arguably came too late but at least it's done.

Lyndon Lloyd 16/01/2022 25comments  |  Jump to last

If you wanted to be charitable, the writing had been on the wall since the Goodison derby when Evertonian nightmares were realised with humiliation at the hands of the red horde as their former manager paced the technical area in front of the home dugout. In reality, the warning signs were in evidence in the 5-2 defeat to Watford; that it has taken until mid-January for Farhad Moshiri to face up to the ugly mistake that was hiring Rafael Benitez is, perhaps, a sign of the Monaco-based billionaire’s desire not to have to offload yet another manager or admit that he very much backed the wrong horse when he effectively gave the Spaniard the keys to the kingdom in recent weeks.

Moshiri is now looking for his sixth full-time head coach in almost as many years at the helm, with another hefty compensation settlement due to be finalised for a failed appointment. And, just like last year, the list of suitable, attractive and attainable candidates appears to be short, but there is no question that this long-overdue decision was the right one even if it throws the club back into uncertainty.

Some pundits, with Guilleme Balagué and his shameless antagonising of Evertonians on Twitter heading the queue, have blamed the financial situation at Everton, financial fair play rules, injuries, the impatience on the part of supporters and say that Benitez wasn’t given enough time. Football fans are notoriously impatient but they also know when something isn’t working, won’t ever work and, in the case of Benitez, was never going to. It was the wrong appointment from the outset.

The thing about time is that it can only be afforded to a manager if there are signs of a plan and some forward progress; give the wrong man too much of it and he’ll take you into the Championship. After 18 months, both Ronald Koeman and Marco Silva had Everton in the relegation zone amid steadily worsening results; given more time, Roberto Martinez would likely have dragged the Blues into the same mess, which is why it is utterly baffling to see the Catalan’s name head the list of potential replacements.

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Outside observers will also say that Evertonians were never going to give Benitez enough time and enough leeway because of the Liverpool connection but despite having him foisted on them by an owner who has revealed himself to be hugely out of touch with the fanbase, the fans did back what was an even more distasteful option than Sam Allardyce had been three years previously.

Benitez was always going to be fighting an uphill battle to a degree, but his ties to the red side of Merseyside were, in the final reckoning, largely irrelevant. Evertonians are partisan but they’re not fools; had the Spaniard been able to bring the stability required and then progression and ultimately, perhaps, trophy success over the long haul, the fans would have backed him to the hilt. To their credit, they welcomed him when he came out for the Blues’ season-opener against Southampton last August and were fully prepared to give him time given the difficult task he took on.

What they have seen unfold over the past few weeks has been worse than many fans feared and what began as uncomfortable tolerance with his appointment last summer became fully-fledged horror that the 61-year-old had this proud club in a tailspin that was headed straight for the Championship. The club remains in disarray but it feels as though an ulcer has been cut out for now even if there isn’t much faith that the hierarchy will get the next appointment right.

The revolving door at Goodison Park since David Moyes left for Old Trafford in 2013 has not done Everton any favours; there is no stability in constantly changing managers but there is also no sense in clinging to an obviously bad choice either. So, even though the decision to jettison Benitez arguably comes a month or so too late, at least it’s been made in sufficient time for the players to regroup and gird themselves for the fight to come over the second half of the season.

There’s also something to be said for making changes until it looks as though you’ve got the right pieces in place. It need not be as extreme as Watford, who seem to change managers every season, of course — in the seven years between 2014 and 2021, Tottenham appointed as many head coaches as Everton have since Roberto Martinez was axed, with Daniel Levy seeing sense a lot sooner than Moshiri in giving Nuno Espirito Santo (who came very close to being Everton manager last summer, let’s not forget) the bullet in November. At Chelsea, Roman Abramovich also hired five new head coaches in six years between Guus Hiddink in 2015 and Thomas Tuchel in 2021.

The Carlo Ancelotti episode aside, Everton don’t have the cachet or the resources to be able to dangle enormous contracts at star managers and given that their squad is far shallower and less established, there’s a strong argument to be made that the Blues do need a period of stability with a settled hire in place to actually build a team over time.

Benitez — as well as Abramovich, it seems — was clearly able to convince Moshiri that he was that man, despite the fact that his last trophy success was nine years ago and his last two coaching assignments were at Newcastle United and Dalian Professional in China. There was very little about the one-time Real Madrid manager that suggested he was the kind of forward-thinking coach, able to work alongside a Director of Football, nurture youth over a period of years and implement a coherent playing ethos.

On paper, though, he at least offered Premier League experience, pragmatism and tactical acumen, so, despite his unpopularity, Evertonians were at least prepared to afford him some time to see if he could put the club on an even keel following the shock of Ancelotti’s sudden departure.

Very little of those expected traits, however, have been in evidence from Benitez over the past few months. Even accounting for a shortage of quality players in the ranks and a varying problems with injuries to key players, Everton have been a shambles since September and have the worst record of any team in the division that time, which, given how poor the likes of Watford, Norwich and Newcastle have been this season, is quite an achievement.

While there were some early positives – the acquisition of Demarai Gray for just £1.7m will go down as his peak achievement at Goodison and Andros Townsend was a surprisingly useful addition despite his age – the Spaniard fell short on everything from man-management and team selection to game management and substitution policy. His tenure will be remembered for instances like at Brentford where he sat on his hands rather than bring on a striker to chase a 1-0 deficit that ended with a defeat by that slender scoreline and the decision to field a five-man back line with three full-backs at lower-division Hull in the FA Cup.

His persistence with Salomon Rondon, for example, a player who ranks among the worst to have donned the Royal Blue jersey in the Premier League era, smacked of ego and favouritism rather than a need to field the best team for the task at hand.

His team routinely fell behind in matches, putting themselves in a hole they rarely proved capable of digging themselves out of, even against the most goal-shy teams in the League. Likewise, an almost comical inability to coach his defence to defend set-pieces gifted goals to opposition teams. His inability to either foresee or address basic problems like his midfield being overrun by superior numbers, even against inferior opponents, was a damning indictment of how far behind the modern game his methods have fallen and just how unsuited to the role he was from the outset.

By the end, Benitez looked to have lost the players and when combined with open hostility from the fans, there was no way back.

In fact, the only thing for which Benitez was renowned that he actually brought with him to Everton was his ability to foment discord and drive people out of clubs with his political manoeuvring and intransigence. That led to the departure of Director of Football, Marcel Brands, last month and the freezing out of Lucas Digne before he was sold to Aston Villa this past week while, in the interim, he played Seamus Coleman out of position at left-back as if to spite the Frenchman.

Moshiri’s stubbornness in hiring Benitez in the face of demonstrated opposition from some supporters was billed as a huge gamble and one that required the manager to be successful if he were to overcome those initial objections over his affiliation with Liverpool.

Benitez, statistically the worst manager in Everton's history, had become the most pressing problem at a club riddled with them but, of course, his removal, while necessary and belated, throws up another vexing question — what next? And it’s one that has been complicated by the fact that Moshiri, in allowing Benitez to force Brands out just a few weeks ago, has dismantled the Director-of-Football structure that was, in theory, designed to facilitate the search for the club’s next manager.

It doesn’t appear as though Moshiri ever really listened to Brands anyway when it came to hiring managers and with Bill Kenwright’s fingerprints all over the shortlist for Benitez’s successor, perhaps the owner has thrown the towel in for now and ceded the decision over the next manager to the Chairman.

In the immediate term, handing the reins back to Duncan Ferguson would seem to be the obvious first step. The Scot famously inspired a handsome 3-1 win over Chelsea in 2019 and earned back-to-back draws against Manchester United and Arsenal and, with games against Aston Villa, Newcastle, Leeds and Southampton coming up in the Premier League, it’s conceivable his brand of fit-pumping energy could spur the Blues to a couple of wins that would go a long way to easing the danger of relegation.

The worry over Ferguson, raw and untried as he is, is that that enthusiastic leadership might burn out in the short run and that he lacks the coaching experience to engineer much beyond that but there are also plenty of fans who feel he deserves a shot until the end of the season at least to show whether he can do the job full-time.

Whatever happens, it’s clear that the dysfunction at what is still one of England’s biggest clubs runs deep. For that reason, the social media-driven 27 Campaign will likely continue to gain momentum and support as it drives for change in how Everton is governed. The hope, of course, is that it remains a Premier League outfit come the end of the season but without a course correction at the top, this cycle of chaos will merely continue.

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Reader Comments (25)

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Ian Hollingworth
1 Posted 16/01/2022 at 18:54:53
Good riddance to what was a very silly appointment by our owner and the sad outcome was predicted by many from the outset.
Sadly we just look a pathetically run club to the wider football world.
What next?
God knows as nothing we tried has worked the only thing left is blue passion and that’s what we have to tap into.
Derek Williams
2 Posted 16/01/2022 at 18:55:03
It’s amazing that if, as proved to be the case, he was only one game away from the bullet he was allowed to spend £25 million on two full backs.

Yes, we needed new full backs but are these the ones the new guy would have chosen himself? Not to mention allowing Digne to leave because of a fall out with a now no longer employed Benitez.

I’ve loved this club for sixty odd years but I despair of the way it’s run.

Personally I’d offer Lampard the job. He’s young and modern thinking and gives youth a chance. But I suspect Mosh is more likely to offer the job to Stevie Gee. Or Sam. Come on Mosh …. Pleasantly surprise us

Jerome Shields
3 Posted 16/01/2022 at 19:07:14
Lyndon don't know about, Everton have more errors than any other team in the Premiership. As for the board and major shareholder they are out of sight.
Joe Corgan
4 Posted 16/01/2022 at 19:27:27
This may have happened a month late so let’s be thankful that we have pretty much a month’s worth of postponed matches still to play.

Giving a manager the boot in mid-January in any other year may have left his successor with too much to do and too few games in which to do it.

Steve Hogan
5 Posted 16/01/2022 at 19:44:14
The full extent of the damage done to the club by Benitez might not be seen until the end of the season. Given the form of the current squad, relegation cannot be ruled out.

What a shambles though, Brands and the Head of the Medical team, Dan Donachie, were hung out to dry, on the instruction of a crazy, power mad zealot, whose tactics were so outdated it was embarrassing.

And yet to examine Benitez's track record over the last 20 years, exactly the same pattern of behaviour has emerged.

Fallout with player's, coaching staff, and anybody who happens to have a different opinion than the manager.

Fast forward to 2022, and guess what, major casualties at every club he has been employed at, except his own tenure of course, Rafa very rarely walks away from a job, why should he when he stands to gain millions of pounds from his gullible employers having to pay up the rest of his contract.

Whilst Brands time at Everton will be looked upon with mixed success, Donachie was highly regarded throughout football as being amongst the 'best in the business'.

What does that say then, about our current Board who were not only prepared to back Benitez when he demanded they be 'moved on' or forced to resign, but then provided him with the funds to go out and buy players, but to sack him three weeks later?

Rafa, was in fact an old dinosaur, not prepared to move with the times, and made some diabolical tactical decisions, coupled with a stubborn obsession to play his 'favourite disciple', Rondon.

Every man and his dog could see he was way past his best, but the arrogance of the man, in refusing to drop him, was plain to see.

The best we can hope for is to avoid relegation and then the retirement of Kenwright and co, the one constant over the last 25 years. We need a young modern manager with a clearly defined plan, and then be given time to execute it. Will it happen, over to you Mr Moshiri.

Barry Hesketh
6 Posted 16/01/2022 at 19:49:04
The one thing that I hope Benitez got right is his constant refrain that Everton would be better in the 2nd half of the season, well he got to haflway and lost his job, hopefully, the next manager does manage to improve the results in the remaining 19 games.
Clive Mitchell
7 Posted 16/01/2022 at 20:02:07
There was a moment when the Benitez regime fell apart. At home to Watford, on Saturday 23 October, with an hour gone, at 1-1, and with a returning Richarlison on the bench, up went the board for Richarlison to replace. Gordon. The crowd couldn't believe it.

Until that point no one was on Benitez back. Everyone could see what a poor side we were and what little he had to work with. No one blamed Benitez for bringing Salomon Rondon to the club. With no money he had to bring in a centre forward for precisely the eventuality we'd faced - no DCL and no Richy. But for an hour against Watford Rondon had delivered the most complete non-performance ever witnessed at Goodison Park.

At that moment Benitez lost the crowd. Within a couple of minutes we took a 2-1 lead, but that didn't repair the damage. As the boos rang out and the Watford goals rained in I witnessed our captain in heated argument with the people at the front of the Lower Bullens. Seamus was angrily asking for support; the crowd clearly replied as they gestured towards Rondon on the half way line that this wasn't a question of support, but one of outrage that Rondon had been left on the field by Benitez.

And I saw the captain shrug.

At that point I knew we were in the most profound trouble and had to change the Benitez leadership before it dragged us into the bottom three. I don't envy our new manager.

Bill Fairfield
8 Posted 16/01/2022 at 20:11:31
The end of an error will be when Moshiri sell’s up
Derek Thomas
9 Posted 16/01/2022 at 20:51:32
Rooney though? He's made a decent fist of the Derby Debacle, due, IMO, to the dedication he's shown and fine words he's spoken to inspire those inside the Club.

After all that, if he turns up this week with BPB's teary arm round his shoulder - is that the sort of cut and run merchant we want...forget need for now.

Even if he publicly rules himself out until the end of the season where does that leave his previous "We're all in this together" stance at Derby...Moshiri, not content with ruining this Club, has not done Derby any good either.

Rooney's next few utterances will be very interesting.

Still, there's one 'positive' (?) Kenwright now has a 'bar' on his 'still having his cake and eating it' medal

Jerome Shields
12 Posted 16/01/2022 at 22:07:16
On all threads no consideration has been given to the much needed recruits in this January Window. Which will probably be halted now. The other consideration is how players will now consider their future at the Club, namely : Pickford, Mina, Doucoure, Gray, Richarlison, Calvert-Lewin and Gordon.

After Ancelotti and Benitez where is the Manager with similar aspirations going to come from to keep players and attract them. Also will the funds be available for transfers during the Summer.

The Everton Board and Moshiri have of course taken account of all this when they took the decision to sack Benitez today in mid January.

Derek Moore
13 Posted 16/01/2022 at 22:12:23
He admires them, he hires them, he tires of them, he fires them. The buck stops with the man who ultimately is on the hook if it all goes wrong, and benefits in the same manner when it (haha) all goes right, Moshiri.

His lack of football business acumen, ability to articulate (let alone execute!) a vision of onfield success, respond quickly to mistakes or errors made, communicate effectively or even at all with the supporters, or build any sort of foundation for the present or future ought to concern every Evertonian.

The tone deaf hiring of Benitez is simply the latest and most egregious example yet. Moshiri was warned it wouldn't work. That a significant minority of fans wouldn't accept him. That Benitez was yesterdays man. Was warned it would last six months.
Hired him regardless. Lasted six months.

Anyone can buy a very expensive new supercar with enough money. But if after five years one guy has looked after his well enough that it looks as good as the day he bought it - and another guy wrapped his around a pole, and the final guy still has his but it's covered in dents and scratches and the seat linings are covered in cigarette burns and stains then I make a value judgment on whom I believe the better owner of a supercar is.
In those broad terms Moshiri is the fellow wrapping this club around the pole, getting the dents beaten out and running it even more quickly into the next one.
How long can this go on? I mean, it's a fair question. How long can this go on?

As for the error that is the body of the piece, even an honest reading of the departure message Benitez released to the fans is revealing. There's very little evidence of navel gazing on our former managers part. An entire treatise on external circumstances and some nicely sly digs at Benitez perception of the clubs overall level of governance.
Here's a question for you - if he'd been able to keep Ancelotti's set piece defensive scheme together do you think he'd still have a job? Benitez doesn't see it that way; there's the problem.

He wasn't the right guy for us. I said so from the start, it was as obvious as the nose upon your face. Who is the right guy for us though? In the vacuum of leadership within our club such an individual would be a rare find indeed. Is such a person available to us?
Presumably it's Bill Kenwright directing the search for the successor?

It's mildly amusing that a proportion of the successor debate is reduced to managers from the Moshiri era making a sequel, with Roberto Martinez in the frame. So large is the field of former managers of course that it does indeed make a worthy debating point of it's own. (Therein lies another problem)
But there's nothing amusing about the position we're in now. We must accumulate points quickly to attain safety. And then the strategic review - but a genuine strategic review - must occur.

Otherwise there's little doubt this merry go round just keeps going round.

John Raftery
15 Posted 16/01/2022 at 22:26:21
We might as well ask season ticket holders to vote for their preferred candidate from a list of those who want the job. That would be crazy but no more so than anything we have seen unfold in the past six years.

Meanwhile Ancelotti has seen his Real Madrid team win the Spanish Supercopa. He must be very grateful he scarpered last summer having seen the writing on the wall.

Andrew James
19 Posted 17/01/2022 at 02:02:14
Derek @13

I don't consider Martinez to be anything to do with Moshiri as he bought in just before we reached the semis of the FA Cup and soon after Martinez was gone.

What I would say is that since Moshiri came in and Kenwright has continued to be influential, we've not been as successful during the Martinez or Moyes eras despite spending a lot more cash.

Before Moshiri we had 14 years under 2 coaches with little money but mostly top half finishes, European football and cup runs.

In the last 6 years we've finished 7th once, 8th twice and crashed out of Europe subsequent to the former finish.

It's an epidemic - late autumn of 2017 we get rid of Koeman and in comes Allardyce. Early winter of 2019 and out goes Silva for Ancelotti. Earky winter 2022 and we've fired Benitez.

There's something wrong when we are sacking a coach every 18 months on average (if you include Allardyce and take out Ancelotti)

Paul Cherrington
20 Posted 17/01/2022 at 08:39:33
There is no doubt that Benitez had to go – he carries the can as manager and you just cannot survive after the run we are on.

The insistence on playing a 2-man midfield was a major blunder too which has cost us. I do feel a bit sorry for him though because he is another manager this squad of players has thrown under the bus – again! Whoever comes in needs to find a way to get through to our players and terrify or inspire consistent performances out of them.

That's why it should Big Dunc for me (or Rooney if not). We need someone who will lift everyone around the club instantly and has a real connection to us. Another coach without this type of connection will just not give us that inspiration we need right now. We also someone who has that edge about them to get stuck into players when needs be.

I also think there is one major element around our current woes which is not discussed much but could be significant. Has the ongoing police investigation into a nameless first-team player caused behind-the-scenes issues and led to the problems we are now seeing on pitch?

Something is not right in the dressing room – anyone can see that. Have we got two warring factions in effect – those who believe the player is innocent, fighting those who think him guilty? This type of thing can have a huge effect.

I remember a club close to where I live having something similar when a few players were accused of assault on a pre-season tour a few years back. It derailed the whole season.

Stan Schofield
21 Posted 17/01/2022 at 08:58:19
As with each of the managers since Moshiri came here, I was very patient with Benitez. But ultimately he was a disaster for Everton. Not only is the string of results appalling, and the tactics and team selections, but he managed to get rid of two of our better, most creative players in Rodriguez and Digne, in a very unprofessional way, at a time when we are lacking quality-in-depth.

And the fact that he was allowed to get away with it says everything about the quality of leadership at the very top of Everton. Absolutely appalling.

Tony Everan
22 Posted 17/01/2022 at 09:27:28
Lyndon, I agree handing back the reins to Duncan Ferguson would seem obvious. No mention ever gets aired about any complicity at all in his role of Assistant Manager throughout this period. He seems to come out of every failed period enhanced and better thought of. Was he protesting, putting his job on the line, or quietly falling into line and agreeing with Benitez to keep his job. I respect Duncan, he loves the club but I am also very hesitant about him for the top role, for this and the other reasons you mention. Especially the ‘lightning in a bottle’ effect.

Same goes for most of the other names, Martinez got progressively worse, failed, was hounded out and sued us. Can’t understand why Bill Kenwright is advocating him.

Potter would have been a team and identity building manager in the summer dovetailing with Brands. But now it’s looking unlikely, the stars have unfavourably realigned. But I thought his comments yesterday left the door open just a little. So you never know.

Whoever comes in will need unwavering unity of support to haul us 40 points. Any more division, for any reason, will see us relegated.

So my feeling is to ignore the name and back the club. Then hope that June can bring a new start with the successful incumbent or a better successor.

Rob Halligan
23 Posted 17/01/2022 at 09:30:00
Clive # 7. Spot on and I agree 100%. I can also refer to the Brentford game. 1-0 down after half an hour. Ok still plenty of time to pull the game back, and knowing we had three forwards on the bench if required. Ok, those three forwards were Tosun, Simms and Dobbin, not the greatest by any stretch of the imagination, but still three forwards. Time ticks by and we’re still losing, and Rondon is still on the pitch, having done sweet FA. We all know the result and just to compound matters, Benitez didn’t make one single substitution. Why not? I think this game was the first when the FSW songs became really venomous. The players were getting the verbals at the end, but most of the anger was directed at Benitez.
Pat Kelly
24 Posted 17/01/2022 at 12:58:21
"...without a course correction at the top, this cycle of chaos will merely continue."

The most telling comment in this article.

There's no sign of that much needed course correction on the horizon. The rush is on to find another short-term manager.

Moshiri appears to be happy enough to continue like this. He could have put in a proper professional Board, with experience of running a successful football club, but has chosen to allow amateurs to let it lurch from crisis to crisis. Fair enough, it's his money and he's thrown plenty of it into the bottomless pit he's allowed develop.

While the football is nothing to write home about, the behind the scenes drama is at least entertaining and keeps us on the edge of our seats on a regular basis.

Scott Robinson
25 Posted 17/01/2022 at 12:58:38
Paul @ 20. Spot on. The effect of this off-the-field incident must carry some bearing. I wouldn't be surprised at all given the gravity of the offence.

The players and manager would just have to 'block' this out. It can't be helpful.

The disintegration against Watford speaks volumes. 'Something' isn't right.

Nicholas Ryan
26 Posted 17/01/2022 at 13:25:16
Paul [20] A dreadful thought has occurred to me, which I hadn't considered until reading your post. What if 'He who must not be named' is not the only player allegedly involved in criminal behaviour?

What if the reason the police inquiry is taking so long, is that they are looking into the phones, emails etc. of other players?

Could it be, that some of our squad are going to sleep at night, dreading the early morning knock?

I sincerely hope not, but it would provide some sort of explanation as to sub-par performances.

Michael Fox
27 Posted 17/01/2022 at 15:39:14
So, what I can work out from all the posts is, if we change the owner and change the board, the background staff, the coaching team, the medical staff, the players, and the stadium, we'll be grand.

Right... let's go.

Jonathan Haddock
28 Posted 17/01/2022 at 16:35:39
All Benitez’s back room staff now gone, but Dunc remains.
Steve Carse
29 Posted 17/01/2022 at 19:34:22
Jonathan (28), but presumably that's because Benitez brought them all in. In doing so he pushed Ferguson so far to the fringes of his staff that it would not be fair to attach any culpability to him.
These are uncharted times, and the qualities needed to prevent our travel to the Championship will be multiple. I couldn't countenance Ferguson being given the management job for more than the next few weeks but, as an ingredient in the integration of a new manager and as someone who will provide the spirit that Benitez and his imported team couldn't, he could still prove invaluable.
Colin Roberts
30 Posted 19/01/2022 at 13:19:03
I have supported Everton since we won the old First Division in 1962-63. We have mostly been average with fantastic highs (beating Bayern Munich) and some edge-of-a-cliff moments (beating Wimbledon after being 2 goals adrift). Despite that (with a brother who supported Liverpool), I have always thought we were too good to really go down.

I must admit that I am now nervous as I cannot see us winning a game. It comes to something when I would have been pleased with a draw against the likes of Brentford and Norwich. To my utter dismay, I would not take a bet that we would beat Norwich!!

To be fair to Benitez, we were in a mess before he came and I was pleased with the way we started the season. Were we all wrong about him? Gray and Townsend for instance, were proving me wrong big time. Unfortunately not; the Watford game was the last straw for me and Rafa should have gone then.

Let's give big Dunc a chance possibly to the end of the season. We will at least play with some passion and pride.

Kim Vivian
31 Posted 19/01/2022 at 18:22:32
Don't know about you guys but I'm looking forward to reading Duncan's unredacted biography in a few years - particularly the chapters relating to the half dozen years or so immediately prior to him lifting Everton's first silverware since 1994.

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