All The Best, Rafa. I Hope You Lose Every Game

Let me absolutely clear: I never want Everton Football Club to win so much as a raffle and that won’t change now that Rafael Benitez has taken over as the club’s manager. In a perfect world, he’ll end up getting them relegated, which will maintain his relationship with Liverpool supporters and won’t make any difference to how Bluenoses feel about him, given that they all seem to hate him anyway. This piece isn’t about me wanting the Spaniard to be a success at Goodison Park; far from it. It is my sincere hope that he loses every single match in charge of the club. At the same time, though, I don’t feel as angry about him joining our neighbours as a fair amount of Reds seem to. They are perfectly entitled to their opinions on the matter, of course, and in many ways I respect them very much. I just can’t get angry about the decision, given how much joy Benitez gave me during his time at the club. Istanbul will forever be one of the best nights of my life.

Sitting and watching England play against Germany last night, I realised that many football supporters only care about the end result. Gareth Southgate’s team selection was dull and uninspiring, putting seven defensive players on the pitch in a match that was there for the taking. It would be unfair to suggest that the 2-0 scoreline flattered England, but had Thomas Müller scored his chance things might have turned out very differently and, rather than looking inspired, Southgate’s selection would have been seen as negative and lacking in inspiration. Right now, Evertonians are universally angered by the likely appointment of our former manager, but how will they feel about him if he gets them in the top four or wins them their first trophy since 1995? As with England last night, for many people nothing matters apart from the results. Is the Spaniard tarnishing his reputation with Liverpool fans by taking the job? Probably, but he owes us nothing.

He’s Earned The Right To Take Whatever Job He Wants

From a purely footballing point of view, Rafa Benitez has earned my long-term admiration and respect. The journey to Istanbul alone was a thrilling one, defeating the likes of Juventus and José Mourinho’s all-conquering Chelsea on the way to the European Cup final. That the final itself was such an iconic one merely serves to add to the mystique around what was a crazy and memorable journey. When add to that the fact that the Spaniard was the last manager to win the FA Cup for Liverpool, it’s easy to see why he’s so beloved by Reds. He stood up to Alex Ferguson in a manner that made me proud, even if the press decided to make him into a joke because of it. I’d sooner see a Liverpool manager attack the Scot than defer to him as Roy Hodgson did. He also came so close to winning the Premier League title, pushing Manchester United all the way during the 2008-2009 campaign and only missing out because of Ferguson’s brilliance.

Away from the football, the former Valencia manager emerged himself in the culture of Liverpool Football Club. What he’s done for the Hillsborough Justice Campaign and the Hillsborough Family Support Group, often without any press or public fanfare, has been brilliant. Imagine how the likes of Margaret Aspinall feel about him, or how Anne Williams’ family will view the manager. Some things are more important than football, which Benitez has proven time and again with his work in the city. His wife, Montse Benitez, has also done amazing work to raise money for charities on the Wirral and Merseyside. They have made the Wirral their family home, forgoing the chance to return to Spain where the weather and lifestyle are much more appealing. What the two of them have done for the people in the area should never be overlooked or forgotten and, in my eyes at least, means that he gets a free pass to do whatever he wants with his career.

He Owes Liverpool Football Club Nothing

Virtually every Liverpool supporter that you spoke to in the past couple of years was full of praise and admiration for Rafa Benitez. He was revered by Reds to such an extent that you’d be forgiven for thinking that his time at the club was nothing but plain sailing and one big love-in. Anyone who stood on the Kop during the time of his reign knows different, of course. There was all-out civil war raging at the time, with a large portion of fans calling him a ‘fat Spanish waiter’ and booing him and his team off the pitch in spite of the fact that there were at the top of the table. Benitez stood up to the cowboy owners that we had at the time, doing what he could to support those fans that marched and campaigned to get them removed as the club’s custodians even whilst others jeered them and wondered why they were bothering. Imagine doing what Benitez did as a manager for Liverpool and then being booed and slagged off by the people that you’d done everything to help and support.

His departure from the club wasn’t exactly on good terms. He was treated appallingly by the owners and a large number of Liverpool supporters were glad to see him go. We can all pretend differently now, but a quick look at social media from the time will paint a very different picture. I’d be willing to bet that a good portion of those saying he’s ‘dead to them’ now for joining Everton were the same ones celebrating his departure from Anfield in 2010. He has always been a pragmatist and he’ll be more than aware that his future doesn’t involve a return to the dugout for the Reds. I have heard that he endured a terrible time in China, effectively being trapped there and locked into a punishing contract. As his managerial career reaches its latter stages, who can blame him from wanting to take a job right on his doorstep? He might not be the manager that he once was, but I think he might just be the perfect man for Everton. I hope he loses every match, but I don’t begrudge him his decision.

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