Trevor Steven: Supply teacher Rafa Benitez was never right fit for Everton
Watching them lose at Norwich City on Saturday made me realise that Rafa Benitez’s Everton were in crisis.
It was the first time I had worried about their prospects for the rest of the season, the first time I thought that there was nothing left from this group of players under that manager.
Although we don’t know what will happen next, Benitez’s sacking on Sunday came as a relief.
The former Liverpool boss was a divisive appointment last summer, and while a good start calmed disgruntlement among Everton supporters it didn’t last for long.
I never felt like Benitez fitted in at Goodison Park. We never got close to seeing Rafa’s Everton and he always had something of the supply teacher about him.
The team had one of the best records for points gained from losing positions. But what that also showed was that they kept going behind, and that’s not sustainable.
Benitez’s post-match comments about fundamental errors started to sound like a broken record. After a while, they just underlined his inability to rectify the problems.
Then there are the questions about his management style. Former Liverpool players paint it as brutal, and Rafa saw off sporting director Marcel Brands, chief medic Danny Donachie and left-back Lucas Digne in his seven months at Everton.
In his defence Benitez has argued that the poor results weren’t all his fault, and that he was hindered by some poor decisions made before his arrival.
There’s an element of truth in that. He can also cite the unavailability of Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison for much of his tenure.
But this Everton squad is not as bad as they have looked. We don’t know what has gone on inside the club, but the players’ body language and performances speak volumes.
Also, the club’s directors don’t kick a ball. Neither do they pick which players to sign. Bad results do come down to the manager and that’s why their heads roll.
Everton’s board now has a chance to go in a new direction but it won’t be easy to attract a new man without a close season bedding-in period.
Also, how many managers out there want the job? And are Everton in a position to offer anyone a long-term contract?
The obvious solution is to hand the reins to no-nonsense assistant manager Duncan Ferguson.
He may not get them playing well overnight, but he will make players take responsibility and that’s what Everton need right now.
Ferguson has stepped in before, for four games after Marco Silva left in 2019, and at 50, if he doesn’t have the experience and knowledge to take on the job for a longer spell now then perhaps he never will.
He hasn’t been himself under Benitez. Now he can vent his frustration and provide the rocket that some of the players seem to need.
I’d back him with an 18-month contract to show that he’s not just a finger in the dam.
Relegation is a real threat for Everton, who face a tough visit from Aston Villa this weekend.
The only saving grace is that the teams in the bottom three – Norwich, Newcastle United and, unfortunately, Burnley – all look doomed.
They still have a fight on their hands, though, but Ferguson is the perfect man to instill that.
Trevor Steven is a former England footballer who played at two World Cups and two European Championships. @TrevorSteven63.