When Rafa Benitez first entered talks with the Everton hierarchy, even he would not have expected this level of backlash to his appointment.
The former Liverpool boss has plenty of bridges to build if he is to be successful on the blue half of Merseyside, but the hard work is already underway at Goodison Park.
Here, Sportsmail takes a look at the Spaniard’s in-tray to see exactly what should be top of his agenda as he looks ahead to his first season in charge of Everton…
Rafael Benitez is the new Everton boss – but he has plenty in his in-tray over the coming months
Keeping the star attackers
Carlo Ancelotti is, of course, a huge name in the world of football and his position as manager of Everton attracted a host of top names to the club, none more so than James Rodriguez.
With Ancelotti gone, there are rumours flying that some of Everton’s most exciting attacking talent could follow him out of the door.
Rodriguez and Richarlison are two players rumoured to be unhappy now that the Italian has gone, while the Sun have reported that Real Madrid – and Ancelotti – are keen to sign Dominic Calvert-Lewin in a £50million summer deal.
Benitez must keep the core of his squad together, and the three players mentioned above are perhaps the most important when it comes to attacking threat. If he is to improve them this season, he must sit down with the wantaway stars and convince them that Merseyside is the place for them to be.
The likes of James Rodriguez (centre) are said to be unhappy and he must keep them onside
Dominic Calvert-Lewin (left) has been linked with a £50m move to Real Madrid this summer
Getting the fans onside (somehow)
Now, this one is easier said than done. Football fans have long memories, and Benitez’s association with Liverpool – and their 2005 Champions League win, no less – will be difficult for many Everton fans to put to one side.
Add to that Benitez calling his new employers a ‘small club’ while at Anfield, and you’ve got quite a difficult situation to overcome.
Benitez started well in his first interview by repeatedly insisting that he will give everything to Everton, but it will take a lot more than that to have the stands cheering his name.
The easiest way to get the fans onside, of course, is by winning football matches, and it’s entirely feasible that the past can be forgotten by November if the Toffees start the season fast. If he manages that, and keeps reinforcing his positive comments about Everton, he could yet be on to a winner.
Frustrated Everton fans hung anti-Benitez banners outside Goodison Park earlier this month
His history with Liverpool (pictured) has led to a difficult start to life in the hotseat at Everton
Improve the style of play
Especially at home, Everton have been very difficult to watch for the last few seasons. Even under a manager of the stature of Ancelotti, the football has been drab and defensive, with many fans bemoaning the lack of excitement.
Benitez can change that this season, and if he improves their home record then he will surely be onto a winner. The squad is impressive, and they certainly have the players capable of securing a positive finish inside the top half of the Premier League.
With fans set to return after a very difficult 18 months too, this is a brilliant opportunity for Benitez to provide some much-needed entertainment.
The system must change – Everton can’t continue to stick everyone behind the ball, relying on the counter-attack to nick a goal. If he can get the team playing, and scoring, then only positive things can occur.
Everton’s style of play, particularly at home, has left fans wanting much more from their side
Spend money wisely
Again, it sounds simple, but it’s not something that many of the previous Everton managers have achieved. Director of football Marcel Brands is integral to the incomings and outgoings at Goodison, and so Benitez must ensure that they have a good working relationship this summer and beyond.
Currently, the squad is a mish-mash of players from the last five regimes and beyond – with arrivals coming in under Ronald Koeman, Sam Allardyce, Marco Silva and Ancelotti, to name but a few.
It will, of course, take time to bring in his own additions, but Benitez must ensure he is on the same page as Brands. Together they need to find the right strategy and build a squad with young, hungry players, capable of firing them back into Europe.
Marcel Brands (right, with Ancelotti in 2019) is integral to the transfer business at Everton
Europe and nothing less
And, on the subject of Europe, that has to be the overall aim for Benitez during his time in the dugout at Goodison Park.
Since Farhad Moshiri came in, the Toffees have only secured the Europa League once, and the dream is definitely to be a Champions League club in the near future.
Benitez has been there and done it before in Europe’s premier competition – although for obvious reasons, we’ll leave that to one side – and how he would love to do it again with the blue half of Merseyside.
Ahead of Everton moving into their new stadium, he has to meet Moshiri’s ambitions, meaning that a quick dash into Europe could be the only thing to save him from some serious scrutiny less than a year into his new job.
Everton owner Farhad Moshiri has defended Benitez’s appointment but will want a fast start
RAFA BENITEZ CV
LaLiga: 2002, 2004
UEFA Cup: 2003
Champions League: 2005
Super Cup: 2005
FA Cup: 2006
Community Shield: 2006
Italian Super Cup: 2010
Club World Cup: 2010
Europa League: 2013
Coppa Italia: 2014
Italian Super Cup: 2014