Rafael Benitez has replaced Carlo Ancelotti as Everton manager
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Rafael Benitez has insisted his decision to cross the Merseyside divide is nothing to be “scared” about and that his past association with rivals Liverpool will be forgotten if he brings success to Everton.
Everton’s appointment of Benitez as manager to replace Carlo Ancelotti last month was met with fury by sections of the club’s fanbase.
Merseyside Police launched an investigation after a sinister banner carrying the words: “We know where you live don’t sign” was left near Benitez’s house on the Wirral while other hostile banners was draped across gates outside Goodison Park.
Benitez has already admitted he “made a mistake” when he branded Everton a “small club” in 2007 during his reign as Liverpool manager.
But the Spaniard – who won the Champions League and FA Cup during his six-year tenure at Anfield – said he was relishing the challenge of restoring past glories and create a winning culture in the blue half of Merseyside.
Asked at his first press conference as Everton manager on Wednesday if ever thought taking the job was not worth the opprobrium, Benitez said: “For sure, no. I was convinced when I decided to say yes, or even when I decided to start talking, that it was a great opportunity and for me this challenge is not something I’m scared of. It’s the opposite. I want to win, I want to do well.
“You can talk the talk or walk the walk, I prefer to walk the walk and see if we can do well. Hopefully everyone will be happy, starting with me. If I am happy the fans will be very happy as well.”
Benitez was an unpopular appointment as interim Chelsea manager in 2012 but went on to win the Europa League and he hopes if he is successful with Everton that any ill-feeling will subside.
“I’ll tell you something that maybe not many people know but when I was there with Chelsea at Cobham, we’d go to the supermarket, the restaurants and the fans were really good – we didn’t have these things you could see sometimes on the TV,” he said.
“The majority of the fans every day were fine. Liverpool is my city, we have very good connections with the red side and blue side and now obviously a lot of people on the blue side will be pleased if I am successful. So I don’t see a big issue.
“I think the fans will appreciate we’ll be here working really hard for the team and club and if we can do well nobody will be talking about that or what happened in the past. I’m thinking about the future. I know they want me to be successful and I’m sure we can do it.”
Benitez won the FA Cup and Champions League during his six-year stint at Anfield
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Benitez’s family have remained in the city since his departure from Liverpool over a decade ago and he said most people he had encountered had been supportive, despite the banners.
“To be fair, the Evertonians around my place are quite happy and were very supportive,” he said.
“Even the Liverpudlians, they were accepting it’s a chance and an opportunity for me to come back to the Premier League and to compete for something so it was quite good.
“Talking about the banners, we can talk about one, two people, you never know, so I think it’s better to think about positives and how a lot of people were encouraging me to do well. I’m happy with that.”
Benitez said his remarks about Everton being a “small club” were solely a case of him defending Liverpool’s position at the time. “It depends on the context. It was a long time ago, you’re fighting for your club and that is what I do now,” he said. “If you are the manager you have to defend your club in any context. In this case I will fight for Everton. I will try to do my best every single game and I will try to compete against anyone. So I’m really pleased this club is getting bigger and bigger and I’m happy with the idea we can challenge and compete and I will fight for that.
“I have a great connection with the city. We support a lot of charities, we have great friends on both sides. It’s just to enjoy the city for my family and everyone. I’m really pleased and proud to be here and hopefully to do well. That’s the main motivation.”
Everton faded away badly after a bright start to last season, losing seven of their final 17 league matches under Ancelotti, who left for Real Madrid this summer. Benitez said he had already held conversations with senior players, including Seamus Coleman, and that the biggest challenge was to address the team’s mindset.
“I have had conversations with some senior players and I’m really pleased because they are all ambitious but all of them realised something was missing,” the former Newcastle manager said.
“This something that was missing is what we have to be sure to find and for me it’s just a winning mentality that has to be there from the first day until the last day. Normally if you win trophies or compete for something it’s at the end of the season and it’s when you have to be stronger.
“We have experience doing that and I am confident that we will do it and the mentality and conversations with the senior players has been more or less in this direction. They want to do well, they are desperate to be sure we can improve and in a positive way so it’s a very good thing for me that we have these players who will carry on and continue pushing and be an example for the young players. This is hopefully what I’m expecting.”