Rafael Benitez gets vote of confidence - but Arsenal eye Dominic Calvert-Lewin to dent Everton rebuild

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  • Arsenal
    Arsenal
    LiveTodayTomorrowvs--|
  • Everton
    Everton
    LiveTodayTomorrowvs--|
  • Rafael Benítez
    Rafael Benítez
    Spanish association football manager and former player
  • Marcel Brands
    Dutch football player
  • Dominic Calvert-Lewin
    LiveTodayTomorrowvs--|
Rafael Benitez gets vote of confidence - but Arsenal eye Dominic Calvert-Lewin to dent Everton rebuild - PETER POWELL/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock
Rafael Benitez gets vote of confidence - but Arsenal eye Dominic Calvert-Lewin to dent Everton rebuild - PETER POWELL/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Everton’s majority shareholder Farhad Moshiri has vowed to stand by manager Rafael Benitez despite the Merseyside derby mauling, and promised to strengthen the squad in January.

But Benitez’s hopes of reinforcing a misfiring team could be dealt a blow with top four-chasing Arsenal one of a number of clubs looking at a move for the England striker Dominic Calvert-Lewin.

Wednesday's 4-1 hammering by Liverpool has not led to any boardroom discussion on Benitez’s future, as he seeks to reverse a slide to 14th in the Premier League, Everton losing six of their last eight games.

The defeat was met with furious scenes, with most of the fans’ discontent directed at the board rather than the coach. A chant of ‘sack the board’ greeted the full-time whistle, while chairman Bill Kenwright and director of football Marcel Brands were in the direct line of fire from fans who assembled near the directors’ box

One irate supporter targeted the latter by shouting “What do you do, Brands?”, adding: “Get out, get out of this club. Absolute s----. Did you recruit them?”

Brands react by stopping and responding: “Do you think it’s only the players?”

Moshiri, who did not attend the derby, made Benitez his fifth managerial appointment in the six years since he invested in Everton, and he gave his backing to the Spaniard on Thursday with the promise of support in the January transfer window and time to turn things around.

“Football is about crisis one day and glory the following day,” Moshiri told Talksport.

“Rafa is a good manager and underperformance is largely due to the injuries. Next two weeks, we will get to a full squad and, in the meantime, results will improve.

“Rafa needs time to have his mark on the squad. He will be supported to add depth to the squad. Managers need time. I have no doubt that we will have a strong second-half to the season.”

Moshiri has spent £532 million on new players during that time, and also paid around £30 million in compensation or pay-offs to managers. His rare public statement reaffirms his determination to give Benitez extra time to repair the damage of years of poor recruitment.

But the hopeful wait for Calvert-Lewin to return from injury may be dented by the emergence of interest from Premier League rivals that include Arsenal, who they face in their next fixture on Monday night before games with Crystal Palace and leaders Chelsea.

Meanwhile, Liverpool full-back Andy Robertson said Jurgen Klopp’s side ‘put right’ the wrongs of last season’s derbies with their emphatic victory.

“Last season was a blow in more ways than one,” Robertson told Liverpoolfc.com. “The game here (at Goodison) we obviously picked up two bad injuries and we got a 92nd-minute winner chalked off by a close margin.

“And we got beat at Anfield, which is never nice. So it was important that we tried to put that right this season and we’ve got off to a good start. We only put one point on the board against them last season; now we’ve already got three.”

The four major problems that have plagued Everton

The chants from the Everton fans who decided to prolong their punishment and stay beyond the final whistle after the Merseyside derby were venomous.

“Sack the board,” they yelled.

The issues at Goodison Park pre-date Benitez’s appointment, but how has it come to this? And how will Everton turn it around?

The Everton transfer wasteland

It’s always about the money. In this case, the world class wasting of it. Whatever accusations can be aimed at Moshiri, failure to invest in the squad and club is not one of them.

The figures are mind-blowing since he took control in 2016, with £532 million squandered on new players - a net of £234 million placing Everton fifth in the spending league over those five years.

That made Benitez’s claims of rival Liverpool having ‘spent big money’ ring hollow since the neighbours’ have been positively frugal in comparison. What Benitez may have wanted to say is Liverpool have not spent big money like drunken sailors.

The list of shocking Everton deals is endless, from the £54 million combined fee for Yannick Bolasie and Morgan Schneiderlin at the start of Moshiri’s reign, £47 million sanctioned for Theo Walcott and Cenk Tosun under Sam Allardyce, and more recently £35 million for Alex Iwobi in a deadline day deal in August 2019 which screamed desperation. The return on such investments has been pitiful.

Alex Iwobi. - GETTY IMAGES
Alex Iwobi. - GETTY IMAGES

Moshiri has also spent a fortune on managers. An estimated £30 million has been paid in compensation or pay-offs to the four coaches sacked since 2016 - Roberto Martinez, Ronald Koeman, Sam Allardyce and Marco Silva. It cost £4m to take Silva from Watford and another £6.6m to dismiss him and his staff.

Add to that the promise of £500 million to pay for a new stadium on Liverpool’s dockland, and Moshiri is entitled to feel a tad underappreciated when hearing his commitment to the cause being questioned.

The Iranian-born businessman is guilty of serious misjudgements rather than lack of ambition, Everton short of wisdom more than cash since his arrival. Now, the financial fair play rules are preventing him from throwing good money after bad, although he can be forgiven for wondering who to trust with his next blank cheque.

Paying the price for managerial instability

Including the caretaker stints of David Unsworth and Duncan Ferguson, Benitez is actually the 8th manager to work for Moshiri in six years. He inherited Martinez at a time when faith in the Spaniard was evaporating. Koeman never endeared himself to the Goodison crowd.

Allardyce was a ridiculous appointment - despised before he even took charge and never going to last - and Silva paid the price as he could not get out of rut despite being earmarked as a coach of the future. Carlo Ancelotti was evidently passing through until he could get a better offer.

Four of those five went on to shine elsewhere. Martinez led Belgium to number one international team, and will almost certainly manage a Champions League club soon. Koeman rebuilt his reputation as Dutch coach and was considered good enough to become Barcelona manager, even though it ended badly at the Nou Camp.

Silva looks sure to be back in the Premier League with Fulham next year and is highly regarded within the game. Ancelotti is back at Real Madrid, Everton helpless to prevent it. Each sacked coach will give testimony to feeling they needed more time to reverse difficult spells.

Martinez inherited the best team from David Moyes but struggled out after two mediocre campaigns. The rest never really had enough time to clear up debris left by predecessors and so the cycle of mediocrity has continued.

What's the point of a director of football who does not seem to direct?

When Moshiri took over, he was adamant Everton would have a director of football to oversee operations - the go-between between coach and boardroom. Seeing Leicester City’s success, he was convinced Steve Walsh was the power behind the throne.

A couple of years and a few hundred million later, Walsh was dumped for Dutchman Marcel Brands. Anyone who has spent time in Brands’ company will describe him as a modern operator - straight-talking and fully aware of where the game is going and how far away Everton are.

What is less clear is how much power he wields at Everton to make the changes he was brought in to make, and whether there is any point to him hanging around at a club where it was obvious under Ancelotti - and even more so under Benitez - the manager expects to call all the shots.

Going through the signings of the last few summers, whether they have been financially disastrous (James Rodriguez), or reasonably smart (Demarai Gray), Brands had little or nothing to do with them.

Demarai Gray. - GETTY IMAGES
Demarai Gray. - GETTY IMAGES

When appointing Brands in 2019, Everton said this: “The Dutchman established a reputation for developing players and building clubs, overseeing PSV Eindhoven’s charge to three Eredivisie titles in four seasons having previously been instrumental in transforming the fortunes of RKC Waalwijk and AZ Alkmaar.”

The remit was clear. Everton wanted to be smarter in the transfer market, signing younger players with a sell-on value. Richarlison was considered a template deal early in Brands’ reign. But when Moshiri was seduced by Ancelotti, it was clear that he was listening to other influential voices - especially high profile agents - rather than Brands. The plan was ripped up.

Even though Brands just signed a new deal, he and Benitez look like an unsustainable pairing. Something will give eventually. Perhaps Brands is waiting to see how the wind will blow and if another managerial change is on the horizon. What is for sure is if Benitez reverses the current dip in form and strengthens his power base, he will force more backroom changes.

An SOS to Dominic Calvert-Lewin

So how does Benitez save the season, and in the process secure his position? All roads seem to be leading to Calvert-Lewin and the January transfer window. In his absence, Calvert-Lewin’s reputation has soared. Yes, he is one of the best strikers in England, but his pressure to deliver immediately will be immense.

The long-term worry for Evertonians must be that the club’s best players are also their most saleable assets. Richarlison has made noises in the past about moving on, and Arsenal's interest in Calvert-Lewin will only make the Goodison Park hierarchy that little bit more uncomfortable.

Calvert-Lewin’s profile has been raised since his England call-ups, and his recent sponsorship deals and strategically placed interviews give the impression he will want ambitions to play in the Champions League satisfied sooner rather than later. Jordan Pickford was recently linked with Tottenham Hotspur.

Given the FFP situation, by next summer Everton may have no choice but to sell big and reinvest. First, Benitez needs to get results to get him through to January when he can afford a few more loan deals, and then next summer when a more thorough reconstruction can begin.

Moshiri admitted that, at the moment, there is no option other than to give Benitez time.

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