Rafael Benitez favourite to be named Everton manager

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 File photo dated 04-05-2019 of Newcastle United manager Rafael Benitez. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Tuesday July 2, 2019. Rafael Benitez is heading to China after the former Newcastle manager announced he had joined Dalian Yifan - Owen Humphreys/PA Wire.
File photo dated 04-05-2019 of Newcastle United manager Rafael Benitez. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Tuesday July 2, 2019. Rafael Benitez is heading to China after the former Newcastle manager announced he had joined Dalian Yifan - Owen Humphreys/PA Wire.

Rafael Benitez finally appears to be on the verge of becoming the new Everton manager after holding another round of positive talks with the Premier League club.

Two separate sources have claimed a deal “was close” although he is yet to be formally offered the job and, remarkably, it remains possible that Nuno Espirito Santo could still be appointed.

If Everton hire Benitez it would be one of the most unexpected appointments in the club’s 143-year history. It had appeared that Nuno, who left Wolverhampton Wanderers at the end of the season after finishing a disappointing 13th, had reached an agreement last Friday but that has not been ratified.

The 47-year-old Portuguese had been expecting a formal offer last weekend but that has not transpired although neither has he been ruled out.

But it is the former Liverpool manager Benitez who is the clear favourite, although sources also sounded a degree of caution by insisting the details of the deal, including length of contract, were still being thrashed out.

Further productive talks have taken place with Benitez, who has made it clear that he is not only keen to make a return to the Premier League but would not have a problem taking charge of Everton despite his six years across Stanley Park at Liverpool.

The 61 year-old has retained a family home in Merseyside since he moved there from Valencia in 2004 and, like Nuno, is a free agent following his most recent stint at the Chinese club, Dalian Professional. But for his Anfield connections – where he won the Champions League and FA Cup – his candidacy would be obvious given the calibre of his CV which includes the highest honours in European football and stints at Chelsea, Real Madrid and Napoli.

Benitez has spoken openly about his eagerness to return to management in England – two years after he left Newcastle United – as soon as possible, and is pragmatic enough to realise the Everton job is an attractive proposition and possibly the best he could hope for at the present time.

However, the reaction of the club’s fans may not be so positive towards the Spaniard and Everton will be interested to see how the news of a likely appointment plays with the supporter base. Some fans will take a pragmatic view given Benitez’s track record but he could also face hostility given how strong his Anfield links are. The reaction of Liverpool fans towards Benitez will also be intriguing, although it is understood that he would relish the opportunity to turn Everton into challengers.

Everton sources insist the club is in no rush to appoint a successor to Carlo Ancelotti who quit at the season’s end to return to Real Madrid after just 17 months in charge. The club was always intent on speaking to a number of candidates and take its time.

Nuno, who has also held talks with Crystal Palace before failing to reach an agreement, featured prominently on the original Everton shortlist along with former manager David Moyes.

Moyes has since pledged his future to West Ham United by signing a new three-year deal, with Benitez coming into the reckoning last week along with Vitor Pereira, a Portuguese coach who has also recently worked in China and was previously linked with the Everton job.

Whoever takes over will be the sixth manager to work for owner Farhad Moshiri in the six years that he has owned the club. Despite a bright start, and further investment made under Ancelotti, Everton finished 10th last season just two places ahead of where they were the campaign before. Whoever takes over will have a clear remit to break into the top six.

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