Rafael Benitez insists he wasn’t ‘scared’ of taking the Everton job despite sections of the fanbase being against the appointment of the former Liverpool manager.
Benitez is the first manager in history to have managed Liverpool before taking charge at city rivals Everton, having spent six seasons in charge of the Reds between 2004 and 2010.
The Spaniard remains a popular figure at Anfield after winning the Champions League and FA Cup during his time in charge of the club and his appointment at Everton was greeted with anger from sections of the Toffees’ support.
However, Benitez admits he was not ‘scared’ at taking on the challenge of winning over the support and has outlined his ambition to bring success to the club.
Speaking at his first press conference as the Everton manager he said: “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 has previous experience of being an unpopular appointment following a brief spell at Chelsea, his past links to Liverpool having seen protests from some of the Blues’ support during his time at Stamford Bridge.
The 61-year-old insists the ‘majority’ of supporters were welcoming despite the view the fans were against his time in charge, and is hopeful the Everton fans will follow suit in supporting the new manager as he bids to be ‘successful’.
“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.”
News of Benitez’s potential appointment at Everton saw several anti-Benitez banners displayed at the club’s stadium, whilst police also investigated a threatening banner left near the manager’s Merseyside home which read “We know where you live. Don’t sign.”
Benitez insists the majority of Evertonians he has encountered have been supportive of his appointment and says he is focusing on the positives as he begins his reign with the club.
“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 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.”
One source of contention surrounding Benitez’s appointment has been his labelling of Everton as a ‘small club’ following a goalless Merseyside Derby draw in 2007, criticising the Toffees’ lack of ambition at that time.
Benitez says those comments were a ‘long time ago’ and came when he was ‘fighting’ for the club’s biggest rivals, but says he is now similarly ready to ‘fight’ for Everton following his controversial return to the city.
“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.”
Benitez also opened up on his initial meetings with the club’s senior players and admits he has been ‘pleased’ with the level of ambition shown, urging his side to be fearless as they bid to compete with the Premier League’s best this season.
“My job is to improve the players,” Benitez said. “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.
“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. I’m not afraid of anyone. I hope that our team is not afraid of anyone.”