Football Features

Who should replace Rafa? The pros and cons of Everton’s main managerial contenders

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 18:00, 26 January 2022

Everton are once again on the lookout for a new manager having parted ways with Rafa Benitez.

It was a tumultuous six-and-a-half months in charge for Benitez, who never fully won over the fanbase due to his past connections to local rivals Liverpool and indeed his previous comments about the Toffees.

After a bright start to 2021/22, things fell off dramatically for the Spaniard and although he will say injuries played a huge part in Everton’s struggles (Dominic Calvert-Lewin played just five times in the Premier League this season under him and Yerry Mina made only eight appearances as well) the unfortunate truth is Everton never found any sort of baseline rhythm under him.

So now he’s gone, and there are various contenders to take his job, a job that remains an “attractive” proposition for potential Benitez successors, according to current interim manager Duncan Ferguson at least, despite the club’s position just two places above the relegation zone.

Ferguson told Everton TV: “This is an attractive club for somebody but the first thing we need is to get results.”

So, who are the contenders for this “attractive club”? We’ve gone over the favourites, assessing the pros and cons of their potential appointments.

Frank Lampard (1/2)

Pros: Fantastic reputation, high chance of Chelsea loanees, good youth integration

Lampard is one of the biggest names in English football. 211 career goals for Chelsea from midfield is honestly ridiculous. And as a coach he did alright with Derby and then slightly better than alright with Chelsea, at least for his first season where he took a side that couldn’t sign anyone to replace Eden Hazard and used the formidable young talent breaking through from the youth system to keep the Blues in the same place, which was an impressive achievement.

Trust in youth has been a consistent feature of Lampard’s management. Mason Mount, Reece James, Callum Hudson-Odoi, Fikayo Tomori and Tammy Abraham all did really well under Lampard and are now really established across European football as top tier pros. And just as he did at Derby there’s every chance Lampard will score some sweet Chelsea loanees next season (Conor Gallagher? Billy Gilmour?)

Cons: Clearly not very good

Lampard’s first season was impressive in the end, but in truth the cracks were showing. A miserable run of form across the middle of the season saw them lose the advantage their amazing start had given them. This happened again in his second season with Lampard seemingly unable to lift his side out of the slump they had fallen into.

As a coach, Lampard seems to do alright when the club’s vibes are already positive (despite losing Hazard, Chelsea had a good squad and had just won the Europa League) but when things get a bit murky, as they are now at Everton, he can get swept away in it all.

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Vitor Pereira (2/1)

Pros: Proven success in multiple countries, defined identity, previous links to the club

Vitor Pereira has emerged as a recent candidate for the Everton job and if that name sounds familiar to Toffees fans it’s because he’s been linked with them twice before; once in 2013 to replace David Moyes and again in 2020. So obviously he’s someone the club are interested in, and you can see why.

Pereira is a proven winner, having captured league titles in Portugal, Greece and China and cups in all three of those countries as well as Saudi Arabia. Wherever he goes, he tends to win. And more than that, he brings a defined identity and style of play, imposing a 3-4-3 formation and playing a high-pressing, forward-thinking style of play.

And according to Sky Sports, Pereira has already held talks with majority shareholder Farhad Moshiri, though a final decision is yet to be made despite suggestions an announcement is expected in next 48 hours.

Cons: System won’t suit the Everton squad, very demanding

Of course, bringing in such an intense system’s coach during the middle of the season is always a risky gambit as the time they need to get their vision across often doesn’t exist in the hectic back-half of a season. Moreover there’s a question whether or not Everton have the players to really bring his system across, particularly if they have the ball-playing defenders and wing-backs one would need.

Moreover, Pereira is a very demanding and firm figure. He fell out with Robin van Persie at Fenerbache because the Dutch star felt he wasn’t playing enough, where Pereira felt he simply wasn’t earning the minutes. After the brutalism of Rafa Benitez, another “my way or the highway” manager may not be ideal for a fragile Everton squad.

On top of that, it appears some fans aren’t best pleased with the potential of Pereira succeeding Benitez, with images emerging online of Goodison Park graffitied with the words “PEREIRA OUT, LAMPARD IN”.

Duncan Ferguson (16/1)

Pros: Club legend, loves the club, beloved by the fans, epic celebrations

“Big Dunc” has taken caretaker charge before, to relative success as well, has been an assistant since Carlo Ancelotti’s appointment and is once again caretaker manager. He loves the club and the fans love him. He’d motivate the players, particularly Calvert-Lewin (whose own rise to prominence began under Ferguson’s tutelage), to give every last bit of themselves to help the club succeed. And who can forget his epic celebrations?

Cons: Absolutely no experience, The Solskjaer Effect

Duncan Ferguson’s career as a manager reads: played four, drawn three, won one. Now alright that win was over Chelsea, but he wasn’t some managerial savant. The chances he’d become a Pep Guardiola or Zinedine Zidane are slim, so you’re gambling on a “back to basics” approach and the feel-good vibe he brings to do the heavy lifting.

But of course, that could lead to The Solskjaer Effect. That’s a phenomenon where an unsustainable run of good results in the short-term are mistaken for managerial brilliance, and a manager whose skill-set works well in short caretaker-y bursts is given the job on a full-time basis and flounders as a result. It happened to Manchester United, and it could happen to Everton.

Wayne Rooney (16/1)

Pros: It’s Wayne Rooney!

Wayne Rooney grew up an Everton supporter, became an Everton player, then something of an Everton pariah as he joined Manchester United to win everything the club game had to offer, then an Everton legend as he returned home to play one last season with the club.

Now as a coach he is doing well with a cash-strapped Derby County, working miracles to keep them alive and kicking. Like Rio Ferdinand said recently after a visit to Derby’s training ground: “I didn’t expect [confidence] from such a young coach.

“Wazza is good at detail, his game was about detail. People would think it was hustle and bustle and bang, a shot out of nowhere but to be the player he was you had to understand details and it is about translating that into the team.”

Rooney’s story is embedded into the very fabric of Everton, and his return as manager would be huge. Like when Guardiola coached Barcelona or Zidane did Real Madrid or even Frank Lampard at Chelsea (the first season). A hero, returning home to save their club.

Cons: It’s Wayne Rooney…

Of course Rooney taking over at Derby could be like Alan Shearer at Newcastle, Andrea Pirlo at Juventus or Lampard at Chelsea (the second season). The pressure on him to succeed for narrative reasons would dwarf the footballing task at hand (which honestly shouldn’t be that perilous given the quality in the Everton squad) and that could be what sinks Rooney.

Rooney will eventually coach Everton, that seems fair to say, the issue is one of timing. He has to join at the right time for both him and the club. And halfway through his first full season as a manager probably isn’t the right time for anyone.

Roberto Martinez (28/1)

Pros: Knows the club, flowing attacking football, development of youngsters, Thierry Henry

Roberto Martinez was a fantastic manager for Everton, at least at first. He took the rugged club managed by David Moyes and turned them into a more attacking outfit. He played Stephen Naismith as a false nine, made men of Romelu Lukaku and John Stones, and has since gone on to have tremendous success with the Belgian national team where he has them playing delightful attacking football.

Having worked with world-class players like Lukaku, Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard, one only wonders what he could do with the likes of Richarlison and Dominic Calvert-Lewin. And then he’d bring Thierry Henry along as his assistant, and who doesn’t love Thierry Henry? His presence would also be useful in player recruitment.

Cons: Fractuous past with the fans

While Martinez’s career at Everton started well, it did not end that way. “He finished fifth in his first season with David Moyes’ team,” Former Everton striker Victor Anichebe said.

“People don’t remember what happened before. There were protests to get him out of the club. You’re going from one toxic situation to another.”

You have to say that bringing someone back who the fans have already protested is not smart, especially given how upset they are with the direction the club is going in. They need to be buoyed, not frustrated.

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Nuno Espirito Santo (33/1)

Pros: Cheerful demeanour, proven track record, Jorge Mendes, great beard

Rafa Benitez is many things, but cheery is not one of them. The Spanish tactician is not a humorous fellow and that seems to translate into the way his players get sick of him. Nuno Espirito Santo, meanwhile, is incredibly cheery. An affable chap who everyone seems to like. He’s also proven that he can do a great job with a mid-size club like Everton, given his successes at Wolves.

Nuno’s arrival would also herald the arrival of Jorge Mendes, the super agent who represents the Portuguese coach (Nuno was actually Mendes’ first client back in his playing days). And that means Everton will become, like Wolves, a haven for any talents represented by Mendes that are struggling or unhappy elsewhere. Goncalo Guedes, for instance.

Cons: Defensive football, Jorge Mendes, the spectre of Spurs

For a fanbase that got sick of Rafa Benitez, Nuno’s primary approach to management is not likely to be enough of a fresh start. The Portuguese is also in favour of an intense, defence-first, approach. It would also recall the spectre of the Spurs job, where Nuno was a disastrous appointment that lasted less than half a season.

Further, Jorge Mendes’ presence can become overwhelming to the point where the entire transfer structure of the club revolves around deals he makes, deals which may not always have Everton’s best interests at heart.

Graham Potter (33/1)

Pros: Beautiful attacking football, young English coach

Graham Potter took over as Brighton coach in 2019. There were reservations about how well he’d do replacing Chris Hughton, but he transformed the club into a vibrant hub for attacking football. Brighton became must-watch TV, especially in 2020/21 when, had they a consistent finisher on their books (like, say, Dominic Calvert-Lewin), they would have picked up so many impressive results. Applying his style of play to a talented Everton squad sounds intoxicating.

Cons: Definitely a project

Playing football the Graham Potter way does not happen overnight. It takes time to build a team like Brighton, for instance. And what Everton need now more than anything is results. Someone to come in, turn the team around, and lift them out of the muck. The idea of asking Potter to do that makes sense in theory, but with no pre-season and limited training time, getting Everton up the table may require a more simple approach and someone like Potter may end up struggling.

Christophe Galtier (66/1)

Pros: Working wonders in Ligue 1, builds solid teams

Last season, Christophe Galtier guided Lille to win Ligue 1. They broke up the dominance of PSG and despite their massive financial disadvantage, held to to claim their first title for a decade. Galtier then left and joined Nice, who currently sit second in Ligue 1 after finishing ninth last season. He elevates talent, getting the best out of what’s there. Exactly the kind of guy Everton could do with right now.

Cons: No experience in England

The Premier League is a very unique beast. That’s not to say it’s the toughest league in the world, but it is decidedly unique and managing in it takes a certain type of skill and mindset. Now, Galtier might have that mindset, but equally he might not. It’s a risk to take and Everton, sitting just six points ahead of the relegation spots, may not be able to take such a risk.