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Everton message speaks volumes as Rafa Benitez stands on brink of huge Liverpool change – Paul Gorst

Like the footballing divide in the city of Liverpool, there are two sides to Rafa Benitez.

On one end of the fence, there are the personal and empathetic qualities of the former Reds manager.

That is the side that donated £96,000 to the Hillsborough Family Support Group on the day his job at Anfield came to an end in 2010.

It’s the same one that moved him to tears during the 22nd anniversary memorial in April 2011.

It’s the side that saw him send a short message of congratulations to those at the club when a 30-year wait for a league title finally ended in June 2020.

The same side that made him feel uneasy about having someone else carry his bags for him while in China as manager of Dalian Professional.

Benitez held that same sort of awkward, relatable discomfort when his boss implored him to try a range of local delicacies that did not look like particularly appealing appetizers to him at the time.

Out of fear of offending or embarrassing anyone, Benitez is said to have woofed down the dish before giving polite approval.

It’s these same sort of personable, endearing traits that once had Benitez whispering transfer updates to journalists over the phone for fear of waking up his wife, Montse, while on a summer holiday with his family.

In essence, Benitez’s human side gives ample evidence of a thoroughly decent man.

Then, there is the other side to him.

The football manager side.

One that cares little for the emotional pull that draws us all to this game.

A man who is so famously adept at subtracting feeling that he once refused Xabi Alonso’s request for an extra day off to be with his expectant wife.

“We were going into labour, and I told Rafa that I could not go [to Milan],” Alonso said.

“I would go when everything was fine. I could have taken a flight and met them there.

“He didn’t accept it. I had to make a decision and I decided to be with my family.”

This is the same coach who approached a jubilant Steven Gerrard at a party in the city centre’s Alma de Cuba bar not to congratulate, but to offer further tactical tips just hours after his heroics had won Liverpool the 2006 FA Cup.

“Our working relationship was ultra-professional and his frostiness drove me to become a better player,” Gerrard said of his former boss.

“If we were to bump into each other tomorrow there would be no unpleasantness but maybe a day will come when we can actually have a deeper and friendlier conversation and reflect on everything we experienced at Liverpool.”

He is the same manager who enraged Istanbul hero Jerzy Dudek so much that it pushed the goalkeeper to the cusp of violence over a transfer in 2005.

On that incident, Dudek wrote: “I was furious with him, absolutely fuming, and in my head I could hear a devilish voice saying ‘Punch him in the face – punch him in the face and he’ll let you go to Germany.'”

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For all the amenable and friendly characteristics of Benitez, the man, the manager is a stark contrast.

But for someone whose ice-cold, bloody single-mindedness would make even the Terminator blush, surely this is a step too far?

Of all the hell-bent defiance that has fuelled Benitez throughout his near 30-year career as a coach, a move to Everton has to be considered beyond the pale?

No manager has ever coached both teams before.

It would be a ground-breaking decision should Benitez adjust his rearview mirror away from his own storied Anfield history and take over the reins at Goodison Park.

It would risk undoing the tightly wound stitches of his reputation at Liverpool; one that was forged over six years that included the most incredible night in 129 years of the club’s existence.

The events of May 25, 2005, will never, ever be forgotten by Liverpool supporters, but the prospect of Benitez plotting studiously on the other side of Stanley Park will dim the light in which the Spaniard is viewed by many.

And that’s even before the feelings and thoughts of the Blues’ fanbase is taken into consideration by the man – or rather, the manager – himself.

The wholly unflattering banners with a message making it known that “Benitez [is] not welcome” that have been draped on the side of the Goodison Park gates is an early indication of just how the most shocking managerial appointment possibly in the history of Merseyside football would be received.

Benitez seems on the brink of soiling his revered standing by those who adore him for those that do not want him.

Paul Gorst is the ECHO’s new full-time LFC correspondent covering the Reds both home and away.

He’ll be across all the biggest stories both on and off the pitch and is a must follow for fans worldwide.

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Paul can be found on Twitter @ptgorst, Facebook @ptgorst and Instagram @ptgorst

You can email Paul at paul.gorst@reachplc.com.

It would appear that the only people who wish for this most galling of appointments to be pushed through are Benitez himself and Everton owner Farhad Moshiri.

Even for someone so famed for their hard-nosed willingness to swim against the tide, is taking over the side who finished 10th last season really worth it to a manager with three decades of experience already behind him?

Reds fans forgave when he went to Chelsea, they largely forgot when he went to Newcastle, but this, this will leave Benitez with no hiding place.

Those memorable years at Anfield are in danger of being airbrushed from history.

In many ways, a lot of damage has already been done by just flirting with the unfathomable idea.

Rafa Benitez, Everton manager?

It simply does not bear thinking about.

For either of the two sides.



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