Rafael Benitez insists he is not out of touch with the highest level

Rafael Benitez insists he is not out of touch with the highest level after moving from China to Everton – and the new Toffees boss reveals he was ‘expecting’ a return to former club Newcastle before Goodison Park move

  • Benitez left the Chinese Super League outfit Dalian Professional back in January 
  • The former Liverpool boss, 61, said he has no plans to retire in the next decade 
  • His will to win is so strong that he does not even let his daughter win at chess
  • Playmaker James Rodriguez is understood to be a high-profile potential exit
  • Benitez admitted he ‘was in contact with a lot of people’ over Newcastle return

Everton’s new manager Rafa Benitez has said he plans to continue working until he’s 70, dismissing the notion that his 18-month stint in China marked an end to his career at the highest level.

Benitez is adamant his time at Dalian Pro was not treated like a retirement home and insists his competitive nature remains so strong it even spills over into family games at home.

Manuel Pellegrini, a Premier League title winner at Manchester City, looked outdated at West Ham after he returned from the Chinese Super League but 61-year-old Benitez doesn’t see that happening to him at Goodison Park.

New Everton manager Rafael Benitez has insisted he is not out of touch after a spell in China; he left Chinese Super League side Dalian Professional in January before joining Toffees in June

Benitez, 61, has had success elsewhere and says he does not plan to retire for at least a decade

‘I went to China, I wanted to win. If I stay here, I want to win,’ he said. ‘Hopefully I will retire in 10 years and have the same mentality.

‘My CV is there and I will try to help Everton with my experience. I want to win every game. If I play chess with my daughter, my wife is sometimes telling me ‘Listen, why don’t you allow her to win.’

Benitez doesn’t claim to have more energy than when he joined Liverpool in 2004, selling local hero Michael Owen and then winning the Champions League in his first season. 

But the Spaniard will shake things up at Everton with James Rodriguez likely to be among the high-profile casualties.

He has won a dozen major trophies with Valencia, Liverpool, Inter Milan, Chelsea and Napoli and had a spell with Real Madrid. Never short of self-belief, Benitez disputes he has anything to prove.

‘I have won every trophy except the League Cup with my staff. It is not easy to say that in all the countries we have been to so I don’t have the feeling ‘I have to do this or that’ because I’ve seen what I am capable of with my people,’ he argues.

Manuel Pellegrini struggled at West Ham after working in China for Hebei China Fortune

Playmaker James Rodriguez, who signed from Real Madrid last year, could end up leaving

‘Everton has a great chance to develop something, to challenge for the title, to challenge for Europe. You start winning games and growing in confidence and you never know what can happen.’

He’s spoken to his predecessor and ‘good friend’ Carlo Ancelotti since landing the job but diplomatically says he’ll rely more on advice from coaches Duncan Ferguson and Alan Kelly, who have been part of the Everton backroom team for a while.

Benitez claims the reaction of most ordinary Everton fans has been positive to his appointment despite his Liverpool connections. In the village where he lives on The Wirral, he reports plenty of good luck messages and requests for tickets.

Intriguingly, he thought at one stage a return to Newcastle was his likeliest destination despite the tensions with owner Mike Ashley that saw him leave St James’ Park.

‘I was following them when I was in China, I was in contact with a lot of people, I was expecting maybe something will happen, it didn’t happen. That’s it,’ he said.

‘I have to concentrate on now, with Everton I could see the vision, as a club they want to be successful. We were talking about the new stadium, so many things that means the club is going in the right direction.

Benitez was almost universally loved for his successful work at his former club Newcastle

And Benitez revealed he was in contact with ‘a lot of people’ over a potential return to the club

‘Going to China was an opportunity. Dalian came with a great offer, a massive project in terms to build something and we did it.

‘Covid-19 and the change of the Chinese League changed everything. They didn’t want me leave, they were talking about extending the contract but we were thinking about coming back and competing in the Premier League, close to home.

‘As I have said many times, for me it is a challenge. We want to fight from the first day. We are really fighting, trying to improve every single detail in the training sessions. And we want to do that.’

Benitez does have raw materials to work with. England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford excelled at Euro 2020 and striker Dominic Calvert-Lewin was also in Gareth Southgate’s squad. 

Richarlison and Yerry Mina both represented their countries at the Copa America, while he would like a dominant centre-back in the mould of his former Napoli player Kalidou Koulibaly but spending plans depend on getting players out the door. 

Benitez has been noticeably lukewarm in talking up the prospects of Rodriguez at Everton, a similar public stance he took with Owen before he left Anfield to join Real Madrid. 

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