Rafa Benítez’s arrival is a step in the right direction for stepping-stone club Everton

w ^hat is 埃弗顿? It sounds like a flippant question, and perhaps to an extent it is, but as Rafa Benítez takes charge, it’s also fundamental. A journey of self-improvement must perhaps begin with a realistic assessment of where you are starting from.

But that is not easy. It is not enough simply to say that Everton came 10th last season after a promising start, or even to point out that the latest Deloitte report their annual revenues as the seventh highest in the Premier League. They are the fourth most successful club in English league history. There were one of the Big Five whose lobbying led to the establishment of the Premier League. They are one of only six sides never to have been relegated from the Premier League. The days when they vied with Liverpool to be the best in England remain within living memory. They are scheduled (最后) to move into a 53,000-capacity stadium for the 2024-25 季节. They are not just another team. They have a reputation and they have aspirations. But that in itself is problematic.

Everton are a big club, but they are not a super-club. Just how many super-clubs there are can be debated – the 10 wealthiest clubs in Europe? tThe 14? 这 14 wealthiest plus AC Milan? – but it’s safe to say the 15th, 16th and 17th with the highest revenues – Zenit, Schalke and Everton – are not among them. They have never played in the group stage of the Champions League and, although they reached the European Cup quarter-finals in 1970-71, they have played in the qualifying round for the Champions League only once. Since winning the Cup Winners’ Cup in 1985, they haven’t been beyond the last 16 of any European competition. They haven’t finished above seventh since 2014, but they haven’t been below 12th since 2004.

That consistency, 眼睛看到的第一个物体是, makes Everton neither one thing nor the other. They exist on a lonely mezzanine between Champions League qualification contenders and teams who are relieved just to avoid relegation. 同时, there is a dislocation between the historical image of the club and what is realistically possible when Arsenal, the sixth-wealthiest English side, have revenues 83% greater than theirs.

Everton fans – at least those who are vocal on social media – tend to baulk at the idea that they are, at least at present, a stepping-stone club, but it’s unavoidable. The trick then is to be a stepping stone in the right direction, buying low and selling high – Leicester, 也许, are the best English example – but too often Everton have been a stepping stone on the way down. The point, 尽管, is that very few clubs these days are a destination.

Carlo Ancelotti’s defection was a symptom of the same problem. Whatever fine words he may have said (and at the time probably meant) about the community spirit at Everton, realistically he was always going to accept an offer from Real Madrid – and that was the problem for Everton of appointing somebody of Ancelotti’s status. Perhaps he did bring glamour and credibility, and perhaps that did extend the transfer options available to the club – James Rodríguez and Allan, 当然, were drawn by the manager.

But there was always a danger if Ancelotti did well that one of the super-clubs would come for him. As it turned out, that happened even after an unremarkable season. From that point of view, leaving aside his past at Liverpool and whatever disparaging remarks he may have made about Everton then, Benítez is perhaps a more natural fit.

Benítez has had a hugely successful career and has been a regular in the latter stages of the Champions League, but he is too much his own man, too uncompromising, to hold much appeal for the very elite.

Then there is the football he plays. This is not going to be thrill-a-minute high pressing. There’s an irony that the two most famous games Benítez was involved in at Liverpool both featured extraordinary Steven Gerrard‑inspired comebacks and finished 3-3; that Gerrard was let off the leash was evidence something had gone wrong. What Benítez wanted most of all was control – and that, at least the way he tries to achieve it, is not always easy on the eye. (Which is perhaps a particular issue for clubs on the Everton mezzanine: 对于很多, being entertained and finishing 10th is preferable to a grim slog to seventh.)

He is only 61, but there is a sense of Benítez as a rare survivor of the Premier League of the century’s first decade (along with David Moyes). Sir Alex Ferguson, Arsène Wenger and Martin Jol have retired, while José Mourinho has been on the helter‑skelter of diminishing returns for some years now. He comes from that more attritional age.

Benítez wants order, which could also be said of Pep Guardiola, but he seeks to achieve it in a different way. He is far more prepared to sit deeper and play without the ball and, while that may in part be a reflection of the players he has worked with, it is also indicative of a natural caution.

He has spoken often of his fascination as a child with the board game Stratego and, with a training method based on constant repetitions and rigorous drilling, it can seem as though he is trying to mould his players into pieces he can manoeuvre around the pitch. He distrusts individual inspiration, which can bring conflict with bigger egos, but that’s an approach that seems more logically suited to a club of Everton’s status than Ancelotti’s ever did. Benítez’s biggest successes have come with clubs on the fringes of the elite – Valencia, 利物浦 (as they were) and Napoli – where the organisation he attempts to instil, uninhibited by the egos of stars, elevates players to compete with more obvious starry names.

The question then is twofold: can that approach still work in the modern Premier League? And does the Benítez style meet the aspirations of Everton fans? Given his past, the sense he is already having to win people over, that may not be straightforward – and that’s why there needs to be a realistic assessment of what Everton are, and what they hope to be.