Roberto Martínez in frame for Everton return after Rafael Benítez’s sacking

·5 min read

Roberto Martínez, the first Everton manager sacked by Farhad Moshiri, is being considered for a remarkable return to Goodison Park following the dismissal of Rafael Benítez. The former Liverpool manager’s short and troubled spell was ended on Sunday after Saturday’s defeat by fellow strugglers Norwich City.

Moshiri, Everton’s erratic majority shareholder, is seeking his sixth permanent manager in six years having accepted that his controversial appointment of Benítez had backfired. It is understood other board members had been pushing for Benítez’s removal for several weeks during a dreadful run of form.

Related: Adam Idah seals Norwich win to pile pressure on woeful Everton and Benítez

The Norwich defeat means Everton have taken just six points from their last 13 games, leaving them in 16th, six points above the relegation zone. Benítez leaves with a win percentage of 26% – the worst record of any permanent Everton manager since Howard Kendall’s ill-fated third spell at the club in 1997-98.

“Everton Football Club can confirm the departure of Rafael Benítez as First Team manager,” read a brief statement. “Benítez, who joined Everton in June 2021, has left the club with immediate effect. An update on a permanent replacement will be made in due course.” He was in charge for just 22 matches.

Martínez has emerged as a leading candidate for the vacancy. The claims of the former Granada coach Diego Martínez, José Mourinho, Niko Kovac and Wayne Rooney are also expected to be discussed by the Everton hierarchy. Duncan Ferguson, who took temporary charge following Marco Silva’s dismissal in 2019, could be appointed on an interim basis.

One of Moshiri’s first acts after arriving at Everton in 2016 was to sack Martínez, who enjoyed an impressive first season in charge at Goodison before his reign unravelled. The current Belgium coach has the World Cup in Qatar at the end of the year but only one game – a friendly against Slovenia on 29 March – before the end of the Premier League season. Martínez said at the time of his departure from Everton that he had unfinished business with the club.

Roberto Martínez gets a point across to his Belgium players during their game against Wales in Cardiff last November.
Roberto Martínez gets a point across to his Belgium players during their game against Wales in Cardiff last November. Photograph: Matthew Childs/Reuters

Everton fans unfurled a banner at Carrow Road calling for Benítez to “get out of our club” and got their wish on Sunday, with the former Liverpool manager lasting just over six months of his three-year contract.

Benítez issued a statement saying the job had been harder than he anticipated. “We knew it wouldn’t be easy, and that it was a big challenge, both emotionally and in terms of sport,” he said. “My love for this city, for Merseyside and its people, made me accept this challenge, but it is only when you are inside that you realise the magnitude of the task.”

He said injuries and the club’s finances had made things even harder but that he was convinced results would have turned with signings and players returning. “Sadly, nowadays in football there is a search for immediate results and there is always less and less patience; unfortunately circumstances have determined the results and it won’t be possible to continue this project,” he said.

Benítez was the most controversial managerial appointment in Everton’s history and only the second man to have managed both Everton and Liverpool, alongside William Edward Barclay in the 19th century. He received personal abuse and threats before signing his contract in June 2021, and Merseyside police investigated a banner that warned “We know where you live” but was left outside the wrong house near the Spaniard’s family home in Wirral.

The 61-year-old, however, received a warm ovation before his first home game at the helm but a dreadful run of form, his tactics and a falling-out with Lucas Digne combined to turn many more fans against him. He was also beset by substantial injury problems that left him without Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison, Everton’s leading goalscorers last season under Carlo Ancelotti, for the majority of his turbulent tenure.

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The timing of Benítez’s departure is another demonstration of Everton’s dysfunction under Moshiri. The club sold Digne to Aston Villa as a result of his falling-out with Benítez just three days ago. Marcel Brands left as director of football last month amid mounting criticism of the Everton board, who faced fresh calls for their own departures at Norwich, and that allowed Benítez to strengthen his hold over the club’s transfer strategy.

Everton have spent around £29m this month on two full-backs, Ukraine international Vitalii Mykolenko and Scotland international Nathan Patterson, and signed Anwar El Ghazi on loan from Villa. On Friday Benítez refused to comment on whether El Ghazi had been imposed on him by Moshiri. Danny Donachie also left as head of medical services following a review instigated by Benítez, who brought in Cristian Fernández as first-team rehabilitation fitness coach.

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