Amid the loud taunts and outright abuse of high-ranking club officials by angry Everton fans, a spectator managed to make his way onto the pitch at Goodison Park and can be seen protesting with the squad.
Everton had just lost 4-1 to Liverpool in the Merseyside derby – their biggest home defeat to their fierce opponent in 39 years – and the atmosphere became toxic.
“Sack the board” was the dominant anthem circling the storied court. The booing at the final whistle might be the loudest all season.
Resentment of a controversially appointed manager and club leadership that has been criticized for its haphazard recruitment tactics has reached its climax.
“I can see a team that gives everything,” said Rafa Benitez, the manager Everton turned into last season despite his previous association with the Merseyside red half. “The commitment of the players is there.”
The problem is that it is not good enough.
After a generous and somewhat haphazard spending of around $750m on players since Farhad Moshiri became the club’s largest shareholder in 2016, Everton curbed spending this summer after appointing Benitez. Four players entered for a total cost of barely $2 million.
The belt tensioners are there for all to see. Everton have suffered injuries to some key players such as star striker Dominic Calvert-Lewin, and have not won a win in their last eight Premier League games, taking two points out of a potential 24 in the team’s worst streak of results in 22 years.
After a solid start under Benitez – the team won four of their first six games – Everton slipped to 14th in the 20-team league and five points above the relegation zone.
The contrast between Liverpool’s devastating attacking trio, Mohamed Salah, Diogo Jota and Sadio Mane compared to Everton, who was led Wednesday by the 32-year-old Salomon Rondon, who joined on a free transfer deal from the Chinese League, was stark.
It was not lost on Benitez.
“We lost because we made mistakes against a big team,” he said. “You’ve seen how much money Liverpool has spent and they’ve been successful over the past few years and that can happen if you make mistakes.
“Against other teams maybe not, but you struggle against a great team.”
Benitez said he still had “confidence that we can do well” but agreed that the team’s fate rested on getting players like Calvert Lewin and Colombia defender Yerry Mina back in shape. He doesn’t seem to be expecting money to spend in the January transfer window.
“I was in Newcastle and the owner wasn’t spending the money,” said the 61-year-old, referring to another English team he was working for as technical director. “In January, I hope the team will not count on the return of two or three players as we are at the moment.”
While Benitez is an easy target of abuse by Everton fans after he was manager of their cross neighbor Stanley Park from 2004-10, they are beginning to turn their anger toward the club’s top.
Footage on social media showed a fan confronting director of football Marcel Brands as the Dutchman left the director’s box at Goodison after the Liverpool game. “Did you recruit them?” The fan yelled at Brands, who stopped to respond but quickly walked away. “It’s rubbish,” the fan added.
It should be the start of an exciting era for the club, which is planning to move to a new waterfront-side stadium for Liverpool – at a cost of $700 million – to kick off the 2024-25 season.
This development and the effects of the pandemic are behind the limited spending this year that could leave Everton without a strong enough team to play in their new home.
Heck, at the current rate, Everton – whose last major title was the FA Cup in 1995 – may not even be in the Premier League.
The influx of fans heading to the exits after Liverpool’s fourth goal showed what they think of their team now. The fans who stayed expressed their feelings in another way.
“I have to accept the positives and the positivity of this team at the start of the season everyone was very happy, with the commitment and the way we were playing and winning,” Benitez said.
“We have to go back to this first stage.”
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Steve Douglas is at https://twitter.com/sdouglas80