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Wayne Rooney has emerged among the early favourites to replace Rafael Benitez at Everton after the Spaniard was sacked on Sunday.
Benitez spent less than seven months in charge at Goodison Park and lost his job following Saturday’s 2-1 loss at Norwich – a ninth defeat in 12 Premier League games.
The Toffees now sit just six points above the relegation zone, with former Liverpool boss Benitez paying the price for a poor run of form.
Everton Football Club can confirm the departure of Rafael Benitez as first team manager.
— Everton (@Everton) January 16, 2022
The 61-year-old later issued a statement through his official website, admitting he had the challenge of winning over the Everton fans at the start of his tenure and pointing to injuries as the main reason behind the poor run which led to his departure.
“We knew it wouldn’t be easy, and that it was a big challenge, both emotionally and in terms of sport,” he wrote.
“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.
“From the very first day, my staff and myself worked as we always do, with commitment and full dedication, we didn’t only have to get results, but we also had to win over people’s hearts.
“However, the financial situation and then the injuries that followed made things even harder. I am convinced that we would have been better once the injured players were back and with the arrival of the new signings.
“The road to success isn’t easy and 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.
“In any case, thank you to the board, to the staff, to the players, and to those fans who have supported us during this time.”
Current Derby manager Rooney played 117 games for Everton during two spells on Merseyside, breaking through at his boyhood club to make his first-team debut at the age of 16.
He returned in 2017 after a trophy-laden 13 years at Manchester United, where he won five Premier League titles, the Champions League, the Europa League, the FA Cup and three League Cups.
Ending his career as the all-time top goalscorer for both United and England, Rooney has since taken over at Derby, remaining with the club as the Rams entered administration and were docked a total of 21 points as a result.
Despite the financial issues, Rooney has guided Derby to eight wins this season and they climbed off the foot of the Sky Bet Championship with a win over Sheffield United on Saturday.
It was reported that Everton held an emergency board meeting on Saturday night at which Benitez’s future was discussed, with the decision to sack the Spaniard announced on Sunday afternoon.
A club statement read: “Everton Football Club can confirm the departure of Rafael Benitez as first-team manager.
“Benitez, 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.”
Everton fans at Carrow Road were furious with the team’s performance, expressing their views with chants and banners that the former Liverpool boss should not remain at the helm.
One supporter invaded the pitch in an attempt to confront Benitez, while at the final whistle a chorus of “sack the board” was heard as Everton fans booed their own team.
Benitez was appointed Everton manager in June 2021 – a highly controversial move given his previous time in charge of Liverpool.
Former Liverpool player and manager Graeme Souness added that he was “mystified” when Benitez took over as Everton manager.
“Benitez, I was mystified when he took that job because he’s worked in Liverpool, I think he still lives in Merseyside, he knows the strength and feeling between the two clubs,” he told Sky Sports.
“It would be nigh on impossible… there’s very few players have made that cross to go to the other club. For a manager to do that? No.
“Especially his brand of football would not be something the Evertonians would have been looking forward to (or) indeed in these 200 days they have enjoyed.”
Now the club are looking to appoint a fifth permanent manager in the last three and a half years and Rooney is among the early candidates, alongside the likes of former caretaker boss Duncan Ferguson, ex-Blues manager Roberto Martinez and Frank Lampard.
Former United striker Andy Cole believes Rooney’s achievements at Derby prove he could make a fist of turning things around at his old club.
“It is his boyhood club and anything is possible in football nowadays,” Cole told Sky Sports News.
“If Wayne did go there, if you look at what he is doing at Derby at the moment, he is working miracles.
“I’m not going to call it a shoestring budget because it is not even that, the results he is getting – whatever he is doing with backroom staff and with the players, they are all buying into it so if he was given the opportunity, no doubts he would be able to do it there as well.”