Everton players returned to Finch Farm on Monday with new boss Rafa Benitez in attendance on their first day of pre-season.
The Spaniard, 61, largely kept his distance and maintained a watching brief as the Toffees’ stars not involved on international duty this summer began preparations for 2021-22.
Benitez, who has replaced Carlo Ancelotti at the helm following owner Farhad Moshiri’s controversial decision to appoint the ex-Liverpool and Newcastle boss, left the club’s medical staff to testing returning stars such as James Rodriguez – who was all smiles despite his future being in question – Gylfi Sigurdsson and Andre Gomes.
Benitez’s appointment has been controversial, and there has been no little backlash, but Moshiri is adamant he was the best coach available and the right man for the job at this time.
Certainly, while there has been criticism anger from a section of the club’s support over Benitez’s appointment, there has been no little backing either – not least from ex-Liverpool players who insist Benitez will do a fine job at Goodison Park.
That isn’t a sentiment share by Richard Keys, however, the beIN Sports presenter and former Sky Sports anchorman.
Indeed, Keys has already nailed his colours to the mast, insisting Benitez’s tenure is doomed to fail.
Writing on his website on Monday, Keys diverted his attention from England’s Euro 2020 bid to take a look at Benitez’s appointment – and give his own take.
“Please – no more X-Liverpool players telling Evertonians how lucky they are to have Benitez at Goodison,” wrote Keys. “No they’re not. Most don’t want him.
“The majority will tolerate him, but they don’t want lectures on how they should be feeling from across Stanley Park.
“It will end in tears. It always does with Benitez.”
Damning. Not that Benitez is likely to lose much sleep over it.
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Meanwhile, the Toffees are also set to allow Richarlison play at the Olympics after he was called up by Brazil.
The 24-year-old is likely to miss the start of the Premier League season, after Benitez agreed to the player’s wish to go to Japan.
Clubs are under no obligation to allow players to take part as it is not a FIFA-organised event – with Liverpool refusing Mohamed Salah permission to take part.
Richarlison, part of the Brazil squad who have reached the Copa America final, is unlikely to make his debut under Benitez until September if he does head to Tokyo.