The former Liverpool manager was doomed from the start at Goodison Park, where the problems go far beyond who runs the team.
In the end, the biggest surprise was that it took so long.
Rafa Benitez and Everton always seemed like a match made in hell, and so it ended. The divorce was confirmed on Sunday, and few tears will be shed in Goodison Park.
The end of an error, you might call it, but that was perhaps too kind of an assessment.
Saturday’s defeat to Norwich City, a team that had lost their previous six Premier League games without scoring, proved to be the final straw.
Everton may have started the season well enough – they were fourth in the table at the start of October – but they’ve sunk like a rock since then, and that represented rock bottom.
Benitez leaves them 16th, just six points off the last three and having taken just six points out of the last 39 on offer. They haven’t kept a clean sheet since November 7 and haven’t won away from home in the league since late August.
Fans who made the long journey to Carrow Road made their feelings clear. “GET OUT OF OUR CLUB” read the huge blue banner outside, while the boos and boos that greeted the final whistle told their own story.
These are fans who are falling out of love with their club, and it’s no wonder. In May, it will be 27 years since Everton last won a trophy, 17 since they last finished in the top four and 13 since they last played in a grand final.
They are one of the great football clubs in English football, but what did they have to root for during the Premier League era? Not much, and certainly not enough.
Benitez, it must be said, is not responsible for all his ills. There’s a reason fans sang ‘Sack the Board’ in Norwich. They know the club’s problems go far beyond the man on the bench.
But even so, his presence was still a big problem. His connection to Liverpool had him starting out on the back foot, and the passive, defensive style he imposes on his teams meant he certainly wouldn’t win over skeptics with entertainment.
He would point out mitigating factors. Losing Dominic Calvert-Lewin by nearly four months left a hole in the front, and the absence of players like Richarlison, Yerry Mina and Abdoulaye Doucoure left holes that simply couldn’t be covered.
Why make no mistake; Everton’s squad is poor and needs a major overhaul, whoever is in charge. Benitez knew this when he signed a three-year contract in the summer, and it was almost inevitable that he would soon come face to face with Marcel Brands, the director of football.
Everton made four signings ahead of the season, spending less than £2 million ($2.7 million) in total, and all were Benitez picks. Demarai Gray and Andros Townsend, to be fair, fared well, although the less said about Salomon Rondon, the better.
Brands left in December after a hammer blow at Liverpool’s hands, and Benitez also oversaw the departures of Dan Donachie, the club’s longtime director of medical services, and Gretar Steinsson, head of recruitment.
His last act, at least before the Norwich disaster, was to sanction the sale of Lucas Digne to Aston Villa, a move that divided the fanbase.
Digne was frozen after a fight at the training ground, with Benitez publicly suggesting that the France international was more concerned with personal statistics than the team’s success.
Everton have signed two promising centre-backs this month, Vitalii Mykolenko and Nathan Patterson, and last week they borrowed Anwar El Ghazi from Villa, but it will take more than that to turn things around. They lack depth and quality in virtually every area.
How the hell did Farhad Moshiri, the majority owner of the club, manage to get things so wrong? Everton, it bears repeating, have employed six different ‘permanent managers’ in Moshiri’s six years at the club and, under the ‘guidance’ of two different football directors, have committed over £550m in transfer fees.
They tried everything from the ‘Hollywood’ manager – Moshiri’s description of Ronald Koeman – to Sam Allardyce the firefighter and Marco Silva the brilliant young man. Not even Carlo Ancelotti, the winner of the series, could make them purr. What chance did ‘Rafa the Red’ have?
The errors and mistakes were surprising. Yannick Bolasie, Theo Walcott, Morgan Schneiderlin, Davy Klaassen, Alex Iwobi, Moise Kean, Jean-Phillippe Gbamin, Andre Gomes, Yerry Mina and Cenk Tosun cost over £20 million. None of them delivered.
Everton threw money at falling superstars Wayne Rooney and James Rodriguez and allowed others – Klaassen, Nikola Vlasic, Ademola Lookman – to depart without having a chance to leave a footprint.
Neither Steve Walsh, the supposed architect of Leicester City’s Premier League miracle, nor Brands, the jovial Dutchman brought in from PSV Eindhoven, could find the recipe. While their peers and rivals make smart, long-term moves and have well-defined structures, Everton has bounced from one master plan to another.
Benitez’s experiment should represent a line in the sand as far as Moshiri is concerned. This appointment was his and his alone, and it didn’t take a genius to realize it would end badly.
Where do they go from here, who knows? Duncan Ferguson will be taking over the interim role again and could very well be the best candidate for the position permanently given his association with the club.
The alternatives aren’t exactly bouncing around. Roberto Martinez is bookmakers favorite to return six years after his Goodison Park resignation, while Kasper Hjulmand and Frank Lampard have been praised but don’t look like a good fit from here.
Would someone like Graeme Potter, for example, like to play Russian roulette with his career and leave something good in Brighton behind? Whoever it is, one thing is clear. Everton and their fans deserve better.
Whether they will succeed, however, is another matter.