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Everton Olympic u-turn could keep Richarlison at Goodison Park

Carlo Ancelotti was sticky tape to a gaping wound at Everton but last month that wound was exposed. Rumours circulating in obscure corners of the Spanish media soon began to gather a frightening pace and, within a matter of a couple of days, talk of Ancelotti returning to Real Madrid for a second spell became fact.

The developments caught everybody off-guard, even in the higher echelons of Goodison Park. It was expected that Ancelotti would eventually break the glass ceiling of the Premier League’s top four for the club. When he arrived in December 2019, fresh from being sacked by Napoli, he excited fans by talking about a project. They loved that a man who had been where he had and won what he’d won could see the potential of Everton. He loved their authenticity, the grounded nature of an old ‘proper’ English football club. It felt like a good, settled match.

There is something beautifully un-corporate and traditional about the Toffees. In his autobiography, Ancelotti bemoaned just how cold life in Madrid was. Elite football has morphed into one soulless entity, perfectly summed up by Florentino Perez, the man who has now hired the Italian twice, continuing to back the publicly-shamed greed fest that is the European Super League.

Considering all of that, Everton supporters’ grievances over his exit were perfectly legitimate. At the same time, having left abruptly in 2015, Ancelotti clearly has unfinished business at the Los Blancos helm.

Farhad Moshiri, Everton’s majority shareholder, and chairman Bill Kenwright scrambled for a way forward. There were links with former manager David Moyes, who eventually signed a new contract at West Ham United after helping them qualify for Europe last season, and countless other names reportedly in the frame. An interview with Nuno Espírito Santo didn’t go well and that opened the door to Rafael Benitez, who has since been appointed on a three-year-deal

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Benitez’s Liverpool past — he spent six years at Anfield between 2004 and 2010, winning the FA Cup and Champions League — has caused ructions for Everton supporters. But the Wirral resident’s pedigree makes him an ideal replacement for Ancelotti if all emotion is removed from the analysis. He has and will continue to ignore the noise and work tirelessly and his pragmatic nature has already helped the club navigate the first of a number of potentially troublesome situations this summer.

The sudden manner of Ancelotti’s departure will have rocked the squad. Some may be glad to see him leave but others, most notably James Rodriguez and Richarlison, will certainly be questioning a lot.

Rodriguez didn’t have the warmest of relationships with Benitez when the pair worked together at Real Madrid, having been signed by the club in Ancelotti’s first spell, was brought to Everton completely on the latter’s say-so. Richarlison, meanwhile, was persuaded to give the club another season by Ancelotti last summer. The 24-year-old Brazilian was pushing for a move then and the outlook right now is looking bleak.

And yet, perhaps not as bleak as it could be. Richarlison, a regular in the Brazil side, is currently back in his homeland playing at the Copa America, but has asked to join up with the Olympic squad for the Tokyo Games starting later this month, meaning he’ll miss the start of the Premier League season. Initially, Everton rejected that plea but have since reconsidered and allowed him to compete in a tournament which has an incredibly high standing in Brazil.

While that alone is unlikely to appease Richarlison, whose desire to leave is more likely to be influenced by Everton’s lack of European football, having finished 10th last season, and the fact he is approaching the peak of his career, this move from Benitez and the club is the first step to soothing an inflammatory situation.

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It was on a cool early Autumn afternoon in North London when Everton looked like they could be heading in a new, exciting direction under Ancelotti. Richarlison and particularly Rodriguez sparkled on the turf at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium as they helped secure a 1-0 victory on the opening day of the 2020/21 season. They looked like a team set for the Champions League. Now it is back to square one and keeping the pair of them happy, or offloading them quickly, will be crucial.

Only one of them has long-term value worth protecting and that is Richarlison. Barcelona have already bid for him once, albeit as part of an ongoing identity crisis, and while they are unlikely to be able to afford him now, he would have plenty of suitors were he to be made available. It may not be the worst idea for Everton to cash in one day, but with so much angst and worry over fan morale this summer and three years still to run on his contract, the timing wouldn’t be right this summer.

Of course, Richarlison himself may have something to say about that. Everton can certainly survive without him and it will be interesting to see how he gets on with a manager renowned for being tactically and personally rigid and not taking a shine to free spirits such as his. But for all of the doubts and questions over his future and link up with Benitez, the new boss has made a good start by granting him his first wish.

 


 

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