How does it feel to have fans back and the season kicking off?
I think it’s very good for everyone. The fans will be excited after one year, more or less, without watching their teams and for the manager it’s the same. You can see your players, you can see the fans, you can feel the atmosphere so I think it’s really good for everyone involved in the game now.
How nice to start at home and how important is it to get your Everton career off to a winning start?
It’s always important to win – at the beginning, at the end, every time. For us it’s a great opportunity to be in front of our fans and show what we can do. Obviously, pre-season is early, the transfer window is still open. That’s something as managers we complain about but it’s like it is. We have to manage and hopefully we can enjoy and the fans can enjoy three points at home.
Do you have the squad you want at the moment?
If you ask the majority of the managers, they will want to improve, they will want to strengthen the squad. What I said before, it’s still early and we have to wait a little bit until the end of the transfer window but I’m happy with the way the players are training, with the way we are working, and hopefully we can replicate that on the pitch in an official match.
How restricted are you because of FFP?
The reality is a lot of clubs are spending some money and you have to manage that. Financial Fair Play rules are there, we have to follow them. We try to do it and it’s something we have to consider each time. It’s like it is and we have to bring the best from our players. We are still thinking about strengthening the squad. I’m sure your colleagues will be asking about players so I’m telling them I will not speak too much about players because we have to be sure that the players are good enough and will be ready for tomorrow.
Speculation about James. Is he part of your squad or is he allowed to leave?
I’ve had my conversation with him at the beginning and he knows my idea. Now he’s not available so it’s not an issue for tomorrow. We will discuss every single player with them, with their agents and then try to find the best situation for us, for the Club and for the players.
How long is he likely to be out and what is the situation with Richarlison and Calvert-Lewin?
Richarlison and Calvert-Lewin are available but some players will be another question from some of your friends on how many players and who is available. We have some players that are in isolation and we have to manage that.
For you personally, how exciting will tomorrow be?
It’s a challenge for me. I’m really pleased to be here. I’m at home, I always enjoy the Premier League, the competition, the rivalry between teams and managers. I like all those things and here you have an opportunity to do that. At a club like this one we want to compete and I want to approach every game with this idea. For me, to go into a game and think you have a chance to win is always something nice and I’m really pleased with that.
What have you made of your signings so far?
They are doing well. I’m really pleased with the way they have settled down, the way they have the relationship with the other players around them. They are doing well on the pitch and we will see tomorrow if they can replicate every training session. Really pleased to bring in players who know the Premier League and they can be a good addition for the team.
What about Southampton? Who do you expect from them?
We know they are a team that is always very aggressive, trying to play on the front foot. Sometimes they are really good, sometimes they have big defeats but it’s normal when you have this approach. I think they will be a tough game for us but obviously I have confidence that we can do well.
What is the feeling like amongst the squad?
You have this experience that we have had in the past. When the transfer window is open until the end of August and you have to play games, you have speculation about players. It’s the same in every team, every club. It’s something that you try to change but there was an advantage for teams on the continent over the time you close the transfer window. Now it’s like it is. It’s not ideal because as a manager you want to be sure that is the squad and everybody knows where they are but you have to manage the situation and be sure the players you pick will give everything and then wait until 31 August and see what happens with everyone.
What is your message to Everton fans going to the game a bit unsure about your appointment?
I think they have seen during these past weeks what we have tried to do. The point is that after 17 months I think they will be desperate to see the team on the pitch, to cheer and support the players. They are clever and know the main thing for us is to make sure we are strong at home. Historically it has been the same, Goodison Park has been a very difficult place to go and get points. They can be a major part of our success and I’m sure they will be supporting the team in the way they do all the time.
Is Europe possible?
The main thing for me is that it’s always one game at a time so Southampton is the target, if we can get three points we will be closer to our next target. I think it’s good just to have this feeling that we can do better, we can improve, but we have to be realistic and the main way to be realistic is to focus on the next challenge which is to get three points against Southampton.
Going back to James, can you clarify why he’s unavailable?
We have some players who are in isolation now with COVID around so we have to be very careful. Some players have to be at home and he’s one of them.
Is the popularity of players ever a factor when you’re picking the team?
As a manager, people don’t remember the names of the players if you lose games, they remember the names if you win, so as a manager you try to put players on the pitch who are going to win games. I’m not checking the name of the player, their popularity or how many followers on social media, it’s just to be sure they can do the job. I think the fans, the Evertonians, what they are looking for – and this is my experience – is that they want players who give everything on the pitch, everything for the shirt, and then they will try to win. That is my idea, to pick the best players for each game that they can compete, that they can win. It doesn’t matter the name.
Can you understand fans want to see James in the flesh?
Yes, I understand fans want to see the best players possible on the pitch to win the game. He’s one of them. We have Richarlison, Dominic. Anyone I can name now in the team, they have to be good players on the pitch.
What can Evertonians expect the Rafa Benitez Everton to look like?
When I say a winning mentality, it’s just to give everything on the pitch. I have seen a lot of teams here struggling to get points because of the intensity of the game, the commitment of the players, the desire, so we have to try to do that. At the same time, we have to try to play well. To play well doesn’t mean 20 passes inside your own box or to play direct football and just wait for the second ball, it means something in between. I’ve had teams that have played well by being well organised, create chances and don’t concede too many. It’s too early but we will try to do that. My conversation with each player is about that, to be sure they do the things that they have to do for the team and that everybody follows the plan that we put in place before every game.
Watched tapes of games – what have you done to address shortcomings from last season?
Sometimes it’s the context, the moment of the season…that can improve or not their belief. This group of players have been training really well. We have improved the fitness of the players quite a lot in this short period, so we are happy with that. They are very receptive, they listen to us, and they want to do things the way we want them to do. At the same time, we have conversations about what they prefer, how they did last year and what they did right or wrong. So, a lot of conversations. As I say after the last game, that was disappointing for us, a lot of information, now it is just to make the right decision. But the approach of the players, the commitment is there. I am quite happy with that and hopefully we can improve little but little.
Richarlison availability – a big plus – come to arrangement to have rest later in the season?
If you analyse the stats over the last year, he was scoring goals with Dominic were scoring goals. These are key players and very important players for us. When he wanted to go to the Olympic Games, we analysed the pros and the cons – and we decided it will be a good opportunity for him, to have the chance to win. He won the medal, he’s happy. He knows we need him now and knows we will try to manage his time off, his holidays, to be sure recovers quickly. At the moment, he is fine, he has been training well and he is keen to help the team.
Moise Kean, Gbamin, Andre Gomes didn’t play in the friendly. Are they available for tomorrow?
You named some of them…but I say before we have five players that are in isolation. Two of them are these players but I will not name too many players because I think it is better not to do it. Then, you can guess, you know, you are clever enough to understand – we have some names who will not be available for tomorrow.
Any other news on players’ availability?
In terms of injuries, I am quite happy. We have been training hard and the players are training really well. The main concern for me and all the managers are the rules around the country, so everybody can go outside and do what they want – and after we have too many controls, this is right and is good – then we can see some issues and problems with Covid-19, what it is at the moment, and we have to manage in the best the way possible. We are making an effort to be sure we have control but it is very difficult to have full control when everybody around has some freedom.
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