Rafael Benitez has said Everton fans have been “very supportive” after he was appointed manager of the Premier League club.
The Spaniard was appointed on a three-year deal following Carlo Ancelotti's departure for Real Madrid at the end of last season but the move threatened to be an unpopular one with Everton supporters given Benitez’s achievements with rivals Liverpool, who he managed from 2004 to 2010.
Merseyside Police also investigated an anti-Benitez banner hung close to his home on the Wirral prior to his appointment.
But the 61-year-old said he was not worried about the response of the fans and said he had been welcomed back to the city by supporters on both the blue and red sides of Liverpool.
“Evertonians around my place, they are quite happy and very supportive,” Benitez said at his first press conference as Everton manager.
“Even the Liverpool fans were very accepting of this opportunity for me to return to the Premier League, to compete for something. So it was a good feeling.
“Talking about the banners, we can talk about one or two people, you never know. I think it’s better to think about the positives, how a lot of people were encouraging me to do well and I’m happy with that.”
Benitez has managed Valencia, Inter Milan, Napoli, Real Madrid and Newcastle in his career, while his last position saw him take charge in the Chinese Super League.
He also took charge of Chelsea for a spell shortly after leaving Liverpool in 2010, in which he was greeted with hostility at Stamford Bridge after replacing Roberto Di Matteo but ended the season by winning the Europa League. Benitez said it showed how results on the pitch will determine how he is received at Goodison Park.
“When I was at Chelsea, we went to supermarkets and restaurants and the fans were really good. The majority of the fans, they were fine,” he said.
“Liverpool is my city. We have connections in the red side and blue side, and now a lot of people in the blue side will be pleased if I am successful. So I don’t see a big issue.
“The fans appreciate that we will be here working hard for the team and the club. If we can do well, nobody will be taking about the past. I am thinking about the future. I know they want me to be successful and we can do it.”
Everton finished 10th in the Premier League last season after their push for European qualification was scuppered by the club’s poor home record at Goodison.
Benitez said he will look to bring in players to bolster his squad this summer but that developing a “winning mentality” at the club was his most important objective.
“The Premier League is not easy for everyone. There are a lot of teams that have spent big money in recent years. My job is to make sure the players we have here have confidence and after to try and bring some players in to fill the gaps that we have and create a team that can be more competitive, to make sure we are better than last season,” Benitez said.
“I have had some conversations with some senior players and all of them are ambitious, but all of them they realised that something was missing.
“For me, there has to be a winning mentality from the first day until the last day. Normally when you win trophies it’s about being strong until the end of the season. We have experience of doing that and I am confident that we will do it.
“These conversations with the senior players have been in this direction. They want to do well and are desperate to improve. It’s a very good thing for me and it is what I am expecting.”
Benitez was not drawn on the future of James Rodriguez, insisting it was “important now to talk about the team and ideas rather than individuals” as he outlined his vision for how he wants Everton to play.
“Everybody has to keep training and do their jobs and we will look for the best options to improve the team,” he said.
“We have to create a team that will be competitive, that fights for the shirt from the first minute until the last. It doesn’t matter the name of the opponent, try to win, that’s it.
“If we have to play on the floor, pass it 20 times, we will do it. If we have to do it five times, play counter attack, we will do that. We have to find the way to win games, to play good football if it is possible.
“But we are not stupid, we know the fans want to see a side play well, but winning. We will try to do that.”
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