Demarai Grey Everton

Everton legend Neville Southall believes Rafa Benitez is slowly winning over fans and praised the impact he has had on players.

Benitez, 61, was a shock choice to replace Carlo Ancelotti this summer. The Italian left the ship to return to Real Madrid and a multitude of names were linked to the Goodison Park hotseat. But it was Benitez who landed the job to the surprise of many Toffees fans.

It was believed that his previous six-year tenure as head of city rival Liverpool could prevent him from leaving the post. But club officials have seen beyond that and it seems like a wise move.

The Merseysiders sit in fifth place in the Premier League table. They are tied on 14 points with Brighton and Manchester clubs.

He is still in the early days of his tenure, but Southall believes things are moving in the right direction.

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“So far, everything is going well so that the fans can be reasonably happy,” he told The Echo. “Some are still a bit unstable with Rafa, but he came in and got some results and he’s doing well.

“I think people are pleasantly surprised, but still reserved to be fair. He’s not been around that long, so he’ll do well for us in the end.

Everton have lost only one top-level game in 2021-2022. It was a 3-0 loss at Aston Villa. They had three clubs in the lower parts of the table while taking down Brighton from the top.

But perhaps more encouraging was a 1-1 draw with Manchester United at Old Trafford last time around. Southall made 751 appearances for Everton during 17 seasons at the club.

He’s been a keen observer of their fortunes since they left in 1998. And the former Welsh international has noticed an important aspect of the squad that has changed since the Spaniard arrived.

“He changed the attitude of the players, which is huge, I think,” he added. “It’s a talented group of players, maybe their attitude was sometimes not great. But now we seem to have them all working together. It was a pleasure for me to watch.

Southall greets new hires

Everton signed five players this summer – four as free agents. They only paid money for Gray Demarai, offering Bayer Leverkusen just £ 1.8million for the winger.

He is the former Leicester man more Andros Townsend that have garnered praise. And, again, Southall believes the couple’s attitude has matched their skill level.

He added: “Two people who came to work hard, that’s what you expect from the players, isn’t it?

“That’s the idea. If people have talent but don’t use that talent by working hard, that’s stupid. These two came in and set up their booth. It’s a pleasure to watch.

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