When Rafa Benitez was appointed as the new manager of Everton it sparked controversy amongst supporters at Goodison Park.
Already frustrated by Carlo Ancelotti’s surprising exit, Toffees fans were incensed that Benitez was the wrong man.
They went as far as posting signs outside his house in protest of his arrival in Merseyside. The reason was a simple one; his association with Liverpool.
Benitez coached the Reds to Champions League glory in 2005 during a six-year stay at Anfield. In the process, he labelled their fiercest rivals a ‘small club.’
The 61-year-old has since apologised for that but he’s not done a great deal since arriving at Everton to calm the waters.
They’ve made mediocre efforts to improve their squad in the transfer window and lost 4-0 to Manchester United in a pre-season friendly last weekend.
However, it’s important to remember just what Benitez has achieved in his managerial career. He is one of the most renowned coaches on the globe and has helped to define certain aspects of modern football.
You only need to look at Xabi Alonso, a footballer who introduced a new role to a tactics board; a creative defensive midfielder.
The Spaniard played 210 times under Benitez, spraying passes in various directions while showing a bullish approach to defending.
He was a remarkably composed footballer but wasn’t afraid to get his hands dirty when it mattered.
During the 2014/15 campaign at Bayern Munich, he took a mind-boggling 163.5 touches per game, orchestrating play from deep on a regular basis.
Speaking about his style of play, ex-Bayern director Matthias Sammer once said: “Xabi Alonso has incredible skills, passing and ball control. He has an eye for the game, he knows how to defend and he is physically strong.”
But why is this all relevant to Everton? Well, Benitez could discover his new Alonso this summer in the form of Sander Berge.
He has only played three times for the Blades in 2021 but like Alonso was, he’s a composed footballer who loves a tackle.
Described as the “complete midfielder” by Chris Wilder, he completed 85.6% of his passes in the Premier League last term. Sitting deep and distributing play in the manner Alonso did for Liverpool, Madrid and Bayern, he also produced 1.1 successful tackles per game.
It speaks volumes that it wasn’t Berge’s best season either. His greatest tally for tackles came in 2016 when he recorded 2.1 per match for Valerenga in Norway.
That final statistic is close to Alonso whose career average according to data tracked by WhoScored, stands at 2.9 an outing.
The former Spain international was, of course, a class above. Berge would have to do a lot to be registered in the same category but he’s certainly got similar attributes.
He’d be a fantastic signing for Everton based on the aforementioned traits.