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THERE’s a famous banner sometimes seen on the Anfield Kop based on the old Soviet flag depicting Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin in profile.
The Liverpool fans’ version is accompanied by a red star not dissimilar to the one on the front of this paper and bears the faces of Bill Shankly, Bob Paisley, Joe Fagan, Kenny Dalglish, Rafa Benitez and, more recently, Jurgen Klopp.
Just like the Soviet flag, it symbolises the originators of their philosophy and those who successfully turned theory into action.
Philosophically and culturally through their actions and words, these are the figures who, along with the supporters, have helped make Liverpool FC what it is today.
But what happens when one of these figures decides to take over as manager of their city rivals?
This is the current situation on Merseyside after Benitez was appointed Everton’s new manager last week.
It’s a move that affects both sets of fans and has led to various disagreements within the fanbases of each, and disagreement as well as agreement across the divide.
Can Benitez still be celebrated and revered at Anfield while working hard to make their local rivals successful?
Can Everton fans accept someone who while managing Liverpool referred to Everton, however accidentally, as a small club?
It’s a complicated dynamic, and one that will lead to a number of debates that will branch off in different directions depending on Benitez’s success or otherwise in his new role.
The only other person to manage both clubs was William Edward Barclay who stayed at Anfield when Liverpool FC were formed in 1892 rather than making the move across Stanley Park with the existing Everton club.
The role of manager was much different then, though, with John McKenna also playing a key role in administering Liverpool FC in those early days, so Benitez’s move is unprecedented.
But if anyone can even attempt to make a go of this impossible task, it’s Benitez.
The Spaniard’s Merseyside base means he is in tune with the people and the culture of the city and surrounding area.
From unwavering support for the Hillsborough campaign to the foundation set up by Rafa’s wife, Montse, which helps local charities and communities, the Benitez family have contributed greatly to a region they have made their home.
Like a lot of Everton’s work in the community, much of it goes under the radar. It’s just something they do rather than something they seek attention on the back of.
In this sense, Benitez will fit Everton well. When his affection for the region is combined with his passion for football and his meticulousness and work rate as a manager, it could give him a fighting chance of being accepted in his new role.
“I love the passion of the people behind the club,” Benitez told Everton TV.
“I know the city, I know Scousers, I know what it means for every fan here to compete and to have the chance to win.
“To come to Everton is something that means a lot.”
For fans of both teams, this scenario leads to conflicting emotions and Benitez’s legacy in Merseyside football will only be judged more clearly once his stint at Everton has come to an end.
There will be enduring positives from this legacy, though, regardless of what happens in the coming months.
Not least because his family have settled in the area and contributed so much to it even away from football, but also due to his hard work and dedication to whatever football club he manages.
Liverpool fans, and those of Newcastle for that matter, have seen this dedication first hand and know he will fight for the club even if it means clashing with its owners.
Everton fans will also see it, but they will expect this as a minimum. The continuation of Duncan Ferguson as assistant manager will be important for both Benitez and the fans, but not nearly as important as getting off to a good start on the pitch.
“I have been in Madrid, Naples, Valencia, Tenerife, Extremadura and Liverpool — every single club I was at I was fighting for them,” Benitez added.
“I am here, I will fight for my club. I will try to win every single game, and it doesn’t matter who the opponents are, or the rivals, it is something you have to do. It is your nature that you have to try to do your best.
“And why a lot of fans in a lot of these cities love me is because I was giving everything for them. If you analyse this in the context, then it is very clear I will do the same for Everton.”
It’s worth remembering that another figure on that Liverpool banner, and the one who defined Liverpool’s ethos, Bill Shankly, also spent some of his later years attending Everton games at Goodison Park.
Shankly was also a regular visitor to Everton’s then training ground, Bellefield, but this was not nearly as significant as the step Benitez has taken.
The appointment of Benitez as Everton manager has led to reluctant understanding and chaos in equal measure. The latter will reach peak levels when Everton face Liverpool at Goodison Park in late November.
Will Benitez’s image still adorn flags in the Kop? Will Liverpool fans still sing his name as they did when he faced their team while managing other clubs?
Will he be booed by Everton fans before his side have even kicked a football?
As Liverpool and Everton supporters return to Anfield and Goodison Park in greater numbers this year we are likely to get immediate answers to these questions, but others around the bigger picture of this appointment may remain unanswered for some time.
The only thing certain at the moment is Benitez’s unwavering dedication to his job.
Working closer to a place he now calls home will only increase his commitment and if he can’t make this once unthinkable situation work, it will not be for lack of trying.
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