Exclusive: Trevor Steven talks why Rafa perfect for Everton, charity work & season targets

Logo: Tribal Football

Tribal Football

Amidst the furore surrounding Rafa Benitez's appointment as Everton manager, club great Trevor Steven was adamant he was the "right man for the job".

Three matches into the Premier League season and Steven stands by his statement.

Two wins and a draw, plus signs of a direct and decisive brand of football, has some Everton fans softening to the notion of a former Liverpool manager barking orders from the Goodison Park dugout.

"I supported [Benitez's appointment] because I thought he was the right man for the job," Steven tells TribalFootball.com.

"Obviously Evertonians can see the baggage that he has got with his association with Liverpool, but that was quite a long time ago. He has been at a lot of clubs since and done great jobs."

Not only was Benitez coach of Liverpool, he is regarded as a Reds legend after winning the Champions League final against AC Milan in 2005, in which they came back from 3-0 down at half-time to win on penalties.

The Spaniard also made disparaging comments about Everton whilst in charge at Anfield, namely when he labelled them a "small club" after a derby match in 2007, although Steven thinks the comments have been overblown.

"He would only go to a big club, and he knows how big Everton are," Steven says. "He did say they were a small club once upon a time but it was misinterpreted as what he was actually meaning.

Benitez with assistant Duncan Ferguson

"And he's been brave enough to take on the mantle of Everton coach and already we've seen an improvement in the way Everton are approaching games, a more solid way of playing.

"If you get solid first then you can structure it first and build from there. If you're flaky, you're going to win a game, lose a game, win one, draw one. That's not how Everton will be successful.

"The success under Rafa Benitez will come from working on the training pitch on a daily basis to improve his players. The strength of character this guy has got is amazing. And he has a method which he wants to keep the game simple and footballers love simple."

Steven knows a thing or two about successful Everton teams.

Under the coaching of Howard Kendall in the 1980s, the Toffees enjoyed one of their most successful ever periods, winning the First Division title in 1984/85 and 1986/87 as well as the FA Cup in 1984.

An integral component of their success was the combination of winger Steven and fullback Gary Stevens on the right flank, and Steven reflects upon those days with great joy.

"I joined Everton at the age of 19 under Howard Kendal and that was 1983," says Steven, who also won 36 caps for England.

"I stayed until 1989, we won two leagues, played in four FA Cup finals and won one, won four Charity Shields, won the European Cup Winners' Cup, it was just an unbelievable experience.

Everton celebrate winning the 1984 FA Cup final

"Howard Kendall was responsible for bringing the players together. We were UK based players in those days, very few foreign players. We were a mix of English, Scottish, Welsh and Irish.

"Everton were always historically a top-six club. The fan base is huge, comparable to Liverpool's, although Liverpool's in a global sense have had more reach because of their success in European competitions, but Everton are right up there shoulder to shoulder."

Steven left Goodison in 1989, enjoying two immensely successful periods with Scottish giants Rangers on either side of a single season with Marseille, where he won the Ligue 1 title.

But Steven still bleeds Everton blue, and remains heavily involved with Everton in the Community, an independent charity affiliated with the club, who Steven labels as "pioneers" for their tireless work on Merseyside.

Steven will be back in Liverpool this Sunday, alongside former teammate Peter Reid, at a Q&A screening event for Howard's Way, a film about the club's 1985 campaign.

Along with the First Division title, Everton won the European Cup Winners' Cup that season and only missed out on the treble after Norman Whiteside's extra-time winner for Manchester United in the FA Cup final.

Steven (L) and Kevin Ratcliffe

The film was funded by Phil Brown, owner of Causeway Technologies, a construction software company for whom Steven serves as mental health ambassador.

All proceeds of the film will go towards the building of 'The People's Place', a new purpose-built mental health facility which will stand only 500m from Goodison Park.

"I'm actually doing a lot of work with Causeway Technologies," Steven explains. "I'm very interested in their work with the construction industry. The construction industry in the UK is the worst industry for suicide in the workforce.

"Every day two construction workers commit suicide due to some pressures on site, financial, short term contract, not getting paid, the pressures of life. Everton in the Community have linked up with Causeway Technologies and myself to promote kicking out the stigma of mental health in the construction industry."

Steven will get to hear the Goodison Park atmosphere once again after being invited as a guest to attend Monday's clash with Burnley, the club who gave him his start as a youngster.

Besides the presence of Benitez in the dugout, Steven is also complimentary of the recruitment drive this summer after Salomon Rondon, Andros Townsend and Demarai Gray were added to the squad.

Steven taking on an opponent

"His acquisitions have been terrific," Steven exclaims. "Salomon Rondon coming in with Premier League experience and working with Rafa at Newcastle, he's going to support the front two if there are injuries or need resting.

"But then you bring in Andros Townsend who is a seasoned, ambitious and hungry footballer despite being 30. I've always liked him and now I think he has the best manager he could possibly have and he is enjoying his football again under Rafa.

"And then Demarai Gray, what a buy that is. He adds something that Everton fans love to see. They love to see someone with the ball at their feet, who can go past somebody, they love to see a bit of pace.

"The criticism of Gray has been his consistency, he starts well and he fades but under Rafa I don't think he'll do that. He's also more mature now, he's 25 going on 26."

And while the appointment of Benitez remains contentious, Steven knows exactly what how the Spaniard can endear himself to the Everton faithful.

"[They have] a squad which will push for Europe, but can they get a trophy?," Steven says.

"Whether Carabao Cup or FA Cup, that will mean everything to Evertonians, that's what they really want. It would be a massive step."

To watch Howard's Way, a film on Everton's 1985 season, click here.

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