Everton managerial search: Club's forlorn pursuit of identity returns to journeyman Vitor Pereira

Vitor Pereira is favourite to take over at Everton but Frank Lampard remains a leading contender; no final decision has been made on new manager; announcement expected in next 48 hours; club cannot afford to get it wrong again, writes Ben Grounds

Fenerbahce's head coach Vitor Pereira gives instructions during the Europa League group D soccer match between Fenerbahce and Eintracht Frankfurt at Sukru Saracoglu stadium in Istanbul, Turkey, Thursday, Dec. 9, 2021. The match ended in a 1-1 draw. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)
Image: Vitor Pereira is favourite to take over at Everton

Everton's search for a new manager lurches into a second week with the club in desperate need of a solution in the final days of the January transfer window.

Rafael Benitez's departure after just 200 days in charge was welcomed with relief by a large section of the fanbase, with the understanding that it was the club cutting their losses on a project that was doomed to failure from the start.

Removing the former Liverpool boss was the admittance of a mistake, but taking away his connections with their Merseyside neighbours, it was also an acceptance that Everton were hurtling towards the relegation zone at a time when the club can ill-afford to lose their top-flight status.

Portuguese coach Vitor Pereira is now the front-runner to become the next Everton manager following talks with Moshiri. Pereira has re-emerged as majority shareholder Farhad Moshiri's preferred candidate, despite the board believing it would represent a huge gamble.

Farhad Moshiri wanted Champions League football at Everton

The 53-year-old has no Premier League experience, spent three years in China with Shanghai SIPG - his longest spell at any one club - and boasts a CV that includes stints at Al-Ahli in Saudi Arabia, Greece, Turkey and Germany.

Entrusting Duncan Ferguson as interim boss until the end of the season would represent a gamble, but siding on Pereira would fall just as much under that category and risk a first relegation from the top-flight in 71 years - in spite of an "impressive" interview.

Should Moshiri press ahead with the appointment, it would represent the second time he has gone against the wishes of the board, having appointed Benitez.

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Since arriving nearly six years ago, Moshiri has seen off Roberto Martinez, Ronald Koeman, Sam Allardyce, Marco Silva and Benitez - and might well have parted company with Carlo Ancelotti before the Italian took his opportunity to make an early exit himself last summer.

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Everton fans have put up banners against the club's board while another wrote a graffiti message after it emerged Vitor Pereira is favourite to take over from Rafa Benitez at Goodison Park.

On the day Benitez was sacked, Ancelotti was winning the first piece of silverware during his second coming at Real Madrid. The Italian can surely have no regrets, and yet part of this familiar scattergun approach to making a sixth permanent appointment in Moshiri's six-year tenure has included former manager Martinez among those on his shortlist.

Forget coming full circle; Everton have spent a net £200 million to go backwards since 2016. The next fortnight will prove critical in the club's season after a winter sleepwalking into a relegation battle. Saturday's 1-0 home defeat to Aston Villa ended with disgruntled fans staging a sit-in protest against the board.

"No Communication, No Plan, No Vision," was the message on one banner, spelling out the issues running deep.

Bill Kenwright was also the subject of another, with the Everton chairman beating a hasty retreat from his seat in the Main Stand - only to then acknowledge supporter anguish on the Goodison Road. Despite not wielding the power since selling virtually all his shares in Moshiri's 2016 buy out, the theatre impresario is still keen to exert some influence at boardroom level.

Hull City v Everton - Emirates FA Cup - Third Round - The MKM Stadium
Everton manager Rafael Benitez during the Emirates FA Cup third round match at the MKM Stadium, Hull. Picture date: Saturday January 8, 2022.
Image: Rafael Benitez was sacked after just six months in charge

Everton's next Premier League opponents Newcastle, whom they face in a relegation six-pointer on February 8, have already spent £25m to take striker Chris Wood from Burnley and with the riches at their disposal are likely to buy again before the window closes.

The Blues need to do something to jolt them out of their current slump as, since the start of October, all the teams below them - Norwich (16), Newcastle (12), Watford (seven) and Burnley (10) - have accrued more points than their paltry six.

The hope was that Ferguson could replicate the same impact he had as caretaker boss across four games in December 2019 when filling in following the dismissal of Silva.

A 3-1 victory over Chelsea alleviated the pressure on the board to make a swift appointment then, with the January window still around the corner.

A plane with the message "22 years of failure, Bill" on Saturday
Image: A plane with the message '22 years of failure, Bill' was flown over Goodison Park last Saturday

It lifted Everton out of the relegation zone up to 14th, still only two points from safety. While the club are currently five points off the drop with games in hand over some of their rivals, this feels far more precarious.

Things are different now, with the club set to move into their new £500m stadium at Bramley-Moore Dock at the start of the 2024/25 season.

At least they ought to be. With just a week left of the window, the threat to Everton's position as an ever-present in the Premier League and top-division outfit since 1954 hasn't felt this real since the 1997/98 campaign under Howard Kendall.

Why would club return to Pereira?

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Vitor Pereira, who Everton are said to be interested in appointing as their new manager, would bring attacking football to Goodison Park, according to European football expert Andy Brassell

When Silva was dismissed just over two years ago, Pereira had been in negotiations with the Toffees across a seven-day period and was understood to be the leading candidate before he removed himself from the application process.

While managing in the Chinese Super League, Pereira exclusively told Sky Sports: "It's always an honour and I am utterly grateful to be considered on a list by a club that I have so much respect for. At this point, I am still the coach of SIPG a club close to my heart in a country that is growing immensely in football.

"Currently I am not in a position to make any other commitments. I cannot decide now, I need time to think and plan my future by looking at all the options I have.

Pereira has managed in several countries
Image: Pereira has managed in several countries

"It's a league I love and yes for sure I would love to consider an opportunity in the future."

Pereira was also under consideration by Everton in 2013 before Martinez replaced David Moyes, and the opportunity appears before him again now.

Pereira is available having most recently endured an unsuccessful stint at Fenerbahce, leaving the Turkish giants fifth position in the table and 14 points off the leaders. If he wasn't appointed in 2019, why is he in the frame again now?

Fans stage a sit-in protest against the board
Image: Fans stage a sit-in protest against the board

His admirers will point to the fact he has a track record of developing players and success as a head coach having managed a number of top European clubs including Porto, where he won back-to-back Portuguese titles, and Olympiakos, where he won a Greek domestic double in 2015.

He was named Portuguese coach of the year in 2013 and was Andre Villas-Boas's assistant during the 2010-11 season when Porto also lifted the title.

But he also has the unwanted record of having relegated 1860 Munich to the German third-tier during his six months as manager in 2016/17. Pereira only arrived in the January of that season but could only win six of his 20 games, leading to recriminations over who was responsible.

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Vitor Pereira exclusively explained to Sky Sports News why he withdrew from Everton's process of selecting their next permanent manager in December 2019

"Nobody around the club ever expected or wanted that we dropped to the third division," an 1860 Munich club statement read at the time. "We know that this scenario is not acceptable. In such a situation, there are only losers unfortunately."

There were no winners either at Everton from getting the Benitez appointment horribly wrong.

1860 Munich consulted Kia Joorabchian before appointing Pereira, and the super agent was spotted in owner Moshiri's director's box at Goodison Park on Saturday. The fear among fans is that Joorabchian has too much influence over Moshiri and the club's transfer dealings.

Whether Pereira is the right profile to take over Everton now, in the midst of an identity crisis and at the wrong end of the table, is far from obvious - especially at a time when the club are set to do away with their obligation to hold annual General Meetings with shareholders.

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Everton interim manager Duncan Ferguson says that he is gutted for the fans after the result but could not fault his players' performances against Aston Villa

His previous experience of a relegation battle suggests he is not the firefighter Everton currently require.

A search which started with Frank Lampard, Wayne Rooney, Jose Mourinho and Martinez being sounded out for a return before the Belgian FA blocked an approach - and even had Fabio Cannavaro's name added out of nowhere - has now predictably come back to the perennially-linked Pereira being the favourite.

He will, like Benitez and those before him, want to prove his best days in the dug-out are still to come. An unusual international break in January has provided Everton with some much-needed breathing space to consider their next move.

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Speaking on the Gary Neville Podcast, Gary wonders where Everton go from here after making some 'odd, obscure decisions' like selling Lucas Digne before sacking Rafael Benitez two days later.

The dilemma Moshiri has is that the manager he needs right now to get them out of trouble is probably not the man required to turn around an eight-year decline at a club currently without an established internal football structure and undergoing a strategic review.

Everton have no director of football, head of recruitment or scouting chief - so effectively no expert football knowledge at the top of the club. It means Moshiri will again have the final say.

He does not have to make any snap decisions, but he cannot afford to get it wrong again.

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Highlights from Aston Villa's win against Everton

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Image: Everton will feel they have enough quality to pull away

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