Rafael Benítez has accused Lucas Digne of prioritising his own interests above those of the Everton team after confirming the France international wants to leave.
Digne has not featured since the derby defeat by Liverpool on 1 December and remained on the bench while Séamus Coleman deputised at left wing-back in Sunday’s damaging 3-2 loss to Brighton. The 28-year-old has attracted interest in this window from Newcastle and Chelsea, among others, although Benítez insists Everton, who have signed the Ukraine left-back Vitaliy Mykolenko, have not received a firm offer.
Tensions between the Everton manager and Digne have been clear for some time, with the defender withdrawing through illness from a depleted squad that drew against Chelsea. Benítez went public with his frustrations on Friday when revealing Digne’s desire to leave.
“It was very clear,” he said. “I want to ask a question to every fan or former player. What would Peter Reid say to a player who doesn’t want to be there? It is simple. I had a couple of conversations with him, he told me what he thought. So what do you expect a manager to do when a player is thinking about leaving?”
Benítez did not give an explanation for why Digne wanted to leave after three-and-a-half years but claimed the player was more interested in personal statistics than helping the team through a difficult period.
“We are professionals,” Benítez said. “They pay you big money to perform. You have to perform, you have to be available, you have to put your interests behind the interests of the club. Maybe the stats and priorities have changed and people think themselves ahead of other things.
“The team finished 10th last season and someone who is worried about their stats changes nothing for me. I don’t want to finish 10th. I’d like to be in a much better position; I am not stupid – I want to finish as high as possible. The club is growing and improving and we are creating a winning mentality for the future but it will take some time.
“In the meantime you need players who really want to be here. We have to consider what we want to do in our future. Do we want to try and improve or just manage the egos and leave the team behind depending on the egos?”
Benítez made frequent references to Reid and clarified they were not a criticism of the club legend but an example of the winning mentality that needs rebuilding. “When I was talking about Peter Reid, I was talking about someone who cares, who was always pushing for the best from everyone on the pitch,” he said. “That was the idea. So when I talk about that I am talking about myself also wanting everything from the players. When they do not do that, I can be upset.”
Benítez believes it will take “some years to fix these problems”, with the recent signings of Mykolenko and Nathan Patterson a positive step. “We want to improve the mentality and the owner and the board are working really hard to improve everything,” he said. “We are making mistakes – starting with me – but we do not just want to be in the middle of the table. We want to be as high as possible.”
Dominic Calvert-Lewin will miss Saturday’s FA Cup third-round tie at Hull as a precaution having played the full 90 minutes against Brighton after a four-month injury lay-off. The striker is expected to be fit for Leicester’s visit on Tuesday.