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SYLVAIN DISTIN believes Steven Pienaar can help Everton get off to a flyer for once.
Toffees boss David Moyes hopes to wrap up a permanent deal to bring Pienaar back to Goodison this week.
Pienaar, 30, spent three-and-a-half years at Everton before quitting for Tottenham in January last year.
But he made a huge impact back on loan for the second half of last season as Moyes’ boys finished seventh.
Defender Distin said: “Steven is a priority for us. When he came in on loan last year, he changed the way we played. It’s great to see that he might be coming back.
“If we look where we finished last season, considering the teams around us and the money they spent, it is quite flattering.
“Ultimately, it’s not about how you start, it’s where you finish. Hopefully we can keep everyone together, add players like Steven, and things will be great.”
Distin is also buzzing at the prospect of seeing Jack Rodwell driving Everton’s midfield in the new campaign.
The 21-year-old suffered a spate of injuries that restricted him to just two starts after the turn of the year.
Distin said: “He has the quality to be a great player, but it’s important to let him play without pressure.
“He’s been unfortunate, it happens sometimes. You can go months or years with no injuries then get one, two, three, four in a short space of time.”
Everton have expressed an interest in signing Yohan Benalouane, the 25-year old centre-back who plays for Cesena in Italy.
EVERTON midfielder Jack Rodwell will return better than ever after overcoming his latest injury setback according to his Blues team-mate Sylvain Distin.
Despite making his international debut last term, the 21-year-old saw his season curtailed by a persistent hamstring injury that wrecked his hopes of making England’s European Championship squad or Team GB for the Olympics.
Goodison chiefs were so concerned about the £20million-rated youngster’s long-term fitness that they sent him to see German specialist Dr Hans Muller-Wolfhart to try and get to the root of the problem.
However, Rodwell, who has figured in just five Everton games in the past nine months since playing twice for England in the space of four days last November, managed to complete the full 90 minutes in Saturday’s 4-1 win at Morecambe in the Blues’ pre-season opener.
Turning out for the first time since March, Rodwell showed no ill-effects of the problems that had sidelined him and he even got himself on the scoresheet, netting Everton’s third goal on 41 minutes.
Distin said: “He is working hard and he will be fine. Sometimes injuries like that happen and you have to accept it.
“Sometimes you will have a spell of months, seasons and years when you have nothing and then you will have two, three or four in a row.
“You just have to keep strong, keeping working and make sure you come back even better.
“We don’t have a big squad, so we feel every injury we suffer. Jack has enough quality to be a great player.
“It would be good if we could just let him play his football and not put too much pressure on his shoulders. That is all that we want and that is all he wants. He just wants to play football.”
Distin, whose own consistency earned him a new Everton contract this summer at 34 years of age, doesn’t think there is any kind of miracle cure for Rodwell though.
He said: “Everyone is different. You like to work hard but some players cannot do that – if they work too hard it can injure them.
“It is for Jack to understand his body and how it works. I can’t tell him to do this or that. It is for him to find out.”
The Frenchman was the senior pro in a largely youthful Blues side that strolled to victory in Morecambe boss Jim Bentley’s testimonial – which was delayed by 15 minutes due to traffic problems that the Everton team bus encountered.
Manager David Moyes still has the bulk of his international contingent yet to return but like most people at Goodison Park, Distin wants to see Steven Pienaar back with the Blues.
New Tottenham boss Andre Villas-Boas last week gave Everton the green light to strike a deal for the South African to complete his dream return to Merseyside.
Distin said: “We are looking forward to the new season. If we can add Steven and maybe one other player that would be great. Steven is the priority. When he came back last season, he changed the way we played. It was good to see him coming back. We have got everything crossed that he will be back soon.
“We have to be honest and say that we don’t have the financial power of some of the other teams. But we will still keep competing.
“We hope not to lose any players but if we do, we will just keep working hard. We will fight to finish as high as we can. Hopefully we will keep everyone, get players like Pienaar and everything will be great.”
THE number of away fans at Anfield and Goodison Park, when rivals Manchester United come to town, is set to be cut amid safety fears.
Members of the council’s licensing committee are due to vote next week on cutting United’s away allocations for this coming season and beyond.
The Old Trafford club have had allocations at Anfield cut before but this is believed to be the first time such a move has been taken for their games at Everton.
The Licensing Committee have been asked to adjudicate on the issue of ticketing after the Ground Safety advisory group, made up of council officials and the police, raised concerns about fans persistently standing and blocking aisles.
Everton kick off their Premier League season on Monday, August 20, against United, with the game having been moved to an 8pm start for TV.
If passed as expected, the council’s ruling will see around 200 less away fans in the Bullens Road Stand.
When United visit Anfield on Sunday, September 23, they will be given 1,965 tickets, down from an away following’s usual allocation of 3,015.
The report set to go to the council said: “In general, most away supporters who visit Everton either do not stand or do not stand in gangways; however, this is not the case for Manchester United.
“EFC played Manchester United on October 29, 2011. The away spectators had the usual allocation in the Upper and Lower tier of the Bullens Road Stand (approx 3,125).
“The Licensing Unit attended the game and noted that, in spite of the efforts of the Club, the gangway . . . in the Upper Tier (nearest the Park End Stand) was closed over by spectators standing in the gangway.
“In previous seasons some encroachment into the gangways here had occurred but it was minimal. This game saw an increase in that activity.”
Regarding Liverpool FC, the report said: “In general terms, whilst the issue of standing of away supporters (and home supporters at certain games) occurs on a regular basis by a number of teams, the issue of standing in gangways had remained limited to Manchester United; until the 2011/12 season.”
The report says Anfield saw similar problems last year when Manchester City visited.
Away numbers were slashed for United’s defeat at the hands of Liverpool in the FA Cup at Anfield last January because of the issue.
United responded by cutting Liverpool’s allocation for the Premier League game at Old Trafford two weeks later by a third.
The Reds were given just 2,100 tickets, rather than the normal 3,000-plus.
THE Scottish Football Association have been urged to act swiftly to help former Rangers players continue their careers elsewhere.
The SFA have been unable to process international clearance for the likes of new Everton signing Steven Naismith and Steven Davis, who exercised their right to leave the club under employment law when Sevco Scotland bought the assets of Rangers, following an objection from those in charge at Ibrox.
The matter is now in the hands of FIFA, who have written to Scotland’s governing body seeking information.
One of the players, Kyle Lafferty, had been expected to make his competitive debut for Sion yesterday but the Swiss club did not include him in their squad for their victory over Grasshoppers.
Lawyer Margaret Gribbon, who represents seven of the players, has asked the SFA to move quickly to ensure they are able to relaunch their careers.
Gribbon said: “We remain confident that FIFA will grant ITC (International Transfer Clearance).”
AN EMOTIONAL Jim Bentley admitted he was overcome to face his beloved Everton in his testimonial game to bring the curtain down on his playing career.
Bentley, who still lives in his native Merseyside, commuting up to Morecambe several times a week alongside his assistant Kenny McKenna, has been with the Shrimps for a decade and took up his managerial role a year ago.
But while he’s become a hero for fans of the Lancashire coastal club wearing red and white, there was only ever going to be one team he wanted to play on his special day.
The 36-year-old, who grew up in Allerton, said: “I’m a massive Evertonian. To play the team I’ve loved all my life at the home of the team I’ve played for throughout the last 10 years – head-to-head – was overwhelming for me. It was superb, I’m absolutely made up.
“It was a great reception I received from all the supporters. I’ve been well liked by the Morecambe fans but I think Evertonians appreciate one of their own.
“If I wasn’t here doing my job at Morecambe I’d have been behind the goal with them.”
Bentley, who played mostly as a centre-back throughout his career, finished the game as Morecambe’s centre-forward as he looked to try and bag some glory with a goal.
With Everton 4-0 up in the final minute, Blues defender Tony Hibbert obliged Bentley with a generous back-pass, leaving the Morecambe boss one-on-one with the visiting keeper in acres of space but his big moment was almost thwarted by 17-year-old Pole Mateusz Taudal who was deputising for Tim Howard.
Bentley said: “It was a bit of a panic. Tony Hibbert had done a little back heel and I was running in, hoping the keeper would just lie down. He didn’t play ball but thankfully I managed to get a second go with the rebound. It was just a token gesture but just to say I’ve scored against Everton was brilliant for me.”
Bentley was thankful that Everton were able to oblige him by providing the opposition in his testimonial game and he was delighted to pit his wits against his managerial hero David Moyes in the visitors’ dug-out.
He said: “A lot of work went on behind the scenes to get this game arranged, David Harrison the Everton club secretary was a great help. He set it all up for us and it’s a dream come true for me.
“I’m very grateful for David Moyes bringing Everton up here to play. He’s a great fella and someone I admire. If I do half of what he’s done in his managerial career I’ll be made up.
“For what he’s got at his disposal in a world of riches in the Premier League, to get us to an FA Cup final and into Europe he’s done an absolutely outstanding job as far as I’m concerned, I back him 100%.
“It would be great if Morecambe could improve on what they did last year and if Everton could have a good season too – finishing above the Reds again – that’s what we’re looking for.”