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PHIL NEVILLE believes Everton can seal a Christmas top four spot over the coming weeks.
The Blues skipper reckons the run of fixtures between now and the festive period will be pivotal in deciding the Blues’ destiny this term, and insists they can cope with the high expectations the their good start has fostered.
Everton resume top flight action against QPR on Sunday after the second of two international breaks is over, and the 35-year-old is relishing the chance to focus on their ambitions for this term.
He said: “There’s a long stretch until Christmas now and it’s at this time you have to cement your place in the top four.
“Games come thick and fast and there’s no real respite now and we’re all looking forward to it.
“We want high expectations. Every single player needs it. We have international players and they are used to this type of pressure. We want to be successful this year and with that comes expectation.”
QPR are bottom of the table, but Neville warns the Londoners’ quality shouldn’t be masked by their lowly league position.
“They are desperate for points,” he said. “They have had a massive turnaround of players, five to 10 players have gone and 10 to 15 players have come in.
“They have got real quality in the team and Mark Hughes is a good manager who will obviously want time and needs time for that team to gel.
“You need to find the right formula, the right positions, the right permutations and I think with the calibre of players they have they won’t go down this year, that is for sure.
“They have got too many players who have played at the top level and won major honours. It’s a tough game for us, on a tight pitch, with a good atmosphere.”
Meanwhile, Phil Jagielka is thankful for an extra day of recovery after England’s delayed game against Poland.
Jagielka played 90 minutes of Wednesday afternoon’s 1-1 draw in Warsaw after the game was put back a day due to a waterlogged pitch.
The central defender now returns to Everton with the Blues not playing until 4pm on Sunday at Loftus Road.
“We have had a chat with the rest of the lads,” said the 30-year-old.
“Some people kick off at 12.45pm on Saturday and a couple of us have Sunday kick-offs which I am sure our manager will be delighted with.
“We have the extra day to rest up the legs but it’s out of our control really. It’s been like chalk and cheese, on Tuesday it didn’t stop raining and Wednesday was a beautiful day. That’s just the way it goes.”
DAVID PRENTICE - According to Francis Jeffers, Wayne Rooney will be back at Everton FC one day. According to me, they don’t need him.
And I’m not sure they ever have.
Now that’s quite a bold statement, dismissing the claims of one of the greatest striking talents of his generation, but one, I think, that holds water.
Franny made his thought provoking comment in a radio interview this week, suggesting that when Rooney has achieved all his aims and ambitions at Old Trafford he would relish a return to his spiritual home.
Now Everton have history for taking back their old boys, with varying degrees of success.
For every Andy King there’s been a David Johnson. For every Alan Stubbs, a Peter Beagrie.
But in the eight years since Wayne Rooney became a Royal Blue old boy, Everton have moved on.
It was 10-years ago today that the rest of the football world cottoned on to what Evertonians had known for months – that the Blues had a young striker with a name worth remembering.
On October 19, 2002, Wayne Rooney clipped a beautifully arcing shot past David Seaman, ended Arsenal’s 30-match unbeaten record and prompted Clive Tyldesley to scream “Remember the name!”
It’s never been forgotten by the blue half of Merseyside, but not always recalled fondly.
Rooney’s time as a first team footballer at Everton was horribly short-lived.
David Moyes had always hoped Rooney would follow the career path of a young Spanish striker called Fernando Torres, who remained with his boyhood club, Atletico Madrid, until he was 23.
Instead Rooney was just 18 when he earned his agent, Paul Stretford, more than £1m by moving to Manchester United.
But Everton didn’t fold. They didn’t decline. They didn’t wallow in a sea of recriminations and self-pity.
They flourished. Again.
The Blues hold a curious place in recent English football history.
Twice in modern times they have sold English football’s premier goalscorer, and immediately seen their fortunes soar.
Gary Lineker had just won the Golden Boot at a World Cup finals when the Blues took the controversial decision to sell him. They won the league 12 months later.
Wayne Rooney was the undoubted star of Euro 2004, when the Blues reluctantly sold him on to Manchester United. Twelve months later they achieved their highest league placing since that title triumph.
But there were differences from the Everton of the late 80s and the Blues of the mid-noughties.
Everton clearly still needed a goalscorer in the late 1980s, as a British record breaking bid for Tony Cottee in the summer of 1988 showed.
They signed one, but Cottee couldn’t halt an inexorable decline which – Joe Royle’s all too brief tenure apart – arguably only reversed under David Moyes’ stewardship.
With Lineker Tottenham won the FA Cup, finished third and saw their marksman become the Premier League’s leading scorer in 1990 and runner-up behind Ian Wright in 1992.
Rooney has also featured regularly leading scorers’ lists, but the team he left behind also flourished.
The instant aftermath of his exit saw a remarkable rise to fourth, achieved by spending only a fraction of the £20m (rising to £25m) the Blues banked on their precocious teenager.
James Beattie arrived five months later for £6m and Mikel Arteta came in on loan.
The following summer they added eight players to the senior squad and lost none.
But the new faces, with one exception, hardly had a long-term impact on the squad.
Phil Neville (that obvious exception) is still there, but John Ruddy, Simon Davies, Matteo Ferrari, Nuno Valente and Andy van der Meyde were only of short term benefit, while the Per Kroldrup ‘investment’ was recouped as quickly as the transfer window permitted.
It all suggests that Everton didn’t need to sell Rooney to turn regular relegation battles into frequent fliers in Europe.
And that they won’t need him whenever he has decided he has fulfilled his ambitions down the East Lancs Road.
Rooney is undoubtedly an outstanding footballer. He is still the leading English striker of his generation. And he is a far better player now than he was when he left Goodison Park.
But he is also 26. He is also still advised by Paul Stretford, criticised by Sir Alex Ferguson during Rooney’s latest contract talks two years ago.
And Everton have forged an impressive team spirit which David Moyes cultivates almost as carefully as he does his team selection.
Rooney’s not a bad apple.
But during those latest contract talks he issued a public statement implicitly criticising his United team-mates, just hours before a Champions League game against Bursaspor, later apologising to fans and to team-mates for the “hurt” he caused.
Maybe that’s because he isn’t completely fulfilled at Old Trafford.
Maybe it’s because he still yearns for the club he left behind.
And perhaps Everton have simply outgrown him.
We’ll remember the name.
But there’s no need to dwell on what might have beens or what may still be.