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THOMAS Hitzlsperger has been inspired by Leon Osman’s England call-up - and intends to apply his Everton FC team-mate’s persistence to his own career.
The 30-year-old midfielder made his first Premier League start for the Blues alongside Osman at Reading last weekend, and the duo’s impressive pairing was one of the few highlights of an otherwise frustrating afternoon.
And while Hitzlsperger admits it will take him time to get back to his best after being out injured for months, he believes Osman’s call-up for England’s recent friendly against Sweden sends out a positive message to other players who have been written off on the international scene.
The former Lazio and Aston Villa veteran, who won 52 caps for his country before being left out of Joachim Low’s squad for the last World Cup, said: “He has proved that you should never rule out playing for your country.
“He has played for such a long time and had to wait a long time to get his first cap and it proves if you work hard and keep going for the team you get rewards in the end.
“He’s a good example and I look at it the same way. I was very pleased for him getting his first England cap. I watched him play against Sweden and thought he did very well - he’s very important to this club that’s clear.
“I’ve just come in and been out for a long time. I’ve got a long way to go but I look forward to it.”
HOW could you improve on footballing perfection?
Many observers claim the current Barcelona side are unparalleled in their master of the beautiful game – but when it comes to fantasy football, former Everton winger
Ronnie Goodlass reckons he knows how the Catalonian giants could be even better.
“Alan Ball would have walked into that team,” says the man who once cleaned Ball’s boots as a trainee at Goodison.
“People talk about Barca’s great football but Everton used to play a 4-3-3 formation in the late 60/early 70s – they were ahead of their time in that respect.
“The current side are amazing to watch but they’re a bit quiet for me. Bally would be dishing out orders, encouraging his team-mates and adding a spark in both personality and quality.”
Goodlass is reminiscing about the man he – along with thousands of other Evertonians – idolised, ahead of the release of a special DVD dedicated to one of the finest players in the club’s history.
Proceeds of the ‘Alan Ball Remembered’ disc will go to Goodlass’s own charity ‘Health Through Sport’, an initiative to aid Merseyside youngsters from a variety of marginalised and disadvantaged backgrounds.
And Goodlass hopes it will make the perfect Christmas present for Blues of a certain age, and fans who never saw the great man perform in royal blue.
He said: “I’ve always told kids that I’ve coached to pick the right role model, and I certainly did in Bally.
“These days a lot of youngsters look up to players for their ability and that’s fine but it’s the whole person that’s important.
“Bally had it all. Not only was he one of the all time greats, he was a good guy and a real family man. His whole ethos was about performing to the best of your ability all the time.”
Goodlass, who played 50 games for the Toffees during the 70s, said Ball never gave anything less than 100% while he was at Everton.
“Watching him in training was great,” he said. “He’d be out there on the training pitch treating a game of five a side like it was the World Cup final. That work ethic and commitment is part of what makes every Everton icon and it’s part of the club’s DNA.
“But he had exceptional ability too and that’s discussed in the DVD by other legends like Kendall, Royle and Sharp.”
The DVD also features footage of one of World Cup winner Ball’s last after-dinner speeches in Liverpool, before his untimely death from a heart attack in 2007.
“For me he was up there with Cruyff and Maradona,” added Goodlass
EVERTON FC’S media officers were understandably twitchy about questions regarding Marouane Fellaini’s immediate future.
They needn’t have worried.
The in-form Belgian brought up the subject unprompted, and was happy to predict an Everton hereafter involving his significant skills.
But, as always with Fellaini, there was a caveat.
“I want to give everything for Everton,” he said. “They brought me here from Standard Liege and gave me my chance to play in the Premier League, and I always want to repay them for that.
“I had two big injuries here and they stuck by me and I worked very hard to come back from them. I feel good now in terms of my fitness.
“If Everton finish in the top four then I’m happy to stay because I want to play in the Champions League. I’d be happy to do that at Everton. I want to do that.”
Everton’s intensely frustrating defeat at Reading at the weekend saw the Blues slip out of the Premier League’s top four for pretty much the first time all season.
The next month could be pivotal to their hopes of climbing back into the Champions League frame.
After Saturday’s visit of Norwich, for which Fellaini is suspended, the Blues face Arsenal, champions Manchester City and Tottenham in the space of 11 days.
It is a testing spell which could advertise just how realistic Everton’s ambitions are for the rest of the campaign.
ROSS Barkley wants to prove he has the consistency to match his undoubted ability now he has returned to Everton FC.
The 18-year-old midfielder is back at Goodison Park after his two-month loan spell with Sheffield Wednesday came to an end earlier this week.
Barkley made 12 starts and one substitute appearance for the Championship outfit, scoring four goals and left with the endorsement of Owls boss Dave Jones ringing in his ears.
Following his return, Moyes said he felt regular first-team football had benefited the youngster.
And, having added to the 10 competitive run-outs he made for the Blues last term, Barkley believes he is now ready to thrive in the Premier League.
He said: “I enjoyed it. I was there for two months and it was valuable experience, which I needed because playing in the Under-21s, it's good, but you need to be playing competitive football for points.
“It helped. By going away I feel like I've turned into a better player. I've learned quite a lot in a short space of time. I believe I'm better prepared now, more consistent.
“The players talk more because they're fighting for points and we were low in the league and trying to get up. Also with the Under-21s, it's not really as physical as it is in the Championship, and it's much better playing in front of crowds too.”
Moyes sent a member of his backroom staff to report back on the youngster every time he appeared for Wednesday, even watching him twice himself.
Barkley added: “It was nice to know he was watching. It shows he wants to know how I'm getting on, how I'm progressing and how I’m learning.
“Now I just want to make an impression. The manager's just said to do what I'm doing in training, do what I'm doing in matches and be ready to take my chance.”
MAROUANE FELLAINI has declared he is happy to stay at Everton beyond next summer – provided the club qualify for the Champions League.
Fellaini’s future has been the subject of intense speculation ever since the Belgium international intimated in September that this would be his last season at Goodison.
It prompted rumours of renewed interest in the 25-year-old with Chelsea and Arsenal having subsequently again been linked.
Fellaini has been Everton’s stand-out performer this season, their leading scorer with six goals and a driving force behind their challenge to a top-four finish.
And the midfielder believes if his ambitions can be realised at Goodison then there is no reason to push for a transfer, while calling for more reinforcements in the New Year transfer window.
“If Everton finish in the top four then I’m happy to stay because I want to play in the Champions League,” said Fellaini. “I’d be happy to do that at Everton. I want to do that.
“We’ve got some very good players here, but if we can bring in one or two more in January then it will be a big, big help.”
Fellaini will sit out Saturday’s Premier League visit of Norwich City as he serves a one-match suspension having accrued a fifth yellow card in last weekend’s shock 2-1 defeat at struggling Reading.
The Belgian will return for next Wednesday’s visit of Arsenal, the first of a run of three difficult games in 12 days that sees Everton travel to champions Manchester City next weekend and then entertain Tottenham Hotspur the following Sunday.
And Fellaini added: “The run of games we have coming up will have a big impact on our season.
“This is a big month for us, we’ll know a lot more about how well we can do this season afterwards. We have a lot of points up for grabs and it can make a big difference.”
Marouane Fellaini has broken his silence over his future by insisting he wants to stay at Everton... if they qualify for the Champions League.
The Belgium international has found himself at the centre of some frenzied speculation, after admitting on a return to his home country recently it is his desire to one day play for one of Europe's biggest clubs.
With Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United all watching him closely over the past few months, that has inevitably led to conjecture he will leave Goodison, despite signing a new long-term contract only a year ago.
And now, in an exclusive interview with the Mirror, Fellaini has spelt out his ambition by making clear his desire to play in the Champions League.
The midfielder is desperate to do that with Everton, but the clear inference must be that he will consider his options in the summer if they don't manage it.
"I want to play in the Champions League, and if Everton finish in the top four then I'm happy to stay here - I'd love to do that with Everton," he explained.
"I want to do that. I want to improve as a player, and I want to give everything for Everton. They brought me here from Standard Liege and gave me my chance to play in the Premier League, and I always want to repay them for that.
"I had two big injuries and they stuck by me and I worked very hard to come back from them. I feel good now in terms of my fitness, and I want to go to the next level, in the Champions League."
Fellaini is an Everton icon - a fact emphasised by his appearance at Gwladys Street School this week, where he was acting as an ambassador for the Everton in the Community scheme.
To mark the 25th anniversary of the project, a £1million fund-raising campaign to help support the local community is being launched, with Fellaini as its spearhead.
The afro-sporting star admitted he is thrilled to be seen as an iconic figure because of his unique appearance.
But he wants to be remembered first and foremost for his footballing ability - and he passionately believes that the club can seriously challenge for the Champions League if they first show ambition in the looming winter transfer window.
"We've got some very good players here, but if we can bring in one or two more in January then it will be a big, big help," he insisted.
"There is a lot of quality in the team, and a lot of ambition, and I hope Everton will finish in the top four.
"I know I have my special look with my big hair, but I play football, and being good enough to play in the Champions League is what I want to be known for.
"We are good enough for fourth. We have quality players who can compete and if we can add a couple more players then it will help us even more."
The good news for Everton fans is that Fellaini seems determined to stick it out for at least the rest of the campaign and try to steer the club into the top four.
He believes that the next month will show us far more about the Blues' chances of slugging it out with the top teams at the head of the Premier League - they face
Arsenal, Manchester City, Tottenham and Chelsea in the coming weeks.
And Fellaini is excited by the challenge.
"This is a big month for us, we'll know a lot more about how well we can do this season afterwards," he explained.
"We are playing the big teams, and we will see a lot more about where we stand after we play them. We have a lot of points up for grabs and it can make a big difference.
"But we think we are good enough. We have the quality, and we have to score more goals to take the points we deserve.
"Against Reading in our last game we created the chances to have won easily, and we have to take those now."