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DAVID MOYES today paid glowing tribute to Everton FC skipper Phil Neville and declared his faster than expected return to fitness as ‘unbelievable’.
The veteran Blues captain, who turns 36 next month, declared himself fit three weeks ahead of schedule after initial fears he would miss up to two months following knee surgery.
Neville was ruled out after the defeat by Reading in November, but returned to play 90 minutes during the 2-1 victory over West Ham on Saturday, a game which marked his 500th Premier League appearance.
Moyes said: “It is unbelievable. People would be amazed the amount of work and conditioning he has put in to get himself right. He just continually works hard. He is in every morning at 8.30am; he doesn’t leave until late. The rehab work he puts himself through – never at any stage does he complain. He has just continually pushed himself to try and get back.
“The biggest thing that it should have on everyone in the squad is the impact of what he has done. They should all be seeing it – they might not say it but I think they would all have to have admiration for how he continually prepares himself and the way he goes about playing.
“It has helped him recover from this injury.”
Neville joins a list of just six other players who have made so many top flight appearances in England, consisting of Frank Lampard, David James, Gary Speed, Sol Campbell, Ryan Giggs, and Emile Heskey.
“It says a lot about what he’s done but it doesn’t surprise me because his mentality and his attitude to the game has been great since he came from Manchester United,” said Moyes. “He’s been a great signing for us.”
Neville – who will be in contention again against Wigan Athletic at Goodison today – is yet to sign a contract extension with his current deal expiring in May. But Moyes has already said he will be happy to keep his skipper on as a first team squad member next season – if it is something the man himself wants.
He said: “The best person to talk about that is Phil because I’ve already spoken to him and he just wants to see how his body is. He’s just back from a knee operation and he would be the first one to say that we should just see how his knee is. I don’t think he sees any great panic in it at this moment in time.”
Moyes’ only concern for now is that his evergreen captain does not stretch himself too far in the weeks after his return.
“We will have to look after him,” added the Scot. “He has had a bit of cartilage taken away, so we will have to be careful that it is not bone on bone in his knee. I might need to try and calm him down a bit.”
EVERTON FC are undecided whether to pursue a new deal for Club Brugge midfielder Vadis Odjidja-Ofoe in January.
David Moyes made a last-ditch move for the Belgian international on transfer deadline in the summer, but the proposed loan switch was scuppered by FIFA because of a delay in filing paperwork.
Moyes is keeping his options open ahead of the transfer window reopening next month, but it is believed he may have different priorities when it comes to boosting his squad.
David Moyes could take any job in world football after his long apprenticeship at Everton - in the eyes of the boss being tipped to succeed him.
Goodison gaffer Moyes has a fan in Wigan’s Roberto Martinez, who is favourite to be the Toffees' next chief with the bookies.
And Martinez admires both the Scot and the way Everton are run as he takes his side to Merseyside for Boxing Day's local derby.
Martinez hailed Moyes and said: “David has been manager for 11 seasons, the amount of knowledge and experience he has built up - always finding new solutions - makes him capable of going anywhere in the world.
“This league really tests you, you need to adapt tactically, we have got three styles within the league. It pushes you to become a better manager.”
And Martinez also praised owner Bill Kenwright for his patience, adding: “It’s a great example in world football, not just the British game, to have that kind of continuity.
“It gives a manager the time to make decisions for the good of the football club for ever. You can build a solid structure. Everton have got the rewards of that.
“You need to get the best out of what you have got, you need to use the money the right way. Everton have combined the transfer kitty with investment in facilities.”
Martinez wants to copy Everton by spending some of his funds on a new training ground - as well as buying a player or two for the survival fight.
David Moyes has paid tribute to Phil Neville as the defender prepares to join an exclusive club.
The Everton skipper will make his 500th Premier League appearance in the Boxing Day clash with Wigan at Goodison – a feat achieved only by Ryan Giggs, Frank Lampard, Gary Speed, Sol Campbell David James and Emile Heskey.
And according to his manager, the dedication and sheer professionalism the former Manchester United defender has put into his career, in order to reach such a milestone, sets the perfect example for players everywhere.
Moyes said: “Phil’s unbelievable. The biggest thing that this should have on everyone is the impact of what he has done. They should all be seeing it.
“They might not say it but I think they would all have to have admiration for how he continually prepares himself and the way he goes about playing. He is a great leader and incredible to have around the place.”
Neville has now played 100 league games more than his older brother Gary managed and, at 35, shows no signs of slowing up.
He has illustrated that perfectly recently by returning from a serious knee injury almost a month ahead of schedule to lead Everton through the crucial Christmas period.
Most players would take the chance to have a rare festive season off, but not Neville, and Moyes thinks it is the measure of a remarkable man.
“People would be amazed the amount of work and conditioning he has put in to get himself right. He just continually works hard,” the Blues boss explained.
“He is in every morning at 8.30am; he doesn’t leave until late. The rehab work he puts himself through - never at any stage does he complain. He has just continually pushed himself to try and get back.
“That is why he has come back from this so quickly, and that attitude has helped him recover from this injury.
“We will have to look after him. He has had a bit of cartilage taken away, so we will have to be careful that it is not bone on bone in his knee. I might need to try and calm him down a bit!”
It is a good job Neville is back - Marouane Fellaini and Darron Gibson will miss the Christmas period through suspension, so the Toffees' skipper will slot into midfield alongside Leon Osman.
Wigan manager Roberto Martinez believes Everton “tick every box” but is confident his team can provide more than a match for them in their Boxing Day clash at Goodison Park.
The Toffees are having an impressive 2012-13, losing just twice in their 18 Barclays Premier League games so far and currently lie fifth in the table, behind fourth-placed Arsenal on goal difference alone.
Martinez is backing David Moyes' side to be challenging for a Champions League berth right up to the end of the campaign and expects a demanding assignment for the Latics on Merseyside, where Everton are unbeaten this term.
At the same time, though, the Spaniard is feeling optimistic ahead of the contest having seen his team only denied a home victory against Everton earlier this season when Leighton Baines' late penalty for the visitors ensured a 2-2 draw.
Asked if he thought the Toffees would be able to sustain their top-four push, Martinez said: "Yes, because of the experience they have got and because of the way they have started the season.
"We all know that Everton traditionally start seasons a little bit slowly and then finish at a very good level.
"But we can speak from our own experience. It will be our second game against Everton and in the first one, it was the best Everton side we have faced.
"This Everton side tick every box. They have been able to get consistently good results in this league and that allows you to be fighting for the top four positions.
"At Goodison Park they are unbeaten and it is one of the hardest places to visit in the Premier League.
"We are well aware of all that, but we feel we can match Everton on our day."
Wigan, currently 18th in the standings, could be boosted by the return of captain Gary Caldwell to their starting line-up on Wednesday.
Caldwell, recently sidelined by a hamstring problem, was back in the squad for Saturday's 1-0 home defeat to Arsenal as an unused substitute and will be monitored by Martinez ahead of the Everton game.
Fellow centre-back Ivan Ramis, who has also been nursing a hamstring complaint, has a chance of featuring as well, while midfielder James McCarthy (ankle) is a doubt.
"Gary Caldwell was in the squad on Saturday and he put himself up to be available, which is an incredible gesture," Martinez said.
"I need to assess him to see if he will be available for Everton.
"Ivan Ramis is not far away - if it is not Wednesday it will be Saturday (at Aston Villa) that he is available for the squad.
"James McCarthy is still a doubt. He played through the pain of the ankle injury he picked up at Norwich and we need to assess him and see how well he can cope with the amount of games we have in front of us."
Antolin Alcaraz (groin), Adrian Lopez (hamstring), Albert Crusat (knee), Ryo Miyaichi (ankle) and Ben Watson (broken leg) remain on the Latics' lengthy casualty list.
Everton manager David Moyes believes the return of Victor Anichebe has come at an ideal time to ensure his side's attacking options are not diminished.
The 24-year-old made his comeback after two months on the sidelines with a goal in last weekend's come-from-behind win at West Ham.
With Kevin Mirallas, arguably the Toffee's best attacking outlet this season, struggling with a hamstring injury Anichebe's return could not have been timed better.
"Victor has played very well. He is an important player for us and a lot people under-estimate what he can do for us," said Moyes.
"Not having him available means we have not been able to change many things in the attacking areas.
"Not having Mirallas available for the last couple of months at different times has meant we have been limited in forward areas and probably not won as many games as we should have.
"We want to keep him (Anichebe) fit and him to have a bit of self-confidence and I am sure that goal will do that for him."
Everton host bottom-three side Wigan on Boxing Day without midfielder Marouane Fellaini, who serves the second of a three-match ban for headbutting Stoke's Ryan Shawcross.
In the Belgium international's absence Leon Osman stepped into the pivotal position in the hole behind striker Nikica Jelavic and Moyes said it was testament to the 31-year-old's quality he slotted in there seamlessly.
"He has been very under-estimated over the years but now he is not," added the Scot.
"He has recently been selected for England and some of his performances have been terrific.
"He has taken on a lot of leadership jobs now, he is a good lad around the place and is a big part of the team and a big part of how we want to play.
"It was great he moved out of position on Saturday and was terrific and arguably he has been one of our best players of the season."
Everton will have Darron Gibson available to face Latics despite the midfielder's red card at Upton Park as an appeal is pending.
Gibson was dismissed by referee Anthony Taylor for a challenge on Mark Noble but as the Football Association require two working days to deal with an appeal, the Republic of Ireland international has had his ban suspended until his case can be heard later this week.
"We think there's a real reason to ask the FA to re-look at it," said Moyes, who believes Wednesday's opponents have not had the credit they deserve despite being in the bottom three.
"Roberto has done a really good job there, he has a good technical side and they are a test for all teams.
"Folk think their league position is a guide but I don't think so, I think they have played some good football and we will have to do all the right things.
"You always want to come out of the Christmas period being no worse but if you can do better than your league position was when you went into it then that is great.
"It is an important time and once you come through this you are into January and you know the finishing line is in the distance."