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What The Papers Say - 8 February

@Everton

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Liverpool Echo


EVERTON FC captain Phil Neville ended his Manchester United career 11 appearances short of a 400-match milestone.

On Saturday he could rack up 300 in Royal Blue, symbolically at the venue where he started his career.

But while the Blues skipper will take pride in reaching a figure that only 33 other Evertonians have topped in the club’s entire history, he isn’t looking any further ahead than this season.

Neville is out of contract this summer.

Talks have not yet been planned about an extension – even though Neville has started 20 matches already this season – and that’s just the way he wants it.

“I’m quite relaxed about the situation,” said Neville.

“I spoke to the manager before Christmas and he asked me what I wanted to do. And I said I wanted to speak probably more towards the end of the season.

“I think I’m a year older than Sylvain Distin (who has just signed a year’s extension).

“When I spoke to the boss I’d just come out from having my knee operation and I think it’s sensible at my age to first, see how the body is, and then see how my situation is within the club and at the end of the day ask ‘Do I still retain the hunger and the determination, and more importantly am I still having a positive effect on the team?’

“These are the things over the next three or four months that I’ll be weighing up and we’ll take it from there.

“There’s no real panic or mad rush to talk about or discuss a new contract. At the end of the day there’s bigger and more important things to concentrate on.

“I suppose it’s more about me rather than about the club – it’s about how I feel.

“I’ve been at Everton for the last eight years and I’ve been captain and I’ve been a large part of what’s been going on.

“But I want to remain as influential and if felt I wasn’t as influential or I felt my form had dropped, or if I was standing in the way of someone who was coming through then I would have to look at it.

“That’s the reason why I’m in no rush.

“I’m not worried at all because there’s a great understanding between me and the club. Phil Jagielka is obviously growing into the role of captain and I don’t want to stand on anyone’s toes by holding anyone back.

“That’s my thought process really. I just want to take each game as it comes and focus on my playing more because getting in the team is my biggest priority.”

Neville’s fears seem groundless.

Ahead of the Southampton match last month, Sky TV showed a graphic detailing Everton’s fortunes with and without Phil Neville in the starting line-up.

The side’s fortunes were significantly improved with his leadership.

The statistics this season are even more stark.

With Neville in the team Everton have won 12, drawn seven and lost just once.

Without him the Blues have won just once, drawn five and lost once.

But Neville, now 36, isn’t taking anything for granted.

“That’s why I want to speak in February or March, because you still want to be an influence and if I’m still influencing things then I’m happy,” he said.

“If I’m just around the place just because of what I’ve achieved in the past then I wouldn’t be happy and I wouldn’t want to be here and I’m sure the manager would think the same.

“When you get to this age you want to play in every game, you want to play because time’s running out and I’m no different.

“It’s about how I feel and if I feel I’m still having an influence in the dressing room, and more importantly still producing performances then I’m happy to carry on playing.”

Of course a successful charge for fourth place would dangle a sizeable carrot in front of a man who won a European Cup winner’s medal with United in 1999.

Neville admitted: “I said at the start of the season before I retire I want to play European football again. It’s another ambition of mine, and I want to be successful.

“People say are you coming to a difficult phase of your career but I’m actually finding it really exciting. If you’re coming to the end of your career you can be quite fearful, but I’m excited because there’s things I still want to achieve playing football, and then on the coaching and management side there’s things I’m really interested in, so I’m sure towards the end of the season, where I’m going to be next season will take shape.

“But nothing will be done without speaking to the manager.”

Liverpool Echo


“I’m not worried at all because there’s a great understanding between me and the club. Phil Jagielka is obviously growing into the role of captain and I don’t want to stand on anyone’s toes by holding anyone back.

“That’s my thought process really. I just want to take each game as it comes and focus on my playing more because getting in the team is my biggest priority.”

Neville’s fears seem groundless.

Ahead of the Southampton match last month, Sky TV showed a graphic detailing Everton’s fortunes with and without Phil Neville in the starting line-up.

The side’s fortunes were significantly improved with his leadership.

The statistics this season are even more stark.

With Neville in the team Everton have won 12, drawn seven and lost just once.

Without him the Blues have won just once, drawn five and lost once.

But Neville, now 36, isn’t taking anything for granted.

“That’s why I want to speak in February or March, because you still want to be an influence and if I’m still influencing things then I’m happy,” he said.

“If I’m just around the place just because of what I’ve achieved in the past then I wouldn’t be happy and I wouldn’t want to be here and I’m sure the manager would think the same.

“When you get to this age you want to play in every game, you want to play because time’s running out and I’m no different.

“It’s about how I feel and if I feel I’m still having an influence in the dressing room, and more importantly still producing performances then I’m happy to carry on playing.”

Of course a successful charge for fourth place would dangle a sizeable carrot in front of a man who won a European Cup winner’s medal with United in 1999.

Neville admitted: “I said at the start of the season before I retire I want to play European football again. It’s another ambition of mine, and I want to be successful.

“People say are you coming to a difficult phase of your career but I’m actually finding it really exciting. If you’re coming to the end of your career you can be quite fearful, but I’m excited because there’s things I still want to achieve playing football, and then on the coaching and management side there’s things I’m really interested in, so I’m sure towards the end of the season, where I’m going to be next season will take shape.

“But nothing will be done without speaking to the manager.”

Ferguson, who had been sentenced for butting an opponent during a game while he was at Rangers the previous year, had to put his career – and his life – on hold.

But he had already won the hearts of Everton supporters, and will never forget their support at his darkest hour.

Within days of his sentence beginning, letters of support from Merseyside began to arrive by the sack-load. Ferguson was humbled and uplifted at once.

“The volume was incredible and I tried my best to write back to them,” he says.

“We did a wee letter and I tried to sign every one of them. The support I got from Evertonians was unbelievable.

“It’s a shock to the system when someone says you’re going to nick.

“But when you go into one of these places and you’re getting letters from kids who support you it doesn’t half lift you.”

An enduring bond had been created. Throughout Ferguson’s career he remained an Evertonian; a gladiator of the people.

The striker chose to mark his final ever game for the club, when he scored a dramatic 90th minute penalty to secure a point against West Brom at Goodison, by going for a drink in town that evening.

But instead of shutting himself off in an isolated nightclub VIP section, Ferguson headed for a humble city centre pub.

“Yeah I was in the pub with the fans after my last game and I just felt like one of them,” says Duncan recalling that bitter-sweet evening. “I was there with them in the city, and I played hard for the club. I always had time for the fans, whether it was an autograph or a photo.

“Scousers are a different class. Salt of the earth, good working class football people. It’s a great community and a great city. There’s a neighbourly feel and close families.”

Ferguson has less time to enjoy a quiet pint now, and is instead focusing on pouring all his energy into his chosen career as a coach and future manager. It is an ambition he is pursuing with typically full-blooded vigour, and one which has already seen him make some significant sacrifices.

A fan of pigeon racing since childhood, he has bid his feathered friends a reluctant farewell.

“I’ve given them up to do the coaching,” he says.

“I had them in Majorca with me but I’ve had to leave it because coaching is every day, full on, and this is my life now.

“I’m trying to work as hard as I possibly can to become a good coach. I loved the pigeons from when I was a kid and I was always in clubs. I even brought them down to Liverpool. It was my hobby but there’s no time for it anymore. I’ve got to crack on.”

Working with Everton’s academy youngsters clearly gives Ferguson a buzz, and the hard-man has now become a nurturing mentor.

But what advice would he give to an 18-year-old version of himself?

“Lifestyle,” he responds quickly. “Live your life properly, be a professional. Keep your diet right, keep away from the late nights. It’s those lifestyle choices that you only get with experience as you get older.

“The problem is you see the kids and they think ‘he’s an old fella’ but at least the kids know that I’ve been there. I’ve been where they’ve been – but they’ve not been where I’ve been.

“It’s things I heard when I was a kid but maybe didn’t take notice of – just emphasising what a big chance it is. I think it’s better when it comes from a player and someone who’s seen the things I’ve seen.”

Two young Evertonians whose future career paths Ferguson will watch with extra attention are those of his sons; Cameron, nine, and Ross, seven. “Cameron will be 10 in March and he’s here with the U-10s,” says Ferguson with pride.

“He enjoys his footy. They’ve got him up front at the moment although it’s difficult to put kids in positions at such a young age. He’s left footed and he’s a big lad. He’s going to be as big as me, if not bigger.

“Ross comes in on a Wednesday night and trains with the goalkeepers.

“He’s only just started so he’s not in a team but he enjoys it. He loves Tim Howard.”

It is with a youthful sense of enthusiasm and joy that a striker once wrongly perceived as moody and recalcitrant embarks on the daily task of working alongside Kevin Sheedy at Finch Farm.

“I love coaching the kids, just being out in the fresh air helping them, playing football,” he says.

“I couldn’t help joining in for the first six months, they had to stop me. They had to tell me to pull out because it’s not the done thing to be taking shots and running away celebrating when you’re supposed to be coaching. I felt like I was still a kid really. Being at the club where I want to be, it’s perfect. It’s a dream.”

Liverpool Echo


GOALS one minute from the end of normal time and five minutes from the end of extra time earned Everton dramatic progress into the fifth round of the FA Youth Cup last night.

George Waring headed an 89th minute equaliser just as the young Blues looked like crashing out at Port Vale.

Then in an end to end extra time period the young Blues had to come from behind again before Chris Long struck in the 115th minute to secure a place in the next round.

The twice postponed fourth round clash was finally played at Vale Park, and despite a lively performance from Matt Kennedy, Everton’s summer capture from Kilmarnock, the Blues trailed to Marland’s 65th minute strike.

Before that Kennedy had almost provided a breakthrough, but for a superb reflex stop from goalkeeper Boot’s boot.

It was from Kennedy’s cross that Waring headed the match into extra time at the far post.

But just four minutes into the extra period Macauley Davies restored the hosts’ lead.

But the young Blues, under the watchful eyes of Kevin Sheedy and Duncan Ferguson, showed their battling qualities and drew level again when Matthew Pennington netted from Harry Charsley’s pass.

Then five minutes from a penalty shoot-out Long raced clear onto Waring’s pass and sloted past Boot to spark wild celebrations.

In a dramatic finale Vale struck the crossbar in the final minute of extra-time, but the Blues held out to make progress.

Daily Mail


Everton’s chances of hanging on to Marouane Fellaini have been significantly enhanced after he denied having an escape agreement in his contract.

It was widely believed the inspirational midfielder could be bought for £22million and that Chelsea and Arsenal were ready to lead the chase to trigger the supposed clause at the end of the season.

But Fellaini insisted there was no fixed amount written into his Goodison Park agreement and gave Everton a further boost, ahead of their Old Trafford showdown with leaders Manchester United, by hinting that a Champions League place would be enough to banish any thoughts of leaving.

Speaking after sitting out Belgium’s game with Slovakia, with a hip injury that threatens his involvement on Sunday, the 25-year old admitted there were ‘all sorts’ of clauses in a contract that runs until the summer of 2016.

The main one is believed to involve a willingness by Everton to enter into talks with any Champions League club making an approach for him, though crucially it now seems they do not have to accept an amount that is generally regarded as being well below his market value.

In a revealing insight into how he sees his future, Everton’s £15million signing from Standard Liege made no secret of knowing all about Chelsea’s long-running interest and bluntly told them to match it with deeds or back off. Everton are even more concerned about Arsenal’s intentions, with Arsene Wenger earmarking Fellaini’s physical presence as the missing link in midfield, but both clubs could miss out, if David Moyes’ side secure a top-four finish.

‘I have heard about Chelsea monitoring me, but I have never spoken with them,’ Fellaini told Belgian media outlet sportwereld.be. ‘Throughout my time at Everton, there has been word on the grapevine of interest from some of England’s top teams, but I have never personally sat round the table with any of them.

‘If Chelsea want me, they need to come up with something, but they have not done so far. For now, I am very happy with Everton. We are fifth, and if we can climb just one more place, and stay there, we can look forward to playing in the Champions’ League. Would that make me stay? Maybe yes, because Everton are the team who brought me to England. I have a very good relationship with the manager and my team-mates, and the club are like my family.

‘People are talking about Chelsea as if I have already signed, but I am an Everton player, and maybe I will finish the three years left on my contract. If I do end up leaving, it would be up to the club to decide on the price. I have all sorts of clauses in my contract, but there is no fixed fee for releasing me.

‘The Premier League is the best in the world, but I don’t have a dream team I want to go to. If I do leave Everton, it would be to a club who really want me and a manager who has really good plans for me. People seem to think that Eden Hazard’s presence at Chelsea might tip it their way. He is a very good friend, but so too are Mousa Dembele and Christian Benteke, so that wouldn’t influence anything.’

Fellaini was pilloried for spending Sunday night, and the early hours of Monday morning, at trendy nightspot Carre, midway between Brussels and Antwerp, after flying to Belgium in the wake of Everton’s 3-3 draw with Aston Villa.

There were no complaints from Belgium coach Marc Wilmots, after Fellaini reported in on time at 2pm that afternoon, and the player himself could not understand all the fuss, as he said: ‘I scored twice against Villa in what was a very tough game, so just tell me something. If you have a particularly hectic week in the office, wouldn’t you go out at the end of it and unwind a bit? It is just the same in football, and I’m not the only one to have gone out after a hard match.

‘I comply with all my responsibilities as a professional footballer, so in my private life and free time, I do what I want. In England, I don’t go out all that much. The games are so physically demanding that I need a lot of rest, and there is also the problem of people wanting to come up and speak to you all the time.

‘At least I am not as famous or popular as Wayne Rooney, but I have got a hairstyle that stands out. That, plus the fact I have been at Everton five years now, means I do tend to get spotted in the street these days.’

Fellaini admitted his hopes of facing United are in the balance, after missing the Slovakia game with a hip injury he picked up against Villa.

‘It still hurts, and it was impossible for me to play against Slovakia,’ he said. ‘My health is the most important thing, but if I can make it, I certainly will, because I love playing against United. I scored in a 1-0 win against them at Goodison on the opening weekend of the season, and it was a little bit my match. I couldn’t have done it without my team-mates, though, and I hope to be out there with them again on Sunday. We will just have to wait and see.’

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