What The Papers Say - 9 September
Howard aims for the top six, plus Neville on his future.
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It is more than a week since football's summer of musical chairs ended and a distinguished XI were left without a seat. They are by no means the only ones, but what they have in common is a) a reputation; and b) a birth certificate that most would like to amend by a few years. It is cold out there for the thirtysomethings who cannot find a club but have grown accustomed to Premier League wage packets.
Here, in contrast, sitting in a coffee shop in the footballers' village of Hale, outside Manchester, is a 35-year-old whose contractual situation is up in the air but who is still playing at the highest level and looking forward excitedly to what the next year might bring.
Phil Neville, on his own admission, is not even someone who was blessed with great natural ability, which as a youngster seemed to be for cricket. "If Neville can play for England so can I," the beer-bellied hordes chanted when he ran on as a substitute to represent his country on one of 59 occasions. After that game, against Paraguay in 2002, he briefly wondered about giving up international football but then got his head down, and five years later was still earning caps.
Getting his head down is what Everton's captain does, and not just in the sense of a couple of hours in bed every afternoon. Friday was typical. It was a day off amid one of those international breaks that he now hates, 10 days from the next fixture (Everton play Newcastle tomorrow week) and most of the squad away, so Neville "went in and did a bit" on his own. Can everyone on our list say they would have done the same?
"I want to keep playing for as long as I can," he said later. "At least one more year at the top level if I can. I still have ambitions. For instance, I've always wanted to sample playing abroad, a different culture and different life-experience for all the family. Time's running out, I know, and if the gaffer [David Moyes] comes to me in January and wants me to stay another year then the decision's made for me."
That would mean a ninth season at Goodison, something he could not have imagined when reluctantly leaving Manchester United in the summer of 2005. He was joining a club who had just finished fourth in the table, only one position behind United, which meant Champions' League football – or should have done. Instead Everton were given a cruel qualifying tie against Villarreal, who would go all the way to the semi-finals.
The defeat had a profound effect on the club's finances, perhaps even on their modern history, as hopes of a £20 million bonanza to add to Wayne Rooney's £24m transfer fee blew up in their face. Meanwhile, defeat on Neville's League debut, against United and big brother Gary, would prove to be one of seven in the first eight games, sending them to the bottom of the table.
They did well to recover to 11th and have been in the top eight every season since, despite some slow starts. Last season was notable for finishing above Liverpool for the first time since that top-four placing, and for some Evertonians that appears to be enough, ideally with a derby victory thrown in – a notion that does not sit easily with Neville's upbringing at Old Trafford, where second is nowhere.
"It's something that rankles with me, something I've not bought into at all," he said. "If one team finishes seventh and the other is eighth, you get the bragging rights but with nothing to show for it. Liverpool have been so successful over the years and Everton have to had to swallow it. I totally understand that and I can relate to Evertonians when it comes to derby day, but how great it would be if we actually won a trophy.
"I'm not sure Liverpool have the same outlook. They probably look at the bigger picture, they want to win the League, the FA Cup and the League Cup, and that's the mentality we should have. Last year Kenny Dalglish won the Carling Cup and got the sack, so it shows what the expectations are."
The one occasion Everton have been close was the FA Cup of 2009, when Neville's penalty kick in the semi-final shoot-out helped beat United, bringing a final against Chelsea in which Louis Saha scored inside 30 seconds. From that moment the afternoon got worse and finished in despair. "The cup final defeat was my lowest time at the club," said Neville. "It was when I questioned myself all summer as to whether as captain I was good enough to win something with Everton, because we had probably the best team I've played in here. We'd beaten Liverpool, Villa, Middlesbrough and Man United and it was like being in the big time again, living on the edge with the sort of pressure I love. But the final was just one game too many."
Great expectations and Manchester United mentality or not, he has had, over the course of eight years, to face up to hard economic reality just as Moyes and the chairman, Bill Kenwright, have. So much so that he is forced to admit: "Finishing fifth or sixth for us is almost like winning the League. Getting into the Champions' League is almost a miracle. So it's an unbelievable achievement to finish in the places that we do."
One that can, nevertheless, instinctively leave him a little flat. "The worst bit for me is at the end of the season when we finish fifth or sixth or seventh and there's a real sense of satisfaction round the club. But for me success is winning trophies and medals. Finishing in that position gives me a sense of achievement but there's still an emptiness inside me because we haven't got anything to show for it. If I leave Everton at the end of my time and haven't got a medal then as captain I'd see that for myself as a failure. As I say, finishing fifth is like winning the League and yet it gripes me all summer."
This summer there was at least the satisfaction of seeing the dressing room settled with some early recruitment, which he has come to see as important and believes may have contributed to an encouraging start: wins over United and Aston Villa before a defeat at West Bromwich. Tim Cahill has gone but that has meant pushing the lanky Belgian Marouane Fellaini further forward to good effect. "When he joined us he wanted to be a defensive midfielder, but with his sheer size and physicality in a free role he's been at times unplayable. Steven Pienaar's back and he's been a shining light, the one that gives us a bit of real quality."
Given the regard in which Neville is held and the impact made by his friend Paul Scholes at United, it would be odd if Everton were to discard him. If there should be no new contract, however, then he will look elsewhere and continue preparing for a career in coaching which has always been in his mind and was ignited by the experience of working with England's Under-21 side towards the end of last season.
"I've always had long contracts in the past and coming to the last year you can be fearful, but I'm quite excited. The three days I had with the Under-21s were, well, life-changing. I really got the bug. My strength has always been in professionalism and preparation, and coaching is just an extension of that. It gave me a real insight into what I want to do.
"I've got my A licence now, I go to games and study methods and read a lot. I've always been into the fitness side, my [twin] sister's a conditioning coach so I tap into that. I'm a long way short of being a coach or manager but I'm trying to learn all aspects of it. I think some managers go into it under-prepared, and I don't want to be one of those."
That sister, Tracey, was one of England's foremost netball players and is now coaching, which leaves Phil as the only one of the three siblings still playing. Gary, of course, appears to have found a perfect blend of media and football work with Sky Sports and England. Phil, typically, has scaled down his own radio and television commitments because "people think you're preparing for retirement and start looking at you differently, but I want people still to look at me as a player".
Next time the music stops he seems unlikely to be left in limbo.
TIM HOWARD has his sights set on a top-six finish in an Everton side without big heads – or big money.
The American keeper, 33, has worked with boss David Moyes for more than half his ten-year reign and he is convinced his management style will steer the club back into Europe.
Moyes has the ability to work on a shoestring and has again transformed his players into a fighting force capable of a high Premier League finish and, hopefully, a return to Wembley.
Howard said: “The spirit at the club is incredible. There are no egos and the guys all fight for each other.
“When we saw we had Manchester United at home as our first game of the season we thought, ‘Oh my God’.
“But I think we dominated our opener against them and deserved the win.
“David Moyes has a real good recipe for success.
“He doesn’t just bring in every good player available. He brings in guys who can play two positions who will also buy into the Everton way.
“And then he guides them along.
“He’s an incredible motivator. And he gets better at it every year.
“We now want to finish in the top six and get into Europe.
“The Champions League might be a stretch because we can’t spend the same kind of money as the five or six clubs in England who can.
“But on the pitch I think we have what it takes to do well in the Premier League. And getting back to Wembley would be great, too.”
Everton may have lost 2-0 at West Brom in their last game but Howard is hoping it was a blip.
“At the moment we are focused and determined, we’re scoring goals and winning games but we’re also putting in good performances,” he said.
“We have had a good start to the season – it’s been brilliant.
“We played some good football in pre-season.
“But the way we’ve been on song in most of the games so far this season has been super- impressive and that part of it has been awesome.”
Ashley Cole has been ruled out of England's World Cup qualifier against Ukraine on Tuesday night.
Medical staff have decided the Chelsea left-back has not recovered sufficiently from the ankle problem which forced him to miss Friday's opening qualifier in Moldova.
Cole's clubmate, John Terry, will continue to receive treatment on an ankle injury sustained in the 5-0 win over Moldova in Chisinau.
An FA statement read: 'John Terry is continuing to receive treatment from the England medical team. Ashley Cole… will not be available for the qualifier with Ukraine.'
Cole trained with Chelsea on Friday but a decision has been taken not to risk him against Ukraine, whom England played in their final group game at Euro 2012.
England finished the game against Moldova with 10 men after Terry limped off in the closing stages, If Terry is noy fitn, Gary Cahill is likely to make his first appearance at Wembley since he suffered the broken jaw against Belgium which ruled him out of the European Championship.
Phil Jagielka is the other option to replace Terry.
Chelsea defender Ashley Cole has been ruled out of England's second World Cup qualifier against Ukraine on Tuesday night.
The left-back was assessed by the national team's medical staff on Saturday but they felt he had not recovered sufficiently from the ankle problem which forced him to miss Friday's opening qualifier away to Moldova.
The news on Cole's clubmate John Terry was less definite, though, with the Football Association confirming he would continue to receive treatment on an ankle injury sustained in the 5-0 win over Moldova in Chisinau.
An FA statement read: "John Terry is continuing to receive treatment from the England medical team, having hurt his ankle in the World Cup qualifier with Moldova on Friday.
"Ashley Cole was assessed by the medical staff on Saturday and will not be available for the qualifier with Ukraine on Tuesday."
Cole trained with Chelsea on Friday but a decision has been taken not to risk him against Ukraine, who England played in their final group game at Euro 2012 in the summer.
England finished the game against Moldova with 10 men after Terry limped out of the action in the closing stages,
If Terry is unable to prove his fitness, Gary Cahill is likely to replace him and partner Manchester City's Joleon Lescott.
It would be Cahill's first appearance at Wembley since he suffered the broken jaw against Belgium which ruled him out of the European Championship.
Phil Jagielka, who partnered Lescott when team-mates at Everton, is the other player in contention should Terry be sidelined.
This was a worryingly familiar tale for Craig Levein. Scotland opened their failed Euro 2012 qualifying campaign with a scoreless draw in Lithuania, a result that appeared increasingly damaging as the section moved on. In eight matches of that group, the Scots notched a mere nine goals.
Bluntness was again the key Scottish failing as they began their bid to make it to the World Cup in 2014. Levein's popularity suffered another blow on account of Scotland's glaring lack of punch against Serbia. The manager has never been fully embraced by a section of fans; the boos that echoed around Hampden Park at full time illustrated the growing levels of discontent.
Serbia should not be dismissed as international no-marks but this was uninspiring stuff for Scottish supporters. The other teams looking to progress from Group A – namely Croatia, Wales and Belgium – had cause for more positive emotion as two of their rivals immediately dropped points.
Levein is, in fact, in danger of being undone by his own words. The manager has been gushing in his praise of Scotland's players and their collective talent. On Friday, Levein even claimed his team was capable of winning all of their World Cup qualification matches.
Evidence, and blunt reality, suggests otherwise, as was proven within 24 hours of that statement. Failure to beat Serbia at home represents a clear setback with pressure now intense, not least on Levein himself, ahead of Macedonia's visit to Glasgow on Tuesday evening. If Scotland stumble again in that encounter, their hopes of turning out in Brazil will look fanciful; Macedonia's showing in their 1-0 defeat away to Croatia on Friday night was sufficient to show their potential menace.
"I am disappointed but more about the fact we had opportunities and didn't take them," Levein said after this scoreless draw. "We did enough to win the game. We just couldn't score goals. I am disappointed but not down about it. I thought the lads put on a decent show.
"I know we can play better. We did a lot of good things, but if two or three of our normally more creative players had just found that final pass, we would have been walking away with a win. We got into the areas we needed to get into, but we didn't quite manage to force the ball home."
Scotland's finest performers were in defensive positions; Allan McGregor in goal, Andy Webster and the debutant Paul Dixon. That in itself represents manna from heaven for those among Levein's detractors who continually highlight the manager's failure to reintroduce Sunderland's striker Steven Fletcher into the international scene. Kenny Miller, the lone Scotland forward here, toiled badly.
A tight, edgy and nervous first half featured just a single clear-cut chance. The hosts' Robert Snodgrass had it, but watched Vladimir Stojkovic save with his chest. At the opposite end, McGregor smartly halted a Darko Lazovic shot.
Television pictures highlighted Steven Naismith catching Srdan Mijailovic with a stray elbow. There remains the outside possibility of retrospective punishment for the Scotland player, given that the referee, Jonas Eriksson of Sweden, missed the incident completely.
After 20 minutes of the second period the Scotland support sang the name of Jordan Rhodes, the £8m forward initially left among Levein's substitutes. By that point, Miller had failed to convert two James Morrison passes and headed a third opportunity away from the Serbia goal.
The finest chance of the game was still to come. Gary Caldwell, winning his 50th cap, sent Naismith clean through on goal but the Everton man rather summed up his dismal afternoon by shooting wide.
Levein reverted to a 4-4-2 set-up with the introduction of Rhodes and Jamie Mackie. Another Scotland substitute, James Forrest, came close to snatching victory in the dying seconds but Serbia were also denied as McGregor halted Dusan Tadic.
"We got out of this game with a draw. It's not what we wanted, but it's certainly not a disaster," Levein said. "We were hoping to win the match, but these things happen and overall we played very well, there's been a definite progression." That "p" word is yet to be endorsed by results.