Punching above his weight
It was Manchester City's much fabled game in hand on Wednesday night against Everton. After picking up seven points from their previous three away games, City were confident returning home. They had not lost a home league game all season and Everton aren't the best travellers. City were clear favourites for the fourth place Champions League spot and results like the superb win at Chelsea boosted their confidence.
A big midweek crowd of 45,000 turned up, but things didn't quite go to plan for City. Everton had an excellent game plan, winning 2-0, and I wasn't as surprised as some at the outcome. Only Manchester United and Arsenal have better league form than Everton in 2010. The team struggled at the start of the season because they had a horrendous injury list which hit them harder than it would a richer club. With players returning, David Moyes had continued to do what he has done since joining from Preston eight years ago. He works wonders with a limited budget and pays sensible money for quality players such as Mikel Arteta and Steven Pienaar. While Everton are reluctant sellers, they make sure that they get top dollar for their best players when they do go. The sales of Wayne Rooney in 2003 and Joleon Lescott at the start of this season remain among the biggest transfers in Britain.
Hugely respected by his peers, Moyes was voted manager of the year by his peers in 2003, 2005 and 2009. I wouldn't rule him out taking over from another Scot when the manager's seat at Old Trafford eventually becomes vacant. Under Moyes, Everton have a very strong first XI. I played with their captain Phil Neville at United. We used to hammer him about the size of his head and call him 'bolt neck'. Nicky Butt would ruin him every day with pranks, but Phil went along with it and was always smiling. Phil's key asset is that he's so versatile. I've seen him mark Patrick Vieira out of a game when he was in his Arsenal prime. Managers love a player who can play in five positions like Nev. And he's so professional that he's not going to cause any problems off the field.
Moyes came in for me when I was at Portsmouth. I would have gone, but I'd just moved my family down south and didn't want to move them back north again. My circumstances changed and if he had made the approach a week later I would have accepted. I've always respected Everton, because they're a proper club with proud history. I loved playing at Goodison and not just because we always did well. You could see that the people there were real football people, from the staff to their fans. Playing the theme tune to Z Cars, that old English TV police soap opera, when you run out onto the pitch is a touch of class.
They've not had a rich benefactor, but instead they've had Moyes, who has taken a team who were slipping in the 90s and got them punching above their weight. He's taken them into the Champions League and the Uefa Cup. The 6-1 hammering by Arsenal on the opening day of this season, the poor league form which followed and the disappointing cup runs, made me believe they would be in for a mid-table finish this year.
Everton have proved most people wrong and they are charging up the table and have risen from 16th to eighth, two places better than this time last season. They have won nine of their last 13 league games including very impressive victories over United, Chelsea and now City - twice - which puts them just three points behind their neighbours Liverpool in sixth. Louis Saha is a major reason why. He's a top level striker who would not be at Everton if he hadn't suffered so many injuries at Manchester United. His finishing and pace are among the best in the league. He got both goals against Chelsea and I'm pleased that he's thriving.
Johnny Heitinga, the man brought in after Lescott was sold to Man City - for around a fifth of the price - is a real destroyer and broke up all of City's play. Everton have brought some great youngsters through too. Rooney may be the best, but Jack Rodwell will play for England one day. He's very strong for a young lad and I can see why United are interested. Everton have been victims of their own success many times, but they keep over achieving and their success is based on a sound philosophy and principles. For that, they deserve respect. @Email:email@example.com
Published: March 26, 2010 04:00 AM