Phil Neville: time is of the essence
By Graham Hill
It is a case of contrasting fortunes on Merseyside at the moment – and Phil Neville believes things are looking promising for the Blue half. Modern managers demand many things if they are to achieve success. But more than ever, it seems the element they demand most of is time.
Brendan Rodgers called for it just one Premier League game into his Liverpool reign after losing at West Bromwich Albion. And even then he was not sure he would get it.
Compare and contrast with the situation across Stanley Park where David Moyes has spent more than a decade as Everton manager. He has had time to build a Goodison Park empire. No, he does not have the riches afforded to the likes of Chelsea and Manchester City. But he has managed to build a squad to match most top flight teams. Everton’s 2012 version seems to have few weaknesses and is big on experience. And for once, they have made a good start to the season.
So often that has been their downfall with late form only compounding the thought of what might have been. Now Moyes’s impressive early season form is leading many to wonder what Everton are truly capable of.
Combining the reliability of Neville, Leighton Baines and Phil Jagielka with the flair of Marouane Fellaini, Steven Pienaar and the prowess of Nikica Jelavic suggests there are good times ahead. Add to that the potential of £6million summer signing Kevin Mirallas and Everton could well be looking at a return to Europe.
It is six seasons since Moyes took Everton into the Champions League - but they did not establish themselves as a top-four club.
Now skipper Neville says Everton are ready to challenge the recognised pacesetters again. Neville said: “Consistency has been our strength for the last 10 years. It takes a hell of an effort just to finish in the top half of the table. We’ve consistently done that comfortably.
“Any team outside of the top five probably aspires to be like Everton with our continuity and quality. People talk of us finishing fourth again. That’s massively difficult. Those that spend the massive amounts of money come through right at the end. But After 10 games, we’ll probably know better where we are.
“If we can keep everyone fit we can be challenging for European honours. That’s what we want, European football - Champions League or Europa League we’re not bothered. The manager told us the facts that if the league had started in January last season, then we’d have been third in the league.
“It’s the same team, you add Kevin Merreles to that and Steven Naismith, then it’s been quite a settled pre-season. It’s only happened once before in my time at the club that we’ve had such a settled time in pre-season. The manager was relaxed and so were the players. We’ve taken off from where we left off last season. Those players that aspire to be at the top level need to be in a team that are playing good football and look like they’re hungry for success.”
Neville’s main concern is the squad’s depth compared to many of their rivals. The former Manchester United and England defender added: “I think someone like Fellaini, who’s only 24, is now beginning to mature. “He made a massive impact at the club when he came in, but he was young and getting booked a lot. Teams could get at him in terms of being aggressive and he would get a lot of yellow cards. But you’re seeing a lot of maturity from our players now.
“They’re massively important players and players with quality. But it’s keeping those players fit. Outside the top 13/14 players, that’s where we lack the depth the top four sides have got.”
The names may be the same. But Neville believes this is a very different Everton set-up to 12 months ago. Back then, the club was facing uncertainty with players like Jagielka and Baines tipped to leave.
Neville recalled: "This time last season, the club was in a state of real nervousness, nervousness from the fans, from everybody really. We didn’t have a centre forward. We were the only club in the Premier League who hadn’t bought anyone and that did create nervousness.
“We lost our first game to QPR and the fans weren’t happy. No one was happy. You want players in the dressing room to challenge you. And that’s what we have this year. We’ve got real competition and the manager demanded from us that we hit the ground running.
“There’s a calmness around the place, our players aren’t being linked with anyone at the moment touch wood. If you were a player at Everton at the moment, I think you’d enjoy the kind of football we’re playing. I think you can see there’s all the ingredients for us to have a good season At this stage, it’d be silly to say we’re going to be challenging for this that and the other.
“But it has to breed some kind of confidence. People don’t realise there’s a batch of eight or nine players who have been here for the last five or ten years. Hibbo has been here for 10 years, then Baines and Jagielka have done five or six years, I’ve been here seven or eight years, along with Osman. There’s a real continuity and settledness around the club, sprinkle a goalscorer like Jelavic on top and things are good.”