Boost for the Blues

EVERTON have been given a double boost with the news that exciting youngsters Gerard Deulofeu and Seamus Coleman are in line for a return to action at Tottenham today this  lunchtime. With striker Romelu Lukaku still sidelined by the ankle injury he received in the Merseyside derby, manager Roberto Martinez needs the extra attacking options that both Deulofeu and Coleman will add.

Deulofeu, on loan from Barcelona, is a small lad who is blessed with electric pace and the wonderful ability, and desire, to run at opponents. His direct style caused Liverpool all sorts of problems when he came off the bench in the thrilling 3-3 draw at Goodison Park in October, the first time I saw him. The kid frightened Liverpool that day and he went on to do the same to several other teams before injuring a hamstring in the 4-1 win against Fulham. That was 10 games ago, games in which Deulofeu’s pace and directness would have been a big help to the Blues. The additional positive news about Deulofeu is that there are hints that his loan period might be extended into next season. I hope that’s the case, for this lad has all the attributes to make him a darling of the Goodison fans.

Irishman Coleman has already earned a place in the hearts of the Goodison faithful. He has also been sorely missed while out of action, again with hamstring trouble. Coleman was on the bench against Aston Villa last Saturday and is now poised to step back into the side as one of the most improved raiding right-backs in the Premier League. I first saw Coleman a couple of years ago when he came off the bench, coincidentally against Tottenham, Everton’s opponents today, and ran riot, changing the course of that match. Since then, he has become a regular in the team, a player who has noticeably improved the defensive side of his game, while also weighing in with the occasional goal.  If recently injured Steven Pienaar continues to redevelop his telepathic partnership with left-back Leighton Baines and if Deulofeu and Coleman are fit to add their talents to those of in-form Kevin Mirallas, the Blues may have sufficient threat to torment Tottenham, even in the continued absence of Lukaku.

 

 

Derby day decisions

IF tomorrow’s Merseyside derby is half as good as the 3-3 draw at Goodison Park earlier this season it will be a cracker. Derby clashes between big city clubs are all too often tense, tight affairs, ones “for the connoisseur,” to put it another way. The clash at Goodison was an exciting exception to that rule and we can only hope that the Anfield confrontation unfolds along similar lines. Unfortunately, Everton go into the match with a lot of injury problems, most notably to Bryan Oviedo, who suffered an horrendous double fracture in the FA Cup win at Stevenage on Saturday. I was there, having agreed to commentate for a Merseyside radio station, and it was immediately apparent that something awful had happened because every player in the vicinity of young Oviedo started waving frantically for the medics. The Costa Rican, who has made such a big impact over the past couple of months, coming in for the injured Leighton Baines, has had his World Cup dream dashed and it falls to every Evertonian to wish him a full recovery and a return to action next season.

The good news for Blues fans is the signing of a new, four-year contract by Baines, one player who will be going to Brazil this summer – and who will not be joining former Goodison manager David Moyes at Manchester United, as the Goodison faithful feared he might. Baines’s experience and ability will be important at Anfield tomorrow, especially if young John Stones makes his derby debut at centre-back. With Sylvain Distin again absent at Stevenage, and Phil Jagielka taken off at half-time with a hamstring tweak, manager Roberto Martinez will be tempted to pitch Stones into the fire. If he does so, I’m confident his faith in the 19-year-old will be justified. Stones played the 90 minutes at Stevenage, first alongside Jagielka and then John Heitinga, and I was impressed with him. The lad is big and he is quick and he’s good on the ball. He doesn’t simply hoof it. I first saw him last season, playing for Barnsley at Blackburn, and I made a mental note of him then. I am regularly hearing positive reports about the lad and I must say he did everything that was required of him at Stevenage, where the main challenge against lower league opposition was the aerial threat. He handled that comfortably.

Liverpool also have injury issues, amongst them another setback for England right-back Glen Johnson, but Everton’s problems look the greater, with Steven Pienaar, Seamus Coleman, Ross Barkley, Distin, Jagielka and the hapless Oviedo on the treatment table. Roberto last weekend described Barkley as the best young English player around, not only in terms of ability but mentality, too, and what a boost it would be for Everton if he were to return to action against Liverpool after missing several games with a broken toe. Certainly, there was nothing between these great rivals in that pulsating 3-3 draw, which had Goodison Park creaking at its aged seams, and it will be white hot in the cauldron of Anfield, with both clubs going toe to toe to clinch a coveted top four place and qualification for the Champions League. I look forward to the game.

 

Barry booster for Everton

Gareth Barry has been given a new lease of life by Everton in a move that could be really good news for the blue half of Merseyside – and, possibly, bad for the blue half of Manchester. Everton played hardball with Manchester United to get the fee, £27million, they wanted for midfielder Marouane Fellaini and then moved swiftly to sign Barry from Manchester City on a one-year loan deal, as well as spending around £13million on Wigan’s James McCarthy. McCarthy is a good player, one of the men who made the difference in the terrific, comeback win at West Ham. But I believe the acquisition of Barry might prove a masterstroke by Goodison manager Roberto Martinez.

This is a 32-year-old who is by no means past his best, a talented, vastly-experienced midfielder, a veteran of 500 league games and a player who still has the quality to get back into the England team, for whom he has not played since May last year. Barry spent 12 years at Aston Villa and the past four at Manchester City, where he was a key figure in their Premier League title win two seasons ago. I am not going to suggest that he will propel Everton to similar glory, but I do think he will prove to be an important component as my former club tries to build on an impressive start that sees them as the only unbeaten team after five matches. Barry has paid the price for City’s multi-million pound splurge on talent in the transfer window, but Everton’s gain might be City’s loss for here is a terrific signing, an often underrated player who wins the ball, takes it and passes it. He reminds me of one of the unsung heroes of my Everton team in the mid-90′s, Joe Parkinson, who did a similar holding job. Barry is on a one-season loan deal but I won’t be surprised if Everton are not talking to him, and to City, long before next summer about making the move permanent.

I am impressed by Everton’s encouraging start and thrilled for my friend and Goodison chairman Bill Kenwright and for the fans. Fellaini’s departure to Old Trafford has been more than compensated for by the arrival of Barry and McCarthy and the fact that Leighton Baines did not accompany Fellaini to Manchester United is another massive plus. Baines, for me, confirmed his status as the best English left-back – and undoubtedly best English free-kick striker – with his two tremendous goals at West Ham, which secured a second successive win, following the morale-boosting victory against Chelsea. Baines has been unlucky to be in the shadow of the consistent Ashley Cole, of Chelsea, who has won more than 100 caps, and the Evertonian will probably face further stiff competition for England recognition from the fast-rising Luke Shaw, of Southampton. Be that as it may, Baines is the top man right now in my opinion. It has been suggested that he wanted to go to United and I can only hope, for Everton’s sake, that that possibility does not resurface in the January transfer window.

The fans must hope that Baines grows more and more enthusiastic about what I see as an Everton squad rich in talent and potential. Young Ross Barkley has quickly confirmed my pre-season expectations. He has such power, pace and the confidence to run at the back four, a tactic that won the free-kick from which Baines struck the first of his goals at Upton Park. Lukaku, surprisingly allowed to leave Chelsea on loan, looks a real handful of a centre-forward. When I first noted him a couple of years ago I was reminded of a youthful Didier Drogba and it is a mystery that Jose Mourinho is reluctant to give him his chance. Lukaku, who was a big hit while on loan at West Bromwich Albion last season, started the move that led to his headed goal in the 3-2 win against The Hammers, but what really impressed me, a former centre-forward myself, was how he gave the pass then peeled off and moved into the box and was in position when the ball was chipped in. Add to that his bravery as he rose for the header and was simultaneously hit on the head by the challenging defender, a crack which left Lukaku dazed and unaware that he had scored. It is also worth noting that the pacey, left-sided Costa Rican Bryan Oviedo made a big impact when he came off the bench and operated in front of Baines. Oviedo, signed 13 months ago, did not get many opportunities last season, but that may be about to change under Martinez. When you consider that players like midfielders Pienaar and  Gibson and striker Jelavic are waiting to make their mark, as an Evertonian you can look forward with optimism.

 

 

 

Moyes must be careful

David Moyes is in danger of being accused of double standards over his attempts to sign Marouane Fellaini from his former club, Everton. Moyes seems to be growing increasingly frustrated in his attempt to pull off a double deal for midfielder Fellaini and left-back Leighton Baines, but he must be careful not to let his impatience leave him wide open to criticism from the Goodison club. New Manchester United manager Moyes is a friend of mine and I have nothing but respect for the way he managed Everton for 12 years. However, I must take issue with him over his remarks regarding Everton’s refusal to do business at £28million.
David has suggested that Everton are standing in the way of their players’ career progress by playing hardball over the proposed deal, with Goodison chairman Bill Kenwright making it plain he considers United’s offer unrealistic. And the fact is that David Moyes knows full well why Kenwright is taking such a firm stand because, as the manager who signed Fellaini in the first place, Moyes agreed with Kenwright on a ‘golden handcuffs’ valuation on the Belgian international of £24 million. Now, when he is trying to sign the player for a second time, it seems David is conveniently overlooking that valuation. United made an original offer of £12 million for Baines, upping that figure to £28million to include Fellaini, thus suggesting a £16million price for the latter. No wonder Kenwright is not inclined to do business!
The Goodison supremo is a lifelong Evertonian, as true a Blue as you could ever meet, and he has, and always will, do all he can to ensure that he does right by his beloved club. No-one knows that better than Moyes, who worked so closely with Bill for all those years – and who agreed that £24million valuation! So, David is hardly in a position to start suggesting Everton are the bad guys. If he wants Fellaini badly enough – and it would seem that he does – then he and United will have to pay the price, or something closer to it. The biggest clubs complain, often with justification, that the selling clubs try to rip them off in the transfer market because they are richer. That’s a fact of life. You always have the option of pulling out of a deal you think is becoming unrealistic. On the other hand, if you want a player badly enough and you have the wealth, then you simply have to pay the price. United, Real Madrid and Barcelona are the biggest clubs in the world and, as such, they must expect to pay top dollar in the transfer market. You could argue that United paid over the odds when they signed Robin van Persie, from Arsenal, for £24.5million 14 months ago.
But Sir Alex Ferguson knew Van Persie was the striker who could shoot United to the title – and enable him to retire as a winner. And that is precisely what happened.
I am on record as stating I am not convinced Fellaini is a Manchester United-style player, whereas I can fully understand why Baines’s crossing ability is coveted by Moyes, who can probably envisage even more goals for the prolific Van Persie from such a supply line. But Moyes clearly believes that Fellaini, who cost Everton a club record £12.4million, is the man to fill a void that undoubtedly exists in the United midfield. That being the case, then Moyes must surely acknowledge the facts of the situation. Moyes could not lure the gifted Cesc Fabregas from Barcelona and it might be he is feeling the pressure of failing to clinch a big signing, with the transfer window closing on September 2nd. However, trying to pressurise Everton, while conveniently overlooking the detail of his previously agreed valuation of Fellaini, will not help his cause. And, if I know Bill Kenwright as well as I think I do, he will stick to his guns. With Fellaini valued at £24million and Baines at, say, £13million – Everton turned down United’s original £12million offer – that puts the package at a minimum £37million. Real Madrid, who paid United £80million for Cristiano Ronaldo, are about to smash that world record fee to land Gareth Bale, from Tottenham. United, like Madrid, may have to accept that, sometimes, you just have to pay the price.
My suspicion that Manchester City would have a weakness in central defence following the injury to Vincent Kompany was born out in their shock 3-2 defeat at promoted Cardiff City, where they were embarrassed by two close-range headed goals from Fraiser Campbell. Joleon Lescott was partnered at centre-back by the Spaniard Garcia, who is a midfielder. The problems are likely to continue when the injured Nastasic, who was on the bench in Cardiff, returns for both he and Lescott are natural left-sided players and, unlike two natural right siders, two lefties rarely combine well. The balance just doesn’t seem to be good. So, don’t be surprised if City splash out yet again in the transfer market. This defeat was a short, sharp shock to their system and Manuel Pellegrini will be well aware he cannot afford to slip behind the pacesetters early in the race.

Last day drama

The Premier League title race was decided weeks ago by Manchester United and Wigan, Reading and QPR are confirmed as the three relegated clubs – but, thankfully, we still have drama to savour in tomorrow’s fixture finale. Tottenham are hoping to pip Arsenal to fourth place and, therefore, qualification for the Champions League play-off place, while the Gunners are also involved in a race for third place with Chelsea. And that particular battle could result in a tension-filled play-off at Villa Park on May 26.

That scenario would occur if Chelsea were to draw at home to Everton 0-0 and Arsenal were to win at Newcastle 2-1, leaving both London clubs level on points, goal difference and goals scored. At least, that’s as I understand the complicated situation! The third-placed club would go into the Champions League at the Group stage, while fourth place means the qualifying competition. Mark my words, it won’t be easy for Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. While I expect Arsenal to at least draw at Newcastle,  who are safe from relegation and under no great pressure to perform, and Chelsea, fresh from their Europa Cup triumph, are buoyant, I expect my former club Everton to make life very difficult at The Bridge. Look at the facts: Everton, who have lost only one more match than Manchester United, have drawn 15, making them the draw specialists of the division. The Toffees haven’t won at Chelsea since my team did so, 1-0, in my second game in charge in 1994 and I’m sure outgoing manager David Moyes would dearly love to sign off with  a similar result.

For Tottenham, their home clash with Sunderland is a must-win game. And I expect them to do so. Injury-hit Sunderland, who have secured safety by the skin of their teeth, don’t have the firepower to win at White Hart Lane, where they might do well to win a corner-kick! Tottenham, on the other hand, play their biggest match of the season, with Player of the Year (and Young Player of the Year) Gareth Bale primed to sign off his superb season in style. I just feel that it will end in bitter disappointment for Spurs, as I expect Arsenal to beat Newcastle, thus securing fourth place, at least.

 

Fairytale’s sad finale

Like every other ‘expert’ I wrongly predicted a Wigan defeat at Wembley last Saturday. Sadly, however, that fairytale was short-lived, with the shock Cup winners’ relegation from the Premier League confirmed by defeat at Arsenal last night. It is a terrible anti-climax for manager Roberto Martinez, chairman Dave Whelan and the fans but, I have to say, there was an inevitability about Wigan’s plight. As I said before the Cup final, Wigan’s Achilles heel is their defence, a weakness that Manchester City’s star-studded forward line should have been able to exploit. While I sympathise with Martinez – a lovely guy, by the way – who has a lot of injury worries, the fact is that, even with all players fit, his defence probably wasn’t sound enough. A statistic of 71 goals conceded in 37 games tells its own story. That is comfortably worse than Reading, who also went down. If you are going to ship that many goals, then you need to be prolific scorers – and Wigan are not. I think they are going to need at least two more centre-backs if they are to bounce back into the top flight next season.

Interestingly, Wigan’s final-day opponents this weekend, Aston Villa, also have serious defensive issues to address this summer, which is going to be a busy one for manager Paul Lambert. Lambert probably won’t have a big budget, but, contrary to popular opinion, his team isn’t as young as reported. And Villa’s goals-against column shows they have conceded just four less than Wigan have. That will have to be addressed if the team  - which doesn’t have as many teenagers in it as is being said – is to avoid another relegation struggle next season. If my former Everton and Manchester City centre-back Richard Dunne can make a comeback from groin trouble after missing the whole season, his presence will be a massive boost. But it tells you something when goalkeeper Brad Guzan is both the players’ player and fans’ player of the year. That in a struggling side and one which sports one of the most exciting talents around, Belgian forward Christian Benteke, who is already being eyed by some of the biggest clubs in the Premier League and Europe. With Darren Bent recently voicing his concerns about not getting into the team, I think Lambert is in for a hectic close-season, one way and another.

 

D-day looms for Rooney

Wayne Rooney, by far England’s most talented striker, is ending the season in no man’s land, with a parting slap from retiring Sir Alex Ferguson, who pointedly left Rooney out of the squad for his last home match in charge, against Swansea, on Sunday. Sir Alex says he has turned down a transfer request from the player, while admitting he can’t be sure Rooney will be at United next season, so it will be down to new boss David Moyes to decide how the situation is resolved.

One thing I do know is that Rooney remains by far this country’s best forward, still the only Englishman who guarantee 20 goals a season in the Premier League. And that is because, at his best, he is strong, aggressive, deceptively fast, good in the air for a man of average height, utterly fearless and possessed with a fierce will to win. That particular characteristic was clear for us to see when he was nine/ten years old and preparing to join Everton’s Academy, when I was manager in the mid-90′s. He is so good that he can operate with equal effectiveness either up front, wide or in central midfield. And it just might be that therein lies Rooney’s problem. I don’t know if he has a preferred position, but the fact that he has been played in different roles might be what is disillusioning him. Rooney likes to be the top dog and it might be that he feels his nose has been put out of joint by the arrival of Robin van Persie. Or the problem could be that Sir Alex is unhappy with Rooney’s physical condition and that he is trying to make a point by having him in and out of the side.

I must say, whether it is a physical or a mental issue, I feel Rooney hasn’t been at his sharpest this season. He and Moyes, who successfully sued Rooney over allegations in the player’s book that he was “overbearing” and “controlling” at Everton, clearly have had their differences. It will be interesting to see the outcome when the two men get together to thrash out the current impasse.

 

 

Softly,softly for Moyes

David Moyes starts the biggest challenge of his life when he takes over from Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United on July 1. But, believe me, he will have met the United players before then. And, when he does address his superstar Premier League champions for the first time, David will be telling them: “I’m here to make it business as usual. Let’s keep up the good work.” The likes of Ryan Giggs and Rio Ferdinand, players who have been there, done it, worn several of the T-shirts, don’t need to be told they’d better start doing things differently!

This is not a situation like the one that confronted Andreas Villas-Boas when he took over at Chelsea 12 months ago when, it seems, he had a mandate to make sweeping changes. Moyes, who already has the public approval of players like Ferdinand – and, of course, Ferguson who nominated him as his successor – will stress he has no need, nor intention, to bulldoze his way into the biggest job in club football. David’s first major issue is Wayne Rooney’s future. There has been no denial from Rooney of the stories claiming he wants to leave the club, so David will need to sit down with the player and his agent Paul Stretford and sort out the situation. David will, of course, be armed with Alex Ferguson’s take on the affair and it just might be that Rooney’s days at Old Trafford are numbered.

Certainly, Rooney would not be missed if United have lined up a sensational move for their former superstar Cristiano Ronaldo and, or, Borussia Dortmund’s Polish striker Robert Lewandowski, the man who destroyed Ronaldo’s Real Madrid with all four goals in their Champions League semi-final first leg 4-1 win two weeks ago. Wayne’s role seems to have changed from the all-action forward he was when he arrived at United to a more mature, more withdrawn operator. Whether that is more in Wayne’s mind than Alex’s, who knows? But it is a fact that Wayne has been in and out of the team and playing in different positions and this  may be a factor in Rooney’s reported unsettled state of mind. Someone will be happy to pay around £30m for Rooney, who should be in his prime in his late 20′s, and that might be seen as good business at United.

And, if United are, indeed, aiming to bring back Ronaldo, who has been blitzing La Liga defences for the past four years and for whom Real will want their money back, it is feasible it could be a self-financing deal, with the potential sale of players like winger Nani, striker Chicarito – and Rooney. I don’t see Moyes raiding Everton for players, though I do think  Leighton Baines, the best left-back in the country, could join his boss at United. Everton’s Marouane Fellaini is being touted for the big move, but I’m not convinced the Belgian is what United need, either in midfield or up front. Nor do I see a wholesale switch of backroom staffs, though don’t be surprised if David wants his Goodison assistant Steve Round to stay with him. At United, the backroom structure is as sound as the playing side and I’m sure Alex will have pushed the job security of the people who have served him so well. There is also the Phill Neville factor. I know David thinks a lot of Phil, who is from the same mould,  a man who gets in to training early, gets the players up for it and who, like his Sky pundit brother Gary, has an excellent knowledge of the game. Phil made 386 appearances for United before joining Everton eight years ago – and he might be a candidate for the Goodison job. He could well get an interview, though I feel such  a huge step would be too soon without experienced support.

For Moyes, the biggest concerns, aside of the Rooney issue, will be the age of Rio Ferdinand, at 34, and the injury issues that plague him and his centre-back partner Nemanja Vidic. United have marvellous, young defenders coming through, like Chris Smalling and Phil Jones, but Moyes might be tempted to try to take his Everton stalwart Phil Jagielka as insurance. Meantime, David Moyes’ biggest challenge is to get the players’ respect on the training pitch. I’m sure he’ll do that.

 

 

SIMPLY THE BEST

Only a few people become legends in their own lifetime. Sir Alex Ferguson is just such a person. The man who will, surely, be acknowledged as the greatest manager in history, certainly in the UK and, possibly, even the world, is leaving a massive hole for someone to fill at Manchester United.

royle-ferguson-cupfinal

It is hard to see beyond the current bookies’ favourite David Moyes or the self-styled Special One Jose Mourinho. Where Everton boss Moyes shades it over Mourinho is with his long, unbroken run as a Premier League manager at Everton. On the debit side, David has never won a major trophy and has limited experience in Europe. Mourinho has won everything. David, of course, is a free agent from this summer, whereas Real Madrid are said to want £20m to buy out Mourinho’s contract. And the feeling is he’s headed back to Chelsea, anyway. One thing I am sure of, and I can’t see an obscure name coming out of left field, is that the chosen one will get both a fantastic job and an impossible job. For the harsh fact is that  Alex’s successor knows one thing for certain: He simply cannot do better than his predecessor. Alex bows out having won his 13th Premier League title and a staggering total of 38 trophies in 26 years at United. You have to re-read the stats to give them chance to sink in. He has been phenomenal, the master of the big decisions on and off the pitch, tactically and in the transfer market and unrivalled in his ability to know when to move players on. No manager gets his transfers 100 per cent right, but Alex has got more right than anyone else. Under his guidance, United have not only produced several major teams but also become the global brand they are today.

Men like Frank O’Farrell, Dave Sexton and Wilf McGuinness found the strain of trying to succeed the other Old Trafford managerial legend Sir Matt Busby too hard to bear. But the man who succeeds Ferguson faces an even bigger challenge! Put it this way, the new man had better target the Treble next season! Certainly, this is not a job for a novice, however promising he may be. Don’t forget, when Ferguson was brought in to start his United revolution, when he was in his mid-40s, he had already established himself as the major managerial force in Scotland where, with St Mirren then Aberdeen he won 10 trophies and, most significantly, broke the Celtic-Rangers domination.

Like many people in the game, I had my run-ins with Alex, who is as formidable as they come when arguing his corner. We fell out when, as Everton manager, I was signing winger Andrei Kanchelskis from United and Alex accused me of trying to fix the price, which wasn’t the case. Then, I had to take him to task for suggesting in his autobiography that my Everton side’s FA Cup victory against United in the 1995 FA Cup Final was the triumph of one ordinary team over another. But these are minor hiccups in an otherwise excellent relationship. Mind you, thank god we never argued about politics. I have been described as having views somewhere between Margaret Thatcher and Attila the Hun, while Alex is proud of his left wing upbringing on the working-class streets of Govan. Alex was kind enough to subsequently write the foreward to my autobiography, for which I am extremely grateful. Alex Ferguson is a remarkable man who has earned his place in football history. It’s an honour to have worked in his era and it’s one of life’s pleasures to share a glass or three of his favourite red wine with him.