English talent flourishes in the FA Cup

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The Independent Football

This Sunday provides succour to football traditionalists as founder members of the football league, Derby County, entertain Manchester United and sixth-place Everton take on third-place Aston Villa in the FA Cup fifth round.

The Toffeemen versus the Villains is one of the game's oldest fixtures and the importance of time unites two of football's grand old teams.



They first met at Villa's Perry Barr stadium on 22 September 1888, over 120 years ago. On that day Aston Villa ran out 2-1 winners, a scoreline replicated when the sides last met in the FA Cup in February 2000.



Walter Smith and John Gregory were the men in charge then and the English talent on show included Steve Stone, Julian Joachim and a time-ravaged Paul Merson in the claret and blue and David Unsworth, Danny Cadamarteri and Kevin Campbell in royal blue.



Fast forward time nine years to this weekend and it is inconceivable that either David Moyes or Martin O'Neill would settle for the fourteenth and sixth places that their clubs finished respectively that season.



Although Villa did go on to make the FA Cup final in 2000, losing to Chelsea, the time and resources O'Neill has earned during his almost two decades in management merit far greater rewards than finishing mere runners-up.



The gyrations of this week's managerial merry-go-round have etched deeper in stone the conviction that the ability to command respect and fear, in that order, are the key attributes required by a manager attempting to build a squad that can consistently dine at the top table.



Aston Villa's American owner, Randy Lerner, is a manager's wet dream. He has backed up his deep-pocketed generosity with the greatest gift a chairman can bestow on his manager, Time.

And the grandfather of managerial Time is Sir Alex Ferguson, whose wisened judgements can never be ignored addressed the subject earlier this season:

"Without question Martin is one of the best managers in the game. The only way you can judge managers is how they prove themselves over a period.

"And the job he has done at Leicester, Celtic and now Aston Villa makes him an obvious top manager."

There will come a time, presumably of his choosing, when there will be large Ferguson-sized hole to fill at Old Trafford and the size of his absence will shrink the capabilities of many potential successors.

Sunday's tie throws together the two men who will lead the race to fill that void, two managers whose characters and reputations intumesce with each challenge they meet and conquer.

Ever since O'Neill's time at Celtic, Ferguson has earmarked the Irishman for great things, and as it is hard to imagine Sir Alex won't have a hand in selecting his successor, his analysis takes on greater meaning:

"He is a no-nonsense manager who is strong and has a personality and I think those qualities are important at a big club like Celtic", Ferguson said in an interview in 2001.

Celtic is where a young 'journeyman' centre-half called David Moyes began his career, he had already taken his coaching badges at 22 and by 34 he was in charge of struggling Preston North End.

Four years later, in March 2002, Everton chairman Bill Kenwright came calling and, despite the threat of relegation shadowing the club like an executioner's blade, Moyes couldn't say no.

In his first press conference he labeled Everton 'the people's club' and now that timeless phrase adorns Goodison's Park End stand. Then in his first match Everton went ahead after 27 seconds; it would appear Moyes is blessed with fortune in equal abundance to his talent.

The Everton manager is eleven years younger than O'Neill and while his playing career never reached the heights achieved by the Irishman at Nottingham Forest, he developed the steel necessary for management early on:

"I am always told that I am very intense, but when I was a young player and growing up I used to look at Alex Ferguson at Aberdeen.

"Intensity comes with the job because I am determined to succeed. I am doing everything I can to succeed here and I work hard and I am very determined."

And, crucially, Moyes’ development was flagged-up by his fellow Glaswegian before their clash two weekends ago:

"David Moyes has not got the credit he deserves, when you take everything into consideration, he has done an incredible job.

"He has not had the resources of other clubs but he got all his younger players on long contracts and built round them with the likes of Phil Jagielka, Tim Cahill and Joleon Lescott.

"The signings he has made have been terrific and it means that he has continuity for the next few years."

An eye for squad-building is a trait shared by both Moyes and O'Neill.

When the Scot took over at Goodison Park, the club's wage bill was over-inflated by ageing thirtysomethings like Jesper Blomquist, David Ginola and Paul Gascoigne. Equally so, O'Neill had to clear out driftwood like Gavin McCann, Liam Ridgewell and Gary Cahill.

However, when the two teams take to the field on Sunday afternoon, ten of the twenty-two likely to start the match will have figured in an England squad over the last two years.

If you add the names of the uncapped Everton players Dan Gosling, Jack Rodwell, Leighton Baines, Tony Hibbert and Leon Osman to that tally then there is only one place Fabio Capello needs to be to watch the cream of English talent this Sunday, and it isn't Pride Park.

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