Neville relishes best of British managers
Two clubs whose form is challenging supremacy of Big Four collide today
After another week in which a highly regarded foreign manager was found wanting amid the manic demands of the Premier League, two admirable young British rivals will go head to head in the FA Cup at Goodison Park this afternoon knowing that their teams have already produced one of the matches of the season.
In early December at the same venue, Everton prematurely celebrated a draw against Aston Villa after Joleon Lescott's late equaliser, only for a spring-heeled Ashley Young to burst through their distracted defence and win the game 3-2 with his second goal of the afternoon.
"I'd have thought our victory up there might have deflated them a bit but it seems quite the opposite," Villa's manager, Martin O'Neill, said on Friday. Indeed, David Moyes's side, despite seeing striker after striker confined to the treatment room, immediately set off on their best run of the season, which has brought only one defeat, 1-0 against Manchester United, in the past dozen games.
During the same period Villa have also been beaten only once, when fielding a weakened team in the Uefa Cup at Hamburg, and there would surely be disappointment now – whatever they profess publicly – not to be in the Champions' League next season for the first time since they competed as European Cup holders 27 years ago. Everton's captain, Phil Neville (pictured left), therefore finds himself in the position of championing the two managers while being relieved that Moyes rarely seems to be mentioned in connection with high office elsewhere.
"It's pretty ignorant really," he said. "You are looking for success, continuity, someone who has done it over a number of years, and you can put them both in that category. We still, particularly at the top level, keep looking abroad for managers that come in and realistically are only going to stay for two or three years.
"It must frustrate the life out of a lot of British managers. But we are lucky, we don't want the likes of Chelsea looking at David Moyes. We want him to stay here, because if he stays, we know he is going to be successful. It's a no-brainer for us.
"I think both David Moyes and Martin O'Neill have got what it takes to manage a really top club," Neville continued. "Why go to South America and pick someone who has done well at international level but hasn't got a clue about English football? You need men who know what it's like going to play at Everton on a wet Wednesday night. Some of the managers that have come over haven't got a clue about something like that."
Snapping up Neville from Manchester United on a free transfer was shrewd work by Moyes who, as his captain says, has been allowed to put together a squad with some long-term planning behind it.
"There is a blueprint here and it's not something that has just happened overnight," Neville said. "Us buying the likes of [Phil] Jagielka, Lescott, [Tim] Cahill from the Championship, seeing the quality in them, seeing [them] young and seeing they are going to progress. And he [Moyes] has sprinkled that with excellent foreign players like [Steven] Pienaar, who is young, Mikel Arteta, who had a lot to prove, and a proven goalscorer, Yakubu. So he has actually been very clever in the buys he has made."
In Neville, with his medals from six Premier League titles, a Champions' League and three FA Cups, Everton have a dressing-room leader who was schooled at the theatre of trophies that is Old Trafford and who says: "Your next medal is always the best. I learned that at Man United. This one without doubt would be the best, because I will be captain. To lead an Everton side out at Wembley would be fantastic.
"But you know football is ready to kick you in the teeth again," he added. "That is what [today] is all about. You can't look forward beyond [today] and start smelling the hot dogs of Wembley. We beat Liverpool, and 10 minutes after the game I am drumming into [the Everton players] about the preparation for the Saturday against Bolton. They all tell me to shut up, but they know deep down I'm right."
As for Villa and the lessons of that painful December afternoon, Neville said: "We learned that Villa have got players who can hurt you. For 80-odd minutes we kept the likes of Young and [Gabriel] Agbonlahor pretty quiet, but then Young came up with two goals that won them the game.
"But my belief is that we are both very evenly matched, and it could be a really top cup-tie."
As historically important clubs with a long FA Cup tradition, Everton and Villa have in recent seasons been subservient to the domination of that competition by the Big Four. Last year they each missed a chance by going out in the third round while the underdogs of Portsmouth and Cardiff went all the way.
A win this afternoon and, for all Neville's warnings, Evertonians will wake up tomorrow morning and smell those hot dogs.
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