There may not be too many eyes on the Confederations Cup, but you can be sure that someone, somewhere, from Manchester United will be keeping a watch on their latest acquisition. He goes by the name of Tim Howard, and he is here in France, keeping goal for the United States in this maligned tournament.
Howard, 24, is set to be unveiled at Old Trafford in the next fortnight, although while he is on duty with his country, the £2.5m signing has not been formalised. Whoever has been watching Howard will not have been disappointed. Although the US lost their opening group game 2-1 against Turkey on Thursday in St-Etienne, Howard was in impressive form, and was again in action here last night against Brazil.
Howardis confident of his ability, as he will need to be if he is to replace Fabien Barthez, who has been linked with a move away this summer but who professes to be "200 per cent" happy to remain at Old Trafford.
Barthez, however, let in a goal from a free-kick that went in at the post he was guarding against Japan on Friday, and was helpless when another free-kick crashed against his crossbar. The Japanese felt they had spotted a weakness in his game, and maybe Alex Ferguson feels he has too, especially after Barthez's performances ag-ainst Real Madrid in United's Champions' League defeat.
Not that Howard has anything but admiration for his counterpart. He said: "Fabien is a tremendous goalkeeper and he has won a World Cup, and not many players can say that. I like his style, he is aggressive and fast. I'm aggressive too, but we are different in other ways."
Howard, who has eight caps and will join United from New Jersey Metrostars, has Tourette's syndrome, which most people associate with uncontrolled swearing. Defenders with experience of Peter Schmeichel may be accustomed to that, but Howard clears up any misconceptions. "Only four per cent of people with Tourette's have the swearing," he said.
"I never have done and never will. It is a neuro-logical disorder and I have the tics, but people have been miseducated about it."
Howard's education about Manchester United has been limited to what he can glean from the sports networks in his home state of New Jersey, but he has seen enough to be in awe of his future captain, Roy Keane. "I know I'm going to be yelled at, but he is a tremendous leader," Howard said. "Roy Keane is more fiery than me, but I like to get ferocious for 90 minutes as well. I go after everything in the game."
The man who has played for his country at every level, including the Olympics, has his chance at this tournament thanks to Blackburn's Brad Friedel, the first choice, being rested and Kasey Keller, of Tottenham, recovering from surgery. But the national manager, Bruce Arena, was not worried. He said: "Tim has the tools to be as good as Brad and Kasey. He is mature already, and going to United can only be good for him."
After France struggled to beat Japan 2-1 on Friday, Robert Pires, who captained a reshuffled side, called on fans to be lenient. The holders reached the semi-finals after a Pires penalty was cancelled out by Shunsuke Nakamura and Sidney Govou hit a 66th-minute winner.
The Arsenal winger said: "I think you have to be indulgent with France tonight because the team had a new face, with new players. It's the first time we've played together, so you can't expect the world."
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