SUCH is the understanding and discipline David Moyes has drummed into his Everton players – he once said they could manage themselves.
Tim Howard – arguably one of his most successful signings on Merseyside – begs to differ.
The American is more excited than ever before about Everton’s prospects this season as they sit pretty in the Premier League’s fourth spot, but he believes Moyes – and his enduring presence in the Goodison hot-seat – is essential regardless of what the Scot says.
So just how long would the amiable shot-stopper and his team-mates really be able to thrive without their ultra-focused guide?
“Maybe for one Saturday we could do it because we have been under his tutelage but he is being very humble when he says that, because we are where we are as a team and a unit because of the instruction we have had off him,” he says.
Moyes continues to postpone a decision on whether to commit himself to a new deal at Goodison, and Howard makes no bones about the ramifications of his eventual choice.
“He is vital here,” says the 33-year-old. “There’s no drama at the moment but obviously it’s very important to keep our big players and very important to keep our manager.”
It’s rare to see the easy-going New Jersey native without a smile on his face around Finch Farm, and Howard insists that relaxed atmosphere is down to one man.
“From the day I walked in here, and I have been here seven years now, this is an easy place to come to work,” he says. “For a new guy coming in from a foreign county, it’s an easy place to come and adapt.
“Everyone gets along, and the egos are very few and far between, which is different to most clubs. In fact our biggest players have the smallest egos and that’s hard to come by.
“The manager’s recruitment is the biggest part of that. He does the medicals, watching them in terms of talent and quality, but he also thinks the character is very important.
“The one thing he’s going to be able to do is even if he brings in a guy who maybe does have a suspect character, he believes in his own ability to get him to conform to our ways.
“Of course you’re not always going to get it right. You’ve got a bunch of athletes with a lot of ego and pride, which we’re trying to gel together and have that mesh. But the manager’s done a great job in terms of not being scared to say ‘you’re not a good fit here, get going.’ That shows a real strength of character.”
Howard is feeling confident ahead of today’s trip to Reading’s Madejski stadium.
“We’re playing very well, the best football I have seen us play,” he says.
“Everyone is comfortable taking the ball, the manager’s brought players in like Naismith and Kevin, and obviously Steven Pienaar’s back, while we’ve got Felli further up the field, and we all know Ossie’s feet are terrific.
“We have a lot of players in the final third, and Bainesey’s like an attacker half the time any way. We have a lot of guys who are comfortable on the ball and we are playing better than we ever have in terms of fluidity.
“We still have the ability to pump it up there and fight and scrap, which we can never lose at Everton I don’t think. But from the back, it’s nice knowing we are going to get the ball and have a lot of possession.”
Despite having such a talented keeper the Blues have kept only two clean sheets from 11 league games so far this season, and Howard believes it is a consequence of their evolving attacking power.
He says: “That ability does cause some problems as well, because we have been so expansive and thrown a lot of numbers into the attack, which means we can be a bit more vulnerable at the back.
“That falls on myself and the centre halves to make sure we are pulling people back into position and getting guys more organised. It poses its challenges to us.
“We are probably having to put out more fires on the counter attack because of the nature of the game, we are further forward and committed more numbers forward. I think I’ve been just as busy, but just in a different way.”
Victory today – and next weekend against Norwich at Goodison – will help cement Everton in the top four ahead of a testing December fixture list, and Howard is not kidding himself about the challenge facing the Blues if they are to remain there all season.
“As much as we talk about it, it’s a big ask for us. There are other teams probably saying they should be there,” he says. “It’s about our consistency. It would be disappointing if we didn’t get fourth, but no-one’s pegged us to finish there – it’s just a feeling we have and hopefully we can do it.”