PHIL NEVILLE ended his Manchester United career 11 appearances short of a 400-match milestone.
On Saturday he could rack up 300 in Royal Blue, symbolically at the venue where he started his career.
But while the Blues skipper will take pride in reaching a figure that only 33 other Evertonians have topped in the club’s entire history, he isn’t looking any further ahead than this season.
Neville is out of contract this summer.
Talks have not yet been planned about an extension – even though Neville has started 20 matches already this season – and that’s just the way he wants it.
“I’m quite relaxed about the situation,” said Neville.
“I spoke to the manager before Christmas and he asked me what I wanted to do. And I said I wanted to speak probably more towards the end of the season.
“I think I’m a year older than Sylvain Distin (who has just signed a year’s extension).
“When I spoke to the boss I’d just come out from having my knee operation and I think it’s sensible at my age to first, see how the body is, and then see how my situation is within the club and at the end of the day ask ‘Do I still retain the hunger and the determination, and more importantly am I still having a positive effect on the team?’
“These are the things over the next three or four months that I’ll be weighing up and we’ll take it from there.
“There’s no real panic or mad rush to talk about or discuss a new contract. At the end of the day there’s bigger and more important things to concentrate on.
“I suppose it’s more about me rather than about the club – it’s about how I feel.
“I’ve been at Everton for the last eight years and I’ve been captain and I’ve been a large part of what’s been going on.
“But I want to remain as influential and if felt I wasn’t as influential or I felt my form had dropped, or if I was standing in the way of someone who was coming through then I would have to look at it.
“That’s the reason why I’m in no rush.
“I’m not worried at all because there’s a great understanding between me and the club. Phil Jagielka is obviously growing into the role of captain and I don’t want to stand on anyone’s toes by holding anyone back.
“That’s my thought process really. I just want to take each game as it comes and focus on my playing more because getting in the team is my biggest priority.”
Neville’s fears seem groundless.
Ahead of the Southampton match last month, Sky TV showed a graphic detailing Everton’s fortunes with and without Phil Neville in the starting line-up.
The side’s fortunes were significantly improved with his leadership.
The statistics this season are even more stark.
With Neville in the team Everton have won 12, drawn seven and lost just once.
Without him the Blues have won just once, drawn five and lost once.
But Neville, now 36, isn’t taking anything for granted.
“That’s why I want to speak in February or March, because you still want to be an influence and if I’m still influencing things then I’m happy,” he said.
“If I’m just around the place just because of what I’ve achieved in the past then I wouldn’t be happy and I wouldn’t want to be here and I’m sure the manager would think the same.
“When you get to this age you want to play in every game, you want to play because time’s running out and I’m no different.
“It’s about how I feel and if I feel I’m still having an influence in the dressing room, and more importantly still producing performances then I’m happy to carry on playing.”
Of course a successful charge for fourth place would dangle a sizeable carrot in front of a man who won a European Cup winner’s medal with United in 1999.
Neville admitted: “I said at the start of the season before I retire I want to play European football again. It’s another ambition of mine, and I want to be successful.
“People say are you coming to a difficult phase of your career but I’m actually finding it really exciting. If you’re coming to the end of your career you can be quite fearful, but I’m excited because there’s things I still want to achieve playing football, and then on the coaching and management side there’s things I’m really interested in, so I’m sure towards the end of the season, where I’m going to be next season will take shape.
“But nothing will be done without speaking to the manager.”