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NEVILLE SOUTHALL: Manchester United are still title contenders, but so are Everton

Neville Southall was used to winning titles with Everton. In what's shaping up to be the most open title race in years, the Everton legend tells us why United and Everton are contenders and why he doesn't regret not joining United.

by Neville Southall | December 3, 2013

Alex Ferguson tried to sign me for United, but after telling him to ‘fuck off’ it wasn’t going to happen. He phoned me up one Sunday afternoon and said ‘hello Neville, this is Alex Ferguson’ and I said:

yeah right, fuck off Andy

Andy Gray used to pull pranks like that back then and I assumed it was him! It wasn’t, it was the real deal.

I never really liked playing at Old Trafford and it had nothing to do with fear or intimidation. There never seemed to be much of an atmosphere and that still comes across on TV today. When I was playing non-league and the game would be postponed – I’d head up to Old Trafford and stand on the Stretford End. The atmosphere was always electric. But then they redeveloped it and it lost a lot of its character. Upton Park, Anfield, Elland Road, White Hart Lane – they always had a buzz about them but at Old Trafford, the fans didn’t seem to make the same noise. I found it quite bland. Growing up, I always wanted to play at Old Trafford, but when I actually got the chance, it was disappointing.

Everton mean buzz-iness this season

There is a buzz around Goodison Park these days, a buzz I haven’t seen since we were winning leagues. Unlike how defensive we were under David Moyes, Roberto Martinez is going out to win matches and the fans are starting to believe Everton can do something special this year. I didn’t think he’d have the effect he has had when he was appointed, but in the space of four months he’s generated excitement at the club we rarely saw in 11 years of Moyes managing the club.

Everton should be aiming for the league title. I know I’m probably alone in thinking that, but this league is wide open. There is no standout team and this is a great chance for about three or four teams who haven’t got a look in on the title race for the last few seasons. A lot of teams are in transition and every one of the contenders has some issues.

A Toff’ job ahead for Moyes

David Moyes is doing a decent job at Manchester United because as the season is progressing we can see that he’ll need to overhaul the team in January and next summer. He’s a good manager, but it will take him time to rebuild that aura of them being invincible. People aren’t afraid of United the way they were. They’re a great club, but they lack the fear factor they used to have. Up front, they’re very strong. They’ve got Rooney, van Persie and a couple of other options and that’s one area where they’re pretty much as strong as anyone in the league. It’s the other positions where they’ve problems.

They still haven’t replaced Gary Neville. Patrice Evra does well for them but there seems to be constant rumours about him leaving. Vidic and Ferdinand are coming near the end of their careers and the replacements still have a lot to learn. Plus they all seem to have injury problems. Other than Carrick and Giggs who is 40, their midfield isn’t consistently good.

I’ve played United when they’ve been champions and playing some wonderful football and I’ve played them when they were poor and we beat them 5-0 in 1984 and right now, they’re inbetween. They can pull off some great results one week and then get beaten the next.

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Moyes has upset a few players by not playing them, but it’s to be expected. When you’re Alex Ferguson and you’ve won as many trophies as you have, you can get away with it, but it’s different when you’ve not actually won anything. Players still respond to success and that’s why some of them have been grumbling when they’ve been kept on the bench. You get players saying ‘what does he know?’ I saw it at Bradford. They brought Jim Jeffries in and the attitude was ‘who the fuck is he? He’s never won fuck all.’ In fairness they were right because he was fucking useless, but it shows you how players think. ‘If you don’t pick me, you’re a nob’ – simple as.

The styles of the two managers couldn’t be much further apart. Martinez has his attacking philosophy and he won’t change it. There’s a few poor passes and bad decisions here and there, but it’s the way he plays and you have to take some risks with that style of football. Moyes on the other hand is cautious and always sends out his teams not to lose. Even when we go to Old Trafford on Wednesday, a place we haven’t won in since 1992, Martinez will try to win. I think we’ll get something out of the game. We’ll score and we could well get a draw.

A high five

The 5-0 win on October of 1984 was the highlight of all my games with United. The FA Cup final win in 1995 was brilliant, but beating United 5-0 at any time is an amazing feeling. The cup final was a fluke. If we played United 7 times that week, we might have won once, drawn once and lost the other five. But the 5-0 was just brilliant. We absolutely murdered them and that’s when you know you’re a good team. We were playing sensational football at the time. Kevin Sheedy scored with a header that day and that was incredible on its own because he’d never put his head in for the ball! It was just one of those results when you come off the pitch and say ‘that was incredible’. The confidence we got from it was ridiculous and we went on to win the league by 13 points.

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I don’t ever regret not joining United. Fergie’s the best manager of all time and a great fella, but I don’t regret it. Your legacy is what you leave behind and what people think of you and Everton was perfect for me. To this day, when I got back, it’s unbelievable. It’s the memories you leave behind for the fans – the people who were paying your wages. To leave good memories for people is the best thing you can ever do and I don’t think I would have been able to do that at Manchester United. For me, I played at the best club in the world and for the best people in the world.

I’m not saying Everton will win the league this season, but the way they’re playing, we can give it a right good go. If we fail short and end up with Champions League football, I’ll gladly take that. If we make a couple of good signings in January, but if we do that, I don’t think we’ll be far off.

Neville’s bets:

2-2 DrawDESKTOP | MOBILE
Both teams to score and the result to be a drawDESKTOP | MOBILE

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