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NEVILLE SOUTHALL: Everton are building well but won’t repeat success of last season

Everton and Wales legend, Neville Southall, tells us why fans don't need to worry about pre-season results and why despite improving the squad, the Toffees will find it hard to repeat last year's success

by Neville Southall | August 15, 2014

It’s nice to win your pre-season matches, but in reality it doesn’t matter.

Everton have gone through their pre-season without winning a match and I’ve seen people going bonkers on Twitter.

They seem to think not doing well in these friendly matches is a sign of Armageddon. If there was anything at stake, you would worry, but there’s no points dropped and the players are getting fitter, so that’s the only objective. You could go to Malta, play 10 pub teams and hammer them all, but what is that going to do for you in reality? If we’re still losing games at Christmas, that’s the time to worry. It’s about fitness and getting to know the new lads – that’s about it.

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Players don’t worry about the results. One pre-season I had in Switzerland, there was a lad up a ladder doing something with the floodlights and the players spent half the time trying to hit him. He wasn’t happy. Behind the goal, there were two Everton fans knocking the shit out of each other. And they were best mates. In the end, our physio had to go and treat the both of them. There was another time we went to Germany and one of the lads was running in and out bringing hotdogs to the lads on the bench.

Down But Not Trout

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Back in 1994, we went to Sweden in July and Mike Walker made us train at 12 midday, just so he could work on his tan. That hottest part of the day and he had us running around in the boiling sun. He said ‘we’ll train a bit later lads’ but we all knew it was because he wanted to get a better tan. Then he didn’t give me my goalkeeping kit which wound me right up. So I walked out of the dressing room and onto the pitch in just my boots, my gloves and my undies. He just looked at me speechless like I was an idiot and walked off. There were a few on-lookers watching so he had no choice but to sort out my kit.

Those pre-seasons were weird. We went fishing on the same trip and Anders Limpar caught a seagull. Mike just wanted to work on his tan, but Howard Kendall arranged some proper matches. Proper except for the fact he let me play in midfield for the last 20 minutes, which was fun. Howard was ahead of his time with the training. It was all ball skills with little fitness – short, regular sessions. Fitness came from matches. All these modern coaches get praise for using their techniques, but Howard was doing it over 20 years ago. That gets forgotten about.

It’s Toff At The Top

Everton won’t do as well this season as we did last season. The teams around us have spent big money and we’re still short in a couple of places, particularly the strikers. It’s a good squad, but with a European campaign to play, you worry about depth. City, Chelsea, Liverpool, United and Arsenal have all spent heavily and that doesn’t leave much room in the Top Six. We’ll play our usual brand of exciting football, but with the others all strengthening to the extent they have, it’ll be difficult to have the same impact we did last year.

There’s expectations about a top four finish and Champions League football, but that’s beyond us. If Liverpool don’t replace Suarez properly, Arsenal defensive problems continue to get exposed or van Gaal takes time to get it right at Old Trafford, then it’s possible, but there’s a lot of doubt in there. People might be upset if we don’t break into the top four, but we’re really up against it.

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Luk’ To The Future

We’ve smashed our transfer record to bring in Romelu Lukaku and that’s brilliant. Having said that, there’s no way he’s worth £28 million at this moment in time. We’ve paid for potential and once Roberto Martinez gets a chance to work with him for a couple of years, he’ll have him looking like a world class striker. He’s an investment and Roberto has put an awful lot of trust in him.

There’s work to be done. His goalscoring is great, but his hold up play is appalling. He needs to learn that there’s more to a striker’s performance than goals. In some games, if you ignore the goal he scored, his overall contribution was poor. Then in games when he didn’t score, he didn’t bring much to the team performance. The very fact he knows where is future is at should also help. All the uncertainty that comes from being shipped out on loan doesn’t help. Now he can build a rapport with the club and the fans and that could do wonders for him. He’s got the size, strength and he’s got ability. He still needs to learn and he needs to get his touch right, but he can. Once that happens, I can see him being our Drogba.

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It’s been a nice summer for Everton. For the first time in a long time, we’ve held on to our big names and managed to bring in a few as well. McCarthy, Baines, Barkley, Stones – we’re building the right way. The manager is looking for quality rather than quantity. They won’t sell because if they sell a player against the manager’s will, he’ll walk. And Roberto is the best thing that has happening to this club in a long time, so they can’t afford for that to happen. He’s tying people down to long term contracts, trying to build something, so if the board start selling off his best players, he’ll say ‘thanks, but no thanks – I’m off’. The club is in the healthiest state it’s been for years. There’s real positivity about the place now when not so long ago the gloom wasn’t far away. It’s all down to Roberto.

Trophy Life

Winning a trophy this year would be huge for the club. It would be a real sign of progress. Not a final destination, but a stepping stone and something that might persuade a few big names to come to us. No-one wants to join a team stuck at the bottom of the league, they want to join a team of winners.

Leicester are in danger of going straight back to the Championship. Them and Southampton I have real worries about. Having said that, they always gave us well when we played them at their place and it won’t be easy on Saturday. They play football the right way and it’s a good opening match to have. The crowd will be right behind them on their return to the top flight and we’ll have a real game on our hands. The Foxes lack a cutting edge though and for those reasons, I think we’ll win 2-0 and Lukaku will get a goal.

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