Everton FanZoner Warren Doyle pays tribute to Phil Neville after the club captain announced he will be leaving Goodison Park in the summer.
Everton fans were told the news this week that club captain Phil Neville will be departing Merseyside in the summer for pastures new.
The news was perhaps not unexpected with many fans. Neville had been left out of the squad all together in the last match against Tottenham, and the former Manchester United man has not been getting game time since the debacle in the FA Cup quarter-final tie against Wigan.
It seems that game was the catalyst for the end of Neville's period with Everton. His mistake for the second Wigan goal, when his back-pass allowed Callum McManaman to score, seems to have signalled time up on his Toffees career. It won't be an end that a fantastic professional like Neville will have wanted, and hopefully he will get an opportunity to right that particular wrong before the end of the season.
Neville joined Everton in a £3.5million deal in the summer of 2005 from United. Everton as a club were in a fantastic way at that particular time after securing fourth place the previous year in the Premier League.
However for both Neville and Everton, things did not work out initially. Everton were unfortunate to lose in the qualifying rounds of the Champions League to Villarreal, and then were dumped out of the UEFA Cup by Dinamo Bucharest. Their Premier League form was also poor - it couldn't have been a worse start for Neville's Everton career.
Moving on, with his settling-in period complete, Neville began to start winning over fans with his professionalism and performances.
After playing really well for a few seasons in a developing Everton side, the club entered the 2008/09 season full of hope. Fans wanted to see the team continue to progress after finishing fifth the previous season.
Everton being Everton though, another somewhat rocky period ensued and a slow start in that particular season led fans to criticise players including Neville. It seemed like it could not be irreversible - but then United came to town.
It was October 25, 2008. A day which could be argued defined Phil Neville's Everton career. Everton, who were in a run of poor form, trailed United 1-0 and offered nothing much in terms of chances or quality. Out of nowhere, Cristiano Ronaldo was on the counter attack, but stumbled under some pressure from Steven Pienaar. Ronaldo, losing his balance, was then sent to the floor from a crunching Phil Neville tackle. Game changer.
United players who were friends and former colleagues surrounded Neville in anger for what they felt was a poor tackle. Neville had though in one move changed the tempo of play. The Goodison crowd were angry and raised their voice, players upped their work-rate, tackles flew in, then Marouane Fellaini scored a brilliant header from a Phil Neville assist. With the game finishing 1-1, Everton's season was back on track. The momentum was carried on all the way to the FA Cup final where Everton unfortunately lost to Chelsea.
The perception of Neville was changed. He was now seen as a club captain who was 'one of us'. He continued to give his all for Everton in the coming seasons and never shirked his duties. He helped carry the Toffees through tough periods and represented the club superbly.
His professionalism has never been in doubt and he has helped set the standards for his fellow pros and youngsters at the club. I personally will always be grateful for what he has done for Everton. He provided fans with some fantastic memories including his winning penalty against Chelsea in the FA Cup at Stamford Bridge in 2011, his scorching goal at Wolves during the same year and his will and commitment to the cause.
He will be remembered as a solid Everton player and perhaps his only disappointment in a blue shirt was that he did not lift silverware.
I wish him all the best for whatever he does in the future. For me, he will always be welcome back at Goodison after this season and I hope he returns to watch us and if a coaching position becomes available, many would not be against him returning to a role such as that.
Thank you Phil Neville, even if you did insist on being a man in his 30s sporting blonde highlights! You have given everything for Everton. I wish you well.
Nil Satis Nisi Optimum.