Interview with Neville Southall

Everton Legend Neville Southall recently spent some time chatting with student journalist Paul Warner, discussing Everton under Roberto Martinez.

‘Winning Mentality’ key to Martinez success says ex-blues keeper Southall.

Last week I spoke to ex-blues legend Neville Southall about what he thinks of our season so far and if we can keep the momentum going into next season and beyond.

From a fan perspective, I can’t help but get giddy at the thought of what we’re capable of with Martinez holding the reins. Gone are the days where a draw at home to a mediocre team was a ‘fair result’, but now we’re going to places like Old Trafford and The Emirates and fighting for the win. We’ve really started letting teams know what we want and that they’re not going to be able to get anything off us without a fight.

I know our confidence might have been knocked a bit last week but I don’t see any reason why we shouldn’t be finishing in the top 4 this season, as long as we can stay consistent right through to the finish- which is something admittedly that we’ve struggled with in the past.

Most fans will agree when I say the biggest and most welcomed change is how attacking-minded we are now, instead of being happy to sit in our own half for minutes at a time, and Neville concurs; “It’s far less defensive. I think what Martinez has done is he’s come in and tried to be really positive and he’s aiming for the top of the league instead of aiming for 6th place. I think the mentality has changed and that’s the biggest difference for me. After 11 years of people telling us how grateful we should be for coming in the top 10, this fella’s come in and gone ‘actually that’s not good enough’, which it should have been all along. He’s changed the mentality of not just the players but of the fans as well- now we expect to win whereas before they were quite happy to just trundle along.”

One thing that Neville touched on is how Martinez has given not just the players, but also the fans and anyone associated with a club a new belief that we can go and win, at any stadium, which is something that Roberto often refers to as the ‘winning mentality’.

“Yeah he’s changed the player’s mentality, but with that he’s also changed the mentality of the whole club. Whereas before we were settling for 2nd best, he’s now going out to try and win everything and win every game, and that positivity has fed into the crowd and fed into the players. Everybody’s got the same mentality now- people go along to the game expecting us to play well, expecting us to play football and expecting to enjoy it, whereas before they went ‘ah we might be bored but we might get a result if we’re lucky’, and his substitutions are better because there’s attacking minded subs, so everything he’s done is really positive, the football we’re playing is really good.”

From speaking to Neville it’s obvious that he’s just as excited as we all are about what Roberto can help us achieve, but realises that the team is still getting used to the new system and a new style of football, but that it’s only a matter of time. “Every now and then if we get a blip it’ll be back to the old days, but 99 times out of 100 we look as if we’re positive and I’m really excited about what he’s done for the club and I’m excited to see what he can bring in. I’m excited for the summer already. He will have had this season to bed in and whatever happens, it’s been a good season and everybody will go away from the end of it I think with a lot of optimism for the next and I think that’s got to be good for us.”
“I’m looking at it thinking if he’s got a couple of players in now, then adds a couple in the summer then that’s going to be a good squad. He’s now shown the intent to keep Baines, whereas before most people didn’t think he would stay, but now he is and all we’ve got to do is add and add. I think the squad looks decent enough but we’re still short on strikers. If we get an injury and a suspension we haven’t got anybody to put up front apart from Naismith, and that isn’t good enough.”

This time last year I probably wouldn’t have thought Moyes would be leaving in 4 months time. I think like most other people I was pretty certain it would happen eventually but I didn’t expect it so soon, or to come to an end so abruptly. I also thought at the time that the manner in which it all happened sounded a bit dodgy, and Neville agrees that it could have been done a lot better.

“I think it was really poor the way it was done. You know, looking at it from his point of view he probably thought ‘well it’s a fantastic opportunity to go there and spend as much money as I want’. To be fair to him I think he’s dealt with it really well. He seems to know what he wants, and you can see he’s just now starting to know who he wants and doesn’t want. It’s taken a bit of time but he’s done okay to be fair to united. He’s answered one question for me which is can he spend big money, well he got Mata so he’s done well with that.”

“It wasn’t a surprise. After 11 years you can only tread water for so long before you need to make that leap to the next bit. It’s important for fans to be able to go ‘we had a right good go at the season if we don’t get there it won’t be one for not trying’. The attitude before was like ‘if we get there we get there, if we don’t we don’t and he can’t do anything about it because he’s got no cash.’”
A lot of people have tried to compare Martinez and Moyes’ tactical and managerial differences and I was interested to know what Neville thinks sets the two apart; “I think overall the difference in the managers is that I think the team plays like the personality of the manager. If you look round the league they’re all the same. I think United play like Moyes now- it’ll just be interesting to see if he can change his mentality and put it into them, and Everton are playing like Martinez. We’re really, really positive and want to have a good go at it and play some decent football and I think after 11 years people are really happy to go to the games, I don’t think there’s any negativity around it.”

Last Tuesday, we all experienced what was undoubtedly this season’s darkest day, and one of our most painful defeats to our Kopite rivals. Although it might have hurt at the time, we still lie only 2 points behind after Big Vic pulled one back for West Brom the other day (Thank you). I read a lot of people beforehand saying that that game could potentially see us fall out of contention for a top 4 spot should we fail to get a result, but after our come back against Villa I believe we’re still in as good a position as our neighbours. A lot of focus has been on Martinez needing to get into the swing of things, but last season Rodgers was in the same position as Roberto is now. Liverpool needed to adapt to Rodgers’ style in the same way we need to do with Roberto’s. Although a year apart, Neville thinks we’re experiencing just what they did last season; “Liverpool are in transition as well, just further down the line than us.”
In the season previous to Rodgers joining Liverpool, we were painfully knocked out of the FA Cup from a last minute Andy Carroll header, which we probably all had nightmares about for a good few weeks after. This year however, we seem to have had a good draw and our so-far decent cup run is yet another factor in the excitement of what is shaping up to be a really good season. Liverpool drawn away at Arsenal, which I can’t really see the Gunners losing, and us at home to Swansea- a game that I can definitely see us edging past.

Neville was a core member of the squad that lifted the FA Cup in 1984 and 1995, and was twice a runner up in the competition, but I wanted to know if he believes that the current squad can emulate the success that he shared with the likes of Graeme Sharpe, Andy Gray and Paul Rideout; “I hope so. I mean our chances are going to depend on bodies in the squad, I think between now and the end of the season… David Moyes did a brilliant job for us up to a certain point. What happened before him was to steady the ship, then he took it a bit further and now we’ve got to make another leap, and if we can make that leap then it’s gonna be an exciting time for the fans and where the club should be really… so yeah I think everything’s going really well. ”
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From talking to Neville it’s easy to tell that the saying ‘once a blue always a blue’ is as relevant to him as it is to anyone else who has ever worn the shirt. His passion for the club and the belief that we can really go far this season is apparent and he believes we are as good a shout as anyone for one of them top 4 positions.

“We have as good a chance as any of the top 6, simple as that. Man City on paper should walk the league. I’ve got a funny feeling that United, once they get going, will be a force to be reckoned with again and between now and the end of the season they’re going to kick into some kind of form. The players are decent and they’ll be stung by all the criticism. Chelsea are in a bit of form, City are in a bit of form, we’re in good form, Tottenham are quietly getting on with their stuff and I think it’s going be a hell of a battle for the places but I think there’s no reason why we shouldn’t finish anything from 1st down, no reason. It’s our best chance because of United falling apart, Chelsea still bedding in, Tottenham with a new manager and Liverpool still in transition. There’s only one constant really and that’s Arsene Wenger, but if they get a couple of injuries and don’t get a new striker they’re going to struggle to score goals.”

“If I had to rest my championship credentials on Bendtner, I’d give up. I would. He’s useless. He’s like Victor was for us, but not as good. I don’t think he’s anywhere near as good as Victor.”

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