Howard, Everton out for legitimacy in FA Cup final against Chelsea
Everton's small but strong squad looks to win the FA Cup vs. Chelsea on Saturday
With U.S. national-team keeper Tim Howard in the back, Everton has been strong
FA Cup final also will be last of caretaker Guus Hiddink's time in charge of Chelsea
Everton goes into Saturday's FA Cup final as underdogs riding on a high. After claiming the scalps of two "Big Four" teams -- Manchester United and Liverpool -- en route to the final, it clinched fifth place in the Premier League for the second year running.
Can the Toffees add a third Big Four scalp by beating Chelsea? Manager David Moyes thinks the experience of playing 120 minutes and beating United at Wembley Stadium in the semifinals will prove invaluable: "The match against Manchester United was as close to a final as you can get," he told the BBC this week. "The players have learned from the surroundings there and what to expect on the day."
In Moyes, Everton has a manager with a burgeoning reputation. With a limited budget, he has transformed mid-table also-rans into an established top-six side. No wonder he's the bookmakers' favorite to replace Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United.
The FA Cup final is Everton's best chance of major silverware since 1995 and Moyes says this is the best Everton squad he has ever had, one in which the players favor the team over individual talent. That's a good quality, because Everton comes into the final shorthanded. Without their main creative force, Mikel Arteta, and main goal-scorer Yakubu Aiyegbeni for the majority of the season, the Toffeemen are also missing defender Phil Jagielka for the final.
Yet Everton's small squad continues to perform impressively. U.S. national-team keeper Tim Howard puts a large part of the success down to the team spirit and togetherness of the squad. "If someone came through these doors with a big price tag and a huge ego, they'd get laughed at," he told the BBC. "The guys are so down-to-earth. There are no jerks around the place, it's a fun place to come to work. You know people are going to put their heads down and put some hard work in."
In the other Wembley dugout will be the man in charge of a team full of high-priced players, and a few huge egos. Guus Hiddink has been on the receiving end of gushing praise from his own players and even the oppositions', having turned around Chelsea's season from one that was heading rapidly southward under Luiz Felipe Scolari. Locker-room unrest and fears of not qualifying for the Champions League are now in the distant past.
After the remarkable job the Dutchman has done at Chelsea, John Terry wants to win the trophy as a parting gift for Hiddink. "We all want him to stay -- the players and the fans," the Blues captain told The Guardian, "and it is a shame he is going, but there is only one way to send him off and that is by winning the trophy."
Everton's Tim Cahill, who played under Hiddink during the Dutchman's time as Australian national-team manager, told the BBC, "The caliber and stature of the man speaks for itself. I'm very thankful for what he did in the World Cup. He's honest, stamps his authority. None of his players get a chance to overpower him and you never know if you're going to be in the team or not."
Both teams are talking up their chances of success on Saturday, and both are desperate to win it. The evident tactical know-how of both managers will be tested to the full in what should be a fitting curtain call to the English season and a fitting swan song from English football (for now at least) for Hiddink.
Meanwhile, in Manchester, Team Limey was scouring the adverts in the local newsagent's window. Before deciding that "Honest Jim's Betting Helpline" and "For sale: Millennium Falcon (satellite dish missing)" were both life-enhancing, our beady eyes rested upon "Wanted: World-class midfield, call Old Trafford 0161-868-8000." Buoyed by the chap who sold us the Falcon -- having mistakenly left a one-armed Chewbacca inside -- we imagined making the call to Manchester United.