Even before I tuned into watch Everton play Man City last week, I knew Everton would win. I’d known since it had been revealed that Duncan Ferguson would be making his return to Goodison Park before the game. The big man is a true Everton legend, an icon who represents the commitment and passion that epitomises the club. In dark times, Duncan was our hero, he helped keep our heads above the water.
And Man City, in their current guise, don’t have that. It’s the reason why Everton have got such a hoodoo over them in recent seasons (we’ve beaten them in seven of our last eight meetings) and why City’s undeniable wealth of talent has not yet been transformed into the sort of genuine success, you know: the glittery silvery kind, that all their lavish spending surely demands. Is today the day that changes?
The simple answer: probably. No disrespect to Stoke, anyone who’s read my Focus on Stoke City will know that I have a good deal of respect for the way Tony Pulis has built a talented side with a balance between the physicality and flair. And in a way, I think Man City and Mancini need to take a leaf out of Stoke’s book. They’ve got all the talent in the world, but they haven’t got that passion that’s required to channel it.
Looping back, as my thoughts inevitably do, to the Everton connection, Joleon Lescott is the prime example. When David Moyes signed him from Wolves, he took a chance on a young defender who’d been much murmered about, but whom no one had yet decided was worth the risk. Moyes gave him his chance, Everton gave him his chance, and Lescott joined Everton with purpose. He had to prove himself, and prove himself he certainly did.
Lescott blossomed at Everton into a top Premier League centre back and an England international. And every week when he pulled on the royal blue shirt Lescott was reminded that this was the club that enable him to live his dream. Everton meant something to him, as it finds a way to mean something to almost every player who pulls on that shirt. It gets under your skin. I imagine Manchester City used to do that to players too, but not anymore.
Lescott signed for Manchester City to chase success at a higher level and to earn a significantly larger pay cheque. But there was nothing there for him that inspired him in the same way as Everton has inspired him. And as such, Lescott has been not even half the player for City as he was for Everton. He’s had a better season this time around, but he’s not looked nearly as invincible as he did at Goodison, nor half as dangerous going forwards.
And a similar story could probably be written of most of City’s players. They’re all there with very little to prove, and no real emotion behind their commitment to the club. They don’t have that little bit extra kikcing them on when they’re up against a real battle, and that’s why they’ve dropped points in crucial games this season, against teams who are undoubtedly inferior on paper.
That’s why when Everton came out fired up in the second half at Goodison last week, when Tim Cahill, the modern day equivalent of Duncan Ferguson not just in terms of aerial prowess but in terms of fire and commitment and passion for the club, entered the fray, they couldn’t live with him. Here was a team burning fuel of a different kind entirely to the regular chemical energy that runs the engines of City’s expensive suite of rental cars.
It’s no surprise that Carlos Tevez has quickly become Man City’s talisman, because here is a player who does have something to prove, who does have that extra motivation for City to do well. Despite being adored by Man Utd fans everywhere, Tevez was adjudged not to be worthy enough for Ferguson to outlay big money for his services on a permanent basis. That hurt Tevez, and when United’s City rivals proved willing to have faith in him, that sparked the desire in him to prove Unite wrong and to justify City’s faith.
Tevez, when he plays for City, plays with more heart and passion than the rest of the team put together, and the fans recognise that. City are a different team with Tevez in the side and that is why is fitness could make or break City’s bid for silverware today. Stoke City will want this badly, they’re the underdogs, the unfashionable and the unfancied. They’ll want to cause an upset and City need to want it more if they’re to win.
Of course, an FA Cup Final should be enough motivation for even the most mercenary of City’s expensively assembled squad, but Tevez could still be the key to inspiring them to overcome a Stoke side with everything to prove. Man City, in their assumed guise as one of Europe’s elite, need a Duncan Ferguson of their very own. And today is the day when Carlos Tevez could become that figure, to step beyond being simply a talisman and establish himself as a true club legend.