The word ‘great’ is an adjective, meaning the subject being spoken about is of an ability, quality or eminence considerably above the average.
Tim Howard is leaving Everton at the end of this season and joining Colorado Rapids in America. We wish him well. But let’s get a few things straight: he’s been very well paid to play his part in a decade of underachievement at Goodison Park. Sure, Howard has enjoyed some good times with the blues – but someone has to point out that he’s set more records than he has perhaps caught crosses.
He kept 100 clean sheets (up to now) in just over 350 appearances for Everton. However, for the majority of the New Jersey native’s tenure, David Moyes had ten men behind the ball. He played 210 games consecutively for the blues – just three games short of breaking a record set by Neville Southall – but can you name all the reserve goalkeepers ready to replace him during that time? Big Nev saw off Jim Arnold, Bobby Mimms, Fred Barber, Jason Kearton and Paul Gerrard… and that’s a list from the top of your writer’s head. Howard has had less competition than Duncan Ferguson playing head tennis.
Look, Tim Howard is a good goalkeeper and a cracking human, by all accounts, who has worked hard to overcome the many obstacles that life has thrown at him. He has done a good job at Everton… but he was never great. Not even close. It’s ironic now, as he looks left behind when stood opposite the likes of De Gea, Lloris and Courtois, but he was the first of a new breed of ‘keeper who looked more comfortable with the ball at his feet, than coming for it from a cross. He also helped start the trend of punching a shot away, or palming it in the direction of an incoming number nine, when he joined Manchester United in 2003.
And then came the World Cup in 2014. The USA number one made 15 (not the reported 16, FIFA struck one off!) saves in a brilliant match against Belgium in the second round of the competition in Salvador. Social media went mad, Twitter reacted instantly (quicker than Everton, anyway, who could have quadrupled their followers overnight if someone had been up watching the game and monitoring the club’s social channels) and Howard ended up the recipient of a phone call from Barack Obama and the mega-popular hash tag #ThingsTimHowardCouldSave. The rub? Go and watch it again… everything he stopped, he should have. There were no great saves or game-changing blocks. And, let’s not forget, USA eventually lost 2-1.
That’s the crux, right there: they lost the game. We’re so used to celebrating underachievement that we feel Howard deserves a send-off fit for a hero. He doesn’t. Winners like Peter Reid did. Successful skippers like Kevin Ratcliffe did. Great goalscorers like Graeme Sharp did… but those three never got one. They were sent packing from Goodison when their form dipped and the crowd started to lose patience with their former favourites. What’s changed? At Everton, the blues are so starved of success that it doesn’t take too much for a celebration. But, it’s the modern game and its followers where the problem really lies: it’s neat, tidy and easy to compartmentalise. If you celebrate the careers of your journeymen, then it’s a nice distraction from another season of not winning anything.
So, it’s ‘aeternum vale’ to Tim Howard – you were not the best, but good enough. Apparently.
Pic by Gordon Flood