Everton FC: Picking the Toffees' All-Time Foreign XI
When Everton recently disposed of Tamworth in the third round of the FA Cup, David Moyes—almost certainly unknowingly—created a bit of history. For the first time in the club's illustrious past, there was only one Englishman present in the entire starting lineup.
Phil Neville was the one exception that night, with James McFadden the only other British player to start, highlighting the fashionable continental flavour that permeates most Premier League squads these days.
Back in 1990, Swedish international Stefan Rehn, was the first foreigner to infiltrate an entirely British and Irish Everton squad. Two decades on, and with the prices of domestic players soaring, 11 out of the past 12 signings made by David Moyes hail from foreign shores.
Fans pitching up to see Everton over the past couple of decades have been fortunate enough to watch increasing numbers of elite internationals strut their stuff on the Goodison Park turf. Here is my version of the best foreign XI, picked from players born outside of Britain and Ireland.
Goalkeeper: Tim Howard
Tim Howard has long been established as Everton's number one goalkeeper, since taking over the gloves from the popular Nigel Martyn back in 2006.
Despite the (very) odd error, the American's stock has only risen during his time on Merseyside, with his recent penalty record particularly exceptional.
His shot-stopping skills and ability to continually divert away dangerous crosses are two more of his main strengths, and he even scored in a recent game—becoming just the fourth goalkeeper to do so in Premier League history.
Right-Back: Abel Xavier
A player who only appeared fleetingly in an Everton jersey, before making a controversial switch to the Toffees' near-neighbours, Liverpool.
Tony Hibbert's decade-long stint occupying the right-back berth limits the viable contenders here, as he or Phil Neville have generally played in the role under David Moyes. Before that, no foreigner really ever made the position their own, leaving Xavier the guaranteed starter here.
A competent enough player, undoubtedly his most memorable characteristic was his flamboyant appearance and dedicated Santa Claus look, a style that sadly never really caught on(!)
Central Defence: Joseph Yobo
Despite being quietly ushered out the door on loan in recent times, at his peak Joseph Yobo was a consistent performer at the heart of Everton's defence. In total, he racked up over 250 games in all competitions for the Toffees and is technically still on the club's books.
Often installed as captain, the Nigerian was an integral part of the dressing room for many years and, on the field, he formed strong partnerships with Joleon Lescott and later, Phil Jagielka. Quick and agile, his pace and instinctive ability to read the game bailed Everton out on several occasions.
Brought in as one of David Moyes' inaugural signings, it seems their relationship grew frosty as time went by, with Moyes very keen to offload Yobo's hefty wages during recent transfer windows.
Central Defence: Sylvain Distin
Over the years, Everton have generally had a British presence at the back. Phil Jagielka, Joleon Lescott, David Weir, Alan Stubbs, Craig Short and David Unsworth have all been recent central defensive mainstays, each with over 100 appearances.
Therefore, the talent pool is short on quantity here, leaving current players Sylvain Distin and Johnny Heitinga effectively going head-to-head. Perhaps controversially, given their contrasting international credentials, for me Distin narrowly pips his colleague.
As impressive as Heitinga is, particularly at the moment, when both players have been fit it has been the Frenchman who has generally featured at the back. Paired with Phil Jagielka, this has often left Heitinga playing in midfield or even forced to watch on from the sidelines.
Seen as a direct replacement for the outgoing Joleon Lescott, Distin has had big shoes to fill since his arrival and has rarely disappointed. Hugely affable to fans, his pace and strength make him a handful for most strikers to better and, despite his advancing years, many hope he signs a new deal at the end of this season.
Left-Back: Alessandro Pistone
Alessandro Pistone and Nuno Valente compete for this spot, with the Italian left-back narrowly winning selection.
Both players saw their Everton experience punctuated by lengthy spells out injured, but Pistone's presence around the Toffees' remarkable 2005 season—where they qualified for the Champions' League—gives him the edge.
A versatile player, Pistone's performances were often unfairly chastised when fans mistook his relaxed playing style for laziness. Had he not been so beset by injuries he would have undoubtedly been held in much higher acclaim by those connected to Everton.
Right Midfield: Mikel Arteta
Arteta gave Evertonians many special moments to savour during his lengthy spell on Merseyside. Several sumptuous free-kicks, a stunning aggregate equaliser against Fiorentina—that literally shook Goodison Park—a collection of valuable match winning strikes, as well a considerable haul of goals he helped construct.
He added craft and guile to the Toffees' lineup, generally asked to orchestrate attacks, seen as the side's architect and chief creative threat.
There was even a time Everton's 'best little Spaniard' was rumoured to be mulling over an England call, before FIFA regulations dashed any hopes of a switch being possible.
A much-loved player, present during most of David Moyes' tenure at the club, his recent move to Arsenal still saddens many associated with the Toffees.
Central Midfield: Thomas Gravesen
Gravesen's gritty, sometimes flammable personality in some ways contrasted his smooth, measured passing ability and the deft touches that personalised his game.
Since moving from Hamburg, he became an instant hit with Everton fans who admired his on-field passion and commitment to the cause. His formed a strong partnership with Lee Carsley and influenced several games during his time at Goodison Park.
Another vital contributor to Everton's memorable Champions League qualifying campaign, his eye-catching performances earned him a transfer to Real Madrid mid-way through that season.
Central Midfield: Marouane Fellaini
When Everton announced they had smashed their transfer record by splashing out on Marouane Fellaini, few fans were seen to be at all enthused by the news.
Although he had been seen excelling against Liverpool during a recent Champions League qualifier, he still arrived on Merseyside as a relatively unknown quantity.
His early form was stifled by several factors. With a deficit of strikers, David Moyes' needed to use him up front during his first season, where he admirably performed to the best of his ability. Although he generally impressed, that foreign role, the burden of his weighty signing fee and issues understanding a new language slightly hampered his initial progress.
Gradually deployed deeper, he has slowly flourished into one of the Premier League's most consistent performers, and many fans now see the afro-clad Belgian as the first name on the team-sheet. He now even has trademark pirouette that is greeted by rapturous applause every time it is used to beat an opponent.
Having just signed a new deal, supporters will be keen to see Fellaini continue to blossom in an Everton jersey over the next few seasons.
Left Midfield: Anders Limpar
The tightest call in the whole lineup, and a decision that was changed several times, however, Anders Limpar—just—gets the edge over Steven Pienaar on the flank.
Undoubtedly there will be a wave of support for the returning South African, particularly after his goalscoring return to Goodison Park this weekend, however Anders Limpar was similarly influential in his time, which was enhanced by an FA Cup winners medal in 1995.
Indeed, the Swede's performance that day, and for much of Everton's memorable cup run, clinches his berth in this team. His creativity was his prominent asset, and he played a pivotal role creating Paul Rideout's FA Cup winner—a goal that won Everton their last bit of silverware.
An interesting, unrelated link is that Wayne Rooney always mentions Limpar as being his favourite player to watch, when he went to see Everton as a youngster.
Attacking Midfield: Andrei Kancheskis
An archetypal flying winger, Kancheskis' time at Goodison Park was brief, but simply unforgettable for fans, who would flock in solely to see him work his magic.
Signed off the back of the Toffees' shock FA Cup win over Manchester United in 1995, when Sir Alex Ferguson surprisingly let him go, Kanchelskis simply dazzled in an Everton jersey.
Terrorising fullbacks in his path, he notched up 16 Premier League goals in his only full season, an Everton record still not passed in the Premier League era. In fact that tally has not been bettered since Gary Lineker in 1986.
In this team, with Limpar roaming down one flank, Kanchelskis' presence allows Arteta to play down a narrower channel, leaving the Russian the free to attack from out wide, or behind the striker.
Striker: Tim Cahill
Yes, Tim Cahill is best deployed in midfield or as a second striker, but the abundance of talent to pick from in midfield hugely trumps what is available up front.
Adding Anders Limpar or Mikel Arteta to the midfield boosts the team far more than dropping Cahill back and using Yakubu, Louis Saha, Tomasz Radzinski or even Daniel Amokachi to lead the line.
Cahill's recent dip in form should not mask the cult hero status he has forged at Everton, where he has been a leading performer since 2004. Six goals shy of becoming the Toffees' all-time top Premier League scorer, he is regarded as one of the best at heading the ball in the game.
Cahill's place in this XI is guaranteed, though his role is very much up for debate. In this position he would be required to hold the ball up and pass it on to any of the talented midfielders sure to be steaming on past him.
G: Thomas Myhre (Norway)
D: Nuno Valente (Portugal)
D: Johnny Heitinga (Netherlands)
M: Steven Pienaar (South Africa)
M: Landon Donovan (USA)
F: Louis Saha (France)
F: Tomasz Radzinski (Canada)
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