Photo by ISIphotos.com
What a difference a decade can make.
Ten years ago, Tim Howard was a young goalkeeping prospect serving his apprenticeship as a back-up with the 1999 New York/New Jersey MetroStars, one of the worst teams in MLS history. Today, Howard is the starting U.S. national team goalkeeper, playing in the best league in the world. No longer just a great prospect with a chance to be special. Howard is now regarded as one of the best goalkeepers in the world and the best American player on the planet.
From his highly-publicized move to Manchester United almost six years ago, to his stunning performance in helping Everton upset Manchester United in last Sunday's FA Cup semifinals, Howard has enjoyed the kind of career that most players only dream of. It is easy to forget that he is still just 30, and has many more milestones to reach, such as playing in his first World Cup qualifier at Azteca and playing in his first World Cup.
Howard took time out from his busy week (which includes playing Chelsea on Wednesday) to answer The SBI Questions. Here is Part One (Part Two will come on Wednesday):
MATT– Do you plan to ever return to New York and play in the MLS and i don't mean when your 38-40, I mean maybe 33-35 close to your prime.
TIM HOWARD– Knowing what I know about this business it's hard to rule that out. I had a good time in MLS and I think I would enjoy it if I went back. It's all about timing. Will I or won't I? I can't say definitely, but I can certainly see myself being back there at some point. I don't want to use it as a retirement plan. What good would it do me to go back at such a late stage in my career. It would have to be about the timing of it.
MIKE– How has your Tourette's Syndrome affected your career?
TIM HOWARD- It hasn't. The simplest answer I can give is that I've been dealing with it for 20 years now. For me, Tourette's Syndrome is like breathing. I wake up and it's there. I don't even think about it anymore. It's not something I'm really conscious of that much. It has zero negative effects.
RICKY ROSS– What is the loudest/most intimidating arena you have ever played in? World Cup? Europe?
TIM HOWARD– Probably Manchester United because I've had the good fortune of going back there as an opponent. Old Trafford is probably a very tough place to play, especially when they're on top and starting to gain momentum.
I can one hundred percent tell you Azteca in Mexico but I've never been there. I think over the years we've found Costa Rica to be pretty crazy and pretty intimidating, with the big fence and their crowds being pretty crazy, so that's been pretty difficult over the years.
ZOTI– What lessons did you take from playing in goal for Man United? How does playing for United compares to playing for Everton?
TIM HOWARD– The three years that I played there were so vital to me in my playing career because I learned so much. I learned so many good things. And even from the tough times I learned a lot about the way the game works in England, a lot about myself. I took from that, I became a stronger individual, mentally and from a goalkeeping standpoint. I became such a better goalkeeper because I understood what I had to do to take my game to the next level, or to stay on that level. My time there is priceless because you can't buy that. Some people spend their entire careers slugging it out, trying to get to a club like that, and never get there. I look back on my time there with fondness because I learned so much.
As for comparing playing for United and Everton, and what's different about the two, I'd say not a whole heck of a lot. In England, the supporters are so demanding. The demand on United is to win the league, to win the FA Cup and the Champions League. Anything less than that is bad. That demand isn't on us, it is now because we're in the FA Cup final,but the demands on us is to win a cup, to finish minimum UEFA Cup spot and push for Champions League. There's a demand there. If we finish out the top six, or we finish eighth, our supporter's are disappointed. That's a disappointing 12 months. That's pressure because there's always a demand from the club, from the supporters and from yourself. I feel the same pressure playing Everton as I did playing for Manchester United, no question.
MINGJAN– Two questions: First, while the center of the U.S. defense is likely secure for the next few years, what are your thoughts on the current pool of U.S. defenders? Who do you see stepping up to provide the necessary depth at fullback?
Second, if you were building a soccer team to compete at the highest level and could choose any goalkeeper, besides yourself, who would you choose as starter? Who would be backup?
TIM HOWARD– I think defensively I've been pretty happy with the national team. Our defensive record speaks for itself. I think I'm quite comfortable with who we have and who we can put out there every game. I'm certainly comfortable with the quality we have. Steve Cherundolo for a long time has solidified himself at right back, but you can look at (Jonathan) Spector as a good prospect, highly regarded in England. At left back, Heath's been there, you have Jonny Bornstein and (DaMarcus Beasley) showed he can do a job there. It was his first game but there are signs that it's always an option. You can always put Carlos (Bocanegra at left back), where he plays regularly for Rennes. I think there's depth there, but some players aren't everybody's cup of tea so maybe some people don't think we have depth.
(When asked if Frankie Hejduk is one of those players despite playing very well in recent months, Howard agrees). That's the thing with Frankie (Hejduk). You know what you're going to get. I don't care if he's 34 or 44, you know you're going to get energy. You're going to get a never-say-die attitude. Frankie's been doing the same thing for the last 15 years. It's no secret there.
(On what goalkeepers he would have on his team)- I'm a (Gianluigi) Buffon lover. I know he's getting up there in age, but for me it would be Buffon. I like (Iker) Casillas but Buffon gets the nod. I guess second would be Casillas.
LOUIS– As someone who has succeeded and thrived in Europe have you experienced any unique challenges or obstacles as a American player? Why do you think so many young American players struggle to make a impact when going abroad?
TIM HOWARD– It's got nothing do with them being American, and everything to do with them being foreign. Every foreign player that comes into a league in Europe that's not their home league and there's what they call a Settling In Period, a time that it takes to adjust. The toughest time is within that settling-in period. You see a lot of players either jump ship or get tossed by the wayside, in that period. That's the toughest period to see out. But if you can get through that period, I had a period like that, everyone does, if you can get through that period then you can then begin to make a mark for yourself. You begin to learn what is expected of you.
There's a lot of different pressures playing abroad then there is playing back home. The shining example of that is Clint Dempsey. He went over, he didn't play at first, played on and off, lost his spot, and he's now been given direction by his manager, and told if he does this, this and this, then everything will take care of itself. He's learned to defend better, he's getting himself in better areas, and now he's one of the premier players for Fulham. He's an impact player for Fulham, and that's awesome.
It's a tough process. You hear about it but you don't realize how tough it is until you go through it.
JIMMY BOBO– Yo, Tim! We are very proud to have a Jersey Boy doing well in the EPL. When you were finishing up high school, did you consider going to college in the USA? Can you tell us a bit about your decision-making process at that time?
TIM HOWARD– I had a couple of options. I did consider it. There was a time when it was absolutely I'm going to turn pro, but then like any kid I thought about college. The two front-runners would have been St. John's and Rutgers because I knew both of the coaches pretty well.
CAPE COD FUTBOL– Best moment in the EPL? Best moment for the USMNT?
TIM HOWARD– Best moment in the EPL was beating Liverpool 3-0 in my first season here. The Derby came pretty early on in the season. It was just such a big win, they made a DVD about it, the city was going crazy. When you play for a club like Everton that's the kind of stuff that gets remembered.
For the national team, it was definitely beating Mexico in the 2007 Gold Cup final. The way the game shook out, and how we came back.
MATT– What was it like playing for Sir Alex Ferguson, arguably one of the greatest coaches in the history of the game? In your opinion, what are the qualities that make him such a successful manager
TIM HOWARD- He knows everything that goes on in the club. He manages every little aspect. He is on top of that pyramid. He's a man of many angles. He knows so much, has so much knowledge about so many different subjects. Wine, war, football and music. You name it. The guy is so cultured. Off the field he was great. He always had something to talk about and had a word to say. You learn so much from him from a football standpoint. He knows it all, so you can't help but learn from him.
MZ– Considering you've played against the best in the world both for club and country, who are the top 5 best players that have given you personally the most difficulty?
TIM HOWARD– Top five players I've played against? Cristiano Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Thierry Henry, Lionel Messi and Wayne Rooney. I would also say (Rafael) Marquez, who is a more defensive player, but is such a good player.
SAM– How did you end up making your summer home in Memphis? I'm from Tennessee, and I've wondered about that.
TIM HOWARD– That's where my wife's from, and we don't get a chance to spend loads of time in the states, for me its usually just a few weeks. We get to have some peace and quiet. It could have been any number of places, but that's just the place we settled and to be honest I love it there.
JASON– Growing up in North Brunswick, and the Central Jersey area, were there any coaches that influenced you, and how did they help your game, and do you think you'd be where you are today with out them?
TIM HOWARD– My high school coach had a big influence on me, Stan Williston, had a big influence. He was just an amazing man, great soccer coach, but an amazing man. He had a huge influence on my early development and my transition from high school to professionally. He's someone I admire and looked up to and I'm sure there are hundreds of kids who would say the same thing.
From a goalkeeping standpoint, Tim Mulqueen coached me as a young kid. He coached me with the MetroStars, had a small stint with the national team where he coached the goalkeepers. When it comes to goalkeeping coaches, he's got an unbelievable ability to train goalkeepers. He's had a huge impact on my career. He's also a Jersey Guy.
DAVE– Tim you have consistently seen Gooch and Boca in front of you for the last few years, how good is your on the field relationship/communication with them? Also, does anyone in football have been hair than Fellaini?
TIM HOWARD– Good ad Los I have a great relationship with those guys, as I do with (Phil) Jagielka and (Jolean) Lescott. With Los and Gooch, my off-field relationship with them is special as well. On the field we have the type of relationship that every defender and goalkeeper needs to have. We can yell and scream at each other and point the finger and be pissed off in one instance, but in the next instance pat each other on the back and praise each other. At the highest level that's what you need. There's a respect between all of us. Yes, we're experienced and we've played in big games,we've played a few of those big games together, so there's a huge respect factor there.
Fellaini's hair is messed up man. I don't think he knows what he's doing with it so that ends that. It's funny to see it because he loves it.
LI MATT– In an average week, how many times do you mention the 2004 FA Cup final to Tim Cahill
TIM HOWARD– It's gotten mentioned quite a few times in the recent run-up to this game and I'm sure it will be brought up a few times. Myself and Phil Neville never let him live it down. For the Cup final you get new suits and new shoes. Over the years the shoes have stayed in pretty good condition and the one pair of black shoes we have that we got from the first FA Cup final in 2004 are actually Phil Neville's lucky shoes. So every time we wear suits we always remind Tim that they're there.
FRED– having played in mls, how do feel the mls matches up against the epl and other euro leagues? aslo from your interaction with other player how is mls viewed by players in europe. thanks
TIM HOWARD– It's tough to compare. I would never disrespect MLS. It's a good league with good players and several players have used. When you look at England, it's arguably the best league in the world. All you have to do is look at the Champions League over the past four years to know that it's the best league in the world. It's tough to compare the crowd sizes, revenue, salaries and the ability to attract world-class talent.
Obviously with Beckham coming over people stood up and took notice. I think the perception is that it's good. With Beckham and Ljungberg going over, people think that it must be a decent league. We've had some good exports as well. People look at it as a growing league, which it is, a young league, but people also see lots of quality as well.
PK– 1- Who are the top 10 goalies in the world (don't be shy to include yourself)?
TIM HOWARD– Gianluigi Buffon, Iker Casillas, Peter Cech, Edwin Van Der Sar, Julio Cesar, Shay Given, the German kid from Leverkusen, Rene Adler, "Pepe" Reina, and Artur Boruc. (Howard came up with nine names, so you can add him and come up with a Top 10.)
What did you think of Howard's answers? Share your thoughts below.