Man U helped harden me – Howard

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IRENE, June 18 – Tim Howard does not particularly enjoy playing goalkeeper. He would much rather be a midfielder. He just happens to be among the best there is at what he does.The 31-year-old American guardian has known glory and frustration at Manchester United before departing Old Trafford for Everton, a team he hopes to help qualify for the Champions League.

And through all of it, there’s a part of him longing for the parkyard games of youth and a position other than beneath a crossbar.

"I don’t like being a goalie even now," Howard said. "I never enjoy playing in games. It’s way too intense. I would like to be a holding midfielder, breaking up plays and passing it to other guys."

Fate had other plans. Tim Mulqueen, Howard’s goalkeeping coach since he was a child, helped develop the talent he saw, leading to a training session with AC Milan in 1998, a five-year Major League Soccer run and national team duty.

But match run-ups remain tough for Howard to take.

"I hate the day before a game and warming up," Howard said. "My nerves get shot. I don’t like all the hype. I yearn for the moment the whistle blows and you can do what you do.

"I don’t like warming up before the game. I think too much. Your mind takes you places you don’t want to go."

Talent, however, has taken Howard to amazing places, notably to Manchester United in 2003.

In 2004 after his first United campaign, Howard was voted English Premier League Goalkeeper of the Year for his role in the team winning the title. He also had four clean sheets in five Champions League matches.

But Howard lost his starting spot in the 2004-2005 season and by the 2005-2006 season he was backing up Dutch star Edwin van der Sar ahead of a loan move to Everton.

"I had a few highs. I had some lows. I grew from that experience," Howard said of his time at Old Trafford.

"You see what it’s like and how to act at the highest level. I took a lot from that experience. It helped shape me into a better player."

Howard made 38 appearances for Everton in the 2006-2007 campaign and started 36 of 38 league matches for the Toffees the next season, helping the team into the now defunct UEFA Cup each time.

Everton’s manager, Scotsman David Moyes, showed faith in Howard when it mattered most.

"At a pivotal moment in my career, he gave me an aweswome opportunity," said Howard. "He put a tremendous amount of responsibility on my shoulders, which has been very important."

Howard helped Everton to fifth in the Premiership for a second season in a row in 2008-2009 and helped keep the Toffees in the Premier League after a relegation battle in the next campaign before rebounding to eighth last season.

"He’s a world-class goalie. He perseveres," US defender Oguchi Onyewu said. "At no point when you go on the field do you think you are going to get less than 100 percent from him. That’s why he’s doing what he’s doing."

Chelsea, Man United, Arsenal and Tottenham finished as the top four last season, but Everton was in the next pack with Manchester City, Aston Villa and Liverpool all of whom have spent far more money than Howard’s club side.

"We’re in touch. We’re moving in the right direction," Howard said. "The top group is the four and we’re in the next four. We can get back (to the Champions League). It’s a long fight."

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