Tony Hibbert – one of us

BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - JULY 30: Tony Hibbert of Everton in action during the pre season friendly between Birmingham City and Everton at St Andrews (stadium) on July 30, 2011 in Birmingham, England. (Photo by Chris Brunskill/Getty Images)

He may like to shy away from the limelight, but for one night only Tony Hibbert will be the centre of attention as Everton take on AEK Athens in his testimonial at Goodison Park on Wednesday.

The 31-year-old has clocked up 308 appearances in an 11-year career with the Blues, 16 if you include his time as a youth team player, earning a reputation as a solid and dependable defender.

He is the only survivor of David Moyes’ first game against Fulham in March 2002 and his manager has insisted “there will always be a place” for a player he sees as one of the key components in the dressing room.

The unassuming right-back made his debut all the way back in 2001, a 2-0 win over West Ham at Upton Park.

It was until 18 months later though that he really began to be a regular, forming a key part of David Moyes’ revolution, bringing a youthful edge to what had been an ageing side under Walter Smith.

His breakthrough was overshadowed by a certain Wayne Rooney, who burst into the first-team at the same time.

But that is probably something that suits Hibbert, who seems content to trundle away in the background.

It is around now in the piece that I make slightly patronising comments about his strengths and limitations, because it is hard to praise Hibbert without someone criticising him.

Hibbert would admit himself that he is not the most technically proficient player to play for Everton, to but it politely.

And, had Moyes had more money over the years he may well have found himself out of the first-team picture.

But no-one can hold down a regular place in a Premier League squad for 11 years without having ability. Given our poverty Moyes has flogged off virtually all of our squad players so the ones remaining all have valuable attributes.

Hibbert deserves his moment on the sun on Wednesday as a reward for his tremendous effort and attitude.

Football fans often lament those blessed with footballing skill but regularly fritter their career or fail to make the most of their ability. That is especially the case with those who play for their home town club, an opportunity the fans could only dream of.

Hibbert is at the other end of the scale. Aware of his weaknesses, Hibbert has instead focused on his strengths to make the very best of what he has. That kind of attitude is appreciated by the fans, who would do exactly the same in his position, and also transmits across the dressing room.

His intense work rate, especially in his early career, saw him bound down the right flank in support of the attacks. Despite his infamous 300+ goal drought he has set-up his fair share of goals, with a delivery that visibly improved as his career progressed.

You could tell though that what he loves best is defending – header, blocks, tackles – especially tackles. Hibbert’s best games were often the ones against top opposition, where Everton spend much of the game grimly hanging on, he would give his heart and soul for the cause.

The Everton fans value such an attitude, as does Moyes, who sees Hibbert one of the pillars of his success. Our famous dressing room “team-spirit” is just as down to the likes of Hibbert than it his the more vocal Phil Neville, Leon Osman or Tim Cahill.

Hibbert in many ways epitomises Everton, a club who is greater than the sum of its parts, prefers to do their talking on the pitch rather than off it, and regularly punches above its weight.

It is an image that some fans do not like – “plucky” little Everton, but until we get bought out by that elusive billionaire that is the best we can hope for.

And if our squad demonstrates the kind of commitment and attitude that Tony Hibbert has over the last 11 years, then we won’t go far wrong.

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