Howard's game growing in stature at Everton
Tim Howard arrived at Everton as not exactly a broken man but one certainly bent out of shape.
Everton manager David Moyes already insists the American is as good as it gets in the Premier League. "Tim is now on the same level as Pepe Reina and Petr Cech," Moyes said. "They are considered to be the two best in England. I would not swap either for my man."
Moyes is backed in his view by goalkeeper coach Chris Woods, himself a former England international, who, it could be said, will be as biased as his boss.
But he is not and never has been one for hyperbole. Nor indeed can Moyes ever be accused of overstating the talents of his players.
Quite the opposite, in fact.
Moyes prefers to play down the role of his stars but in the case of Howard he is finding that just about impossible to do.
The U.S.'s top goalkeeper recently showcased his brilliant abilities as he backed up a superlative performance against the MLS All-Stars with three penalty shoot-out saves to make Everton the first British club to win the annual clash.
"Since we signed Tim he has worked to prove that what happened to him at Manchester United was only a learning experience as opposed to what might have led to the downfall of his career," Moyes said. "He simply gets better and better. He works harder than any goalkeeper I have employed.
"He is the last off the training ground," Moyes continued.
"Tim does whatever it takes to improve himself and his commitment is fantastic.
"Can he become the best in the world? You bet he can," he said.
"Even now I don't see anyone better than him. And at the age of just 30, which is not even a goalkeeper's prime time, he has many seasons ahead of him to grab that No 1 spot and keep it."
The transformation in Howard, with 43 international caps now firmly established as Kasey Keller's successor, has been remarkable.
North Brunswick, New Jersey-born Howard arrived at Old Trafford for $4 million at the start of the 2003-04 season and made himself an instant hit with the decisive save in a Community Shield shoot-out against Arsenal.
By the end of his first campaign he was named the EPL's goalkeeper of the year, but the success was not to last.
Mistakes started kicking in and his appearance figures declined dramatically. He did sign a new long-term contract but fumed over the fact Sir Alex Ferguson also brought in Dutchman Edwin van der Sar.
He ended up initially on loan at Everton, some newspapers even cruelly suggested that as a sufferer of Tourette syndrome who refused to medicate himself against the neurological disease, he had lost Ferguson's confidence.
He certainly had lost some of his own, admitting he hadn't realized what he was getting into when he first joined perhaps the biggest and most well-known club on the planet.
"I thought I did," Howard said. "After a year, I was sadly mistaken.
"It was bigger than I could have ever expected in every way," he said.
"The magnitude of each game, the pressure in every training session, the responsibility that's put on you by the club, by yourself, by the players. It's bigger than you can expect in any aspect."
Moyes, who was looking for a replacement for retiring veteran Nigel Martyn, decided to take a chance on him. "While his ability, or at least his potential, was unquestioned, we knew his confidence was down," Moyes said. "He was the Manchester United No. 1 and then he was out. Of course it would be difficult for him.
"But the way he has developed since has been great. For Tim as well as us. I look all over the world and I just don't see anyone better now."
Woods, 10 years into coaching and having himself suffered the very special isolation and rejection goalkeepers experience when they are dropped -- "It's much worse than being an outfield player, believe me" -- cannot praise Howard highly enough for the way he responded to being ditched by Ferguson.
The Englishman spent many years rated behind the legendary Peter Shilton and David Seaman at international level, Shilton's presence as the country's preeminent No. 1 at Nottingham Forest forcing him out of there, too.
Woods, who spent a 23-game spell with the Colorado Rapids in 1996 and who ultimately played 43 times for his country -- ironically the same number that Howard now sits on for the U.S. -- thinks that Howard has unlimited potential.
"I think Tim has trusted me and I think that trust has helped him become better and better," Woods said. "He can see a sort of kindred spirit because he knows how difficult it was for me back in the day.
"We have a great relationship, one that I think has helped Tim see what is possible," he said.
"And with him anything is possible. His level of consistency is amazing, his workload on the training field second to none.
"But I know my boss wouldn't swap Howard for any of them. Come to that, neither would I, either. Tim's going to be the best there is."
Ken Lawrence is a British sports journalist based in Los Angeles. He can be reached at email@example.com.