Oct 102014

Some foreign players might secretly dread the onset of a Premier League winter.

Whether it’s the wind, rain, or backlog of games without a break over Christmas and New Year, imports into the English top flight could be forgiven for blanching at the prospect.

Not Antolin Alcaraz.

The man from Paraguay can’t wait to get into the thick of the action as the nights draw in and the temperature drops, after too long kicking his heels in the Blues treatment room.

The 32-year-old has managed just six appearances since following his manager from Wigan to Everton FC in summer 2013, and now he’s finally ready to show why Roberto Martinez made his transfer a swift priority.

“The challenge is there and I’m ready,” says the centre back, in-between a double training session at Finch Farm.

“I can’t change the weather, I can’t change the amount of fixtures I just want to be involved and enjoy it.

“It’s just good to be at this point because last year was a nightmare. It’s good to be able to push my body to its limits again and feel it react normally.

I feel positive. Now it’s a case of getting better every day.

“It’s been a mental process as well as the actually physical recovery. It’s about staying strong and keeping going. If you’re not strong in your mind it’s difficult. “Sometimes you’re down but you just have to carry on.”

Alcaraz knows the Everton supporters have not seen the best of him yet. He accepts that question marks will persist over whether he was an astute signing for now.

But the former Wigan defender insists there is only one priority for him.

“My mentality is to try and help the team achieve what we want,” he says. “I don’t worry too much about how I’m perceived by the supporters. I want to help us win games.

“Of course the fans will watch and make their minds up but my worry is always the team. At the end of the day that’s what’s important.

“If I play well I help the team so everyone is happy. I can’t effect what the supporters think other than by doing that.”

A World Cup hangover has been blamed by many Premier League managers for problems with their teams’ start to the campaign.

Everton are no different, with the lack of rest for key men, like Romelu Lukaku, being identified as a concern following the summer’s tournament in Brazil.

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But Alcaraz, who is an experienced campaigner for his country, insists nobody at Goodison is using that as the sole excuse for their faltering start.

“You can feel physically down after a big tournament sure but it can be an excuse too,” he says. “We’ve got a lot of good players, some who haven’t played in it so we all need to pull together.

“It’s true the World Cup effects many players. It’s the same when you play a lot of competition in the year but that’s football.

“We all want to be playing a lot of games; whether it’s Europe or whatever. We have to be ready for that. To achieve big things you have to play in a lot of competitions and there is always a risk of tiredness and injuries. But we need to find a way to win anyway. The important thing is how we finish the year.”

With John Stones facing an extended spell on the sidelines and doubts over Sylvain Distin’s fitness, Alcaraz could get the chance of an extended spell in the team. That is when his experience, he has played in the UEFA Cup at Club Brugge, might well come in handy for Martinez.

“It’s a great competition,” he says. “I got a chance to experience it at Brugge and it was good. As a player the dream is to be in Europe; whether it’s the Europa League or the Champions League and when the chance comes you have to take it. We want to achieve good things.

“I’m not just here to play in the league I want to be playing in Europe too but I need games under my belt too.”

With just six points after seven games so far, Everton’s current prospects of qualifying for Europe again next year do not look promising at this stage..

But Alcaraz insists it is far too early to read anything into their indifferent league form.

“We can get into the European places,” he stresses. “It’s very early. We’re all disappointed with where we are at the moment of course. But we have a lot of time and we have to seize the moment.

“It’s better to get our flaws out of the way now then at the end of the season when there’s no time to do anything about it.

“It might look like someone’s going o run away with it but things can change; you only have to look back over the years to see that things can change dramatically – especially over Christmas time. Nothing is set in stone. We need to improve and fast but we can still control our destiny.”

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