"Timmy's done very well so far," Friedel says. "He's in a luxury position, playing with Manchester United, where he can get away with a few things. That's good, because the pressure's off him a little bit. But now it's crunch time. Now things go under the microscope. Because of what he's done so far, I hope the fans give him some breathing space. But it's absolutely fantastic for him: He's going to learn to cope."
Once in a great while Howard lets himself go. Sometimes it's inadvertent, such as when he's told of van Nistelrooy's praise and, trying to be cautious, reveals a huge ambition. "For a short period of time I've done some good things," he says. "But that'll go for naught if I don't keep it going. That's my goal. In order to be great, in order to be a legend, in order to really stamp your authority and make a name for yourself historically, you've got to do great things for a long period of time. That's why they call them legends. But it's nice to hear."
Sometimes, though, Howard loosens his grip on himself because he has no choice, because the pressure and fear and joy of living this fairy tale build and beg for release. The last time came in the 4-2 win over Man City at Old Trafford, when Howard was having one of those games: Seeing every ball clearly, reading every move early, laughing to himself after stoning Reyna, his close friend. Then when van Nistelrooy scored to ice the victory, Howard heard the crowd yell and knew the cameras were focused down at the other end, and he began to scream.
At first it was just to himself, head down a bit, but then, gazing up at thousands of faces, he figured the heck with it and screamed back, mouth wide, looking like every other crazy who has played in goal. No one could hear Howard, of course; that's the best part. His voice rose, loud and unnoticed, into the English air. "I'm yelling back at them!" he recalls. "My whole team's out there celebrating, so I am too. Why not?" Just describing it makes him giddy: He giggles at the thought, slumps back in his chair, exhales. He looks like a man set free.