BY JOSH MASON
I never thought, while watching Monday Night Football on Sky, that the tired-looking Mancunian would be entering the Mestalla stadium as anything but a pundit. Gary Neville’s new-found popularity in front of the cameras was surprising enough, but the news that the former player would be becoming Valencia CF’s new manager definitely threw me.
The former Manchester United captain of the Class of ’92 clearly still has the boy-like hunger to achieve in football, even after a 20-year playing career. Most footballers of his generation retire on the big money they have earnt in the advent of the Premier League boom. This next journey for the Peter Pan of football will be a flight to Spain. Will Valencia turn out to be his ‘Neville-Neville Land’?
The right-back’s playing resume
Gary Neville’s career was a surprise even to himself. Despite the Nevilles being a modern day sporting dynasty, (brother, sister and father all have worked in professional sports), it was never a foregone conclusion that Gary would make it in football.
Teenage Neville was a natural cricketer representing Lancashire at junior level, and even scored a century alongside Aussie legend Matthew Hayden. His heart, however, belonged to football and he always dreamed of one day playing for Manchester United. He realised early on that he didn’t have either the natural talent, or physical attributes to make it, but he relied on something that perhaps much more valuable – dedication, hard work and professionalism.
A 20-year career under Sir Alex Ferguson followed and a quite incredible work ethic allowed him to achieve captaincy of his club and 85 caps for England in an illustrious career. He may have not been popular with fans outside of Manchester, but no one could deny that the little boy from Bury didn’t deserve to be there.
Football Forever: Neville off the pitch
Gary Neville has taken to everything in his life with a childlike obsession with the beautiful game. Just look at his business career. In his spare time away from being a world-class player, he started a hospitality company with Ryan Giggs, called GG Hospitality, and has opened football themed café’s and hotels in both Manchester and London. Café Football looks like it was designed by an excited 12-year-old, with waiters in football strips, and a screen available at any angle for your eye so you don’t miss any of the action (ironically, when I went there they were showing tennis).
Neville is well known outside of playing for his work in the media, with his newspaper columns and celebrated punditry work with Sky. He has overseen a surge in popularity for midweek football for his ‘banter’ with Jamie Carragher. His vast knowledge and understanding of the game, along with his ability to communicate well to a large audience, makes him one of the best pundits on TV (next to him, Alan Shearer and Jermaine Jenas look like amateurs).
Coaching has added even more strings to his bow, and he’s been part of Roy Hodgson’s backroom staff since 2012. He even attended the failed World Cup campaign in Brazil 2014, but stayed on and has UEFA A and B licenses. He also owns and runs a non-league Salford City, which has its own affiliate TV show. Seriously, do his kids ever see him?
What do his prospects look like in Valencia?
Neville flew to Spain to join his brother Phil in Valencia, leaving many looking silly following predictions for the next manager at the Mestalla, but this news is not as crazy as it sounds. As betting expert Michael Butlin of Bookmakers explained to me: “It should not be too surprising, the owner of Valencia CF is co-owner of Salford City with the Neville brothers and so they have a personal relationship. It looks to be a serious venture by Neville who was reportedly offered a 5-year £15-million-pound contract from Sky to stay. Even though his appointment is only to the end of the season I am sure he will be looking to turn this opportunity into yet another successful career path.”
Fans, especially Valencians, will debate this appointment. He has no Spanish language skills, and neither does his brother Phil (who will be his assistant). He also has no managerial experience, and to oversee such an elite European team as his first job is a huge ask. The club’s situation will also not help Neville, with tensions between vociferous fans and a potential dictator in the form of chairman, Peter Lim.
I would argue that Neville has a massive amount of experience under the ‘greatest’ manager of all time in Ferguson, as well as three years of coaching at international level. Put this together with his extensive knowledge he showcases at Sky, and this just might be a stroke of genius for the struggling Spanish side.
Whatever happens, the ever ambitious Mancunian will likely do what he has always done and overcome adversity through sheer effort and dedication. Whether La Liga will appreciate him like the British do remains to be seen. As someone who would love to see a British coach succeed abroad, I hope we don’t see him back at Heathrow any time soon.
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