Just The First Step For Neville To Old Trafford Throne
The world of football punditry is coming to terms with the bombshell dropped on it by Gary Neville’s decision to down his microphone and take the reins at La Liga giants Valencia.
Whatever is Valencia’s gain, is without doubt a huge loss for Sky Sports and its viewers, where Neville enjoyed four years as an analyst on Monday Night Football.
Where Andy Gray scratched the surface before him, Neville meticulously dissected move after move, tactic after tactic and goal after goal. His days in the changing room under the tutelage of Alex Ferguson stood him in good stead.
At United, he was a conduit for players who wanted to raise an issue with Ferguson, be it contract issues, or even personal ones. Neville was the first port of call, and it lead to many a disagreement with his revered boss. But he stuck to his principals and had the courage to stand up to his manager on behalf of the players, even if it meant he was the one who had to withstand the backlash.
Above everything at United though, he learned an astute understanding of the game.
By his own admission, he was not the best footballer the world has ever seen.
But funnily enough, that’s a common trait among the greatest managers the game has ever produced. Now he knows the game inside out and it was evident when he stripped down the tactics of the weekend’s football every Monday evening.
On top of that, the recruitment of Jamie Carragher as his partner at the tactics screen proved to be a revelation. Rivals on the pitch, they developed a rapport in the studio that made Monday Night Football a reference point for fans who wanted to review the weekend action. It has become the go-to place to understand the reasons behind the results.
Neville’s flying of the nest breaks up a partnership that was becoming an entity in itself. Carragher’s next partner, should he get one, will struggle to strike up the same natural dynamic and the likelihood is it just won’t feel right. It’ll be like Batman and Orville, Morecombe and Dec, or Posh and Scholes.
So is Valencia the right move for Neville? I wrote before that he would have eyes on partnering Ryan Giggs at the helm one day at Old Trafford. But his latest move suggests he’ll want to top job himself, and he’ll be in no rush to take it. He’s smart enough to learn his trade elsewhere before taking the job he is now surely destined to inherit.
One of the biggest clubs in Spain isn’t a bad start, but the harsh reality is that if results go against him he could find his stock in the cesspit of football management quicker than you can say David Moyes.
Neville will be well aware of the demands of the line of work he is entering and it’ll be no walk in the park.
One of the biggest obstacles in his way at his new club will be the much-talked about language barrier. At the forefront of his appeal on Monday Night Football was his ability to communicate clearly his opinion to the viewers, but getting the message over to his players will not be as easy when he has little grasp of the language.
It’s something Roy Hodgson may have encouraged him on, having worked in several foreign leagues and being fluent in five different languages. Obviously Neville will improve his Spanish but it’s an extra thing for him to think about when he’s trying to get a point across.
Having said that, he has all the attributes to make it a success. His insight doesn’t belong in the TV studio, it belongs in the dugout, changing rooms and boardrooms of football grounds because you’d imagine that Gary will be able to motivate and produce results.
His induction will be facilitated by staff already there. He will have spoken at length to President Lay Hoon Chan, while owner Peter Lim is the backer behind his Salford City FC venture. His younger brother of course is there to ease the transition and help with a few key Spanish phrases to get him started.
Should he overcome the hurdle of his Bury accent being understood by his international cohort, Neville has just started a journey that will one day see him walk the touchline of his spiritual home at Old Trafford. But it’s a while away yet, first up is a Champions League tie in front of his expectant fans.