As much as the red side of Merseyside cannot stand the sight of Wayne Rooney it is a fact well known to football fans that the man who Liverpool supporters hate with the greatest intensity is without doubt Manchester United’s club captain Gary Neville. Take his own fans out of the equation and he’s a footballer who divides opinion like few others.
There can be no disputing some of his actions have been ill advised over the years but all have been born out of love for his football club – and it is very much his football club. In an era where most footballers won’t leave their club before a loyalty bonus is paid out, Neville’s stance that he would never represent another so as not to ‘dilute’ his football experience is positively refreshing.
After 20 years of service Neville has become ingrained in Old Trafford’s traditions, a belligerent presence who matches a will to win only with a studious appreciation of the game. While Ryan Giggs is the perfect ambassador, it is Neville who best manifests his manager’s persona on the field. It is Neville’s spittle that referees have to wash from their ears, as it is his anger that younger players have to deal with if their standards fail to match his exacting own.
He loves the drama of rivalry and enjoys his “Gary Neville is a Red, he hates Scousers” chant but I suspect behind the badge kissing, inappropriate celebrations and plain talking there is a little mischief, a devilment that embraces an opportunity to stir the pot – albeit with the straightest of faces.
So often Neville proves to be the agent provocateur to the man on the street and yet, of those still playing, it is his comments that seem the most salient. A union man to the core and staunch member of the PFA, Neville never hides his disdain for the agents that mollycoddle their clients, the hangers on and bullshit merchants that make up many a modern day star’s entourage.
Always one to call a spade a spade, one of his pet hates are players who have agents that do everything for them. They don’t know how to set up their own bank account,they don’t know what they’re spending their money on and they can’t make their own decisions. “A player doesn’t need to pay between five and 15 per cent of his wages to a guy to set up a bank account, buy him a new fridge, or ask his club’s chief executive for a pay rise” is his emphatic belief.
It was surprising to read recently his plans beyond playing will probably not extend into management. Neville appeared to be a certainty to patrol the dugout as a No.1 once he hangs up his boots but again, in the most frank of admissions, he admits that having dedicated 20 years to getting to the top of his profession as a player, he’d be loath to do it again in another capacity.
“There have been too many examples of failure in the last 10 to15 years. People might say it’s a challenge but I want happiness in my life. Am I going to give my all to management in the same way as I did 20 years ago to becoming a football player? Probably not if I’m being honest, because I see that some of the great coaches – Ferguson, Wenger, Benitez, Mourinho – probably weren’t right at the top of the tree as players but it made them more determined to succeed as managers and coaches”
It has been intimated Neville will be awarded a one year contract extension when his existing deal expires in the summer, but for now his thoughts lie with matters on the field. There’s another Premier League title to be won, another European Champions Cup and even more medals to add to his vast collection.
And that may well be the reason which makes Neville so passionately hated by Liverpool fans. Their own bunch of current Anfield heroes do not possess even one, single Premiership winning medal between them. Perhaps theirs is simply a great envy of his success but whatever it is, nobody would have enjoyed sticking that 2-1 victory up his biggest detractors last Sunday than Neville himself.
Should Gary Neville be offered a one year extension of his contract?