It was far from unexpected but the decision of Red Nev to hang up his boots still fills Manchester United fans with a sense of ‘is it REALLY the end?’ for someone who has been part of the United furniture for nearly as long as Sir Alex Ferguson. Gary Neville is one of United’s most established players, making his senior debut for the club in the UEFA Cup back in 1992 and has worked the right side of Old Trafford tirelessly for as long as most fans can remember. Gazza may never win any popularity contests amongst rival fans but he is certainly loved by all True Reds
Perhaps the best tribute that can be paid to Neville is to read his 2007 biography ‘The Story of a Legend’ written by Tom Oldfield. Starting at the club as a schoolboy in 1991, he quickly cemented his position in what would prove to be Alex Ferguson’s strongest ever team. Going on to help the side win the treble in 1999, Neville was a key part of the only English team ever to have achieved this remarkable feat.
His determination in the tackle and consistency of passing, coupled with a turn of pace sufficient to keep up with the quickest strikers in the premiership have contributed to him making over 600 appearances for his club and 85 appearances for England where he has proved time and time again that he can compete with the world’s top players.
Taking over the captaincy from Roy Keane in the 2005/6 season, his commitment and hunger to bring silverware to Old Trafford was always his trademark. His famous long throw ins have rattled defences the world over, as has his link up play with his midfield counterparts. On the pitch, he displays a ‘never say die’ attitude which has earned him respect from fans and from time to time admonishment from the F.A.
This book tells the story of how something as simple as love for a football club turned a young boy into one of the most recognisable faces in world football. We learn that Neville has never had an agent, was less naturally gifted than his brother Phil, worked hard at his game, is an all round sportsman from a talented sporting family and has a place in Malta.
We also have confirmation that he does as he’s told, not being one to cross the manager, acts as a union rep writes a Times column and is as one eyed as most other footballers. Unfortunately, we never learn much about him as a person. There are glimpses – the refusal of a benefit game to save overprice fans from forking out money and his involvement in charity matters.
When Stanley Matthews wrote his first autobiography “Back in Touch” he mentioned his father told him, “No fuss”. This seems to have been Neville’s approach to his association with Manchester United and its manager. Keep your head down and work hard which, in fairness, he did and has reaped rewards as a consequence.
Farewell Gazza, my gut feeling is that it will not be goodbye.
Should Neville make a move into television or remain at Old Trafford in a coaching capacity?