Ears were pricked in England when footballer-turned-pundit Gary Neville was announced as the new manager of Valencia in early December and the ex-Manchester United right-back has certainly got people talking – although not particularly in a good way.
The appointment of Neville by the Spanish giants was an intriguing one considering the reputation Neville had earned for his analysis on Sky Sports’ flagship Monday Night Football show in which he dissected the weekend’s football with on-the-pitch adversary but off-the-pitch friend Jamie Carragher. Could he live up to the hype? Had Sky Sports produced the next big thing in management? Had a future England manager been found?
So far, the answer is an unequivocal ‘no’. The current England coach has guided his first club to a grand total of zero wins from his first eight league games, suffered defeat at home to Lyon which resulted in Los Che exiting the Champions League at the group stages and in his most recent game, Barcelona annihilated the 2004 La Liga champions 7-0 at the Nou Camp in the Copa del Rey semi-final first-leg.
Twitter was awash with criticism for Neville, citing that punditry is a lot easier than being a manager, which alluded to a Jose Mourinho quote when Neville was initially unveiled as the Valencia boss.
“On the bench, you cannot stop the video, touch the screen and make movements happen.”
Neville’s standing as a pundit is expected to take a hit as a result of his poor start to life in management with the fickle nature of the football fan quick to jump on his failings, but the reality is that Neville was and is the finest footballing mind that we have had on T.V for a long while, possibly ever.
Having only retired in 2011, Neville’s inputs are fresh and genuinely insightful and this should not be forgotten purely because he has as yet failed to practice what he preaches. Film reviewer Mark Kermode cannot act and X Factor judge Simon Cowell cannot sing. Neville could play and pundit, and his managerial career is still young.
What is fascinating about Neville currently though is his press conferences as he is still behaving like the man of Monday night.
This is incredibly refreshing to the fans and to the media who are so accustomed to tired cliches and empty statements, but Neville is genuine box office, even if it is due to unfortunate circumstances.
Following Wednesday’s walloping at the hands of Barcelona, Neville was seething at his squad and commenting like he was pointing at a tactics board as opposed to being sat at a desk while being peppered by the world’s press.
“I won’t sleep well tonight, I didn’t like what I saw, the Valencia fans didn’t deserve that tonight and we’ve got to recover incredibly quickly,” Neville said
“I wish the (Real) Betis game started in ten minutes, it’s going to be a painful three or four days. I know that. (This is) one of the most painful experiences I’ve had in football, they happen, I had some as a player, and now I’m experiencing some as a manager, but belief in myself is fine, I’ve got no problems with that.”
When asked whether he was considering resigning, a flat “no” was the response as the chewing gum in his mouth seemed to be masticated a little bit more intensely and the stare started to glare much like the only club manager he ever worked for – a certain Sir Alex Ferguson.
He was also quizzed on what he would have made of the result had he been a pundit, and, after a minor display of annoyance doubting the originality of the journalist’s question he responded:
“I would have been critical. I sit here as a coach and I won’t go into detail like I would if I was a pundit, but that was a really poor performance from us tonight. Forget the scoreline. Tonight for some reason we went back a step, a big step.”
It is now up to Neville that his next step is a forward one with a much-needed win against Betis on Sunday, otherwise the step after that could be one back into the Sky Sports studio with Carragher.