David Moyes: Gary Neville taking the Valencia job is a risk - I should know
The former Manchester United defender has made the right call to move to Spain, but his job will not be easy.
When I heard that Gary Neville had taken the job at Valencia my immediate reaction was it was a good decision – but also a brave one.
It was a job that not many coaches could have turned down. Valencia is one of the biggest clubs in Spain; one of the biggest in Europe. And the expectations are really high.
When we played there with Real Sociedad last season we lost 2-0 and afterwards the questions where all about whether Valencia could overtake Atletico Madrid, who were third at the time. I thought that was unrealistic even though they only ended up finishing a point behind them in the league.
They are a good side but they were not that good. Yet people expect them to be challenging in a league where there is also Barcelona and Real Madrid.
Gary will have to deal with that. The Mestalla is an incredible stadium, the fans are passionate – but they are also demanding. There is an expectation at Valencia and that could be difficult to deal with. They had a great season last season and got into the Champions League and although they have not started so well this season I think they are very capable of finishing fourth again, which will be the aim.
It is also a brave decision because it is Gary’s first job and, although he will be very knowledgeable about Spanish football, it is a new league for him to work in and a new country. The football itself and the way it is organised are very different.
It’s not always easy to explain, but there is a difference: the players, how they react, the referees – there is less time with the ball in play; there are fewer challenges. Players go down easily, the referees react. Then there are things like the kick-off times, which can change, the way the players prepare, the way the league itself is organised. It can all feel very different from the Premier League.
Even things like the away supporters. In Spain you very rarely have away supporters, so you only ever have the home backing. In many of the grounds that can be quite intimidating with the whistling and the way they try to affect the referee. The Mestalla was very much like that.
But there are so many good things as well. He will be working with and coming up against some of the best players in the world, some of the best teams. Going to Spain added to my knowledge, it will add to Gary’s knowledge. He will be exposed to a different league, a different way of working, a different culture on and off the pitch.
I also think it’s a very important appointment for British coaches. When I went to Spain I said that I hoped others would follow me because we see so many foreign managers coming into the Premier League and so few British managers going into the major European leagues.
Doing that has to benefit British football because coaches learn new ways and are exposed to a different way of doing things and can bring that back with them. Players also. I was keen to try and bring British players to Spain because I wanted to enhance everyone’s knowledge.
This is Gary’s first job in management so although he had a fantastic career as a player and is assistant to Roy Hodgson with England he does not have any reference points as a manager to say “this isn’t like it was at such and such club” or “we did it like this there”. In some ways, though, that might make it easier especially as he is in Spain rather than England.
Having his brother, Phil, there, as his assistant, will be a great advantage. Phil, who is clever, a good coach and really enthusiastic, can immediately pass on information, especially on things which may seem quite small but can be quite time-consuming or even daunting: how the players prepare, what time to train, when they eat, travel arrangements.
Phil will be immersed in that already. He will be able to give Gary a clear picture of what is best for the players and what they need.
Phil, like Gary, could have taken jobs in England but he chose not to. So it was a brave move by him to go to Valencia.
It will be much easier for Gary to learn the language if he has people around him who are able to help him. In saying that it is more difficult, as I found, to give up the time to learn the language when you are the manager rather than the coach. A coach does not have the same responsibilities. But I’ve no doubt Gary will pick up the language.
Not that he will not be judged on whether he speaks Spanish or not. Not in six months. From my experience there is not one single piece of advice I can give Gary beyond the obvious: win games. Whether it is in England or Spain or anywhere winning games makes the job a lot easier. There is no secret.
And neither do I think Gary will necessarily be afforded more time because of who he is and the profile he has. In football, people are making judgments quicker than ever - for good or bad. It is almost instant. So he has to look at it as maybe 25 or so games to prove himself and be successful.
Finally, it is brave because to have longevity as a manager, to have a successful career in management, you really have to do well in the first job you take. It gives you that chance.
Gary has worked under Alex Ferguson, he has worked with Roy Hodgson, he has done very well as a pundit and coach and he has his brother there. I firmly believe he can do well and hope he does.
I wish him well.