Sunday 18 February 2018

Neville going back to basics in pursuit of glory

Valencia's new coach Gary Neville
Valencia's new coach Gary Neville

Jim White

Nobody could suggest Gary Neville was playing down the significance of the occasion. "Tomorrow," he told reporters gathered at the club's Paterna training ground ahead of his debut game in charge of Valencia, "is the first day of the rest of my life." As he begins his new chapter, it is some game Neville finds himself overseeing.

If they are to progress in the Champions League, his Valencia side need to beat Lyon and hope Zenit St Petersburg, who have qualified, can stop Ghent accruing three points. For the heavily indebted Valencians, who are submerged under borrowings topping £300m, remaining in the cash-generating big time is crucial.

Not that Neville appeared remotely to be feeling it. Breezing into his press conference bang on time, he insisted that he had never been less anxious.

"I have not felt any nerves since I arrived," he said. "I don't know if that is a good thing or a bad thing. As a player I had a little bit of nerves but I don't as a coach; I'm just in work mode."

Already he has left his mark on the training ground. The first thing he did was install overhead cameras there, so he could study tactics and patterns from above. Then, on Monday evening, he opened up a session to the public and 3,000 Valencia diehards filed in to watch him out on the pitch.

"I think it's right that the fans can come to watch the training and get closer to the players and coaches," he said. "And you often get more from the players when the fans are there, and the players enjoyed it too. You get maximum intensity because they always want to impress." But it was not so much the players who have impressed. The fans have been energised by the unashamed ambition Neville has shown since the moment he took up the job.

Although he smiled after replying to a question about his minimum target with a brisk "a couple of cups and Champions League qualification, that would do", it was not altogether clear that he was joking. "It's impossible for me to sit here and not show any ambition," he said.

"We are here to win - the aim has to be to win all the cup games we play. I want to set the benchmark high tomorrow night. I don't want to play down expectations at all."

Working alongside him at the training session was his brother Phil, who has been contracted as assistant manager since August and has provided Neville with an invaluable run-down of the strengths of the playing staff. Plus, he has been helping with the language.

"Some of the players speak English and I am learning some of the key phrases in Spanish but I have a long way to go," said Neville.

"Because of Phil and some players speaking English it has been easier. Also I can demonstrate things visually on the pitch and on video then they understand straight away because players understand football."

Out on the pitch at training Neville was a bundle of energy. But he suggested that he was unlikely to spend his first game in charge trying to conduct matters from the edge of his technical area.

"I'm focusing on staying calm, keeping everything as clear as possible, as simple as possible for the players," he said. "We have been mainly working on basics and ideas because we only have 48 hours which players are fit, keeping calm, interacting with the players.

"I explained that every player has the opportunity to play. No player will be treated any differently and they will all have the opportunity.

"There is a fascination for talking about playing styles," he said. "Will it be counter-attack or possession? Can we play both? I believe in possession, of course I do, but I also want us to counter-attack; it's dangerous to say you only want one or the other."

Though as Neville will be quickly made aware, what is more dangerous for any manager hoping to hang around at the Mestalla, is presiding over anything other than victory.

(© Daily Telegraph, London)

Valencia v Lyon, live, BT Sport 5, 7.45

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