Saturday 17 February 2018

Gary Neville: I can assure you I won't be England or Man United manager in six months' time

Gary Neville insists he does not see Valencia job as stepping stone to United, writes Jason Burt

Gary Neville is relishing challenge of making a go of it in Valencia. Photo: Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images
Gary Neville is relishing challenge of making a go of it in Valencia. Photo: Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images

Jason Burt

It's a still, bright day at Valencia's Paterna training ground but Gary Neville is in the middle of a whirlwind. "An absolute whirlwind," he says emphatically. "I've moved away from my comfort zone."

It is less than 30 days since Neville was surprisingly announced as Valencia's new head coach until the end of the season.

It was not the only contract he signed recently. Last Saturday Neville and his family - his wife and two daughters, aged seven and five - took the keys to their new home in the Spanish city after agreeing a two-year lease and starting a new life.

But being in a whirlwind, you suspect, is not unusual for Neville. In the course of this interview, he even drops in that one day he would like to establish a university - to add to a portfolio of businessman, hotelier, football club owner, England coach, Sky pundit and newspaper columnist. But he balks at being called an 'entrepreneur'.

"I'm not an entrepreneur," he says. "I'm not an entrepreneur at all. I don't like that word. It feels dirty."

Dirty because it implies a desire to make money? "Yeah, because I just do things that I like and I am lucky that Manchester United, hard work, my parents, my upbringing have allowed me the opportunity to do things that I like. The worst situation for me would be if you took away choice."

Neville has choice. And he has followed a plan that has created choice. Everything he has done since he retired as a player in 2011 has prepared him for this moment and made him a "better person".

"I feel by the end of this season, by June, I will have got to a point whereby I will be a better person than I was five years ago," he says.

"In the first four, five years out of football up to the age of 40 I wanted to just learn as much as possible and educate myself in different things.

"But it was getting to the point where I had to change something. I had too much on. And then this came up and I thought it felt right."

Neville (40) has ended his media work, the businesses have taken a back seat, and the focus is emphatically on Valencia - a "huge club", where he has joined his brother Phil (assistant manager), and which is owned by Singaporean Peter Lim, a business partner in non-league Salford City and Hotel Football.

"The attraction to me was different league, fantastic club, knowing the owner," Neville says.

But what of those two contracts: two years on a house but only six months as Valencia coach? "You are always in a position whereby you are one month, two months, six months away from losing your job. So the idea of six months is to me not an issue," Neville says.

"If it's for six months and it goes really well then I could be here for six years. I am committed to being here. I have brought my family out and I feel that, if I can make a success of this, it will be an incredible experience.

"I plan to be successful. You can't plan on being a failure."


Neville knows failure is, however, a label he risks. "Whatever happens in this next five months people will probably want to put the word failure or success at the end of this . But I will put the words experience and lessons at the end of it, I think."

Not that he likes the word "risk" either. "What is the risk? What I have done in the last five years has meant that I know I can be an assistant coach, I know I can go back to running my businesses, I know I can be an owner of a football club (Salford City), I know I can go back into media and broadcasting.

"So what I have done in the last five years is protect myself against the next 20 years knowing that I am not a one-trick pony.

"My life is not being an owner or nothing, being a journalist or nothing, being a coach or nothing, being a businessman or nothing.

"That is what my five years hard work (after retiring as a player) has enabled me to be. It's put me in a position where I can choose, I can control my destiny and that's the position I always wanted to be in.

"This is a risk. But the bigger risk would be to turn round in 20 years and say 'do you realise Gary you turned down coaching in La Liga for Valencia Football Club who are getting 55,000 watching them every week, in big games, learning a new language, coaching fantastic young players?'. The idea of having regrets and not taking a chance - I don't see it as risk.

"And I am committed to know what it's like to run a football team. I needed to know what it was like to be a head coach. I could not sit there on television any longer or writing about football any longer or talking about coaching, tactics, management.

"If it's for five, six months it will be a brilliant experience. I don't know how long it will last."

One thing he does know is that he will not be the next England or Manchester United manager.

"The idea that I have taken this job so I can pounce on one of those other two jobs - it's absolutely not true. You can rest assured of that."

Neville does not say it - he stops himself - but it is evident that he believes Roy Hodgson should continue as England manager after the Euro 2016 finals when his contract expires.

"Alex Ferguson feels like the most influential person in football in my life," he says. "But I have to say that in the last three or four years Roy Hodgson has been a huge influence on me in respect of. . . when I came out of football I had this idea of how everything should be.

"I knew only one way - Manchester United. What Roy has done in these last four years is make me more rounded, calmed me down. He has taught me to let things breathe a little bit and be a bit more peaceful and I needed that.

"Roy is a really good person, a really good coach. He's the right man to manage England."

Neville knows his own profile has added to the fascination as to whether he will succeed.

"Was it a risk for me to take the Valencia job? Yeah. But it was a massive risk for me to go and work on television. I was booed before I started. I was deemed someone who would be unsuccessful, it wouldn't work, I would be too biased towards United.

"The easy decision for me at the end of my football career would have been to take the job offered to me at Old Trafford to work with the youth team, with the academy. That would have been the safe choice but I've not made safe choices. People say I did going into punditry, but that was a risk because I was exposing myself to being abused like other pundits and journalists and media people.

"I retained a decent level of credibility but also within the game I never veered into the gutter, never got involved in the weeds. I stayed out of the weeds.

"Even if I felt things were not going very well, I always tried to stay observant from the football point of view rather than put it onto a manager or a coach or a player.

"There were moments when I over-stepped the mark. There were moments when I said things and thought 'oh no, words come back. I didn't mean that'. Or a joke that has gone wrong. The David Luiz joke, the one about being a 'PlayStation player'. That wasn't meant to be as disrespectful as it sounded. It was a lesson for me.

"Even last year when I said Liverpool v United was like the 'Dog and Duck' (versus 'The Red Lion'), because they were going through a bad time, it was actually meant as a joke. It was not meant to be disrespectful to Liverpool or United."

The punditry has helped the coaching. "I have watched something like 400 matches . The expanse of matches and teams I have watched is enormous and I can decipher more what I like and don't like. . . I understand so much more about the game now than when I was a player."

It is four games in as Valencia coach - two La Liga matches, draws against Getafe and Eibar, a Champions League defeat against Lyon and a Copa del Rey win over lowly Barakaldo - and Neville knows the club needs to climb the table.


Today, there is a fierce local derby against Villarreal, who are eight points ahead of Valencia in the final European place. Then, on Sunday, Rafael Benitez's Real Madrid visit the Mestalla.

"People are saying it's judgement time," Neville says. "I feel it's a bit early, but I accept that bad results mean judgement. I don't shy away from that. It's a big boys' world, being a manager.

"The average time in management is 13 months and that's nowhere near enough time to be able to get your ideas across. You can make some headway but you can't create your team in one or two transfer windows to play your way. It's impossible."

Has his experience so far given him a firmer idea that he wants to remain a manager for the rest of his career? It is a question that provides the most intriguing answer of all.

"Look I am not going to disclose it but I've got an idea of where I want to be in five, 10 years. How I am going to get there I am not sure," Neville says.

"But I have an idea. I've always had an idea and the idea's not changed for the last five years. I have an idea that everything I have been doing is working towards that.

"I never proclaim about what I am going to do. I always do things and then see where it takes me.

"If you had asked 10 years ago would I ever leave Manchester then I would have said no. It's my home, it's where I am. But as I have got older I have changed my thinking. I love Manchester, it's my life. But I am happy to be here and I feel it's right to be here." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Villarreal v Valencia, live, Sky Sports 1, 3.00

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