Tuesday 20 March 2018

Neville: It's time to stand up at Valencia

Gary Neville poses for photographers in the Mestalla stadium after being unveiled as the new boss of Valencia yesterday
Gary Neville poses for photographers in the Mestalla stadium after being unveiled as the new boss of Valencia yesterday

Oliver Brown

In front of a rapt audience at the Mestalla, Gary Neville claimed that he would have lost all credibility if he had spurned his extraordinary opportunity to manage Valencia.

His startling move to Spain, taking one of the finest jobs in La Liga despite only a smattering of coaching experience, was not a spontaneous or reckless act, he argued, but one borne of careful calculation.

"I'm precious about what I associate myself with," Neville said. "Having been sitting on television over the last few years, it is time now to stand up."

Peter Lim, the Chinese billionaire who has handed Neville the keys to this treasure of a club, looked on contentedly from the front row of a press conference so oversubscribed that there was standing room only.

The owner bore the look of one who had seized his man, even though Neville has only joined on a six-month contract to prove himself.

It is not in Neville's nature to accept half-measures, though. "My family will move over here permanently," he said, also confirming that younger brother Phil would be joining him on the coaching staff.

"My girls finish school in Manchester in two weeks' time and will then move over to Valencia. When I was at Manchester United, I wanted footballers from abroad to show commitment to the club and to the way of life. So, I have done that."

It was a strange, exhausting debut performance, every bit as disorientating as the stunning original appointment.

'Benvinguts, Gary Neville', read the welcome banner in Valencian dialect on the dais, not exactly the message local disciples had expected to see when predecessor Nuno Espirito Santo left after the club slumped to ninth in the league.

For an hour and 18 minutes he spoke, allowing for breaks in translation, assiduously trying to win over those sceptical about his coaching merits.

To those who believed Neville had been given the job purely as a favour by Lim, with whom he has worked at non-league side Salford City, he offered a compelling rebuke through the force of his rhetoric.

Asked if he had a message for supporters, he replied: "Only that I understand that the fan is the most important person at any club. The rest of us are here to guard, to serve and to deliver the success that the fans need here. They are demanding, but they should be. It is a fantastic club."


It is not as he is cushioned by any kind of honeymoon period. They entertain Barcelona, the finest team in Europe at a canter on present form, tomorrow afternoon. Neville will assume a watching brief for that encounter, delegating duties to his brother and interim coach Voro, before a potentially scalding managerial baptism in the Champions League at home to Lyon, where victory is vital if Valencia are to advance to the knockout phase.

He has sought to dispel impressions of a Neville family business by bringing in U-19s coach Miguel Angel Angulo - a man he heralded as a "Valencia legend" - as an extra assistant. Still, as he keenly appreciates, these gestures will count for nought unless he quickly convinces by his results. He was briefly thrown by a question about how, as a Sky pundit, he would react to the idea of an Englishman taking over a coveted role in Spain with a minimum of coaching background, but soon gathered his composure.

"I would question it as a neutral observer and would want to be proven otherwise," he said. "I understand that I have to show Valencia fans that I'm capable of doing this job. Those who have concerns will only be persuaded if we win matches."

But Neville, known for thinking through every statement and every decision forensically, was adamant that he would not be pressurised into any hasty moves.

"No decisions that I make will be short-term," he said. "I cannot work that way and I won't. I'll appoint from within - I won't bring over an army of coaches. I want to bring stability."

Although he began his oration rather nervously, Neville betrayed no regrets about the scale of the task he had undertaken. "When I received the call about Valencia last Sunday evening, I thought, 'What a club, what an opportunity, what a challenge,'" he said.

"If I turned down this job, I could have kissed goodbye to my credibility."

It is true to his nature that he makes the stakes so high, and there is little doubting the sincerity of his commitment. Pressed repeatedly on how he hoped to communicate effectively to his players with no Spanish, he explained that he would be taking languages diligently - even joking that he could not find a tutor willing to instruct him so early in the morning.

"I will take lessons every day," he said. "I just can't find a teacher at the moment who gets up at 6am every day. So, if you know of someone, let me know."

Neville insisted that this dramatic Iberian adventure had been taken after talks with his young family, rather than any heart-to-hearts with his former manager at United, Alex Ferguson.

"I had a good conversation with him, and he offered words of encouragement and support," said Neville, who made 602 appearances for United under the Scot between 1992 and 2011. "I'd be stupid not to accept that."

He has held similarly involved discussions with Roy Hodgson, even if he purported not to have any designs on the England job just yet.

"When I spoke to Roy, he was incredibly encouraging. He understood the opportunity."

It is one Neville intends to grasp, as per his stated 'Attack the Day' philosophy. Nothing less than his reputation, he has made sure, depends on it. (© Daily Telegraph, London)


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