Friday 13 December 2019

Aidan O'Hara: Gary Neville quickly finding out who his friends are

Outside the box

Gary Neville gestures during Valencia’s victory over Espanyol Photo: Getty
Gary Neville gestures during Valencia’s victory over Espanyol Photo: Getty
Aidan O'Hara

Aidan O'Hara

Goalkeepers tend not to like it when outfield players criticise or question their ability so when Jamie Carragher disagreed with Liverpool's decision to give Simon Mignolet a new five-year contract, it was no surprise that Peter Schmeichel leapt to his defence.

"Goalkeeping is very, very much about confidence and thinking you are the man," insisted Schmeichel, in full 'goalkeepers union' mode. "But, if every week, you are being questioned about what your performance was. If every goal conceded, (pundits are) looking for his mistakes, then you start believing in that. I kind of blame you (Carragher) and Gary (Neville) for killing him on 'Monday Night Football'."

On the night in question, Neville argued that Mignolet should have stopped Phil Jagielka's thunderbolt while demonstrating that his squatted starting position was too low when the ball was struck.

Of the many times that Mignolet has certainly been at fault in a goal which Liverpool have conceded, this was a tenuous one but there was no loyalty from Schmeichel towards his former team-mate and gloves were thicker than water.

If there's one union that's even more tightly knit than goalkeepers, it's managers, who rarely publicly question the ability of their own. Despite being in charge of Valencia, however, Neville's past means he isn't seen as one of their own.


Under normal circumstances, managers will come up with platitudes about another under-pressure boss needing time to turn things around, being unlucky with injuries or some nonsense which fills air-time and gives no decent headlines. The true test of any support may come when the person being asked the question is offered the job of the man they are being asked about, whereupon they take it immediately.

There's a certain irony in Neville's forthright television opinions being the reason why there are so many cutting criticisms of his Valencia tenure. Kicking a manager while he's down isn't normally part of the Managers' Union code, but they won't get a better chance to give somebody a taste of their own medicine.

"To watch a game from the TV, it's very different than from the bench," said Hernan Crespo last week. "I'm almost happy for Gary Neville's troubles at Valencia. I remember he was too harsh as a TV pundit."

Crespo, five months younger than Neville, is currently manager with Modena in Serie B having spent the last couple of seasons fire-fighting against the inevitable demise of former club Parma.

Unlike Neville, whose working relationship with Valencia owner Peter Lim at Salford City is also used as a stick to beat him with, Crespo appears to be paying his dues.

Burnley boss Sean Dyche took a similar theme and Neville won't fail to recognise that when fellow managers of his own generation are cutting him down at the knees, the older ones aren't going to ride to the rescue.

"I was amazed he took this job," said Dyche in an interview on BBC radio last week. "Some say brave, some use other words. It's borderline for me. The depth of knowledge that you need is difficult to come by. I put the miles on the coach with youth teams, being assistant manager etc. At least I'd a feel of the pitfalls and hardships when I eventually became manager."

Neville's experience as England coach appears to be almost forgotten, particularly given cutting nature of Dyche's verdict of Neville's CV.

"When you're sitting with your box of tricks on the TV, after the event, looking at games I think most people can give a good opinion. Now he's very good at it," added Dyche. "After the event: easy. When you're on the sideline and you've seconds to debate a decision - or leave it alone - they come with experience which he hasn't got and the pressure is completely different."

Placing a fellow manager one level above what "most people" can do isn't a ringing endorsement and Neville's time in front of the camera at Sky Sports has probably fostered a deeper well of resentment than he realised.

"He says he's not anxious but I think he'll be waking up every morning thinking 'wow' this is more difficult than I thought," added Dyche, whose honesty, like Neville's usually was, is admirable. "If he comes back, or when he comes back to punditry, I'd imagine there will be question marks."

Alan Hansen openly admitted he never had any interest in becoming a manager which allowed him to speak forthrightly on what he saw while, having revealed last week that his desire to get back into dugout has gone, Alan Shearer now appears more willing to say what he actually thinks, rather than worrying about the consequences.

By comparison to most managers, Neville's playing credentials are exceptional but from never having had an agent to his forthright views on protecting the environment, he isn't typical of the footballers that he is now attempting to manage.

It's a slightly cheap shot to suggest that he shouldn't have taken the Valencia job because it would have shown lack of self-belief which isn't a trait that goes well with any manager. In his heart, Dyche probably wouldn't feel himself ready to manage, say, Chelsea - but he'd take it if Roman Abramovich gave him a call.

Valencia won their first league game under his tenure on Saturday but, even were he to fail in Spain, his stock would still be relatively high in England for another managerial job.

There's an expression in the game that there are no friends in football and over the next few months if he continues to struggle, Neville will find out if he has any at all in the managerial union.

Once he remains popular with chairmen and owners, he should be able to able to convince them that he is deserving of another chance. His fellow managers, however, might need a lot more persuading.

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