Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has revealed Gary Neville is his favourite football pundit and admitted he agrees with almost everything the England coach says, despite his attacks on Arsenal and Arsene Wenger.
Neville upset Arsenal manager Wenger by claiming the Frenchman must be either naïve or arrogant not to add more power to his squad and has also claimed the Gunners are a soft touch.
Wenger responded to Neville’s criticisms by claiming pundits should do their research. But Arsenal midfielder Oxlade-Chamberlain is a big fan of the former Manchester United man’s opinions, which is just as well because the two men are working together on England duty this week ahead of the Euro 2016 qualifiers against San Marino and Switzerland.
Oxlade-Chamberlain recognises Neville’s jobs in the media could put him in a difficult position when he meets up with England as one of manager Roy Hodgson’s coaches, but insists he is happy to take criticism from the 40-year-old – either on the television or in person.
“Gary is my favourite pundit,” said Oxlade-Chamberlain. “When I watch Monday Night Football, I always want to listen to what he has to say and nine times out of 10 I agree with him.
“He’s brilliant the way he explains things and I think he is very respectful when he says what teams need to do better and what players need to do better in a game. It’s credit to him because, obviously, it could be a tricky situation where he’s talking about our games on TV and then he comes to work with England. But he seems to manage to do it without any of us holding a grudge against him. He hasn’t upset me yet!
“I’ve recorded games before because I quite like to hear what Gary has to say. I do believe he knows what he’s talking about. If I’ve had a bad game, I know I’ve had a bad game and I don’t mind hearing it. I’ve had 15 years of hearing it from my dad! I’m the first one to have a go at myself and then it’s my dad, so if Gary wants to join in, then it’s fine.
“I don’t need to act as a peacemaker (between Neville and Wenger). I have heard that our manager addressed what he said and I’m sure he addressed it in a very good way, but they are two people I highly respect and the only interaction I will have with Gary this week is about England and how we are going to beat San Marino and Switzerland, and what runs I need to make at the full backs. That’s all I’m concerned about.”
While Neville can be outspoken and forthright in the media, he is equally as honest with the England players in person and is not afraid to confront individuals – as he did when he took Jack Wilshere’s headphones out of his ears ahead of the Scotland game at Celtic Park.
“He can do those things to us and we respect it, but at the same time we might also say ‘no, I’m putting them back in. That’s not for me Gaz’!” said Oxlade-Chamberlain. “He’s a great guy and he’s had a lot of experience around the England team and dressing-room, and he’s not long off the back of that. He knows how to treat the lads and fits right into our group, almost as one of the boys but also as someone we look up to and respect. We listen to what he’s got to say.
“He’s a very honest person, which I think there is nothing wrong with. He’s honest with us when we’re away with England, what we need to improve on, and I think his career has earned him that respect. Everyone really does listen to what he has to say and respects his opinions. That’s a credit to him.
“If something needs to be said, then it can be said. He’s played with Wayne (Rooney) and some of the more senior players, so they almost take as if they are team-mates. He has that bond with our team that he’s almost one of the lads. You can take criticism off him and you know he means well by it and he’s being constructive. So I think that’s great and why he’s such a great coach.
“I’m delighted he’s working with us at the moment. I think he brings a lot to the England team and the way he analyses on the board, like he does for Sky, he’s nifty in our meetings. And what he has to say in terms of coaching on the pitch is priceless for us because of the career he’s had and the high level he’s played to. He’s a vital part of this group. I’m sure he can go on and do whatever he wants.”
Oxlade-Chamberlain did, however, reveal that Neville may be starting to struggle to back up his strong opinions on the pitch.
“Sometimes, when we are a player short, he will fill in in training and he doesn’t hold back at all,” said Oxlade-Chaberlain. “It’s almost like he’s trying to let Roy know he’s ready to play. Last time, he might have pulled a muscle so I haven’t seen him since then. He pulled up with something, so I haven’t seen him back out there.”