Since breaking into the United team in the 1994/1995 season Gary Neville made the right back spot his own. He was solid defensively as well as an invaluable asset going forward in tandem with David Beckham – doubling up, overlapping and using decoy runs to free up space for his best friend – the oldest Neville brother was a very good player.
Alex Ferguson was enthused with his young defender and spoke very highly of him, humorously stating:
“If he was an inch taller he’d be the best centre half in Britain. His father is 6ft 2in – I’d check the milkman.”
Despite his lack of height he was still a stellar right back and one of the finest of his generation. He wasn’t as glamorous as Cafu or Zanetti because of their South American origins so I feel his contribution to the game is massively underrated by most. I wouldn’t be out of line in saying Neville isn’t the most talented of players but he has shown a dedication to his game that saw him become a top player, for example how he worked on his left foot to become a threat delivering the ball into the box with either foot is to be commended and an example younger players should look at.
After Roy Keane left the club in 2005 he became the club captain ( the first Manchester born captain since Dennis Viollet in the 60s) and rightly so. Mr Manchester United had shown a passion for the club as well as organisational skills that made him a cert and he grew into the role. For me his 06/07 season was one of his best but it was ended by injury in March and frankly it has been downhill since then.
Sadly these days the rare sight of his name on the team sheet now draws groans as well as feelings of anxiety. The injuries Neville has suffered with seriously damaged his ability to perform at the high level we have come to expect from him and it is because of this, that his performances are so easy to criticise. People often point to his role in Everton’s late comeback, against Stoke he was singled out for his performance and the same happened yesterday against West Brom as in both games he could have been sent off (his first yellow was disputable).
Neville’s decline has been one that has drawn jeers from quite a large number of people, he isn’t the most popular player outside the red part of Manchester (or even amongst United fans ourselves!), but if you look at England’s right back situation you begin to get an idea of how good he was. It is a position he held for years and once he dropped out of the England set up, a number of players have attempted to fill his position. The latest player Glen Johnson is oft criticised for his inability to actually defend despite his proficiency at getting forward and thus those who are ready to boo and jeer him at club level are found ruing his decline at international.
Personally I think he has had a great career, most clubs would kill for a Gary Neville and it’s because they don’t that he is often the source of away fan’s ire. Currently he is doing his legacy no favours, I have noticed many people having seemingly forgotten about all he has and was able to do when he wasn’t competing with injuries as well as others for the right back spot and are solely judging him on his current below par performances. It was a trend I thought was exclusive to us, the younger fans who may not have fully appreciated what he was able to do (I mean what kind of right back can’t do step overs and all that?) but some of the older generation too are ready to drive the nails into his coffin apparently with glee!
There is a reason that you don’t see a ton of 35 year old full backs, father time has caught up with Gary Neville and he is in a prime position for this to be exposed but whilst he isn’t doing himself any favours playing on, I think it is some what of a shame that his current performances are clouding some people’s memories of him.
Or as it was so elegantly put to me on Twitter today:
“These are his ‘Vegas Years’, his eating Mars bars, wearing a nappy years. Should be remembered as a hip swivelling hero!”