For United fans, it was a case of knowing that it would happen soon, but not being totally ready for it, especially those who grew up watching Neville and his fellow Fergie Fledglings. His commitment to the United cause and his sheer dedication formed the basis of most tributes. But a number of ABU fans still trot out the old nonsense about Neville being a bit thick. That and jibes about his physical appearance.
While I will leave the issue of physical appearance aside (it has got nothing to do with football), I find it hard not to react to claims that because Neville doesn’t look like Einstein or Brian Cox, is a fiery character and is very opinionated, he is devoid of intelligence (a brush which most footballers get painted with although in some cases, rightfully). And for rival fans to use such a flimsy argument to slate a player who has been, by far, the best right-back of his generation is ridiculous, even more so as it is borne out of jealousy and irritation.
Recently, Michael Owen, when asked about who the smartest person in the dressing room said,
“Gary Neville is pretty sharp. He’s got a good business brain and has an interest in things away from football.”
Giggs said in his recent book that Gary Neville sometimes helped out the youngsters at the club with their contracts and other financial matters. This is clearly someone who is considered by his team-mates to be an intelligent guy who is wrongly seen as being only a chest-thumping mindless football player and fan.
Furthermore, today, Arsene Wenger, paying tribute to Neville said,
“His record is down to intelligence and motivation – he is an example to players who are maybe less gifted than the Ryan Giggses or the David Beckhams. He still made a fantastic career because he is intelligent and highly motivated. He deserves great credit.”
Fergie followed that with,
“He is an example to any young professional; hard-working, loyal and intelligent.”
Neville is not the quickest of players, nor is he the most technically gifted player of his time. But, he more than compensates for what he doesn’t have in terms of back-heels and step-overs with his pure determination to improve the other aspects of his game, like positional sense, crossing and courage. Does that sound like someone who has a dumb approach to the game? Also, you do not play till such an advanced age and keep coming back from frustrating injuries if you are not sensible.
Even if fans could grudgingly accept that Gary Neville is far from being an idiot, they would always think of him as being a bit annoying with his outspoken views. Phil McNulty, BBC Sport’s chief football writer said in his blog today,
“Neville was always a challenging interviewee, ever ready to throw questions back in the face of his inquisitors and always refreshingly ready with an opinion – and not caring whether you agreed or not.”
One of the main reasons Gary Neville is Red Nev is because of the way he represents the ordinary fan with his fanatical support for Utd. That is also the main reason why he is United’s most hated outside Old Trafford. There is, of course, more than just blind fanaticism to Neville’s views. He is extremely articulate when talking about the modern game, football agents, current young players and environmental conservation and is definitely going to stay in the game as a coach, manager or as David Gill said today, on the commercial side of things at United.
At the end of the day, I don’t need to defend Gary Neville. I am sure he doesn’t care what rival fans think of him. He’s won around 20 trophies in a glittering career and a massive amount of respect from his peers and United fans. What a legend!