It’s an oft-repeated mantra, that the moment you leave Old Trafford your career goes downhill. Of course, Cristiano Ronaldo does not count – he was a truly unique talent. On so many occasions the mantra has rung true, but there is one glaring anomaly. Phil Neville was always considered a decent squad player at Manchester United, a player that could do a number of jobs well but was inevitably overshadowed by his brother Gary Neville. Since his move to Goodison Park in 2005, Phil Neville has reinvented himself as holding midfield player, and has been an inspirational leader for Everton. Unlike Joey Barton, Neville is dignified and dosen’t need to throw his toys out of the pram when he isn’t selected for individual awards or a place in the national team.
Everton fans know exactly how good Neville has been for them, and this article is not designed merely to state that obvious truth. To be fair to Neville, his move to Goodison Park must have been difficult considering his Manchester United links, but the midfielder has become and icon at the club; maybe more so than his time at Old Trafford. The plaudits that seem to interest Neville are those from his manager and his peers. He is a genuine footballer, somebody who is in the game for the love of football and is focused on doing a good job for his team. Without a doubt he learnt this from Sir Alex Ferguson, but the fact that he didn’t treat his move to Everton as a ‘last hurrah’, shows a lot of character.
Many players have left Manchester United and have struggled away from the club. Players like Nicky Butt were never able to emulate the success of their time at Old Trafford. David Beckham frustrated and delighted in equal measure at Real Madrid. On the other hand, Neville left Manchester United with his career in front of him and he has taken the chance with both hands and without doubt gave himself time to start a fresh. If anything, Phil Neville has got better. He has transformed his game, and has become one of the most important players in the Premier League. Neville has shown true leadership; not by shouting and screaming at players but by setting the right example on the field. Phil Neville has spoken of his admiration for Ryan Giggs this week and I have no doubt that in a few years time there will be young Everton players paying Neville the same compliments.
Neville said: “At my age you tend to take it one season at a time but I feel as fit as I ever have. I can go on for at least another two or three seasons... I look at someone like Giggsy and he is an inspiration to all of us. He looks as fit and quick as ever and is still one of the best players in the Premier League. I am trying to follow his example and do all the right things.”
It is the mark of a true professional when they can leave a club they loved and go on to be successful somewhere else. Neville puts in 100 per cent every game, something managers have seen and Tottenham’s bid for Neville back in January must not have been the first of its kind. With a year left on his contract Neville will be hot property in the summer and there is no doubt clubs will come in for him. Whatever the next step is for Neville he should be used as an example to youngsters that you can be successful away from Old Trafford.
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