Gary Neville was a red


Neville, 35, signed for arguably the biggest club in the world in 1991 and played 602 games for the club. Today he curtailed a glittering career where he enjoyed 20 years working to establish himself as not only his club’s greatest full-back but also the best right-back his country has ever had.

Say what you will about Neville but you can’t knock his appetite for success. His drive and hunger to win year after year will be difficult to replace. His strong personality was probably what kept him at the club for a further 9 months as many expected him to hang up his boots at the end of last season. But he didn’t because Sir Alex Ferguson was aware of the impact Neville has on his younger players.

Like Fergie, Neville commands respect from younger players and along with other stalwarts Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes, Neville demands the greatest attitude, quality from his team-mates – something which was instilled into him when he was breaking into the first team some 18 years ago.

Speaking about senior players at this time, Neville remembered:

“I still remember Steve Bruce ripping me to shreds at Elland Road, Mark Hughes charging at me just because I hadn’t played the ball into the channel, Eric Cantona giving me the stare, Keaney and Incey snarling. And that was before you had to face the manager.”

This season Neville has had a peripheral role and has made only four appearances. After making 602 appearances for Manchester United, winning eight Premier League titles, three FA Cups and one European Cup, as well as playing 85 times for England.

Rival fans are quick to condemn Neville as ‘annoying’ or ‘scum’ but the truth is they’re jealous. They all wish they had a player who loved their club as much as he loves United, who sticks their finger up at the fans’ most hated player, who runs to rival fans grabbing the badge, celebrating goals like fans do. He is much more than a player to United fans, he’s one of them. The closest thing you can get to a fan playing in a side, acting like a fan, feeling like a fan – Neville epitomised this.

Speaking of a player synonymous with Manchester United’s most successful era, the manager Sir Alex Ferguson said tonight that the 35-year-old was “the best English right-back of his generation”.

Neville himself, whose passion for his only club was celebrated by United fans and made him a target for rivals, said:

“Obviously I am disappointed that my playing days are at an end, however it comes to us all and it’s knowing when that time is and for me that time is now.”

It was expected that the former England man would follow the lead of Edwin van der Sar and retire at the end of the season, the timing of the announcement led to immediate speculation that he would join Sky’s roster of pundits in the wake of the sacking of Andy Gray. Although it is understood that the broadcaster is not planning to announce a replacement for the Scot immediately, instead continuing with a rotating cast of presenters and pundits, Neville is likely to appear in some capacity before the end of the season.

Many club insiders expect Neville to take over Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s role as Reserve Team manager as the club has a tradition of maintaining links with its iconic names, from Sir Bobby Charlton to Bryan Robson and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

He is expected to combine a broadcasting career with his business interests and an ongoing role at Manchester United, whether in a coaching or ambassadorial capacity. Last weekend, Ferguson promised the player a job for life at Old Trafford:

“Gary will have a place at Manchester United for ever, there’s no question about that. Obviously there is a bit of speculation about who replaces Andy Gray and Richard Keys but it is not my agenda. Of course, we want him to stay here when he finishes playing but we’ll see. I don’t know what he’d be like as a pundit. I don’t know, he’s not got the experience.”

Neville said tonight:

“I have been a Manchester United fan all my life and fulfilled every dream I’ve ever had. I have played in the most incredible football teams, playing with some of the best players in the world, as well as against them, and I have been lucky to be a part of the team’s achievements and the club’s great success.

There have also been so many great players that I have had the privilege to train and play alongside. The experiences we’ve shared will be with me for the rest of my life.

I am looking forward to new experiences and the club will always be a part of my life, however the most important thing now is for the club to continue with the success that is synonymous with Manchester United and I will be supporting them all the way, as a fan.”

Ferguson and others tonight paid tribute to his leadership qualities and fierce competitive spirit. “The best right-back in Premier League history, fact,” Rio Ferdinand wrote on Twitter. “Gonna be a big loss to our dressing room.”

Neville inherited the captain’s armband from Roy Keane in November 2005, but within 18 months suffered a broken ankle against Bolton. Although he eventually returned to the United side and repeatedly battled back from a series of muscular complaints, he lost his once automatic place to Wes Brown, John O’Shea and current incumbent Rafael. His last appearance was in the victory at West Bromwich Albion on New Year’s Day.

Looking into the not-so-distant future, you can see young Rafael taking over the role held by Neville for what seems like a lifetime. You can see a lot of Neville in the Brazilian; the willingness to win, the desire to get forward, the strong tackles and the odd piece of controversy to go with it. It is as though Neville has seen his successor and is happy to step down knowing his spot is well covered.

Speaking about retiring 2 years ago, Neville said: “Leaving Manchester United in football terms is like falling off the end of a cliff.”

It was once said that only a great man knows when to quit, good luck Gary.

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  • Suheda says:

    Great blog 🙂 Even though I’m a huge rival of Man utd I must say that their two great players who have always stood out for me are Nevile and Giggs.
    A great play leaving behind a great legacy!

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