Goodbye Neville No. 2, Hello Neville No. 1?

by Sam Wheatley

Thursday, February 3rd, 2011

It’s a sad day. An iconic figure in the English game has hung up his boots after an illustrious career. Gary Neville has finally called it a day at the age of 35, not short of a trophy or an England cap or two. A widely hated figure outside of Manchester (and in certain parts of it), Neville may be missed equally by opposition fans – Red Nev, the embodiment of Manchester United and Ferguson’s philosophy, has been a premier exponent of some of the most tasty rivalries in the Premier League.

Neville’s hatred for everything non-United can be symbolised by his relationship with Peter Schmeichel. The big Danish goalkeeper used to give Neville giant earfuls of ‘advice’ during games, from which a young Neville would usually sheepishly run. When Peter Schmeichel left for Manchester City, like a father dumping a boy’s mum for his auntie, Neville famously refused to shake hands in the tunnel when the two sides met, such was the depth of the betrayal felt by the right-back.

Pires recently claimed to seek revenge on Neville for the way the United man treated him whilst he was at Arsenal. Pires said “There were a lot of insults – he liked to tread on my feet at corners or free-kicks.” That was the measure of the man; to achieve victory for his side by any means necessary. Sadly, Pires will no longer have the opportunity to exact whatever Gallic semblance of revenge that he had planned.

His greatest enemy was, naturally, the city and football club of Liverpool. In 2006 his celebration cost him £5000 as he sprinted over to the Kop and kissed his badge with such passion that he incited a miniature riot. Neville, it is safe to say, would pay that fine one thousand times, such is his commitment to Manchester United. He was utterly unrepentant, and I’m certain given the opportunity to change anything about that day, Neville would amend nothing.

Neville also helped stir up the rivalry between United and Arsenal, at the start of the last decade when both sides regularly used to challenge for the title. Possibly his finest moment was kicking seven bells out of José Antonio Reyes, although other great Neville memories will include a blatant dive against Sunderland, for which he was booked and that one cross that he provided for Alan Shearer’s goal against Scotland at Euro 96.

That Neville possessed a great cross will remain one of the greatest fallacies in football history, but that won’t matter. His passion, commitment and loyalty smacks of a bygone era, and we may be lucky to ever see anyone that displays those qualities with quite such vehemence for a while yet. Manchester United fans will miss Red Nev, and the rest of us will miss those moments that caused us to loathe his very essence.

The twist in the tale is that this may not be the last we hear from Neville – Ole Gunnar Soksjær has taken up the reigns at Molde in Norway (his first club), leaving a gap in the United coaching staff. Could it be possible that Neville’s departure as a player could signal his emergence as Ferguson’s future replacement? For all of his outspoken views, Neville was a tactically astute player that lived and breathed for the club. Ferguson could do worse than mentor Neville – an icon of United’s illustrious past could well turn out to be the security of the future.

Follow me on Twitter @samuelefrumento

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