The Greatest XI: Red Nev

Football began over 150 years ago. For myself, personally, it began in 1990. At the age of ten, I fell in love with the sport and of course Manchester United. Watching the FA Cup Final with my father and his mates, followed by Italia ’90. It really did capture my imagination, which got me thinking, what or rather who, would be my dream Manchester United eleven? Over the coming weeks I shall be selecting my one to eleven.

2. Gary Neville – Right Back

Gary Neville was a one club man, part of the famed ” Class of ’92”. Growing up as a Manchester United fan, Neville had to endure years of abuse from friends, fans of rivals Liverpool, who in the 70’s and 80’s, were both dominant in domestic and European competitions. However, Neville would have the last laugh, playing and captaining United in possibly their most successful period.

When Paul Parker was coming towards the end of his days at Old Trafford, Sir Alex never panicked, no need to delve into the transfer market. The younger generation were about to break through into the first team. Gary Neville played at right back for United and forged a brilliant partnership with best mate, David Beckham. Red Nev, made his debut in the Uefa Cup in 1992. It would be another two seasons, 1994/95, before Neville would establish himself as a first choice. Part of the famous treble winning side, Neville will always be remembered for being part of the greatest team in United’s history.

“Manchester United was a huge education for me,” Ronaldo said. “(Being at United) taught me to train hard all the time. To eat properly, sleep good, recovery sessions, everything. You have to dedicate yourself 100 per cent. There were guys who always arrived for training one hour early. Paul Scholes and Gary Neville were incredible examples. Neville was the most professional player I saw. This is why these guys played at the top level for 10 years”
– Cristiano Ronaldo

While tenacious in the tackle and positionally excellent, Neville would also be a valuable asset in attack. The amount of times that Neville would tuck in when the ball was on the opposite side of the pitch to defend the back post and clear his lines, was not luck, it was a great sense of awareness. Not the fastest player by any stretch of the imagination, but his ability to know where to be on the pitch, would always get him out of trouble. Attacking wise, Neville forged a great understanding with David Beckham. Overlapping runs and an ability to put in a decent cross would all add to the attacking armoury of the committed full back.

“He didn’t mind getting forward but he enjoyed defending and was very good at it. He was also good at getting balls into the box and he liked to attack, but because of his fitness and agility, he could get up and down the line. He was a very good defender and an organiser.”
– Alan Shearer

Neville was made club captain in 2005, following the departure of Roy Keane. Neville would skipper the club to two Premier League titles, a Champions League, Super Cup and League Cup. Unfortunately for Neville, he would miss the Champions League triumph in Moscow in 2008 due to injury. An injury which Neville would never really come back from.

“Busy” as he was sometimes called by his teammates, made over 600 appearances for his boyhood club, collecting 20 major trophies along the way. Neville represented England on 85 occasions, a record for a full-back. In my opinion, the best full-back that I have seen at both club and country level.

“Gary was the best English right-back of his generation. He is an example to any young professional; hard-working, loyal and intelligent. As a United fan born and bred, his fantastic career at Old Trafford has cemented his place in the affection of the club’s supporters everywhere.”
– Sir Alex Ferguson

“Gary Neville is a red, is a red, is a red, Gary Neville is a red, he hates scousers.” A song belted out on the terraces of the Stretford End on a regular basis, and why? In the January of 2006, United were playing at home to rivals Liverpool. The game was 0-0 and heading for a draw before Rio Ferdinand’s injury-time header, won the game for United. Neville, instead of running to match winner, Ferdinand, Neville headed into the opposite direction, across the big, wide Old Trafford pitch, towards the small section of away fans. Clutching the United badge and screaming into the sky, Neville celebrated like a man who had finally got his revenge, revenge on all those kids at school, goading him each year as Liverpool picked up yet another trophy. He was fined by the FA to the tune of £5,000. Neville would protest this, asking if players were to just act like robots. I’m quite sure that Neville would do it all again, given the chance.

In a toilet at the Hawthorns, Neville would call time on his glittering career. Struggling in the first half of a game at West Brom, Neville was subbed at half time and decided that he was doing a disservice to United by continuing to play. Typical Neville, always putting the club before his own gain. Neville never had an agent, and always signed any new deal United would put in front of him. Playing for United was worth more to him than any amount of money. His contract was canceled with immediate effect.

Gary Neville would go on to become a pundit on Sky Sports, while also getting his coaching badges and becoming part of the England set-up under Roy Hodgson. A short stint as manager of Valencia in Spain, Neville would, unfortunately, be relieved of his services. Sky would come calling again. Neville has his fingers in many pies. Co-owner of Salford City and Hotel Football, Neville seems to be able to turn his hand to anything. Red Nev, the best full-back to ever grace the Theatre of Dreams.

 

About the Author

John McNicoll
Southern Red and Football enthusiast.