Soccerex European Forum (Manchester): Gary Neville – Player, Coach and Pundit
Day 2 – Thursday 11 April 2013
14:00 – 14:45 Gary Neville – Player, Coach and Pundit
– Gary Neville, Coach, England & Pundit, Sky Sports
– Moderator: Guillem Balague, Presenter Sky Sports
Guillem Balague provided a simple introduction for Gary Neville, stating that the former Manchester United player had made 602 appearances for the club from Old Trafford and represented his country on 85 occasions.
Starting the session Balague asked what Neville had thought of the game he had attended last night in the Champions League at the Nou Camp between Barcelona and Paris St-Germain (PSG). The former United full-back said that at half-time he believed that PSG would go on and win the game. However, Messi showed what a difference he makes to the Barcelona side even when not fully fit. Neville added that PSG were so positive in their approach, but the psychological impact of the talisman Messi proved to be too much for the French team.
Guillem Balague then asked Gary Neville for his thoughts on the Manchester ‘derby’ on Monday. He replied that it was a strange one really in that the game wasn’t as important as it could or should have been, with the title already virtually won by United. Neville added that the game never got going and in no way could it be compared to the high standard he had witnessed in Barcelona last night.
Returning to the topic of the Champions League, Balague wanted to know why the English clubs had fared so badly this season in the tournament. Gary Neville said that the form of the teams during the autumn had been poor and also it was a fact that such success couldn’t be expected year-on-year. He continued that English clubs had experienced a ‘golden period’ and that even Barcelona can’t go on at this level forever. Indeed Neville added, the signs of a needed refresh at the Catalan club were evident. Guillem Balague interestingly noted that in the Premier League when teams need a change, the manager gets rid of a number of players, whereas in the case of Barcelona, the manager Pep Guardiola left. Gary Neville replied that he wasn’t talking about wholesale changes, maybe just three or four new faces. He ended by saying that the Semi-Final fixture against Bayern Munich would be very interesting.
The conversation moved to Neville’s career, with the ex-England player admitting he should have finished the season before he eventually did. He said he was persuaded by Sir Alex Ferguson to carry on into the 2010/11 season, but that those last 4 appearances for the club were pretty disastrous. Neville said that he admired players like Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs and David Beckham, who had been able to adapt their game, but for him that was difficult since his play was based on energy and fitness.
Balague asked if it was true that Sir Alex was very clever at planting certain ideas in players mind and then walking away to let them grow. Neville replied that was certainly the case when he was considering retiring. Sir Alex simply said his piece then sent Neville away to have a holiday for a week. He continued that the Old Trafford boss always had a vision, which was evident in the way he let players go and recruited even after the ‘Double’ triumph in 1995.
Neville was next questioned about the standards that were maintained in training and playing at the club. He said that Sir Alex always held the ‘good’ games against you so as to provide a ‘marker’ of your standard. Neville continued that it was a way of keeping players at a level in a positive way. He added that whilst recently Chelsea looked like they wanted to off-load older players of the calibre of Terry, Lampard and Cole, Manchester United look to manage players in the same way that AC Milan did with a squad containing a number of individuals in their late 30s. Neville said that Sir Alex was always insightful in using his squad and recalled the occasion in 1994 when Manchester United played Port Vale in the League Cup with a side containing 7 players aged 19 or younger. United were roundly criticised at the time, but won the game and players such as himself, Butt, Beckham and Scholes all gained valuable match experience that served them well later in their careers.
Balague asked Neville how he felt that first morning knowing he didn’t have to go to training. He replied that he had not missed training at all since finishing. Neville added that he expected to retire when he was about 35/36 so was prepared for it. He understood if players struggled when they had to retire prematurely through injury, but had no sympathy for older players who did nothing to prepare themselves for the end of their career. Neville added he also has sympathy for the lads who at 18 years old are told that they will never make it and therefore have to start again either in another career or at different clubs.
Since retiring, Balague wanted to know if Neville carried any pain or injuries from his playing days. He replied that like any player his joints had taken a battering, but even people who haven’t played professional football have aches and pains; it was the price you paid.
Gary Neville was next asked how he thought he would be regarded in ten years time – would it be as a great coach or great pundit. Neville jokingly replied – neither! He continued that in his last playing year he was offered a coaching role, but it didn’t feel right at the time. Neville added that when the chance came to work with and learn from Roy Hodgson and Ray Lewington with England, it was too good an opportunity to turn down. He detailed that he has his UEFA A Licence and is doing his Pro-Licence currently. Neville also added that he knew he had a dream situation, travelling around England and Europe watching and commentating on football as well as the intensity and importance of being involved coaching the national team.
Next Guillem Balague wanted to know what kind of preparation and hours Gary Neville put into his punditry work. He first said that he didn’t know how someone like Gaizka Mendieta managed it in a ‘foreign’ language as Neville could never see himself being able to commentate in Spain. He said that he found the initial games difficult as he didn’t know what do with his hands or what the right gestures were. In terms of preparation Neville said that he would generally watch three ‘live’ games on a weekend. He continued that for the Monday game, most things from the weekend would have already been picked up, so he had to look for a different angle. During the game, Neville said that he tended to watch the big overhead screens in the studio so as to get an overall view of what was happening on a pitch. For a Sunday match, such as the upcoming game at Stoke City, he would arrive about 10.30 – 11.00 and then just talk through the match as he sees it.
In terms of his varied career, Neville said that there was nothing like the ‘buzz’ you got waiting in the players tunnel or being in the dressing room as a coach; it just isn’t the same commentating. As he player, he said he was happiest on the pitch and felt less on edge, but strangely was never relaxed after games. He added that he can’t sleep after England games as he finds himself wanting to look back over the events of the game in coaching terms.
Balague enquired as to how Neville saw his commentating style. He replied that he didn’t really see himself as a broadcaster and all he does is says what is in his head and what he thinks. Neville continued that it was important to provide balance and not become cynical in the “in my day” manner. Balague asked if it was an issue talking about players that he coached. Neville said that it wasn’t, in that he believed he provided balanced and honest observations, although you had to be careful in the way words were selected so as they were not taken out of context. He continued that players really only got upset if the comments were personal or unnecessarily harsh.
Guillem Balague next moved onto the quote which the Spaniard perceived as an honest of Neville’s time with England, that being, “…playing for England was one long roller-coaster: some ups and downs, but also quite a few moments when you’re not really sure if you’re enjoying the ride…” The former international said that he loved playing for his country and that it had been a privilege. He continued that players never gave anything less than 100% and then as now it is about getting to the Finals and then progressing. Neville added that back in 2001 at Villa Park England had beaten Spain 3-0, they weren’t feared then and that time would come again. Balague asked Gary Neville what were the lessons to be learned with the way that Spain had developed in terms of quality coaching and football foundations. In reply Neville wondered if talent was being produced in this country or was it being blocked. He added that he was proud that the Premier League is global in the talent it attracts and the audience around the world. However, Neville said that there must be world-class talent out there in Manchester. Despite being a massive fan of the Premier League, Neville said that we had gone beyond the ‘tipping-point’ in terms of the balance between foreign and home-grown players. He continued that in La Liga 63% of the players were Spanish and that here in England we had to find a balance that worked for us, but thought the level in Spain was about right.
Balague asked Neville how he viewed Academies and their ethos of getting the best players together. He responded that the issue for him was the lack of competitive football lower down. Neville continued that when he was with Manchester United playing in the ‘A’ team you came up against first team ‘old pro’s’ in the opposition which meant the fixtures were hard and you got genuine match experience. He continued that he believed that the 17/18 year olds now were too protected and are not getting ‘hardened’ in the current system. Neville added that over the years he had commentated (whilst still a player) for MUTV on the FA Youth Cup Finals and had seen very little talent emerge from those teams. Staying on the subject of young talent, Guillem Balague wanted to know how easy it was for clubs to retain their elite youngsters. Gary Neville thought that it was impossible to work for all 92 League Clubs. He added that contracts made it very difficult, as players didn’t want to be locked into long contracts, whilst if a players signs a 2 year deal and had an excellent first season, any renegotiation would be at a higher level.
The session closed with Balague enquiring as to what Neville did away from football. He said that even in his twenties he had been involved in business outside of the game in such areas as development and renewables. Neville said that football has been his life, but knew that there is more to life than it.