In possibly the most shocking piece of football news of the last few years, Gary Neville has been appointed manager of Valencia in Spain’s La Liga. I remember when my dad told me, I immediately assumed he was mistaken. “No, you mean Phil,” I said because, as ridiculous as it sounds, this was the more plausible outcome. Phil, brother of Gary, has of course been assistant manager at the Spanish club since August and was announced as interim manager only 24 hours before Gary’s appointment, following the exit of Nuno Santo after less than a year in charge.
To most of us, it would appear Gary Neville has ‘done a Champ Man’ and taken charge of a top European club with little or no experience. Of course, they are far from the force they were 10 years ago and have seen financial woes that have forced them to sell talent of the likes of David Silva and David Villa, but it shouldn’t be underestimated that he’s still managed to secure a position many would covet, taking over at a club who, let’s not forget, reached two consecutive Champions’ League finals as recently as 2000 and 2001.
Look a little closer, however, and you’ll find that this appointment isn’t as out of the blue as it would first appear. Singaporean businessman Peter Lim, who took ownership of the club in May 2014 with a 70.4 percent stake, is also the co-owner of Salford FC and ipso-facto business partner of both the Neville brothers and other Class of ’92 Manchester United legends Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs and Nicky Butt, who have also invested in the English non-league club. For anyone wondering what it’s all about, you’ll get some idea if you view the BBC documentary ‘Class of ’92: Out of Their League’. It’s therefore not entirely unfair to assume that this particular connection has had a large part to play in Neville landing the job in the first place.
To say that this was the only reason, however, would be somewhat unfair. Neville has long been an advocate of ex-players and particularly pundits taking their coaching badges to improve their input into the analysis of the game and has, himself, completed his UEFA Pro Licence. He has also had significant coaching experience, working with the FA and Roy Hodgson in the current England senior set up for the past few years with Hodgson, himself, and the FA backing Neville in his new appointment.
How Neville will fare is yet to be seen, of course. He’s taking over a Valencia side who aren’t exactly in dire straights – they sit 9th in La Liga with 3 wins and two losses from their last 6 games – but whether this will make his job harder or easier is difficult to say. Taking over on December 6th, he’ll miss the league game with FC Barcelona, with his first game in charge coming in the Champions’ League against Lyon at the Mestalla. A bit of a baptism of fire, yes, but get it right and he could set the tone for what I, personally, hope is a very successful term in charge of the club.
What can’t be denied about Gary Neville is that he has always been determined and motivated, using what some would consider as little natural talent to build and forge one of the most successful playing careers in the history of the British game. If he were to become even half as decorated a manager as he was a player, I think most would consider it a successful career. And so, it’s with that in mind that I finish by wishing him and brother Phil the best of luck at the helm with Valencia (I can’t believe I just wrote that) and be left wondering what might have been for a role for which he became much-loved but was far too short, as a pundit for Sky Sports Monday Night Football.