Diablo Rojo

25 Feb

Gary Neville is an overachiever. By any metric. If you rank third among even your own siblings in terms of sporting ability, then you’ve exceeded expectation if you peak any higher than the SPL. Yet Neville became one of the most decorated English footballers in history.

Some men are born great. Some men have greatness thrust upon them. And sometimes greatness accrues almost glacially; the sum aggregate of all the grain-by-grain victories. Neville achieved greatness the same way Andy Dufresne achieved liberation from Shawshank Prison. One spoonful of grit at a time.

——-

Outperformance was the norm for Eric Harrison’s love-child and a lot of it was down to exceptional decision-making. No matter how feisty the encounter, Neville could be relied on to make the right call in the heat of the battle. He knew when to overlap the right-midfielder and when to clear his lines. When to kick lumps out of Antonio Reyes (always) and when to wind up Patrick Vieira (in a tunnel, near to a mad Irishman).

It’s this fearsome level-headedness that made Neville’s snap decision to take over at Valencia all the more strange. Did at no point a voice in his head say, “you can’t speak the language, Gary, and you know nothing about La Liga”? Rushing into a six-month contract and starting language lessons on the job was brazen and amateurish. Everything Neville wasn’t as a player.

——-

It’s fair to say the risk hasn’t paid off. Armed only with Phil Neville, Neville arrived in south-east Spain and promptly embarked on a 9-game winless league run. Sandwiched in the middle was a 7-nil cup hammering against Barcelona. A hiding which prompted club legend Santiago Canizares to demand that Neville “apologise and resign” (presumably in whichever order he liked). It was Los Che’s worst defeat in 23 years and didn’t sit well with the mounting possibility that a club who had appeared in two Champions League finals this century might even be relegated.

——-

This has led to Neville being cast in Spain as a sort of Anglicised “Manuel” from Fawlty Towers figure. Desperate to please but really not following the plot at all. You feel he’s moments away from a door being closed in his face, or hit by a frying pan, all the while exclaiming “Que? … Que?” in that loveable Bury brogue. A prank call from Russell Brand can’t be far away.

How did it go so wrong for Los Neviller? Notwithstanding the uncharacteristically poor decision-making in taking the job in the first place, his lack of aptitude has still been jarring. Neville has always been a dab-hand at exceeding expectation, but this hasn’t so much been a reversion to the mean as it has a sky-dive past it.

The continued and heavy branding of Neville and his Manchester United peer group can’t have helped. When you play for a team that hasn’t won a league game for an entire winter, there’s only so many tales about the Class of ’92 you’re likely to be able to stomach. The Valencia players probably mouth along with Neville as he ends yet another stirring half-time team talk with “… but the one thing we had in common was that all six of us never knew when we were beaten”.

Being ordinary humans who had never participated in their own real life dream sequence, Neville’s charges probably couldn’t empathise with the new gaffer. Did these boys own their own chain of hotels or design the north-west’s first 100% eco-home? No. Some of them probably hadn’t even been to the old Cliff training ground, where Scholesy once got locked in the tumble dryer.

——-

When Neville left Sky Sports, he was promised that the studio door would always be left open. But at what point does he fail so badly that he undermines his credibility to return to even that? How hard does he have to pile into the iceberg before only the haunting spectre of Question of Sport team captaincy remains? It’s a chilling thought.

——-

He may yet turn it around. But, for now at least, Neville is steeped in the mediocrity he had always so magnificently avoided. After 25 years of getting way more miles to the gallon than the brochure promised, he’s finally underwhelmed us. “No shame in that”, as his old boss used to say.

There’s collateral damage, of course. After the cock-ups of Moyes and Neville, the next Brit likely to get a stab at managing in La Liga is probably now Jack Grealish. And there will be a few smirks when Neville inevitably does tip-toe back into the Sky Sports studio. Jamie Carragher’s levels of sympathy, for one, are likely to be pitched about as evenly as Carragher himself is.

But this ought to be water off a duck’s back for Red Nev. You can be philosophical about these things when you’ve won everything there is to win in the game. A dismal six months at Valencia will define Neville about as much as a brief stint managing Preston North End defined Bobby Charlton. In short, he’ll live. Plus, if he ever does fancy another crack at management, help is close at hand. Sister Tracey is already Head Coach of England in her sport. Perhaps Gary and Phil can take notes.

You can follow Sonny (@_SonnyPike) on Twitter or subscribe to Too Good for the English Game by clicking the “Follow” button on the right-hand side of this page (this button is mysteriously unavailable on the mobile version of the website).

Neville2

Having Phil already on the ground gave Gary the inside track on what managers wore in Spain.

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16 Responses to “Diablo Rojo”

  1. Snake Hips March 1, 2016 at 8:35 pm #

    FUCKING SHIT.

    • Iron Monger March 8, 2016 at 8:02 pm #

      Agree with Mr Hips. Shite. Take a dump on it.

  2. James Masterson March 10, 2016 at 2:27 am #

    MY BUM HURTS!!

  3. Footy Fan 76 March 13, 2016 at 4:46 pm #

    5 minutes I’ll never get back.

  4. Anon March 13, 2016 at 7:38 pm #

    Jesus…

  5. Anonymous March 20, 2016 at 9:46 am #

    FUCK OFF

  6. Anonymous March 26, 2016 at 6:03 pm #

    The writer probably has herpes.

  7. Bluto March 28, 2016 at 9:25 pm #

    10 FOOT DILDO

    • Jester March 31, 2016 at 8:28 pm #

      Ha ha ha ha classic. Spot on.

      • Mr Big April 2, 2016 at 9:12 am #

        Class, mate. Unlike the twat who wrote this.

  8. TGL April 4, 2016 at 11:12 am #

    Fuck
    Me
    Slow
    And
    Deep

  9. Squad Leader April 10, 2016 at 2:33 pm #

    I like football. I like blogs. I didn’t like this.

  10. East end thug April 12, 2016 at 9:15 pm #

    Suck ya mom

  11. Yorkie April 16, 2016 at 11:18 am #

    Read it. Hated it. Now what?

  12. Ledge April 16, 2016 at 4:15 pm #

    NOB

  13. Tossed salad April 21, 2016 at 12:24 pm #

    RUBBISH

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