Gary Neville’s first venture in to the world of football management had us all scratching our heads.
Many expected him to start at a lower league club in England – to ‘learn his trade’ – before eventually going on to become the greatest manager of all time. Well, his punditry skills on Sky Sports were impressive enough, so why no?
Anyway, G Nev decided to take the Valencia job and is now just weeks a way from walking back in to the Sky Sports studios with his tail between his legs. At least you tried, Gary!
It was being reported earlier this week that G Nev will leave the La Liga club at the end of the season once his initial five month contract comes to an end. Everyone’s favourite pundit has managed just three wins in 16 La Liga outings since taking the job and isn’t even expected to fight his case in a meeting next month. He knows he hasn’t been good enough. Fair play.
But should he have taken the job in the first place? We asked our top writers to have their say on the matter, and there’s a famous ol’ adage that pops up throughout…
Valencia have been the nearlymen of Spanish football for some time, with the glory days of the early 2000’s a distant memory. Coming up against the Clasico superpowers and Diego Simeone’s Atletico is an unenviable task.
As such, whoever is in the Mestalla hotseat is fighting a losing battle straight away.
For Neville, his status in the UK was burgeoning given justified respect through his punditry and coaching with England.
Moving to Spain was always going to be a real risk given the cultural and language difficulties he would encounter. A bedding-in period where results could not be expected to be positive was natural – but this has now spiralled out of control.
Regardless of his relationship with Peter Lim, Neville has been slightly short-sighted in my view in taking the Valencia job. It was always going to be a baptism of fire and as such, despite Sir Alex Ferguson’s reported advice telling him to go for the opportunity, ultimately the timing and destination have not been correct for his first role in management.
That said, hindsight is a wonderful thing.
Err, no. But hindsight is a fine thing, isn’t it?
Still, even the most ardent admirers of Neville’s punditry on Sky Sports had to admit that this was a bit of a jump for GNev. This is a man of obvious intellect but lacking the means with which to communicate it; with incredible drive but little experience in applying that energy to the job he was stepping in to.
One of the most common arguments in favour of Neville taking the job was: ‘How could he say no to such an opportunity? He may never get an offer like this again!’.
That incredulity suggests the problem with Neville’s appointment itself: he should never have been offered the job. He fits none of the criteria you’d look for in a manager of a top level side. Heck, he fits very little of the criteria you’d look for in the manager of a lower level side.
Neville didn’t know the league, didn’t know the club, didn’t know the language … but he did know Peter Lim. Funnily enough, this didn’t turn out to be adequate.
To paraphrase the God of Punditry himself, Gary Neville had little choice but to take the Valencia job. The club is besmirched in trophy-winning heritage and few superior offers were likely to come his way, so if word of him rejecting the Mestalla gig fell into the public domain it would have really eaten away at his credibility as a pundit.
Likewise, after years of talking the talk on Sky Sports, the timing felt right for the Manchester United legend to start walking the walk.
Of course, it hasn’t gone well for him at Valencia. But he inherited an underperforming squad lacking balance and took a job in a league he’d never even played in before, so mistakes were inevitable. These last few months of underwhelming results aren’t a true barometer of Neville’s managerial abilities and even if his coaching career has got off to a pretty rotten start, I’m sure he’ll take the lessons learned into his next job and perform much better.
That being said, I’d give my left you-know-what to see him return to the Sky Sports studio and dissect the Premier League on a weekly basis once again.
The obvious answer with the benefit of hindsight is no.
At the time I thought it was a relatively smart move, with Neville himself able to get out of the English media’s spotlight and work with a talented group of players at a big, historic club like Valencia.
However, there have been problems he hasn’t been able to overcome, and his relationship with Peter Lim has been used as a stick to beat him over the head with from the moment results indicated that the move was not going well.
That said, Neville clearly has ambitions to be a manager, has been working in the England set-up for a while, and as he alluded to when he took the job, the opportunity was one he couldn’t pass on with his aspirations.
But going back to my original point, I think it was the right time, just the wrong job.
Gary Neville’s prowess in the Sky studio hasn’t translated to dugout duties as well as the England coach might have hoped, but ultimately he was right to take the role when offered.
The former Manchester United defender has been lauded for his punditry, though the reasonably outspoken nature of it meant he had to make the transition at some point.
His time in La Liga has been a relatively chastening one, though the experience will surely make him a stronger coach going forward. Things don’t always work for good managers at certain clubs and it was probably too much of an adjustment straight away.
Still, that does not instantly make him a bad manager.
His pundirty may have lost some the aura surroudning it, but had he rejected the role when offered, it would look as if he was running away from ever practicing what he preaches.
Yes he was right to take it and will continue to become a better coach as a result.
It was a refreshing gamble by Neville to take the Valencia job and, in hindsight, it looks a calamitous decision. However, other than David Moyes, who failed dramatically, and Steve McClaren, who rebuilt his career, British managers have opted for the comfort of the British leagues.
English football will develop, and coaches will improve, with more education from abroad and Neville made a decision, perhaps based on ego, that was, at the time, a good one.
Whether he picked the job up on favouritism or coaching pedigree, Neville took over a club in turmoil and has failed to right the wrongs. Starting his career at such a big club reflects Neville’s own confidence in his ability, but he made the right, albeit risky, call.
Even if he never manages a team again, Neville will have learnt a huge amount from his Valencia experience and he stepped outside of his comfort zone in a way that so many managers seem to fear.
The fact he was offered the job shows that he is regarded highly as a coach and the lack of British managers abroad is an indictment of the game. A gamble that hasn’t paid off, yes, but at the time it looked worth a go.