Can Gary Neville Stay Neutral for the cause?

Roy Keane has been forthright with his comments questioning Gary Neville’s involvement with the England team and criticising his dual role as a coach-cum-pundit.

As a fellow ex-Manchester United captain, he certainly has some insight into the mind of his former team mate but do Keane’s remarks raise genuine concern about former players combining media responsibility with their professional duties? When asked about blending the roles Keane said:

“That can be difficult. You can get your way around criticising players by saying: ‘I’d expect the player to do better.’ He probably won’t be as critical as me and speak in the terms I do. I know Gareth [Southgate] does it, but he’s not in the dressing room, he’s not on the training pitch, he’s not working with the players.”

It raises some interesting questions. Will Neville will be able to juggle his TV commitments while coaching the team? As a pundit Neville has been praised for his honest assessments but will he now hold his tongue when criticising English players?

In reality Neville is unlikely to say anything contentious enough to create dressing room animosity and he’s not known for singling out individuals without cause. Players know when they’ve played badly so are unlikely to feel victimised if their performances are scrutinised and they will be looking to new manager Roy Hodgson for gratification.

Neville’s role is fairly peripheral so he should avoid major drama but it does create a potential conflict of interest and he could find himself in a difficult position if he’s not careful. What if he praises a player that Hodgson doesn’t pick or chastises a player before they’re called into the squad? His analysis this season has been unbiased and informative but how will the public react when a coach is seen debating the merits of an England player on national television?

Others have taken a step back when put in a tricky situation by media commitments. Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp is reconsidering his role as a BBC pundit for Euro 2012 because he wants to avoid undermining Hodgson.

“I’m still trying to make up my mind.”

“I will look at it in the summer. It could be tricky. I wouldn’t be criticising (Hodgson) in any way so I suppose there’s not much point having me on!”

It seems Redknapp will sensibly withdraw himself from the firing line and Neville could follow suit should uncomfortable situations arise next season. Still it’s an excellent opportunity for him and he’ll be keen to see how things develop. Most fans understand that he’s an up and coming coach who offers International experience coupled with some dressing room familiarity. Hodgson has appointed him for a reason and both he and The FA have no qualms about their new coach being a pundit as well. Considering they’ve been quick to avoid controversy in the past is there really anything to worry about?

After all it was The FA who shut down the Capello Index when it was feared the former England manager’s analysis would undermine the team. Potentially embarrassing figures that rated England’s dismal 2010 World Cup performances were quickly removed despite other nation’s data remaining online. It’s an example of how sensitive the authorities can be so surely they foresaw any awkwardness that may arise before giving Neville the go ahead?

Perhaps there is nothing to worry about and Keane’s comments where just the Irishman trying to go against the grain. He has been openly critical of former players and managers during his career so is it surprising his attention is now focused on Neville?

Keane raises potential problems that may befall Neville but his negative slant comes across as an attempt to be provocative rather than rational. Keane has always been outspoken so should people really be concerned by his comments?

Surely if Neville is trusted to be tactful and professional then he should be allowed the freedom to speak to his mind and do his job.

Do you think Neville is a good addition to the England setup? Does Roy Keane have a point regarding conflict of interest? Let me know your views and opinions by following me on twitter – Tweet me @Alex_Churcher