Sometimes life throws up little surprises that really make your head spin, volcanic ash, Lib Dems in government-sort of- Alan Shearer saying something remotely interesting. One thing that never ceases to surprise is the predilection for spouting agitating nonsense of a certain Mr Gary Neville.
It seems Neville can’t go more than a few weeks without making some arbitrary comment about footballing matters that more often than not don’t really concern him.
His latest vitriol was aimed at England manager Fabio Capello following the Italian’s decision to omit Wes Brown from his World Cup squad.
Speaking to the Times of Malta Neville stated: “I’m slightly surprised in some ways that there is only one right-back in the entire squad, but I’m probably more surprised Wes Brown isn’t in the 30, to be honest.”
It seems Neville either doesn’t regard Jamie Carragher as a viable option at right-back or has simply forgotten that the Anfield vice-captain can fill that position.
As a United fan, I’m a big admirer of Wes Brown. During the double winning season of 2007-08 Brown played more games than anyone else and was superb throughout the entire campaign, which culminated in him setting up Cristiano Ronaldo’s goal in the Champions League final. I remember him bursting on to the scene in 1998-99 and performing admirably against the likes of Barcelona. However one criticism I have of Brown is that when he returns from injury it often takes him a few games to get back into his stride. The beginning of this season was a case in point as against the likes of Birmingham and Burnley Brown really struggled. If he was to be suddenly called upon in a big world cup game he may be a real liability and I personally would hate to see him at fault for costing England the chance to progress and being lambasted by the over-zealous media.
You could argue that Brown is more used to playing at right-back than Carragher is so therefore should be on the plane to South Africa. However while that may have been true in the past, this season Sir Alex Ferguson has used Brown almost exclusively at centre back, preferring Rafael Da Silva, John O’Shea and Neville himself in the right back slots.
There is of course the possibility that the Manchester United skipper was actually surreptitiously criticising the national coach for not picking Neville himself. It must have really pained Neville to see a member of his favourite team Liverpool edge him out of the squad- even more so when that player had previously retired from the international scene. While many, myself included thought Neville may have done enough to be taken as Glen Johnson’s understudy Capello obviously otherwise.
Questioning the national coach’s decision making is one thing but just in case Capello was not particularly bothered by Neville’s comments, he decided to go one further by insulting the Italian’s decision to try and coax Paul Scholes out of international retirement. Neville said:
“Capello spoke to Scholes to try and bring him back into the squad, but Scholes retired a good few years ago from international football and he’s not the type to go back on that.
“I’m not surprised Capello tried to get him out of retirement because if there’s one player I would try to pull out of retirement, it’s Scholes.
“Capello maybe got a bit desperate at the last minute and wanted Scholes because he’s still probably the best midfielder in England, but Scholes decided to stick to his guns.”
Again, while you can see Neville’s point that Scholes would be a useful part of the squad- his form for United the past few weeks has been vintage- the question remains is calling Capello ‘desperate’ really necessary? The answer is arguably no.
Neville just can’t seem to help himself, and while you could argue that similarly to the earlier comment he’s merely praising one of his team-mates, the whole thing seems rather pointless, merely designed to generate more anger his way. As soon as I saw the headline ‘Neville questions Capello’s squad’ I could picture nearly all of England rolling their eyes in disgust.
Neville always seems to have something to say and even United fans can sometimes find him slightly embarrassing.
Since injuries stopped him from being a permanent member of the United team, Phil’s more outspoken older brother seems to have decided to make himself the club’s unofficial spokesman.
You could argue- in fact I have in the past- that he’s less of a spokesman and more of a ranting clown, randomly spouting garbage to anyone who cares to listen or print his at times semi-moronic dribbling.
This season he’s done himself –if no one else- proud by criticising Carlos Tevez- not worth the money, Liverpool –deserved what they got in Europe, Chelsea- not an exceptional season and now Capello.
While I can often agree with Neville, in fact in nearly all of what he’s said I can see his point, the question is why does he always feel the need to say it?
It’s not merely his words that cause outrage amongst opposition fans, his goal celebrations- running towards Liverpool fans, gestures- giving Tevez the bird and even snubs- refusing to shake then-Manchester City goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel’s hand before a game, all seem the actions of a die-hard black shirt rather than a club captain.
The attitude that often pervades among United fans is ‘us against the world’ and many of Neville’s supporters would no doubt argue that he’s merely embracing this ethos. After all if I’m totally honest the sight of former Liverpool players, pretending to be objective about United on nearly every football programme can often grate as can some of the national media’s love of all things London.
Neville could be a welcome antidote to much of this if his credibility wasn’t so tarnished by his often childish churlishness.
Part of the sad thing about all this is due to his antics many people have become clouded when it comes to Neville’s footballing ability. People can easily dismiss him as merely some form of village-idiot forgetting how good he actually was and still can be.
Neville actually made the England team before his mates David Beckham and Scholes, playing every game -bar the semi-final where he was suspended-in Euro’ 96.
He was also instrumental in United’s dominance during the nineties and noughties, making nearly 600 appearances and winning every major honour there is in the game.
People have been waxing lyrical about Patrice Evra recently, yet for me Gary Neville was every bit as good in his heyday, getting forward well linking up with Beckham- then Cristiano Ronaldo. He was also excellent in defence, the timing of his tackles and his all-round energy enabling him to cope with practically any left winger in the world.
It seems though that much of this is in danger of being forgotten as Neville seems more concerned with making himself everyone’s least-favourite United player.
He’s entitled to his opinion and as club captain of one of the biggest clubs in the world he’s always going to have people willing to listen, I for one just wish he’d try and do what most players who are hated do- let his football and success do the talking.
Read more of Justin’s work at his excellent blog ‘Name on the Trophy’