Football: Phil Neville backs Peter Lim's Valencia to La Liga title

Valencia's assistant manager Phil Neville (left) watching young midfielder Andre Gomes making a pass during training. The Spanish La Liga football club have kept their promising players together in the belief that they will help bring success in Spai
Valencia's assistant manager Phil Neville (left) watching young midfielder Andre Gomes making a pass during training. The Spanish La Liga football club have kept their promising players together in the belief that they will help bring success in Spain.PHOTO COURTESY OF VALENCIA FOOTBALL CLUB

Former Man United star feels talented young players can lift Peter Lim's club to La Liga title

He was once part of Manchester United's famous "Class of 92" youngsters who went on to dominate English football from the mid 1990s to the early 2000s.

So, when Phil Neville says he is excited about the young guns of Spanish club Valencia - whose assistant manager he is - one can be sure this must be a special bunch.

So special, in fact, that the former England international tips the Peter Lim-owned outfit to achieve Spanish football's Mission Impossible - win the Primera Liga - with those youths.

Besides Atletico Madrid's shock triumph in the 2013-14 season, the duopoly of Real Madrid or Barcelona have finished top every year since the 2003-04 campaign - when Valencia won the last of their six top-flight titles.

IN FOR THE CHALLENGE

I would not have left England for any other club - I wanted to be part of Peter's ambitious project.

PHIL NEVILLE, Valencia's assistant manager, on relishing the challenge given to him by club owner, Singaporean billionaire Peter Lim

Atletico's purported one-off success - inspired by then-rising talents like Thibaut Courtois, Koke and Diego Costa - has provided a blueprint for toppling the big boys, according to Neville.

"Atletico showed that, with young, talented and hungry players who have no fear, you can win La Liga," the 38-year-old said in an exclusive phone interview with The Straits Times on Wednesday, ahead of tomorrow's league opener away to Rayo Vallecano.

"At Valencia, we have that same mentality too. The club has so much positive energy after finishing fourth last year.

"We feel the title is possible this season with what we have."

With an average age of 24.06 years, Valencia had the youngest squad among Europe's top five leagues last season.

Their key players - Shkodran Mustafi, 23, Joao Cancelo, 21, Paco Alcacer, 21, Jose Gaya, 20, Rodrigo Moreno, 24, and Andre Gomes, 21 - are all below that average age.

Most importantly, Los Che have kept the promising crop together, resisting bids from Europe's elite for marauding left-back Gaya and silky playmaker Gomes.

The only key loss was centre-back Nicolas Otamendi, who has moved to Manchester City for around £34 million (S$75 million).

"If we get back into the Champions League on a regular basis, we can attract better players and further strengthen what is already a formidable line-up," Neville noted.

The six-time English Premier League winner raised a few eyebrows when he uprooted his family from Manchester to Spain's east coast last month, signing a three-year contract with Valencia.

"I would not have left England for any other club - I wanted to be part of Peter's ambitious project," said the former defender, referring to the Singapore billionaire with whom he also shares business dealings off the field.

"I just love being on the field, working with players, that's where my speciality is."

The Bury native takes two-hour Spanish lessons daily, and is already conducting video analysis sessions with the squad in his adopted tongue.

He also runs first-team training sessions in tandem with highly-rated manager Nuno Santo.

"The Nevilles are settling in well - my wife (Julie) is already conversing with the locals, my son (Harvey, 13) has joined the Valencia academy and my daughter (Isabella, 11) starts school next week," he said.

He seeks advice regularly from Real Sociedad manager David Moyes, under whom he played at Everton and later served as part of his coaching staff during the Scot's ill-fated season at United.

He said: "It's no secret that I want to be a manager myself one day.

"My goal now is to grow as a coach at Valencia and get them back to where they belong - top of European football."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 21, 2015, with the headline 'Neville backs Valencia'. Print Edition | Subscribe