Commentary

Gary's new appointment ultimately a boon for English football

Mestalla is no place for beginners, comes the cry from Spain, but Gary Neville is no naif, comes the reply from England.

Of all the members of Manchester United's silverware-laden Class of '92 and England's golden generation, Neville has always appeared the one who most possesses the assets required to survive and succeed as a manager. He is tactically smart and tough. If he learns Spanish swiftly, he has a chance.

His appointment as head coach of Valencia is a moment of mammoth significance for English football.

It has potential long-term ramifications for United and England. It will excite English coaches into believing that they can be entrusted with leading jobs.

The view from Spain is inevitably cautious, the consensus being that a former Manchester United player whom they know and respect is still a coaching ingenu and that Valencia are underachieving as a team and overwhelming as a club because of the internal politics.

Mestalla's terraces seethe with tension and concern over Peter Lim, the owner, and the involvement of Jorge Mendes.

Neville's new assignment has only benefits for England. He will report for Euro 2016 a more rounded, experienced coach. He will be a more legitimate contender to succeed Hodgson.

A business partner of Lim's and associate in the Salford City venture, Neville is perceived in some quarters in Spain as a puppet. They do not know him.

The view from England is more confident, knowing the character of Neville from his time standing up to attackers during 602 matches for United and 85 games with England.

Obstinate as a full-back and person, Neville believes in himself, regularly defying public and press opinion.

He took England to the brink of chaos in 2003 with a strike threat over the FA's suspension of Rio Ferdinand for missing a drug test. Others such as Steven Gerrard and David James were concerned over public reaction but their pleas were swept aside by "Red Nev".

Neville was born on a mission.

He is part stroppy trade unionist, part renaissance man with his broad range of interests from media work to hotels to coaching.

He is a remarkable individual, a mixture of the engaging and the adversarial. He would have made a decent QC, eloquently defending or prosecuting a case, sparring with the judge and the clerk of the court as well as the opposing lawyer.

But he is establishment now, an authority figure, a head coach who cannot fall out too freely with people. Neville will make this work because he has to. His plan was always to make his move into coaching after Euro 2016.

This opportunity has fallen his way and he has seized it.

However much of a shock, Spain makes sense - he will be tested, in La Liga and the Champions League, but away from the crazy, tribal world of English football.

It will take years for him to deserve any sobriquet but he is ambitious enough.

Further reasons to be hopeful for Neville are that Valencia are employing a player who won eight Premier League titles and two Champions League crowns, yet remains fanatically driven. Valencia have acquired a coach with a formidable work ethic.

This is a man whose mantra is "attack the day". He rivals the lark for early starts, posting tweets while the nation sleeps. The morning after England's Wembley game against Estonia, Neville had agreed to meet for a private hour-long chat at the squad's base at The Grove in Hertfordshire.

He was early, inevitably, was full value during an hour's discourse and left this observer enlightened and almost exhausted by his whirlwind of ideas.

He talks so passionately, so convincingly that even a footballing layman buys into his credo. His communication skill is one of his important gifts, which is why Phil, his brother, will be even more vital at Valencia. Yet for the players to be fully invigorated and informed, they need Gary to pick up the language fast.

They will quickly become familiar with a coach who manhandles them into the position he wants during pattern-of-play work. They will be impressed by the huge amount of preparation that he puts into training that will be challenging, enjoyable and focused on maximising their strengths and exposing opponents' weaknesses.

It's a long step from Monday Night Football on Sky to taking on Barcelona at the Nou Camp, but the essence of Neville's admirable punditry is in breaking down tactics to understandable chunks of thought. He's a master of the 20-minute presentation to players.

If he needs advice, he can surely call on Alex Ferguson.

An obvious concern is how Valencia will feel if the team are struggling and Neville heads back to England in late March to assist Roy Hodgson in the friendly internationals against Germany and the Netherlands. The latter fixture comes five days before Valencia play Las Palmas. Phil, at least, will remain behind.

However potentially problematic for Valencia, Neville's new assignment has only benefits for England. He will report for Euro 2016 a more rounded, experienced coach. He will be a more legitimate contender to succeed Hodgson.

United fans are already talking of Neville following Louis van Gaal.

He knows that he has to deliver in Spain first.

THE TIMES, LONDON

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 04, 2015, with the headline 'Gary's new appointment ultimately a boon for English football'. Print Edition | Subscribe