Hard man Gary Neville wants to welcome one & all

Gary Neville's laughing all the way to the bank, with the £20 million (S$41.6 million) hotel tie-up in Manchester almost ready.
Gary Neville's laughing all the way to the bank, with the £20 million (S$41.6 million) hotel tie-up in Manchester almost ready.ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

Neville & United mates soon to open hotel, a joint project with Peter Lim

Hospitality and Gary Neville are not two words that go hand in hand for rival footballers and fans when they are visiting Old Trafford.

The former Manchester United captain and defender, who spent his entire career at the club, is better known for his fierce and unyielding loyalty to his team's cause.

This is, after all, the man who infuriated Liverpool supporters when he wildly celebrated a win in front of them in 2006.

But today, the 39-year-old wants to welcome fans, even those from rival clubs, as he prepares to assume the role of gracious host at his new hotel, located right next to Old Trafford.

The four-star, 133-bed room establishment, unsurprisingly called Hotel Football, is a joint project with Singaporean billionaire Peter Lim, as well as his Class of '92 team-mates Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt, and brother Phil. The former Red Devils will frequent the hotel when it opens on March 2.

Neville, who is in town for a holiday, chuckled at the prospect of mingling with opposing fans.

He told The Straits Times yesterday in Singapore: "It won't be a problem. The hotel is for all football fans, and we'll engage in banter with (rival supporters). The bookings we've had so far, which has exceeded expectations, they're from fans of all the clubs.

"But obviously on matchdays it'd be very much about Manchester United and the Old Trafford Supporters Club."

Besides its prime location next to the Theatre of Dreams, the hotel also boasts a rooftop futsal pitch, a panoramic view of the city, and a cafe menu designed by a chef with two Michelin stars.

Dressed casually in a black polo shirt, jeans, and sneakers when he met local media at the Shangri-La hotel, Neville was laid-back and showed his self-deprecating humour, as he played the role of the genial host.

Like his energetic runs up and down the right flank, the man with 85 England caps has hardly slowed down since retiring in 2011.

Besides his hotel business, Neville is also a newspaper columnist with The Daily Telegraph, an assistant to England manager Roy Hodgson and a pundit with Sky Sports, where he has been praised for his insightful and balanced analysis.

He hinted at dropping some of his current commitments, saying: "I need to pull things back a little, and concentrate on maybe one to two projects. I know privately (which one to give up), but I don't want to say yet."

On his popularity as a pundit, Neville said: "I knew when I got into the job I have to be as fair as possible to all the clubs, United, Liverpool, City, Chelsea, Arsenal, and I'd like to think I've achieved a good balance.

"The most important thing is to make sure your details and analysis back up what you're saying.

"Do I do a lot of research? Not really. A lot of it is instinctive. Statistics should only be used to support a feeling."

Part of his TV work includes picking apart the club he supported as a boy, but Neville does not find it difficult to discuss United's struggles, and said he would not care if someone from the club told him to tone down.

He said: "No one from the club has approached me, but I wouldn't listen to it anyway.

"Football clubs know being in the job means they are going to be open to critique, whether it's positive or critical, and they shouldn't be worried about what a pundit or a commentator says."

However, he is confident that under Louis van Gaal, the Red Devils, who are still third in the Premier League table despite not hitting top form, will scale the heights of the Alex Ferguson era in the next three years.

Said Neville: "He's been successful wherever he's been, and if we can get into the Champions League and have a good FA Cup run this season, it'd be fantastic.

"He's only been in the job for seven months, and I don't think we should be overly-critical at this point.

"The performances aren't brilliant, but the results are good and that's the most important thing.

"Imagine when they start clicking."

siangyee@sph.com.sg