In Good Conscience

Neville appointment a gamble for Lim and Valencia

Peter Lim is gambling with his money, and with Valencia's future.

Gary Neville is gambling, temporarily at any rate, by stepping out of the TV critics' booth to become head coach of a big club in a league and a culture, where he has neither played or managed.

Valencia C.F. has two games within the space of five days that could define their season. Neville's younger brother, Phil, steps up from assistant coach to take charge of today's game, which happens to be against Barcelona, which on their last away trip scored just the four goals in thrashing Real Madrid in the Bernabeu.

There you go, brother. Enjoy.

Gary will take a watching brief, and tomorrow get down to running his first training session in Spain.

I can imagine that the Neville brothers are among the best football minds he has come across. They, like the owner, are not afraid of hard work and, schooled by Sir Alex Ferguson at Man Utd, there probably is very little that they don't know about football, footballers and winning matches.

He then has two more training days to get the tactics right for a win-at-all-costs Champions League game at the Mestalla against Lyon.

Let's be clear: Any football appointment has an element of throwing the dice. This one just happens to look like the spin of a roulette wheel.

I don't know Lim well enough to hold informed views on how he made his billion from waiting at tables to big-time investing.

I can imagine that the Neville brothers are among the best football minds he has come across. They, like the owner, are not afraid of hard work and, schooled by Sir Alex Ferguson at Man U, there probably is very little that they don't know about football, footballers and winning matches.

In Gary's case, make that winning in life.


Gary Neville, at his official presentation as Valencia's new coach on Thursday, has taken the reins of a major club in a league where he has neither played nor managed. - PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

When he stopped playing (while still at the top with United), his reputation was that of a leader, a winner, a pragmatist in a Red Devils team who went forward for fun.

The dressing room tales were that G. Neville was akin to a shop steward on the factory or the office block floor. All in this together, take the points any way you can, and incidentally beat that other team in red, Liverpool, as if life depends upon it.

Out of such parochial distaste, which some thought bordered on hatred between Liverpool and United, somehow he and the former Liverpool one-club career man Jamie Carragher became best pals presenting Sky television's most in-depth football punditry.

Neville was, up until Lim called to offer him the reins in Spain, the revelation of the studio dissection business.

His clarity, his knowledge, and above all his willingness to speak the devastating truth (even about United's failings), surprised many of us who regard this TV chat between old pros as a soft option.

Many, if not most, ex-players on the pundits' couch give the impression of biding their time, keeping their face and voice out there so that club owners think of them when the time comes to roll the dice and change managements.

The Nevilles are not into soft talk. They speak with a critical insight that can be withering.

They hold nothing back, even when commentating on old friends who are still out there trying. They criticise people they know, and who are trying to stay in their precarious roles as players or managers.

We can imagine Lim becoming more impressed by big brother Neville's decisive voice at Salford City FC, the small club whom Gary and Phil rescued along with former United colleagues Ryan Giggs, Nicky Butt and Paul Scholes.

With Lim pitching in (for him) the small change to own 50 per cent of Salford, the Old Boys have a 10 per cent stake each.

It is a small step for Gary to being the dominant voice in that boardroom, having been that in Sir Alex's domain all those years.

Valencia, though, represent a giant leap. G. Neville's commitment is just for six months, but he says he will make no short-term decisions on Valencia's behalf.

He is moving his wife and two daughters to Spain as soon as the school term ends in Britain, and if there is any transfer activity in January, he intends it to be for the club's long-term good.

Longevity seldom means much in football, aside from Ferguson's exceptional quarter-century at Old Trafford.

After Wednesday, Valencia will be in, or out, of the Champions League. By next June, the Neville experiment will be judged on whether Valencia have risen to at least fourth in La Liga.

How Gary deals with the players, how he changes what many regard as the undue influence of so-called Portuguese super agent Jorge Mendes, and how much of the language the new coach picks up are all relevant.

At the end of that half-season, and after the Euro 2016 tournament in France, Gary Neville might have four options:

• Stay on as Valencia team boss (or maybe hand over to P. Neville).

•Take the job as England manager if Roy Hodgson's time is up. (Neville plans to continue as Hodgson's right-hand man in his spare time).

• Return to United as manager if Louis van Gaal is deemed to have failed (a tricky one, this, given that Giggs is meant to be the apprentice to van Gaal)

•Back to the studio, which would welcome Neville back at £3 million (S$ 6.3 million) a year.

I didn't mention the Neville and Giggs Hotel Football business, which, again, Lim has a stake in.

Small wonder that Gary seeks a teacher to be up at 6am to give him Spanish lessons. The early bird habits will come in handy for those inevitable calls from Singapore.

Before Lim bought the major shareholding and installed Chan Lay Hoon as executive president, the club were running out of players to sell to stay viable. The academy had produced David Silva (Manchester City), Jordi Alba (Barcelona) and Juan Barnat (Bayern Munich). The team still hold one potential jewel, striker Paco Alcacer.

Ultimately, it is what Neville gets out of Alcacer and the rest that will determine a lot of things - where Gary goes next, where the club are heading, and where the mutual admiration between the Nevilles and Lim leads.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 05, 2015, with the headline 'Neville appointment a gamble for Lim and Valencia'. Print Edition | Subscribe