By Tony Attwood
According to Wikipedia G Neville is one of the most decorated English and European footballers of all time, having won a total of 20 trophies, including eight Premier League titles and two Champions League titles.
After retiring as a player he went into the world of the pundit with Sky Sports and during his time as a pundit he was particularly scathing about Arsene Wenger, often calling his tactical performances naive.
Of course one must fully admit that G Neville did something many other ex-players and pundits would not do – he tried his luck as a manager. And like many other players before him, he flopped.
The question now is whether having flopped as a manager he will return to punditry and continue to attack Arsene Wenger in the way that other managerial flops such as Frank McLintock and Paul Merson have done, or whether he will have a spot of humility and shut up.
I suspect (but it is only a suspicion) that when Neville took over at Valencia, and he heard that they were in crisis because they were ninth, and just five points away from a Champions League place, he didn’t really think it was a crisis, because he didn’t do the bit of arithmetic that anyone who follows Spanish football ought to do.
It goes like this…
Celta Vigo currently in fifth are closer to relegation than they are to winning to league. All of the top seven clubs have a chance of European football next season. The eighth club (Malaga) is actually only 11 points above a relegation place.
This is what you get from a league where only three teams can ever win the league, where the much celebrated (by the media) upsurge of Tottenham and Leicester and perhaps WHU, never happens. The top three are the top three forever.
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So Valencia had to keep up their record that they had when Neville took over not in order for the club to stand still, but in order to avoid relegation. Now they are just six points away.
Of course multiple pundits never dare attempt management but spend their time endlessly attacking managers and their tactics. So 1-0 to the Neville for having a go. 0-1 for his ability as a manager however.
Unfortunately his statements don’t give us much hope for the future.
“I believe in myself and I believe that I can deliver or I would not have taken this on,” Neville said when he took on the job. Of course the media will not turn on him, because he is a man who attacks Wenger, so the “young, divided, disconnected and unfit squad” is being blamed. “An unstable club in a foreign country, where he does not speak the language and midway through the season, too.”
Yep – but they were doing better without him than they did with him.
What he did find out was that the instant changes that he and so many other pundits have tried to press upon Wenger simply don’t bring changes in a TEAM sport. Neville changed everyone and everything – captain, assistant coach, players, tactics… it took 10 attempts for Valencia to win in the league under him. Before he came they were invincible at home. Not any more.
Then, not knowing the meaning of either humility or reality he refused to resign. That surely was the biggest mistake of all – although of course the media won’t see it that way. He attacks Wenger; they love him.
It would be lovely if those who had not managed with success didn’t give their comments on current managers – but then that would leave us with precious few pundits (which would be good). And indeed even those who have managed with success don’t always make good pundits.
David Moyes won the second division with Preston in 2000 and the Charity Shield with Man U in 2013 but didn’t really impress on his move into punditry with his comment about the jury being out over Ozil (player of the year in Germany, David).
The point about punditry is that it is instant, it is totally surface (there is no background analysis, no in-depth consideration) and there is no come back, unless people on blogs remember and throw it back in the pundits face.
So I don’t expect a change – but at least Neville has shown us something: that being a smart pundit really reveals nothing about one’s knowledge of football.