Red Nev strikes right note! England coach admits his errors and praises FA
23:37 GMT, 31 May 2012
When Gary Neville was offered the
opportunity to become a member of Roy Hodgson’s coaching staff at the
FA, among the first people he wanted to tell was Sir Alex Ferguson.
It just felt right, to break the news to the man who was his manager and mentor for all those years at Manchester United.
Middle man: Gary Neville at England training
‘He already knew,’ said Neville. ‘I was panicking, walking into his office. But he knew about 10 days before I did, as per usual. Roy had spoken to him. I thought “That is just typical”.
‘I was always going to speak to him. I wanted him to be one of the first people to know about it.’
Clearly, Ferguson gave Neville a glowing reference and encouraged his former skipper to take the job, too. ‘He was very positive,’ said Neville. ‘He thought it would be good for me.’
This is the first time Neville has
really spoken about becoming an England coach and he is as candid as
ever. He reflects on his own experiences as an England player just as he
discusses the role he now hopes to play with this generation of
about the benefit of working as a television pundit for the past year
and how he plans to remain on our screens in the future. But he also
talks about his Red Nev past; his brushes with the governing body he
now serves and even about the observations he made with regard to the
current crop of England players in his role as a newspaper columnist.
Points of view: Coach Neville has a lot to say
was before he realised he would be working with them, but in one squad
he omitted John Terry as well as Rio Ferdinand and Frank Lampard.
‘I’ve said a lot over the years!’ replied
Neville, laughing. ‘If you went through my back catalogue you’d have
some fun. But on that point, I’d say two things. One, at that stage I’m a
punter, speaking from afar.
‘Having spoken to or listened to Roy, he wanted to have an eye on moving
forward and I think he has shown that in the squad. From Roy’s
perspective he also wanted to pay respect to the players who had got the
team to the tournament and worked so hard over a two-year period.
‘It makes sense when you listen to Roy talk about his thought process behind the squad.’
Neville talks a lot of sense and he does not pull his punches. Having
the WAGS staying nearby, he says, is not a mistake that will be
‘That won’t happen again,’ he said. ‘The FA learned from the experience
in 2006. The England team did. That wasn’t ideal for anybody. It was
symptomatic of the times. Between 2002 and 2007 everyone got carried
away with everything in life. It is a different world now.
‘We are managing it this time in a completely different way. We are here to play football. We are here to work.’
WAGs on tour: England players' partners provided a daily sideshow to World Cup
It is that kind of experience, that honesty, which Hodgson likes. He did
not want a ‘yes man’. He wanted someone who would challenge him,
someone with an opinion based on real knowledge and expertise.
Neville’s ability to articulate his views is something he has
demonstrated on Sky and he is the first to accept it may have attracted
Hodgson to him.
‘Undoubtedly,’ he said. ‘If I had gone straight into a job, I wouldn’t
be sat here today. I have seen so much football this year and I have
been able to appreciate other teams, other players, more. I was stuck in
my world at Manchester United. It was all-consuming. I needed to get
out of that; get off the roundabout if you like.’
He suspected his sudden transition from media pundit to England coach
would raise a few eyebrows. After all, he had no coaching experience
even if he had acquired his coaching badges.
‘I knew it would create a headline,’ he said. ‘I don’t get emotional
about things, but I felt it was an important moment for me and I have an
opportunity to contribute in a different way. I played for England for
many, many years.
'My frustration with England was that we never won a
trophy but hopefully over the next four years I can be part of a team
that does get to a successful position. I am aware of the difficulties
of that. But this is a privilege and an honour. It is special. I love
the country. What do other people think Generally the reaction has been
good, but you get a thick skin playing for United and England for 20
Out and about: Players were given plenty of freedom to mingle with their other half around the town of Baden Baden, near where the team hotel was based
When it comes to what has been wrong with England in the past, Neville is well qualified to debate the subject.
‘I have analysed it,’ he said. ‘If you want it in one sentence, we haven’t been good enough.
‘At the same time — and I have been explaining this to some of the lads
over the last few days — I went to five tournaments and in four of them
we went out on penalties. The lines between success and failure are so
Joe Hart makes Neville think it could be different this time.
‘I’m not being disrespectful to the goalkeepers who I played with,’ he
‘But we have a great goalkeeper now and that may be the
Not that Neville thinks the disappointment he endured was just down to
penalties. ‘That’s not been the real reason,’ he said. ‘At the ’98 World
Cup, France and Brazil were better than us.
‘Brazil were better than us in 2002. 2004 and 1996 are the ones I always
look back on as being particularly disappointing because I thought we
were good enough.
‘That’s the message now — to be free and not to be looking back in 10
years thinking, “I wish we had done this or done that”. That’s the
message I want to get across. If I don’t then I’m not doing my job.’
All ends in tears: England again fell at the quarter-final stage at Germany 2006
Neville tries to explain exactly what his role is. ‘It’s about trying to
help the players when the moment arises,’ he said. ‘It’s about helping
them to do the right things, eat the right things, train the right way,
don’t train too much, rest, sleep. At Euro 96 I don’t think I slept for
‘The boss does the bigger-picture stuff on the team shape but I think
you can affect players’ mentalities individually and speak to them.’
Neville applauds Hodgson for giving the players some time off when
other countries were already preparing for the European Championship.
‘We have tried everything else,’ he said. ‘I think it’s brave by Roy
Hodgson, giving the players some time off. He has respected the fact
that they need a break.’
Neville will not get much of a break. Before he knows it he will be back
on TV, analysing matches and analysing the performances of the players
he is working with now.
‘There’s been a lot said about this in the last week and until the
season starts nobody knows how it’s going to go,’ he said. ‘But a year
ago people were asking how I would ever be able to commentate on a
Manchester City or Liverpool match. I’d like to think I’ve overcome
those fears and I’m going to have to do it again.’
He has been critical of the FA in the past. In 2003 he even led the
players in threatening to strike over what he considered the harsh
treatment of Rio Ferdinand in the wake of his missed drugs test. That
the FA still employed him is something he appreciates.
‘What it shows is that the FA and the boss are not afraid to make
decisions,’ he said. ‘Roy said he didn’t want “a yes man”. I’ve said in
the past that I feel England managers have invited friends to be around
them at times. If I’ve criticised the FA it’s been about one incident.
It’s not aimed at the organisation as a whole.
‘At times I can look back and think I might have handled myself
differently, but we are where we are and I have said continuously over
the last 10 to 12 years that there are an awful lot of good people at
But he won’t be leading another strike. ‘No, not now,’ he said.