Jaap Stam once called them ‘whingers and ‘busy cunts’ and while the former United defender made those comments about his one-time teammates in that infamous book over ten years ago, the Nevilles’ enthusiasm for the beautiful game show no signs of waning more than a decade later.
On hearing the news that Phil Neville had been added to the England under-21 coaching ranks back in February, I jokingly suggested Gary Neville might dodge the punditry equivalent of second season syndrome and also try to get in on the international act. Phil’s name was once again banded around as Hodgson sought out backroom staff for Euro 2012 duty, but it was his brother Gary who got the nod instead.
If Gary takes to coaching the way he has taken to talking tactics to the nation, it could prove a masterstroke from Hodgson and the English FA. For those supporters who only have hatred in their hearts for the Manchester United man through and through, most can momentarily take their tribal hats off and acknowledge his fine work in the Sky Sports studio. Having had to endure a raft of former players lack the ability to coherently present their knowledge and insight into the game or do their home outside of the British Isles, Neville has been astute signing for the broadcaster especially after the Gray and Keys debacle.
It could be Phil who has the tougher task on his hands though. So many promising young players have struggled to make the successful transition into the senior setup. Thrown into a cauldron of constant criticism and scrutiny, England have much to do to catch up with the likes of Germany and Spain when it comes to ensuring the cream of the crop can perform on the biggest stage.
Coaching badges aside, the Everton captain continues to step out for a top eight Premier League outfit and as a senior member of the squad has spent plenty of time getting the younger members of the squad on his side. Major tournament experience will also play its part in his ability to do his job having played at two European Championships and several World Cup qualification campaigns even if his services were never called upon for the finals stages of the tournament.
And so to Gary. Aside from the impressive introduction to football punditry, His insight into the modern game cannot be overlooked in this new role. Read his columns in the Daily Mail or follow his tweets on Twitter and it is a reminder of a man who accepts the game he first loved has changed in so many ways. Embracing those changes has played a part in his success at least domestically over such a sustained period of time. Neville can draw upon his experiences from the more traditional days as a ‘Fergie Fledgling’ to those seasons playing a more established role in front of a players like Cristiano Ronaldo who epitomises the modern-day footballer, which will surely prove invaluable as he embarks on his England coaching career
Some might say that Neville’s prominence as England’s first choice right back during England sides way back from the days of Venables at Euro 1996 to Keegan’s Euro 2000 side was down to the lack of competition for his place. The truth is of course that he was consistently the standout right back in the country if not one of the best in the game. If anyone knows about playing where the stakes are so high at such a young age, Neville has that fimrly in his locker.
So both players have the England experience on their side and the domestic honours to back up their coaching credentials but the one factor they share that may have had more influence over Hodgson’s decision to bring both into the England fold is one man; and that man is Sir Alex Ferguson. A manager who still lives and breathes success has already inspired other former players to step into management and no doubt Hodgson will be looking to the Neville brothers to help inspire the same hunger that the Manchester United manager continues to instil in his players.
So here we are on the cusp of a new era for England. One that for the first time in a while feels like that there is a long-term plan in place. Maybe this time Hodgson and Pearce will get it right. But then there will always be that air of inevitability that after a few bad results it could all go sour just as it did under Capello. At that point with Nevilles already on board and coaching certificates already hanging on the wall, it might not be such a bad call to give those ‘busy cunts’ the opportunity to go from England coaches to England managers one day.