Monday, May 21, 2012

Gary Neville

I couldn't say no to England, so the hard work starts now

I was picking my kids up from school when Adrian Bevington from the Football Association contacted me asking whether I could speak to them on a confidential matter. As I was outside the school playground I thought it had better wait until I got home.
And when I did get home and made the call, I heard the news that Roy Hodgson wanted to speak to me about becoming a part of his coaching team.
I don’t get emotional at moments like that and it wasn’t as though I was jumping around. But it was a surreal experience and there was a definite sense of something significant in my life taking place. It was a moment that you would remember for the rest of your life. Because I’ve had a lot to say about the FA and England over the years and it has not always been complimentary. But to be asked by Roy to work with the national team is a huge honour.
The meeting with Roy, whom I hadn’t met before last week, wasn’t going to happen for a few days and during that time I discussed it only with my dad and my wife. She did point out — lightheartedly, I should stress — that our idea had been for me to see a bit more of my family after my retirement. However, once I had talked it through with my family, I already knew what decision I was going to make, even before I had met Roy.
Unifying force: Neville hopes to help Roy Hodgson build a more supportive atmosphere
Unifying force: Neville hopes to help Roy Hodgson build a more supportive atmosphere
It was the only decision to make. I love football and I love England. I know people may think otherwise, largely because I said in my autobiography that my England career had been a massive waste of time. But that was a phrase born out of professional frustration. It was a waste of time because I never got past a semi-final and, after 1996, didn’t even get past a quarter-final. I have 85 caps for England but I’d rather have Nobby Stiles’s 28 caps. His mean so much more because he is a World Cup winner.
It has always been a huge honour to represent my country, but in the five tournaments in which I played for England there was a sense of wasted opportunities. During that time I’ve had plenty of opinions, most of which I’ve aired publicly.
I’m sure I’ll be reminded of a few of them when I do my first press conference. And looking back, there were times when the FA would probably say things should have been handled better and times when I could have handled myself better.
But now I’ve been presented with a chance to make another contribution. Being part of the management team is an awful lot harder than talking about it. But it is a challenge I’m relishing simply because, as a footballer, there is no greater honour than winning a trophy for your nation. In 2002 I missed the World Cup because of injury and watched the games with my mates in pubs and thought: ‘Is this what it has been like when I’ve been in tournaments?’ That feeling of a whole nation backing one team was incredible.
Imagine what it would be like for the fans and players if we won something. We may seem some way from that target now but to play a part in building a team that could do that is an opportunity that was impossible to turn down. It is probably the years of frustration that made me want to take the job.
When we meet up for training in Manchester on Wednesday, I’ll be there to serve Roy, first and foremost, and learn from Ray Lewington. I will be as loyal to them as I was to my club and people I played with. I have been working for four years to achieve UEFA coaching badges and now I have been given an opportunity, I want to give it all to become the best I can.
My role will also be to work with the players and offer whatever help I can. That’s all I ever wanted as a player — a coaching team who were supportive and loyal. Because ultimately, it is about the players and making sure they have the best  possible opportunity to play to the best of their undoubted ability.
Support: Neville will be there for Roy Hodgson
Support: Neville will be there for Roy Hodgson
Make no mistake, this is a good group of players. Over the next four years, I hope I can play a part in  creating a relaxed atmosphere in the camp and try to release some of the pressure and negativity that has sometimes surrounded England squads.
As I said two weeks ago in this column before I knew I might be involved, while we have to apply ourselves to win this tournament, the England team need to have an eye on 2014 and 2016.
We must build an atmosphere that makes playing an enjoyable experience and work long term to make sure that we become a team who are considered among the favourites to win tournaments.
Going into Euro 2012, England are well down the list of favourites. And I sense that the expectation levels are more sensible among the media and the fans, and perhaps even  pessimistic. With England, winning a qualifying game once unleashed a wave of false optimism. I was part of the madness of Rome in 1997, or Munich and the win against Greece at Old Trafford in 2001. 
Magic moment: Neville celebrates England qualifying for the 2002 World Cup with David Beckham and Martin Keown
Magic moment: Neville celebrates England qualifying for the 2002 World Cup with David Beckham and Martin Keown
Then there were people going about saying: ‘We can win it!’
I played for a Manchester United team for 17 years that won numerous trophies and I never once heard anyone say: ‘We can win it!’
It was as though we existed in a bubble in this country, not realising there are other countries in the world that might have equal or  better claims. It is all very well  saying England should win, but don’t you think Germany, France, Italy and Spain all feel the same? Or  Brazil and Argentina, when it comes to the World Cup?
But can an England team, with the players we have, beat the best teams in the world on their day? Of course we can. I was part of a side that beat Germany 5-1. I watched from home, injured, as England beat Argentina.
Recently we saw an England side beat Spain. We have players who can achieve those results. As the manager has said, we have to set out with the attitude that we can win this tournament. Every England team should feel that.
What we need now is unity, team spirit and that little bit of luck that is vital to any campaign.
Team spirit: England have much to be positive about going into Euro 2012
Team spirit: England have much to be positive about going into Euro 2012

No conflict of interest, I’ll keep giving honest insight

Inevitably, since my appointment to Roy’s team, my role with Sky Sports as a pundit has been questioned. I understand why. Many people feel I won’t be able to be objective any more.
I’d only say to those people that a year ago many were saying that I wouldn’t be able to balance my role as a club ambassador for Manchester United and speak positively about other teams.  I hope that this season I’ve changed some opinions on that.
I will continue to be honest but I’ve never criticised a player maliciously, anyway. I just want to give people insight. That kind of analysis of my game wouldn’t have bothered me as a player, as long as the person involved was prepared to say the same to my face. If a mistake is made, hundreds of millions of people watching around the world can see it. The fact that I have to analyse it afterwards isn’t the biggest issue in the world.

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