Gary Neville is many things to many people: a legend; ‘a red who hates Scousers’ in the eyes of United fans; an insufferable manc in the eyes of opposition fans; and to that list you may well add ‘bootlicker’ – kissing the feet of his manager, expressing his ‘views’ to present a-fan’s-view-that-conveniently-supports-that-of-his-boss. Carlos Tevez’s candid description of his former colleague came less than two days after Neville swore at him during Tuesday’s Manchester Derby. Even while emotions, at least it seems for Carlos, are still raw, there is much to suggest that Carlos’s views are not too far from the truth.
What is not in doubt is his legendary status for his performances on the pitch. As a right back from his debut until March 2007, his performances were meticulous, consistent 7-out-of-10s until his injury against Bolton terminally reduced his effectiveness. Starting as an ode to Paul Parker (nudge to Kanchelskis and stay back), he improved so dramatically that he was played as an attacking wing back in Euro ’96. His partnership with Beckham blossomed, his crossing improved, his tally of games increased, his legend was made. He will forever be Ferguson’s greatest right back, a dead cert for any ‘Greatest Fergie Era Team’, but while he in many ways owes Ferguson a lot for his career, will that debt be paid by offering fawning platitudes?
Neville’s increasingly notorious column in the Malta Times newspaper often contains a series of homages to his boss: “We have the best manager in the world at putting teams together“; “he will assess the situation and do what’s best for the club“; “Over a period of 20 years he may have got one or two wrong“. It all seems fairly moribund stuff, but on reflection it seems to whitewash over Fergie’s shortcomings – “one or two wrong”? Diego Forlan, Kleberson, Nani and Massimo Taibi to name but a few purchased for over £4m, that list ignoring the greatest mistake of them all… Juan Sebastian Veron. None of these could be described as anything other than poor signings (in their performances for the club) and (horrifically so in the case of Veron) wastes of money (Nani is the only one who can possibly alter this perception). “He… will do what’s best for the club” shows a Tomkins-esque level of trust in the manager – it can be argued that Fergie has earned trust through his incredible trophy haul, but to dismiss all chance of a Ferguson mistake (heck, it can be argued that signing Berbatov, Hargreaves and Anderson will be viewed in the fullness of time as mistakes) is naívété bordering on idiocy. That is if Neville really believes what he writes.
In comparison to his predecessor as United captain, Neville is little more than a ‘bootlicker’ – Roy Keane was nothing if not brutally honest: when Gary Neville states that Ferguson is ‘probably more interested in his horse (Rock of Gibraltar)’ than managing the team, or openly criticises the sale of a major defender (Jaap Stam), then perhaps the opinion should be reassessed. As for now, whilst being one of the greatest full backs in United’s history, it seems that Gary Neville may well be remembered in the eyes of many as a man kissing the feet of his superiors, as well as a legend.