England and Manchester United right back Gary Neville has retired from football after playing 19 seasons at Old Trafford. During his career with United, Neville won 8 Premier League titles, 3 FA Cup medals, 2 League Cup medals, 3 Community Shield medals, 1 Champions League medal, 1 Intercontinental Cup medal and 1 FIFA Club World Cup medal. And he was a member of Manchester United’s version of their “Rat Pack,” better known as Fergie’s Fledglings which also included brother Phil Neville, Ryan Giggs, David Beckham, Nicky Butt and Paul Scholes.
To say Neville was part of a legacy at Manchester United is an understatement. At his height, the footballer was one of the best right back’s I’ve ever seen. For so many years, Neville floated in his dangerous and curving cross from the right wing which often caused defenses trouble and often resulted in a Manchester United midfielder or striker du jour getting a clear goalscoring chance. He was also one of those difficult defenders to beat who loved to press wingers and strikers and prevent them from being a pivotal player in the game.
As a footballer, Neville was a giant. As a Manchester United player, he was an iconic symbol of the success that the club achieved in the 90’s and the first decade of the new century. As a man on the football pitch, however, he was the player I loved to hate.
He was arrogant, obnoxious and seemingly egotistical. And he was the most defiantly loyal Manchester United player I’ve ever seen play. No matter what the call was, even if it was unequivocally a fair decision against United, Neville would always be the first one in the face of the referee arguing the call. Just as many people hate John Terry for his on-field attitude and how he tries to influence referees, Neville was exactly the same for United.
Neville’s other attribute which infuriated me was his penchant for baiting opposing fans and wiping their faces in it. A perfect example is this video clip featuring Neville going out of his way to mock Liverpool supporters after United scored a 90th minute injury time goal against them. And he also antagonized plenty of other opponents over the years, whether they were opposing teams or supporters.
Another famous attribute of Neville was his intense stare. At times, it was downright evil. But mostly, it was a stare reflecting an incredible focus of attention. It was his game face, and you can see perfect examples of it during his immature refusal to shake former teammate Peter Schmeichel’s hand in the tunnel before the Manchester derby, as well as his lingering stare against Arsenal’s Patrick Vieira.
My opinion is that I’ll miss Gary Neville the footballer, but I don’t miss Gary Neville the man. He was Manchester United through-and-through but I believe it was to his detriment. There is talk about Sky Sports considering him as a pundit for their Premier League matches, but for one man to be so biased towards Manchester United and against everyone else, I would have a tough time listening to him provide analysis. I question whether he would be as critical about Manchester United as other teams in the Premier League. But maybe he’ll prove me wrong. Or maybe he’ll end up being a coach at Manchester United where his true colors can shine.