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The weight of England is on Gary Neville’s shoulders at Valencia

gary-neville

Gary Neville’s surprise appointment by Valencia was a long time coming. The former Manchester United captain’s work as Roy Hodgson’s assistant manager, his tactical analysis for Sky Sports and friendship with Peter Lim all led to the appointment that was confirmed Wednesday. Neville’s appointment arrived with sensational media back home in England where the former Manchester United captain is thought of as a great hope for the nation.

But how will Neville, who has previously never managed a professional club side in any capacity, handle one of the biggest jobs in Spain where he doesn’t even know the local language? And why did Neville choose to pursue the Valencia job? Those are the big questions.

For some time now, Neville has been seen as a potential long-term managerial hope for England. His tactical analysis offered weekly at Sky Sports has shown his ability to read matches and analyze them at a higher level than perhaps anyone in England. But now Neville, without any sort of coaching pedigree at club level, heads to Spain where coaches are generally at a higher level than England, and where they get run off from clubs rather more quickly than in Inglaterra.

British coaches have been stereotyped as unwilling to take chances by managing abroad and as less savvy tactically than continental counterparts. This is largely an unfair analysis as the likes of Steve McLaren have pursued foreign jobs with regularity. Plus, tactically the British game has caught up with the rest of Europe. But being English as Neville is means that these stereotypes will be applied to him by many in the foreign media and those seeking to appear “cosmopolitan” in their analysis back home.

No question that being a rookie coach abroad as an Englishman is going to invite serious criticism from many in the media and fans of La Liga. But Neville has the thickest of skins as he demonstrated in his playing career and he certainly knows how to handle the media. Neville, as a player, was an incredibly astute performer and leader of men. As a co-commentator, he has stood out as smart, savvy and likable character – a shift in some regards from his playing career. Now as a manager, he must incorporate the qualities from both jobs in addition to having the eyes and weight of England on him.

A first-time foreign coach in a league that has even spit out the most experienced hands in recent years comes with some risk – but where else could Neville had been given the opportunity to manage a high level club in short order? England’s top jobs are now all held by foreigners with the established trend in the Premier League of “foreign is better” explaining many management choices, Neville was not going to get this sort of opportunity for years, if ever. But Neville could change that thinking quickly with success at Valencia.

Last season, Neville told The Guardian’s Sid Lowe that opportunities are far and few between.

SEE MORE: Interview with Gary Neville about ambition, Salford City and grassroots soccer.

“My opinion on management is that it would have to be opportunity-led. Where are the opportunities? I’ve been offered two or three roles in the past few years and felt it was too early for me. I didn’t want to go into management straight after playing. I wanted to learn more and understand more. I’ve enjoyed coaching with England immensely and I’d miss not being involved in a changing room. That’s where I’m at with management at the moment.”

Neville now has his chance outside of England with a club that has historically developed top players and competed in Europe. The first order of business will be to stabilize Valencia’s La Liga form and get the team out of the UEFA Champions League Group Stage. Valencia’s November defeats in Europe have left the club in the unenviable position of needing Gent to lose or draw against Zenit on the final matchday to have any chance of advancing.

But how will a manager that does not know the local language and has never led a senior team make the shift into a must-win European mode within a week? Neville’s tactical acumen is outstanding for a commentator and he has a way of leading that inspires men around him – this was evident during his long playing career. However, organizing a team and getting consistent results as the top man will be more difficult.

The eyes of England will be on Neville – do well and he is fast-tracked for the England job in the near future. Fail badly, and the continued questions about the lack of adaptability of English/British managers will intensify. The weight of a nation really is on Gary Neville, and given his history he can handle this.

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