What is it like to be the most popular right back in one part of Manchester and a figure of hatred in most of the rest of the country? What is it like to live the dream and play for what would be the most successful club in recent english football history? Noted for his outspoken opinions and a readiness to express given the chance, Gary Neville makes the most of his time to share the life in Red – his autobiography.
If you had told me back in 1996, that I – a staunch Liverpool supporter – would be writing anything lauding the writings of arguably the most annoying and irritating Manchester United player in a generation, I would question your grasp on sanity. Yet here I am in 2012 acclaiming what Gary Neville has put together in this here autobiography. For starters, Neville writes like he talks – with honesty and striaghtforward brutal assessment of things that wherever you stand, whether you agree or not, you are in no doubt as to where he stands on the issue. That refreshing honesty will not see him as a popular man in the FA – for whom he holds no reservation in suggesting they could be better organised.
He also honestly appraises the role his teammates have played in the success of the club. Be in no doubt, if you’re looking for a deep introspective reflection on the outside influences of Gary Neville, you have come to the wrong book. Neville is consumed with football and virtually every page is drenched with the true love of his life. Indeed little to nothing is mentioned about his wife or children – it is all about the game and the club he loves and has been able to completely devote himself to for his entire career.
He gives us the principles in which he grew with a batch of amazing young players at the club to help create a dynasty of success and footballing icons that will live long in the memory of English football history. Beckham, Scholes, Giggs, Butt as well as the Neville brothers enjoyed domestic and European success of a sort that no other core group of youth team players have ever enjoyed. So it makes for fascinating reading to see Neville’s insight into how they came and grew together in the United way.
As well as the usual stories of banter and apprentice grief in the early years, Neville does highlight the thread of hard work that run through them regardless of their ability. He more than acknowledges that he himself from a centre midfielder had to knuckle down and apply graft to his game to take on first the central defender’s role and eventually the position that he enforced for 15 years – right back. He is not one to blow his own trumpet, but he is very much conscious of the role of hard work in success and is not backward in stating the role it took in his continued presence in the team.
His views on his career as an England player are truly revealing both into his own mind-set and the wider view of how playing and managing England is almost like a poisoned chalice. His description of playing for them being a roller-coaster and not a pleasant one filled with all too many lows and disappointments is vivid. As a fan of the game it should make you sit back and think what pressure we – fans and the media – apply to our representatives. It’s one thing to expect the best. It’s another thing to have hopes raised unrealistically and then people damned equally unrealistically for failing to live up to the unrealistic goals.
Likewise it’s clear that Neville’s lack of love for the FA is seen in their treatment of the national game and the lack fo decisive and effective investment and leadership in the infrastructure as far as player technique and quality coaching and management goes.
What makes it such a beautiful game is what makes it such a good autobiography and that is the quality and diversity of views that make it up. You don’t have to agree with his views, and he’s only too happy to play up his United badge to the hilt on certain issues, but his views make for fascinating reading. Whether it’s the Arsenal team he considers to be the best, or how he viewed opposition from Chelsea.
For all his United allegiance, he is a considered thinker on issues of the game whether it’s players taking more responsibility over their contract negotiations or how the United team fared in the Ronaldo/Tevez issues. Last August I noted how Neville’s start on Monday Night Football was audaciously promising. Since then of course, as I have noted, he has established himself as arguably the top football analyst on the box. He has done so because of that passionate interest in the game that is distilled into a view that is not overly emotional or prone to hyperbole. That same ability is what marks his autobiography as one of the better football ones to go through.