Phil Neville, seen by many as the poor man’s Gary, has announced his retirement from professional football. Whilst some quip with forked Red Devil tongue that this happened when he moved to Goodison in 2005, there’s no doubting that when judged against The Toffees lower expectations of success that his spell at Everton was a very successful one.
Many sporting, and indeed personal assessments (remember Jaap Stam anybody), have been directed to Phil Neville down the years, both before and after his departure from Old Trafford. However, with six Premier League medals, one FA-Cup winner’s medal and one Champions League winner’s medal now keeping his boots company, it’s plain to see that Phil Neville’s career is littered with success that is envied by many. Steven Gerrard, unquestionably a more complete midfielder, can only look at the smaller trophy cabinet in his snooker-room with the look of a green-eyed monster. No doubt many Premiership fullbacks will feel the same.
Seen as a utility player by many, including Sir Alex, his value to United on and off the pitch was highly appreciated by those in the know. A dedicated professional, as Patrick Viera would agree having spent one sunny afternoon at Old Trafford in his pocket, Phil Neville and Michael Carrick would have been as solid a defensive pairing as any other combination that United have mustered since the departure of Roy Keane. Phil Jones aside, very few in the current squad would have offered such defensive solidity.
So with his various incarnations of multi-coloured boots – please Phil, you should have known your place - consigned to his personal trophy room, Neville now apparently has two opportunities before him: media or coaching. Both routes appear to be an accelerated path having neither served in the lower leagues as a coach or on a community radio station as a DJ! So what has Phil Neville done to warrant either of these opportunities?
Phil Neville’s first foray in to coaching could, despite being close to finishing his UEFA-A Licence, be seen as something of a disaster. His involvement with the England Under-21’s, who’s imperious achievement of only taking two matches to crash out of the European Championships in Israel was only surpassed when they surrendered the final game against the host nation. An achievement that the senior squad may in time become envious of given their still perilous route to Brazil. Assuming Phil Neville played only a minor part in the U21 setup, this still does not suggest that many United fans will pray every night before bed that Phil Neville joins the new David Moyes’ backroom team. Those prayers at the moment appear to be directed towards keeping René Meulensteen at Old Trafford, however unlikely that seems to be.
That leaves the world of media, a circus within which Gary Neville seems to be excelling – despite having one of the most irritating sporting screams of joy or pain to ever come out of any television set. Will Phil Neville want to put himself in a position of being judged against his older brother – again? The comparisons are bound to prevail whichever TV channel he joins – God forbid we have both Neville’s on the same screen at the same time! What will Jamie do?
The reality is that Phil, if influenced by what his big brother does, has a tough decision. Whilst Gary Neville tastes life as a coach and media pundit, there’s absolutely no possibility that Manchester United will condone such a part-time commitment. Gary Neville has already had issues with allowing his media commitments to interfere with his coaching role, and suggestions that he broke the cardinal rule of sharing dressing room secrets in his role as Sky TV pundit will not go unnoticed. Whether true or not, perception is reality.
So, what would you like to see Phil Neville do in the future? Does he have the tactical genius to dissect Premiership football matches in a way that captures the attention of TV viewers, or more importantly to the Old Trafford faithful will he be able to coach a squad through the perils of a Premiership and Champions League campaign to the point of increasing the difference in size between his and Stevie’s trophy cabinet. It is a big task with no room for failure.
David Moyes would appear to have a similar ruthless streak to Sir Alex. He shows no sign of being a risk-taker, and has a track record of developing an attacking style of play once, and only once, the defensive backbone of the team is in place. As such we supporters can maybe take comfort from the fact that nobody knows the coaching abilities and potential of Phil Neville better than David Moyes, and that Phil Neville understand Moyes approach to team building better than anybody else.
So, only time will tell, and if neither opportunity pans out for Phil there’s always Hull Radio in need of a sports anchor.