Tag Archives: England FC

Gary Neville: Don’t Stop or Bye Bye Badman…….

24th  May 2011. Ian Brown, former frontman of Manchester based Indie sensations the Stone Roses will sing classic Roses tune “This is the One” as Manchester United take to the field against Juventus for Gary Neville’s Testimonial game.

What a send off, and for me a fitting one. For Neville, in my opinion was the finest right back of his generation, and one that England haven’t replaced. Now, I appreciate that, this isn’t going to be popular opinion. Neville is what you might call a “marmite” player. You either love him or you hate him. I fall firmly into the former category. Neville is a player that everybody would love to have in their team(bare with me). He played every minute in a Manchester United and England shirt like a fan would. Passion, doesn’t do it justice.

Just look at his exploits with his M62 neighbours. The derby games between the two biggest clubs in English football is one of the best there is, and certainly overshadows both their respective same city encounters. Neville almost took on the role of pantomime villain in these games, most famously fist pumping, and badge kissing in front of the Liverpool fans after one victory. But that is how a fan would celebrate, and that is the kind of thing that fans love to see their players do, but hate from the opposition. I got the impression that he knew how fans felt in particular situations. I can remember a couple of disappointing England games where he stayed out on the pitch and clapped every section of the crowd, long after his teammates had skulked off down the tunnel. Neville cared.

Gary Neville - The end to a fine career.

Some would say Neville was a whiner, and perhaps he was, but you could tell that he played every second with his heart on his sleeve and sometimes that would  spill over into over enthusiasm. But for once, he was a player that people disliked only for his antics on the pitch. Off it, Neville didn’t cut the figure that many a modern day footballer does. You never saw pictures of him in the tabloids doing anything controversial, no falling drunk out of nightclubs, or leaving with “mystery blondes”. Neville comes across as a quiet, and unassuming family man away from the game, I’m sure much to the delight of Sir Alex, and his professionalism was often remarked upon.

But Nevilles career, was not all about professionalism and passion. He was also a great player. Another success story fromt he early 90’s youth setup at Old Trafford, Neville may never have had the flair, or ability of a Scholes or a Beckham, but he carved out a long and successful tenure as a dependable defender who was also a great crosser of the ball. It is tantamount to the man, that he started his career and ended it at the very top. How many play 19 seasons without leaving the top three places in the Premier League? Somewhat rewarded for his loyalty to United, but you can hardly picture him playing for anybody else, and one club men are hard to come by these days!

While his club career was trophy laden, his international career of course wasn’t, but then what Englishman’s is? Neville hit the scene at just the right time for England. Paul Parker’s fine run as England right back was over, Lee Dixon and Rob Jones flirted with the position, and even the likes of David Bardsley, Earl Barrett and Warren Barton had a go, but  we were crying out for someone as dependable as Neville. Nevilles right hand side partnership with his best mate David Beckham was a joy to watch in the late 90’s early 00’s and I for one am sure, that Beckham’s glittering England career may not have been as successful without his reliable clubmate behind him. 85 caps is a record for England right backs, which certainly isn’t to be scoffed at. Neville’s doubters will always say he lacked competition for the place, but I don’t buy that. Jamie Carragher and Danny Mills were both kept at bay by Neville and in truth, I am not sure any other competition would have succeeded either and since he left the international scene, we have struggled in that area again, Glen Johnson, still not looking the part. Neville’s class was not lost on old foe Carragher “For me he’s the best full-back the Premier League’s had. And also just behind David Beckham probably one of the best crossers of the ball we’ve seen. A great player, great pro and to play at that level for so long is a fantastic achievement so I take my hat off to him.”

There will always be those that dislike Gary Neville, and equally those that regard him as a legend, but I hope that, as he brings the curtain down on a highly succesful career, the majority can admit that they (albeit begrudgingly) respect him.

Chris

War Horses 2 Show Ponies 1

If Carling made cup finals…….

Well yesterday they did, and what a cup final it was! While I am neither a supporter of Arsenal or Birmingham City, I did find myself favouring the team in blue. Why? Well the terrible decision by the linesman early on instantly made me get behind them, but also the contrasting styles of the teams.

What we had was a clear case of War Horses versus Show Ponies, and I have always been a War Horse fan. Maybe it says something about my own natural lack of footballing talent, that while other kids were being Gazza and Chris Waddle, I was always Stuart Pearce or Terry Butcher on the hallowed concrete of the playground. I tried being Matt Le Tissier a couple of times, but I knew I wasn’t doing him justice so went back to being Glenn Cockerill, in case I somehow did the reputation of the mercurial Saints weaver some unintentional damage.

It’s not that I don’t appreciate a bit of skill, I like the odd stepover, the odd back heel, but like everything in life you need balance and for me watching a “water carrier” like Claude Makalele or Didier Deschamps control the play in midfield with simplicity, energy and efficiency is every bit as majestic as a Messi or a Ronaldo cutting in and sending one home. The importance of the “water carrier” was not lost on the great Eric Cantona who himself coined the phrase based on the influence of Deschamps on the success of the late 90’s French team. Cantona is perhaps one example of a player who managed to be both show pony and war horse!

When I talk about “War Horses” though, I don’t just mean the efficient holding midfielder, but also the do or die player, the man who would put his head where a “Show Pony” wouldn’t put their feet. Is there anything more inspirational to an England fan than the infamous sight of Terry Butcher smothered in his own claret, or Stuart Pearce screaming at the Wembley crowd in Euro 96? Men that lead by example, that inspire confidence in their team-mates and grab the bull by the horns.

War Horses.

This is where the two sides differed on Sunday. Arsenal are the epitome of a show pony side. Full of talent and flair, the likes of Nasri and Arshavin light up the Premier League on a regular basis, and of course recently out-Barca’d Barcelona, the ultimate show ponies. But perhaps what they lack is War Horses, or even a War Horse. It is no surprise to me, that in a game like that, the best player in an Arsenal shirt was Jack Wilshire, a lad who looks to me like finally being the man to fill Bryan Robson’s boots in an England shirt and certainly the closest thing they have to a war horse at the moment.

In comparison, look at the Birmingham team. Nothing shows the contrast more than the names Bowyer and Ferguson in the Blues midfield. Combative and committed to the end these two are unlikely to shy any challenge, especially in a cup final. Alex McLeish has built up a side that works hard and is extremely efficient with the ball. They would never have competed with Arsenal if they tried to play like Arsenal, but by constantly pressing and never saying die, they showed that the gap in skill level could be overcome.

Show Pony.

Is it a coincidence that Arsenal haven’t won anything since Patrick Vieira left? A man who is without a doubt a war horse. While Arsenal play breathtaking football at times, even the flair riddled Barcelona line up with a Carlos Puyol at the back, is there anyone taking on that role for Arsenal?

All the truly great sides have a balance of players types. AC Milan in the 80’s owed as much to Franco Baresi as they did to Marco Van Basten, even the Brazilians have relied on a Dunga and what might have been in 1966 without a Nobby Stiles?

The game has certainly changed over the years that I have watched it, but it was refreshing to see that there is still a role to play for the combative battler alongside the pretty ball jugglers.

Chris