The mere mention of the words Gary and Neville are as divisive as a Marmite covered Maggie Thatcher; loved by United fans, loathed by everybody else. G. Neville has, like he did to José Antonio Reyes’ leg, left his mark on modern football.
Gary will be remembered by United fans for many things: the best part of 20 years dependable service; some really dodgy bum-fluff; truly epic crotch-thrusting celebrations; a remarkable and unlikely Youtube star – honestly check-out this Schmeichel clip.
But the recent decline on the pitch, and the aforementioned partisan character traits, should not sully his reputation as a footballer and cast him to history as a simple pantomime villain. Flying, attacking, fullbacks like Dani Alves and Patrice Evra are currently en vogue in the modern game, and rightly so; so much emphasis is placed on ball retention these days that fullbacks often find themselves in the most space in the wide areas and every successful team will have at least one competent fullback who can utilise this.
But Gary cut his teeth in an era when Lee Dixon and Rob Jones were his domestic peers, as he approached his peak the footballing world was still marvelling at how Cafu and Roberto Carlos were constantly in advance of their mid-fielders.
RedNev was revolutionary. He help changed the parameters of what was expected of a right-back in this country. Yes, he was solid at the back like many before him, but in tandem with David Beckham, his great mate and chef, he became a useful attacking threat. Never scoring, rarely even shooting but always getting to the by-line whipping in dangerous crosses, or making space for Beckham to do so.
Ferguson hailed him as a legend; even Arsene Wenger briefly beat his myopia to label him the best English right-back in Premier League history.
His organisational skills and pace (yes, he had a turn of speed circa 2000) meant Sir Alex has no qualms about deploying him in central defence, even doing so by choice on a few occasions to neutralise Michael Owen.
Principally though The Neviller was a grafter: tales of warming down by jogging up and down the central aisle of the plane whilst returning home from European ties; hours of extra practice, honing his left foot to the point where his weaker foot crosses became match-winning assists; and a handful of bad games in two decades at the top, meant every fan would’ve wanted him in their team. *
Neville is a fan done good, arguably the best example of the unspectacular modern footballer, a player who always exudes that it’s all about the football for him. Hence his conscience telling him to give it up and not become a passenger. In an era where the appeal of financial remuneration was turning players’ heads all around him, our Gary seemed unaffected. He would’ve played for United for free.
Thanks for the memories Gary.