Can Neville Stake His Claim as Van Gaal's Successor?
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Can Neville Stake His Claim as Van Gaal's Successor?

Following his unexpected appointment at Valencia, Gary Neville has a chance to stake a claim for the job we all assume he's destined for at Manchester United.
December 2, 2015, 3:18pm

This story originally appeared on VICE Sports UK.

Gary Neville's long-awaited managerial career is finally underway. The location and timing are surprising, and even the ultimate decision to begin at all looked like it might be kiboshed by the allure of Sky Sports' sweet lucre, but we're finally here. Joining his brother and perennial inferior Phil at Valencia, we're finally about to get a taste of how punditry and manipulating a needless touchscreen interface sets you up for the harsh realities of managing your billionaire pal's football club on the Mediterranean coast for a few months.


Neville is regarded, with some justification, as a considered and thoughtful Proper Football Man for his MNF displays. It's often overlooked how little difference there can be between him and Tim Sherwood when asked about foreign players or English youth prospects, although that probably says as much about people's prejudices against the latter (and the fact that it's slightly more difficult to imagine Neville driving over to Benidorm every morning for a full English at the Red Lion.)

It is, after all, his punditry on which his reputation rests. He was some player, but even at his peak remained a stodgy full-back. He lacked the attacking flair of Cafu or Roberto Carlos, as well as the aura of invincibility and luscious hair of more defensively minded greats in his position like Javier Zanetti or Paolo Maldini.

Instead, he relied on commitment, dependability and passion. That might seem to provide a sound basis for a managerial career, but the same qualities didn't help Stuart Pearce, or, well, pretty much every English international-turned-coach for the past few decades. As a friend and business partner of Valencia owner Peter Lim, he can probably at least expect a bit of leeway from the man in charge, if not from the fans or players.

It might have turned out differently, of course, if the United boardroom took the same insane approach to managerial appointments as they do to transfer activity. There was a strange clamour for Neville to be given a chance at Old Trafford in the dark days at the end of David Moyes' reign, although the torch now seems to have been passed to Ryan Giggs, the man Louis Van Gaal has taken to referring to as his successor. The reasons for that are probably to do with the nature of the team's problems: Giggs has the appearance of a remedy to the ills of dour football and a lack of trust in youngsters, whereas the previous problem was simply that the team was shite. If Neville does well at Valencia (and Van Gaal's men continue to put in the same gutless performances they have done in recent weeks) that could change again.

This is a truly fascinating appointment either way, a big 'what-if' that we might never have had the opportunity to see, like Sam Allardyce getting appointed at Real Madrid or Tony Pulis becoming England manager. True, if Neville had sacked off coaching for full-time punditry he probably wouldn't be remembered as "the best manager Valencia never had", but by throwing himself in at the deep end we'll get to see exactly what he can do. There are plenty of potential excuses for failure – he didn't speak the language, he didn't get to buy players, he came in mid-season – although that won't hold much water if he genuinely wants to go to the top of the managerial game in the future. It's a brave move in many ways.

Neville clearly has something ahead of Pearce or Sherwood, of course, but perhaps not as much as the English public would wish. His first foray into management, in a country where supporters are unfamiliar with his punditry and much of his playing career, should be a good test of his pure coaching ability and football ideas. It's a shame we won't get to see him have a showdown with David Moyes, but if he can do a bit better at habloing the old Espanol, he probably can't fare worse than the former United boss.