Red Nev gets a taste of his own medicine from new Blue
IN the immortal words of Kevin Keegan, “I luv it, I bloody luv it”.
Gary Neville, who has pulled on the famous Manchester United shirt more than 550 times, has never been one to shirk a challenge. Now pushing 35 years old, he’s lost a few yards of pace but is England’s most-capped right-back with 85 international appearances.
He’s also one of those rare animals in professional football: since making his senior debut for United in 1992, he has been an exclusive one-club man.
Neville wears his heart on his sleeve, a devoted Red Devil who would do anything for the Old Trafford club’s cause. He’s steeped in the history of Manchester United and if you had to choose one person to sit next to you in the trenches it would be him. Actually, him or Wayne Rooney, but you get the point.
In sport, the recipe for success is passion, energy, desire, an insatiable appetite for winning. Neville has all those qualities, which is why he has been going at the highest of levels for over 17 years.
However, there was a priceless moment during the week when all his chickens came home to roost.
It might have been a Carling Cup match, a competition that is referred to as the Mickey Mouse Cup by any set of supporters whose team have been beaten.
But at the City of Manchester Stadium the atmosphere was red-hot as the hosts, the free-spending City slickers, carved out a potentially crucial first leg victory.
Carlos Tevez, the mercurial Argentinian who won five trophies during his United career, having joined them from West Ham, was simply sensational on the night. He held his nerve from the penalty spot while being goaded by Rooney and Ryan Giggs and then, while Neville was warming up along the touchline, he celebrated his winner by joining all his fingertips in a sort of “you talk too much” manner. The recipient of the gesture was Neville, who responded with a universal middle finger salute.
Neville, now, rightly, finds himself in a tub of warm water with the Football Association for the reaction – the expected punishment won’t amount to anything severe – but what goes around comes around, you might say.
The defender appears to think that Tevez was something of a traitor by leaving United for the ambitions City club across Manchester. He expressed his views in the media and there is obvious dislike between the two. All of which spices the competition. What would sport be without characters, pride and rivalry?
However, Neville himself hasn’t always endeared himself to the opposition, and he has also crossed the line when celebrating. He was fined a princely £5 000 after racing half the length of the pitch, to the visiting Liverpool fans, to cheer Rio Ferdinand’s 90thminute winner in a 2006 League match.
And as recently as last September he celebrated wildly as Michael Owen made it 4-3 to United against City, deep into referee’s optional time. Neville, who was again on the touchline as an unused sub, sprinted 40 metres to the City section and taunted the distraught opposition fans. Realising he had gone too far, he then tried to pretend he was simply warming up.
Then-City manager Mark Hughes said: “Neville was running around like a lunatic.”
So, Tevez the other night gave the England trojan a taste of his own medicine. Tevez strikes one as a player who simply wants to produce the goods on the field. It might be that going from West Ham to United to City is more a case of agent power than the player’s desire – and Neville, having been a teammate of the Argentinian, would surely know those dynamics exist. All it has done is to ensure the return leg at Old Trafford is a pressure cooker atmosphere – and that can’t be bad for the game.