Red Nev gets a taste of his own medicine from new Blue

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - FOOTBALL -

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.

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