Gary Neville’s departure from Valencia may be seen as a constructive and valuable experience for the young manager. Neville may now utilise this experience to become a consummate professional.
Gary Neville seems to have had a successful career as a player at Manchester United spanning almost 20 years, winning 20 major titles including 8 Premier League titles, 2 Champions League titles, 3 FA cups, 2 league cups and 1 FIFA Club World Cup. Having spent a career at United with the fifth highest number of appearances (602), Neville was the first choice and most capped (51 caps a record) right back for around ten years, playing in the European Championships 3 times and the World Cup twice. The player worked with some of the world’s best coaches including Sir Alex Ferguson, Sven Goran Erikson and Fabio Capello.
Since progressing into Television punditry after retirement, Neville gained a reputation for the analysis and judgement imparted on professional football matches. In conjunction; Gary joined the England team coaching staff in may 2012, promoted to assistant manager for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil and qualifying campaign for the 2016 European Championships. England manager Roy Hodgson believed Neville might benefit from becoming a full time coach in this period, Gary’s experience was growing exponentially although full time club work was still a long term goal.
When Neville was appointed Valencia manager in December 2015, many questioned the decision with the popular impression being the Englishman had limited experience and was bereft of knowledge or fluency in speaking the Spanish language. The club owner Peter Lim knew Gary Neville as he owns a 50% stake in Salford City along with other ex-Manchester United players. The decision may have been based on the perception of Neville’s playing career, Peter believing the man to be well respected in English football.
Valencia have had a relatively successful history particularly since the turn of the century, winning the Spanish league 6 times (twice since 2000), the UEFA cup 3 times and have reached the champions league final twice considered to be the pinnacle of the sport. In this period the side was blessed with a string of now well respected managers in the game including Ranieri, Cuper, Benitez and Koeman. However, after 2010 the club have been managing financial challenges which has meant the sale of club stars; David Villa, Juan Mata and David Silva, Valencia in need of an immediate change in fortunes.
Gary Neville entered the club in this period of transition which is arguably still in motion, preceded by Peter Lim arriving and buying the club in May 2014. Valencia finished the 2014-2015 season in 4th place guaranteeing a Champions League position, after a challenging season and being knocked out of the UCL, manager Nuno Espirito Santo resigned in November 2015.
When Neville took over, the club was in 9th place in the league. Attempting to discover his best eleven the manager tried 3 different goalkeepers, maybe a sign of uncertainty within the squad. During the reign of Gary Neville, the team won 3 games in 16 league matches and were only 6 points clear of the relegation zone. A brief up turn in Valencia’s fortunes was evident with 6 games to go winning 3 out of 4 games and almost progressing in the Europa league versus Athletic Bilbao even though being overcome on away goals. This was far from adequate in the eyes of the board before the dismissal of Neville on the 27th march.
The lessons for Neville may include in taking the job at Valencia, was a spontaneous and erred decision, bearing in mind the limited experience at the top level of club football and considering Gary had insufficient knowledge of the native language. Contrarily, Neville may have learnt valuable lessons from a club in transition which may benefit the young manager in the future, acquiring many skills which are only able to be learned during challenging times within a competitive and decorated team. Gary may have learnt more in the last four months than in the rest of his past career.
How may Gary Neville now build on what was learnt at Valencia?