Gary Neville has urged footballers to be more open and relaxed with the media, citing Australia Test captain Michael Clarke as “the template for sportsmen.”
As a player with Manchester United and England, Neville fell into the “difficult” category with football writers. When he spoke to the media he showed the eloquence and insight which has made him such a valued member of Sky Sports’ football coverage, but Neville was never as willing to stop in the mixed zone after an international as Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard, for example. After two years involvement with the media Neville wished he had been more helpful and had used his influence to put a message across to supporters.
In a fascinating interview with Jonathan Agnew on BBC Radio’s Test Match Special, cricket lover Neville spoke about his change of attitude towards the press since his retirement and admitted the switch from football stage to football studio was not as simple as he made it seem.
“It wasn’t an easy transformation,” he said. “When I looked back at the first few shows it was all so fast…I speak quickly anyway, but I needed to slow myself down. It was all a blur, but I’ve really enjoyed it. I work with good people and now that I have finished [playing] I appreciate the role of the media. As a player, if we’d lost a match there was no way I was going out there to speak. You think you’ve let people down. The last thing you want is to speak about it.
“I realise I could have fronted up a bit more and taken more responsibility. This is something I am conscious of now. I was watching the first Ashes Test and saw the post-match interview with Michael Clarke and it was sensational. He’s the enemy, he was a loser, but listening to him he was humble in the way he talked about Australia’s flaws, also that he should have done better with the decisions reviews and that he needed to improve himself. When you are honest like that you have a real chance. For me, that’s the sort of template of how sportsmen should be.
“Last year we saw Olympians who had come off the track and missed the gold medal they’d been training four years for, yet they still fronted up.
“That is something we can learn from in all sports, but football in particular. You appreciate it more when you’ve finished and I’m not having a go at footballers who are still playing because when you are playing you’re in a bubble. You think about your own job, your own team, your own three points but actually there is a bigger picture out there. You have a bigger message to get across…you have more power and influence than you ever recognise. When you come into the media you appreciate that more.”
Neville believes way Sir Alex Ferguson controlled the media side of the job was a part of United’s success. He said: “The teams I played in under Sir Alex had that siege mentality…you know, we’re on the island and the sharks are all around us…don’t let anybody on. That sort of mentality. We looked after one another, we protected each other. You think about David Beckham coming back from the World Cup in 1998 and the whole country’s against him, but United fans turned on the rest of the country to look after one of their own.
“This was one of Sir Alex’s ways of doing things. I can see similarities with the current England [cricket] team. They don’t let people in. They maybe are a little straight in their interviews and I can’t say that’s wrong from a sporting point of view. But when you finish, you look back and think you could have been more relaxed. It’s too late then.
“At the same time I can understand why footballers and cricketers would want to keep things tight. It’s a mad world out there and anything you say can be reported in a hundred different ways.”
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