THE REASON people dislike Gary Neville is, strangely, because he has all the qualities we ask for in a footballer. The Manchester United full-back who had announced his retirement – though he could never be called retiring – was a dedicated one-club man, his passion for United equals that of any supporter, his consistency was as good as it gets and his honesty could never be doubted.
Rarely the most willing or easy of players to interview, perhaps the only thing Neville and the press have in common is their opinion of each other but Fleet Street was still ready to praise the former England international who intriguingly may join the ranks of the media as a TV pundit.
Andy Dunn in the News of the World wrote: “You don’t get to play 600-odd times for Manchester United merely because you stay on the training ground until dusk. Isn’t it a shame though that outside Old Trafford most people will remember his magnificent career as essentially one long scowl?
“Maybe not. Maybe railing against the outside world is what made Neville the unique footballer he was.”
Martin Kelner, in his always entertaining Guardian column, placed the emphasis on Neville’s alleged moustache. He was impressed by Match Of The Day’s “very useful guide to the several ages of Neville’s moustache.”
Kelner wrote: “Ostensibly it was a tribute to Neville’s achievements, with shots of him lifting trophies at various stages in his Manchester United career, but the montage also acted like one of those speeded-up sequences of a flower blooming you used to see on nature programmes, giving one a snapshot of just what has been going on underneath the Neville nose through the Premier League era.”
In the Daily Mirror, Oliver Holt said Neville’s commitment and desire should be the blueprint for any young player. He wrote: “Neville stood for things that people wrongly say have been lost to the game. He was proof that there are still plenty of footballers we can point to as worthy of our children’s hero worship.
“He was proof that, amid all the stuff and nonsense, there are still plenty of players out there who are true to the traditions of the game.”
Dave Kidd’s take on Red Nev in the People made the point that the new wave of owners could signal the end of loyal servants like Neville.
Kidd was angry at the criticism by Newcastle owner Mike Ashley’s “henchman” Derek Llambias directed at Alan Shearer who questioned the sale of Andy Carroll to Liverpool.
‘The contempt and loathing Ashley and Llambias show towards their own supporters is unprecedented. And the more men like these hold sway at Premier League clubs, the less likely it is that we’ll ever see the like of Gary Neville again.’
Carroll missed Liverpool’s 1-0 win at Chelsea where the debut of Fernando Torres for the Blues gave football writers the opportunity to dip their metaphorical pens in vitriol.
Torres lasted 66 minutes before being substituted and Steve Howard of the Sun, never one to sit on any fence, was at his best. “The only surprise was the travelling Kop didn’t hit him with the biggest insult of all – are you Shevchenko in disguise?.
“As debuts go it was a stinker.”
Torres started the game alongside Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka which many think is one striker too many. Howard’s Sun colleague Shaun Custis made the point: “There is a strong belief [Carlo] Ancelotti had little to say in the Torres signing, that it was all down to Roman Abramovich. But it is Ancelotti who has to find a way of sorting it out.’
Outside of Merseyside the result was seen as a Chelsea defeat rather than a Liverpool victory but the Daily Mail’s Martin Samuel was gushing in his praise for Kenny Dalglish whose three at the back formation worked a treat. Samuel wrote: “He…gets the best out of players like Raul Meireles and Lucas who have struggled under previous managers. He has taken a system that is hopelessly unfashionable in the modern era and won with it at fortress Stamford Bridge.””
Oliver Kay penned a thoughtful column on a player who was absent from the action, Joe Cole. Quickly becoming a forgotten man at Anfield and with England, Cole has struggled with an early red card, niggling injuries and – not for the first time – consistency.
Kay wrote in the Times: “[Roy] Hodgson got an awful lot wrong at Liverpool but who can accuse him of being wrong…with respect to Cole? Claudio Ranieri, Jose Mourinho, Avram Grant, Guus Hiddink, Carlo Ancelotti…Hodgson was just the latest manager who felt unable to indulge Cole. Kenny Dalglish seems certain to be the next.”