When Gary Neville took the Valencia job back in December even he would have expected to stay a little longer than the kind of holiday he was used to when he retired from international football as a player. However, four months on, his cases are packed and with passport in hand he will be returning to England – in more ways than one, maybe even a return to the Sky Sports studios to wax lyrical about everybody else’s failings? Perhaps not.
Few could argue that this was a tough gig for Neville on numerous levels. This was his first foray into management and although he is employed by England as a coach, management provides more than just comfortable group discussions with other coaches and setting up the balls and cones for a shooting drill, it poses questions and dilemmas on practical, tactical and human fronts and as the manager of a club that is classed as a world top ten club, you’ve got to have the answers and in Gary Neville’s situation, you need them quick. There was also the language barrier, although he was fully aware that grasping the Spanish language was important, he was hoping hard work was going to be the language of success at Valencia.
There were of course other ‘persuading’ factors to Neville taking the job at Valencia and one major one was the fact that the President of Valencia is one Peter Lim, the same Peter Lim who is a majority stakeholder in non-league side Salford City – a club owned by Neville, his brother and a scattering of the class of 92′. Perhaps this was one he couldn’t say no to, we have all seen that Neville can talk a good game and that talk probably landed him with a little bit more than he could chew. Its a far cry from dueling with Jamie Carragher on monday night football with tactical cam, ad breaks and editors – there was no hiding place in the dugout of the Mestalla. Whether or not it was the right thing to do by taking the job is now a matter of hindsight and column inches, but what wont change at Valencia is the expectation on any manager and sadly for Neville, that included his forlorn tenure.
The expectation at the Mestalla is high, it always will be, was the high expectation reasonable? Valencia fans will certainly say categorically yes. Is the squad better than the league table suggests? The common cliche would be that the table doesn’t lie but in this instance, given the circumstances and context of Neville finding himself in the hot seat, it may not be relevant. Peter Lim may have appointed Neville but he wasn’t around to hear the discontent unlike his chairman.
Peter Lim is miles away but his chairman listens to the Valencia fans, spends most of his time in the city and has, for a while, noticed that things were not working – Guillem Ballague – Spanish Football Expert & Columnist.
Neville himself is nothing if not a realist and in reality he knows that when results don’t go your way you will be heading for the exit door quicker than he will have learnt to say adios. When Neville took the job Valencia were ninth in the table and were just five points off potential champions league qualification, they now find themselves floundering in 14th in the league and champions league qualification for next season can be forgotten about with an impossible 20 point deficit to make up.
Champions league performances and results only added to the misery, knocked out in his first game in charge and further disappointment in the Europa league was to follow at the hands of Athletic Bilbao only two short weeks ago. The penultimate nail in the proverbial coffin was the 7-0 thrashing in the semi-final of the Copa del Rey, a result described as “One of the worst in our history” by Valencia’s sporting director Suso García Pitarch.
So, what next for Gary Neville? Will he return to the comfort of the Sky Sports studio? Arguably he might be best lying low in terms of standing in judgment, however, this is a man with a thick skin and a man able to take the kind of storm coming his way. He will undoubtedly return to his position as coach with England and the experience at Valencia will only help with that. Its very easy for all those vaguely interested in football to say “it was never going to work”, “hes not got the experience”, but he put his money where his mouth was and he tried where others would have continued within the comfort zone of the TV studio.