Harry Parker speaks to the former Manchester United captain-turned Sky TV pundit about his life and career.
Gary Neville is Manchester United’s second-longest serving player of all time and is regarded by many as England’s greatest ever right back. He has 20 domestic trophies to his name and now has a wide range of business interests – including Hotel Football, Salford City and UA92, alongside his work as a respected TV pundit with Sky Sports.
Here, Neville speaks about the great Sir Alex Ferguson, the development of Manchester United and how he implements his footballing experiences into everyday life, including his transfer from player to pundit.
UA92 Insider: Sir Alex Ferguson is often regarded as the most successful football manager of all time … are there any aspects of his management that you particularly chose to take forward, not just into your life but with businesses? Or is there anything that you have actively chosen not to carry forward?
GN: Work ethic. I believe everyone has talent and skill; it’s how you use your passion and creativity to put that into action. Everyone I work with knows these philosophies and that’s what I want from them every day. People can say they’re passionate about something, but if they don’t put the effort and hard work in, there’s not much point in the end. You need to be passionate about what you do in order to succeed. It’s something that was drilled into us at United with Sir Alex from day one, through his man management and the famous ‘hair dryer’ techniques. You’ve got to have that high work ethic in whatever you do, and this is something I carried through into my time at Valencia, and something I still pick up on now in business.
I wouldn’t say actively chosen to, but I would say the one personality trait I don’t hold that Sir Alex did, and used day in day out, was his fierceness regarding a strong winning mentality. I have that mentality of wanting to win and succeed, but without the fierceness that Sir Alex did.
UA92 Insider: Coming up through the academy ranks you’ve seen first-hand the development of some of football’s greatest players, with Paul Scholes and David Beckham to name a couple. Does the youth setup properly prepare players for first team football and if so, how?
GN: A hundred percent. I always thought of it like a run. If you can run 200 metres in 40 seconds, but then you are pushed 3-4 days a week to run further and further, eventually you’ll be able to run it in 35 seconds. Players are trained just like parents would support their child, they’re cared for, but pushed to be better and better every single day and are supported at every stage. I think that in the past 7-8 years, especially at United, they’ve produced some great players with McTominay, Greenwood, Rashford, Lingard and the youth setup really does prepare its players for the big stages.
UA92 Insider: How are players protected and supported regarding a life of huge fortune, fame and media speculation? Has anything changed from when you were playing?
GN: I think that every 18-year-old who passes their driving test would go out and a buy a nice car if they had money as well as a nice house and clothes, so that would be something that most would do. However, I think that when you make money the sole purpose of your football career, that’s when your focus slips and the end consequence is that you ultimately get dropped. Players these days, in particularly at United, are told to keep their feet on the ground and are reminded what they’re playing for, you have to earn your shirt and you fight to keep it.”
UA92 Insider: Nowadays you’re obviously one of the most, if not the most, well-known football pundits in the business, how did you find the jump from being a footballer to becoming a pundit/commentator?
GN: I was very anxious at first, but I’d worked extremely hard and put my all into it. It was something that I’d thought about doing for a long time and always wanted to do. I found the change really smooth to be honest. I like to say that when I am analysing a game I’m a coach with no players and I just think about what I would be saying to these players as their analyst. Obviously at Sky it’s all live and on the spot, there’s no autocue or script, so you do have to work hard for it to run nice and smooth when presenting or commentating. It’s also something that I really enjoy, going back to passion and hard work, and was something that I wanted to do.
UA92 Insider: Finally, who is your favourite player that you’ve played with and your current favourite player?
GN: My favourite player of all time is hands down Paul Scholes. He just defied physics, 5 foot 5, asthma, not the most physical, but his ability on the ball, as well as off it, was superb. I believe that our success would not have happened if Scholes was not in that team. He was like the engine, the work horse and he made everything run. My favourite player now… Kevin De Bruyne. He’s just effortless in the middle of the park. I almost see him as a combination of Scholes and Beckham, he has that incredible passing ability, as well as being able to place balls in behind, and obviously he’s a great striker of the ball. I absolutely love watching him play.