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Gary Neville by Tom Oldfield

Release date: 30th June, 2007
Publisher: John Blake Publishing

List Price: £17.99
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Most football fans would agree that, whatever they think of their opponents and whatever detrimental songs they may sing about them, there are always some opposition players who would be warmly welcomed into their fold.

Feisty, fervent, footballers such as Roy Keane, Alan Shearer and Jamie Carragher are the types we're talking about: hard, no-nonsense sorts beloved by their own fans and grudgingly respected by opponents. Players who make a difference by inspiring team-mates and fans alike; always driving forward and never taking a backward step. Average supporters can actually accept defeat, but they hate watching well-paid professionals under-perform or, worse still, appear to give up. None of this trio could ever be accused of throwing in the towel.

The same is true of Gary Neville, a footballer who has probably never received the credit he deserves for playing in the most dominant domestic side of the last decade and a half. You do not play for so long under Sir Alex Ferguson without being an exceptional player; one only has to consider who has left Old Trafford to appreciate the accuracy of this statement.

Tom Oldfield's impressive writing debut makes it immediately clear why Neville has enjoyed such longevity: determination. "Surrounded by so many talented players," he writes, "Gary quickly realised÷he had to make sacrifices to keep up with other players who he deemed to have greater ability." Gary Neville appreciated this at the age of 16; a year later, he was making his Manchester United debut as a substitute in a UEFA Cup tie against Torpedo Moscow.

The following season, he enjoyed an extended run in the first team, surrounded by intimidating characters such as Steve Bruce, Gary Pallister, Mark Hughes, Eric Cantona (from whom he simply received a Gallic stare if he did anything wrong), Paul Ince and Roy Keane. Most intimidating of all was Peter Schmeichel who frequently dished out as much verbal abuse to his back four as he did to opponents. For an inexperienced youngster, it was a sink-or-swim environment and Neville's inherent determination ensured he swam.

Naturally enough, much of Oldfield's narrative deals with an impressive succession of Premiership titles, FA Cup successes and United's isolated Champions League win, but the frequency with which Liverpool are mentioned suggests the author understands the burning desire every successful player at Old Trafford must have to try and emulate the achievements of their greatest foes. Nowhere is this more evident than in Gary Neville's persona.

In 1999, Neville's exalted status among United fans was elevated further when he wrote: "You might think the intense dislike that the vast majority of Manchester United fans feel towards Liverpool would grow less when you become a professional footballer. Well, it doesn't." The feeling remains mutual.

Oldfield's text also acts as a reminder of the number of big-name stars with whom Sir Alex Ferguson has had disputes during his period at the helm: Paul McGrath, Norman Whiteside, Paul Ince, Roy Keane, Japp Stam and David Beckham have all been shuffled out of Old Trafford, while Gary Neville has remained a loyal lieutenant. This would suggest that as he secures his necessary coaching qualifications, Neville, despite commercial commitments in Malta, may have one eye on ultimately taking charge of Manchester United. Pretty as the Mediterranean island is, one fancies the call of the manager's job at Old Trafford would prove too great, although opposing fans will wince at the very idea and hope he enjoys a prolonged retirement in Malta÷

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