Will Gary Neville punditry ever be the same?
The eve on which Gary Neville left his post at Sky Sports to become manager of Valencia CF, his stock was unsurprisingly sky-high. With the partnership he’d formed with old Liverpool foe Jamie Carragher, the former Man United full back had been lighting up TV screens up and down the country with his off-the-cuff match analysis which for most viewers, was a breath of fresh air.
After becoming accustomed to the typical, dour ‘stock answer’ type punditry often exhibited from the likes of Michael Owen et al, Neville’s honesty in front of the camera was refreshing. His willingness to stick his neck on the line with some of his more controversial opinions (which usually turned out to be right), made the build-up to Monday night football sometimes more exciting than the actual match on display itself.
Whilst concessions can be made for the fact that managing an established top tier club in a country he didn’t know the language of was nothing short of a baptism of fire, his subsequent sacking at Valencia following the uninspiring string of performances his side had put in, had done little to further his career.
Now in the wake of England’s disgraceful exit from Euro 2016, an exit of which Neville had more than a hand in as one of Roy Hodgson’s right hand men, it remains to be seen whether the 41-year-old can ever be taken seriously again as a pundit.
For someone who routinely bemoaned poorly-prepared defences from the Premier League during his tenure as a Sky Sports pundit, it makes for an interesting sub-plot to see how his England rearguard was so easily undone against Iceland last Monday.
Somewhere in a parallel universe, there is a Gary Neville sitting behind a studio desk under the hot studio lights, picking apart the shambolic marking for Iceland’s first from a throw-in. That same Neville would be tearing his hair out at Iceland’s second – a build-up move so effortless and routine, it almost looked as though it was being played out in slow motion.
Yet back on this little planet we know as Earth, Neville has nowhere to hide. As England’s main man in charge of all things defence, he had the power to prevent such mishaps at the back happening in the first place. It was common knowledge that deftness from throw-ins was the main thing this Iceland side would bring to the table last Monday evening. With more than ample time to prepare, it seems whatever Hodgson and co did on the training ground in the days leading up to the round of 16 match did not stick.
The buck cannot solely stop with Neville of course. For a player who roundly impressed with his tireless running up and down the right flank during England’s short-lived Euro campaign, it was rather surreal to see how easily Kyle Walker was left in the dust as he failed to keep tabs on Iceland’s opening scorer Sigurdsson. Wayne Rooney, the man of which many of England’s raised expectations had been hoisted on also had his fair share in the throw-in debacle.
The £300,000-a-week man was effortlessly beaten in the air for the first knock-on from the throw-in by a player who is undoubtedly dwarfed in terms of earnings and international pedigree. Whilst a little facetious to bring Rooney’s pay-cheque into the equation, it is on the back of these sorts of facts of which England fans can feel so aggrieved. They were beaten, convincingly, by a country roughly the same size as Wigan.
Despite Neville’s career taking another unfortunate turn, it’s still likely that the fat cats over at Sky will welcome him back with open arms for the new season. And why wouldn’t they? Poor managerial career or not, the former Man United man got bums on seats. Whether these same bums on seats will now watch the outspoken pundit with a healthy dose of cynicism on match days is another question altogether.