Wolves v Man Utd

Neville right to retire when he did

February 4, 2011
By Kevin Keegan
(Archive)

ESPN analyst Kevin Keegan is one of English football's most respected figures and he will be writing for ESPNsoccernet throughout the season. As a player, Kevin represented Liverpool with distinction, winning numerous titles in domestic and European football, and was twice named European Footballer of the Year during his time at Hamburg. Kevin has managed England, Newcastle United, Manchester City and Fulham and is one of the most respected voices in the English game.

Kevin Keegan and Gary Neville relax the morning after England's 1-0 victory over Germany at Euro 2000
PA PhotosKevin Keegan and Gary Neville relax the morning after England's 1-0 victory over Germany at Euro 2000

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All great players know when the time is right to retire, and Gary Neville has demonstrated this week that he is no different. Though this son of Manchester certainly hasn't won any popularity contests on Merseyside, even the most avid Liverpool supporter would surely admit they would have liked to have had him in their side. He has been a credit to the game, his club and his country.

Thursday's announcement brought a close to a long and successful career and Gary can look back on his time with Manchester United and England with tremendous pride. Although he would rather have bowed out at the end of the season in a manner befitting his success, lifting the league trophy, it would only have been a token gesture given that he has not really contributed for United in recent months. If you examine his sporadic performances this season, it is clear he has not been at the peak of his powers.

In the past we have seen players who have stayed on too long, and to retire at this point demonstrates a strength of character that has been in evidence throughout his career, as he could have played on, or dropped down the divisions. But he has been at Old Trafford for 20 years now and I admire him for taking the decision he did. To walk away from the game now was absolutely the right decision.

I managed Gary at international level, taking him to Euro 2000, and when representing his country he always led by example. He was the model of professionalism in training - in fact Phil is the same, and Neville Neville should be proud of his two sons because they are two players who have extracted the maximum from their ability and potential. They will be the first to admit they are not the most gifted individuals in the world but through hard work and determination they have shaped themselves into excellent players. Gary always learned quickly, he was alert to pick up things from players and coaches around him, and carved out a fantastic career at the very top level as a result.

Liverpool supporters may disagree with Sir Alex Ferguson's claim that he is the best English right back of his generation, but whatever you think of Gary Neville the man, it is true. If you sat Liverpool supporters down and their life depended on picking the best right back in this country over the past 20 years, there isn't another contender. He stands head and shoulders above the rest: he has been at the biggest club, he has won the most trophies and he has made 85 appearances for England. No one comes close.

Gary is just competitive. If you had taken that away from him, we wouldn't be talking about him in glowing terms like we are today.

-- Kevin Keegan on Gary Neville's ability to divide opinion

Clearly Gary divides opinion - he has courted controversy and provoked debate, not least in Liverpool - but that is because he is so passionate about his club. I remember in 1996, when Manchester United had beaten my Newcastle side in the Charity Shield, he was on TV singing "Cheer up, Kevin Keegan! Oh what can it mean?" But Gary took the trouble to write to me on behalf of himself and Phil to explain they were very sorry and they just got carried away. His behaviour stemmed from his passion for the game, and United, and it certainly didn't bother me. Gary is just competitive. If you had taken that away from him, we wouldn't be talking about him in glowing terms like we are today.

Gary found himself in trouble on a number of occasions, but sometimes people get carried away in the heat of the moment. I had my own moment of Charity Shield controversy when representing Liverpool in 1974 as I had a fight with Leeds captain Billy Bremner and threw my shirt to the floor when I was subsequently sent off. People asked me why I did it - I couldn't tell you to this day. I don't know. With a competitive edge comes a tendency to do things that, with hindsight, you wish you hadn't done.

It is now a case of 'watch this space' to see what direction Gary wants to go in. When footballers finish their careers these days, they are extremely wealthy and the problem is deciding what to do next, and what motivates them.

I don't have a clue what he wants to do, but if management is the path he decides to tread, he has the right characteristics to succeed, and he will get plenty of offers - there is no doubt about that. Gary is management material: he has the right mentality and he fulfils all the necessary criteria. Players will have immediate respect for him.

Gary would be a fantastic young manager for a club because of his knowledge and his experience, and also because he has worked with Sir Alex for 20 years and captained a big, big club. That is the legacy of the career of a great player.