Wednesday, October 26, 2011
Red - Gary Neville
A few months into a burgeoning career as a TV pundit, Gary Neville he has been praised by the majority for his objectivity, insight and analysis. But as he admirably attempted to dissect Manchester United's recent derby-day mauling by City and praise the Red Devils' cross-city rivals for their performance, it was impossible for Neville to hide his despair.
Because as the song goes: 'Gary Neville is a Red', and a lifelong affiliation with a football club makes it rather difficult to tone down one's allegiances.
Neville is a figure who polarised the opinion of football fans during his 19-year career, with supporters of United adoring a player who loved the club as much as them, while the rest came to regard him simply as a "Red b*****d" (in Neville's words) for his unwavering allegiance to his club. His unflinching love of Manchester United is evident throughout his autobiography Red, as is a genuine gratitude for the opportunities he has had to be involved with one of the world's biggest football clubs, during the most successful period in their history.
The book offers an insight into a life in football that began with watching his beloved United on the Stretford End terraces and took in nearly two decades playing for the team he supported as a boy. His career was one forged through hard work and determination, rather than an abundance of natural talent, but it is a testament to his passion and professionalism - for 19 years he never altered a pre-match routine that included going to bed early for two successive nights before a game - that Neville racked up 602 appearances for United and 85 for England.
His analysis of key games for both club and country is as astute as his TV punditry has proven, and he is brutally honest in his assessment of the failings of the England team under five different national team bosses. There is occasional criticism of Sir Alex Ferguson too, and a description of what really happened in 'Bootgate' when the Scot left David Beckham with a cut above his eye. But as one of Fergie's Fledglings, Neville is of course full of praise for the only club boss he has known, from the start of Red to the end.
As with any autobiography, the most entertaining parts are the previously untold anecdotes - Neville recalls, with some embarrassment, how the young players at United faced initiations at the behest of the senior pros, which included being asked to 'make love' to a cardboard cut-out of Clayton Blackmore and chat-up a mop, tasks that Robbie Savage apparently engaged in enthusiastically.
Neville talks bitterly about how his brother Phil was left out of England's 1998 World Cup squad by Glenn Hoddle after assistant John Gorman had promised him a place, says that he never had a problem with Jaap Stam calling him a 'busy c***' as he meant it "affectionately", and also reveals that his decision to retire from the game came sitting on a toilet at the Hawthorns, having come off as a substitute following a shambolic performance against West Brom on New Year's Day.
For a fan of United, Red is simply an absolute must-read book, but if other supporters can put aside their pre-conceptions of Neville as outspoken and dislikeable, they will be left with a sense of grudging respect for a loyal, one-club player who has lived his boyhood dream and then some.