Gary Neville busts out more gems from his big bag of sense

It’s amazing what a change of career can do to the public perception of oneself. Look at Katie Price; as Jordan she was looked down upon for her boring publicity game of getting her assets out and various celebrity flings. But now, as Katie Price, she is known for her boring publicity game of various non-celebrity marriages and being a novelist. Bad example perhaps…

However, a better example would be one Gary Neville. This season, he has morphed from figure of anger and almost parody for his (understandable) extremely Manchester United-centric views whilst playing for them to one of the most even-minded, unbiased, intelligent and enjoyable pundits, effortlessly cutting through the crap spouting from the mouths of those around him to provide insightful tactical observations, built on experience, whether it be on television or in print in his column. And occasionally doing this.

And wouldn’t you just know it, in his latest incarnation as a coach with England, he’s been at it again; talking sense and all of that jazz.

In yesterday’s press conference, Neville, now wisely not sporting facial fuzz that would have never made it on to this website spoke with now characteristic sense about the damage done in the past to the England team by over expectation placed on them by a combination of the press, the FA and the team themselves, particularly in the ill-fated ‘Golden Generation’ era.

It’s worth quoting at length here; Neville said; “After qualifying in Italy in 97-98 and then against Greece in 2001-02, it was almost – when you look back now – a little bit embarrassing. All we’d done is qualify. But it was like we’d reached the World Cup final. It’s now about managing expectations slightly differently and probably being a little bit more realistic about what we are and where we’ve been. It’s about showing that humility to say ‘Spain are there, France did win World Cups, Brazil are there’. We are trying to get to them rather than thinking we are there already just by qualifying for a tournament.”

Arguably, the waltz to qualification for the 2010 World Cup under Fabio Capello is another example of the point Neville is making; that the unrealistic expectations on the team in each of those years (apart from possibly 1998 when, as Jonathan Wilson points out in The Anatomy of England, England had been playing arguably the best football in the world between 1996 and 1998) resulted in underwhelming results and a huge negative public and press backlash against the England team in the aftermath. This backlash often resulted in a demand for change (whether of personnel or management) which universally never worked as the old failings came back again in the next tournament after an qualifying program was negotiated leading to increased expectations once again. This all meant there was a vicious cycle in place going back at least to post-Euro 96 when English optimism about their national side was truly reborn.

By reducing the expectations, which the appointment of Roy Hodgson (as opposed to Harry Redknapp) has also done incidentally which I’d say is something of a masterstroke by the FA, expectations of England have probably not been so low ahead of a major tournament since the World Cup in 1990 when England struggled through their qualification group. And we all know how that tournament ended up going.

Not that we’ll make the semi-finals this time around; getting out of the group would be a success but that’s another blog post for another day.


As a reminder of how impressive England actually were in that 96-98 period, here are the highlights from the four team mini-tournament, Le Tournoi, which England won beating Italy and France along the way.


For more Football Blogs and opinion from football fans around the world