As anyone who watched Gary Neville in his role as a pundit for Sky Sports over the previous four seasons would be well aware, he is not a man prone to hyperbole.
The 45-year-old was rightly lauded for the informed, insightful brand of analysis that he brought to British television screens since succeeding Andy Gray on Monday Night Football in 2011, and there can be little doubt that his reputation as a leading pundit went a long way towards persuading Valencia owner, Peter Lim, to appoint him as Nuno Espirito Santo’s successor at the Mestalla two months ago.
It is in this context that Neville’s bleak reflections upon Valencia’s 7-0 Copa del Rey defeat at Barcelona yesterday evening were so striking.
“I am not going to sleep well tonight,” the former Manchester United and England player commented. “This is one of the worst experiences I’ve ever gone through in football.”
Last night’s humiliation, coming just three days after Valencia lost 0-1 at home against fourth from bottom Sporting Gijon in La Liga, means that Neville has still only won four times in 15 matches as Valencia boss. He has yet to record a win in eight league matches and his Copa del Rey triumphs against Second Division B side Barrakaldo, Granada and Las Palmas (19th and 16th in La Liga respectively) are hardly a cause for raucous celebration.
After all, Transfermarkt.com record Valencia as having spent more than €135 million on new players last summer, and while there is no great shame in losing against this Barcelona side, the humiliating nature of the scoreline (it could even have been larger), combined with Valencia’s lack of improvement under Neville, make supporter outrage appear entirely justified.
Within minutes of the final whistle, the hashtag “#Nevilleveteya,” which translates as “Neville go now,” began trending on Twitter and the former United defender was faced with his second pañolada in less than a week as the small contingent of Valencia fans who made the trip to Cataluña gave classically Spanish expression to their outrage by waving white handkerchiefs.
It is difficult to see Neville recovering from this defeat.
While the Manchester native made it clear that he had no intention of resigning, Valencia’s sporting director, Suso García Pitarch, was less committal. García Pitarch condemned the result as “one of the worst results in our history” before passing-up the opportunity to assert the club’s commitment to their manager in the long-term.
“This isn’t a day to give any explanations and simply to recognise that we have done things very badly and we have to rectify it in any way we can,” García Pitarch said. “We apologise to our fans for one of the worst days and one of the worst results in our history.
Asked again, he responded: “Simply, we have to reflect [on this] internally.”
While there is no reason yet to suspect that Neville will not be in the Valencia dugout when they travel to face Real Betis on Sunday, the likelihood of him remaining at the Mestalla beyond the end of the season when his present contract expires looks extremely slim. In this light it is difficult to avoid questioning what the whole point of this exercise was in the first place?
Neville was never likely to prove an instant hit at Valencia. Not only did he walk into the manager’s job at one of the largest and most politically complex clubs in Spain with zero experience, he did so not knowing the language and with only a superficial knowledge of the playing squad. In this regard Neville bears a large share of responsibility for how badly the job has gone: he should have been smart enough to rejects Lim’s offer, at least until he had gained managerial experience at a similar level in Britain.
By that same token, though, Neville’s appointment has only served to affirm the suspicions held by the majority of Valencia supporters that Lim and his boardroom are not cut out for the job. The fact that Lim has business ties with both Gary and Phil Neville is clearly a large part of the reason why the former United duo were given jobs at the Mestalla in the first place and if a Premier League club of Valencia’s profile was to appoint a non-English speaking, Spanish television pundit with no managerial experience to their dugout, the English sporting press would go into meltdown.
This circumstance means that it would have been more surprising had Neville hit the ground running as Valencia boss and the shortness of his contract, combined with comments which suggested that he never wanted to be a manager, meant that fans struggled to warm to his appointment from the off.
Neville and Valencia never seemed a comfortable fit and the emphatic nature of their defeat in Barcelona means that his six month sojourn at the Mestalla might now be revised down to a two month blip.
[Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images]