ANDY COLE - I was surprised Gary Neville got the Valencia job

Andy Cole reveals in his latest Yahoo column that he was surprised former team-mate Gary Neville has been named as the new manager of Valencia. 

I was surprised to hear my former team-mate Gary Neville named as the Valencia coach until the end of the season. I shouldn’t have been. 

Scroll to continue with content
Ad

Gary is driven, focused, well connected - he’s in business with Valencia’s owner Peter Lim - and works hard at whatever he does. I saw that first-hand as a player. 

He’ll be the first to admit that he wasn’t the most talented player at Manchester United, so it’s to his credit that he played over 600 times for them, the fifth highest in the history of the club. He trained as hard as anyone, he lived the life of a consummate professional and he won absolute everything there was to win.

The other players used to wind Gary and his brother Phil up. We’d joke that they went to bed at 7pm just so they could prepare perfectly for training the next day. As with many things in a dressing room, it was all part of the banter. Gary took it well.

After one European away game, all the players and the media returned to the team plane. The players would sit at the front, the press lads at the back. 

There was little notable about those night flights back to Manchester at 2am, but Nev had other ideas. He stood up and announced that the preparation for the next game on Saturday started now, before making shuttle runs up the aisle of the plane. The players were in stitches. We knew he was joking, but I’m sure some of the press pack believed it.

The brothers were respected for their attitude, both by their team-mates and Sir Alex Ferguson, the man they learned most from about management. 

Now, Gary and Phil will work together at Valencia as Phil has been assistant there this season. It’s a huge challenge, working in a country where Gary doesn’t know the language, where halfway through the season he’s joining a club with high expectations. 

They’ve got big name players whose egos need managing. Being a manager isn’t just about being a tactician, but most importantly about man management. Some players respond to a hard word, others need an arm around them. You have to be a psychologist to deal with problems that players have in their private or professional life.

You also have to be the front for criticism from the fans and the media. All the players will have people around them telling them that they’re the best and should be playing every week, but there won’t be room for them all.

It’s the manager who has to deliver bad news, to pop their egos and spoil their dreams with words they might not want to hear, while still retaining the respect of someone he might need in the following game. I’m not sure that today’s pampered players can take criticism like we could.

Gary will also be dealing with the Latin mentality which is different from the majority of the players he’s worked with. He’ll also be managing for the first time after three or four years of speaking well about football on British TV. It’s one thing talking about it, another actually doing it. 

I think he’ll be a good manager. He’s always been vocal, always been fine when it comes to taking the lead. He would get under everyone’s skin and could moan with the best of them. He was the perfect foreman for the dressing room, the one to air any grievances the players had and fight for our rights. Yet we used to hammer him for complaining all the time and call him the biggest moaner in the world.

Gary learned off good leaders – sometimes the hard way. I once saw Roy Keane chasing him around a dressing room at Coventry. Keane, who wasn’t adverse to a good whinge himself, had crossed words with him and tried to catch up with him but scared Nev kept getting away. It was hilarious, like a cartoon cat and mouse. 

The manager wanted to go mad at the players as we hadn’t performed well, but even he found it funny. Keane never did catch up with Nev.

I liked Nev, both as a player and a person. I just took to him for being who he is. I knew what he stood for and respected his dedication to Manchester United. Every team needs characters like Nev who are utterly driven towards winning. He trained like a trooper and was a top player too.

Can he be a manger? That’s for him to prove. There are others who’ve I’ve thought would be a success and who’ve struggled. You just don’t know.

But what a challenge they’ve got. The Mestalla was one of my favourite football grounds. I played there with Gary Neville in 2001 against their team which had reached consecutive Champions League finals. 

They had top players: Canizares and the man marking me Pellegrino, Baraja, Kily Gonzalez, Ayala, Angloma, Mendieta, Aimar. Hard bastards from Spain and Argentina who were tough to break down. We drew 0-0 away and 1-1 at home. 

Big nights, big clubs and now a big challenge for Gary Neville now he’s Valencia manager.  

What to read next