On the face of it, Gary Neville’s move into management at Valencia is an incredibly surprising one. Yes, he has made it clear he’d like to be the number one somewhere, someday. But bearing in mind his role on the England coaching staff, ownership of Salford FC and media commitments with Sky, any move into management seemed a few years away.
Nevertheless, he’s suddenly in charge of one of Spain’s biggest clubs, which leads you to look a bit closer into the details behind this surprising deal. We start back in Manchester. Over the last year or so there’s been a lot of publicity surrounding the purchase of Salford City FC by a group of legendary Manchester United players known simply as ‘The class of ’92’. This group includes Ryan Giggs, the Neville brothers, Paul Scholes and Nicky Butt. All came through the youth system at Manchester United and helped form the most successful team of its generation.
The former players have, since buying Salford City FC, installed lofty ambitions and set their sights on taking the minnows all the way up to the Premier League. Although together they have amassed considerable wealth over the course of their playing careers, they invited billionaire businessman Peter Lim, also involved with Gary Neville and Ryan Giggs’ ‘Hotel Football’ business, to invest in the club. The bottom line is this: Singaporean Peter Lim is now a business partner of Gary Neville on at least two projects based in the UK.
It’s of course no coincidence that Lim also happens to be the owner of Valencia, and this is where the waters between business partner and employee suddenly become a little murky. That Neville and Lim are joint investors in projects in England, yet now Neville is working for Lim at Valencia, is a clear conflict of interests and puts Neville in a unique, although clearly tenable position. As Valencia owner, Peter Lim has the power to hire and fire the manager. It remains to be seen whether Neville and Lim have a strong enough relationship to put their other ventures to one side when dealing with their new Spanish project.
All signs point to a wealthy backer clearly impressed with the acumen, determination and football knowledge possessed by Gary Neville, but how will the players react to his appointment?
While there is no doubt that Neville is respected on the continent and appreciated for his unparalleled success at Manchester United under Sir Alex Ferguson, there will be raised eyebrows over the appointment of an Englishman in Spain. Given the recent sacking of David Moyes from Real Sociedad, British managers who may find it difficult to adapt to a new culture and language are understandably viewed with scepticism. This feeling will be stronger given that Neville’s reputation as a fiercely analytical television pundit will not have radiated as far as Spain. In his favour is the fact that younger brother Phil has been assistant at Valencia since the start of the season, and has by all account progressed well with the language.
What the future holds for Neville is anybody’s guess. His time with England led many to think he was being prepared to succeed Roy Hodgson after next summer’s European Championship, while his revolutionary punditry has won him plaudits from both inside and outside the game. Whether these skills and experience can be translated into club management, and into another language, will be the toughest test of his career so far.