Stop pinching yourself and throwing cold water on your face. This did indeed actually happen. Gary Neville has been appointed the new manager of La Liga side Valencia until the end of the season. When Nuno Espirito Santo resigned as Valencia manager last week, it was met with a sense of expectancy as well as worry for the future, who was going to take over, with the current chronic manager shortage that has probably saved both Rafa Benitez and Jose Mourinho? When news of Nuno’s resignment broke everyone thought the same thing; Phil Neville will be Valencia’s new manager. Interim anyway. Odds on him being the new gaffer were 1/1 at some places and the former Everton defender a shoe-in for one of the biggest jobs in Spain, if not the world. But no. You don’t employ a man with no previous managerial experience and little to no grasp on the language. Instead, you employ his brother, who has no former managerial experience and little to no grasp on the language. So it begs the question, how well will Gary Neville do out in Spain? In all honesty, the appointment of Gary Neville isn’t all that surprising when you look at all the factors within the appointment. Peter Lim, the majority shareholder of Valencia also owns a percentage in Salford City, which is also owned by the class of 92, in which Gary Neville is a part of. Lim’s relationship with the class of 92 is probably what landed Phil Neville his role as assistant manager at Valencia, in which he’s performing a capable job, learning the Spanish lingo and acclimatising to his new continental surroundings. This probably swayed Gary’s decision, the fact that his brother was already at the club, and has had time to assess and get to know the squad. That coupled with Gary’s previous relationship with Lim made the former Manchester United fullback a fit for Valencia.
Upon retiring from professional football in 2011, he soon joined SkySports to be a part of their pundit team and was an instant hit, with his brutal analysis and honest opinions. When Jamie Carragher joined SkySports in 2013, the two were drafted in to present the new look ‘Monday Night Football.’ This proved to be Neville’s most credible work, as having two former players who hated each other in their playing days forced together, brought the best in both, especially the Mancunian. So when Valencia appointed Gary, the thought in everyone’s mind was what kind of manager was he going to be? Calm and collected like Arsene Wenger, a maniac like Paulo D’Canio or in between like the great Sir Alex. With brother Phil taking over for the game against Barcelona, Gary’s first game was arguably Valencia’s biggest match of the season; a CL crunch game at home to Lyon which Valencia had to win in order to advance to the knockout stages of the competition, Valencia lost 2-0. On face value, this gives the impression that Gary crumbled under the first piece of pressure bestowed upon him. But if you look into the game and the tactical set-up, you find out exactly what kind of manager the 2 time Champions League winner sets out to be.
This game was always going to be an uphill battle for Gary from the get go due to the players he had ruled out of the game like prolific winger Fegouli and Andre Gomes, arguably two of the most important cogs in the Valencia team. G Nev set the team out in a 4-3-3 formation and seemed logical, a settled back line with a defensive midfielder for support, two central midfielders ahead and then a front three, who’s positions can be easily interchangeable and provided the side with fluidity. His set-up was fairly straight forward and if he had all his first team players legible to play the game, they may still be in the Champions League. As for the actual game, Valencia started fairly well and with confidence, German centre back Mustafi hitting the post in the first 10 minutes and were looking the likely to produce the breakthrough until the 23rd minute, when Argentine midfielder Enzo Perez was forced off with an injury and replaced him with defensive minded Fuego, further depleting the Spanish club’s already weakened side. Lyon soon capitalised on this by scoring through teenage forward Gnaly Cornet and the teams entered the break with Valencia losing this must-win game. Soon after the restart, Gary made his first tactical substitution, taking off defensive midfielder Danilo for former Manchester City forward Alvaro Negredo. Lyon carried on piling on pressure onto the home side and promoted Gary to make his final substitution, bringing on Piatti for De Paul. This proved to no avail as no more than 2 minutes after the substitution, Lyon doubled their lead via Lacazette. The game ended 0-2 and Valencia were sent into the dark realm that is the Europa League.From this performance and his unveiling conference we know that Gary wants to play expansive attacking football but also have a solid defensive shape, like what he was a part of for the best part of almost two decades under the most successful manager of all time, Sir Alex Ferguson.
The expansive attacking football that he wants to play as a manager goes hand in hand with Valencia’s traditions and their current crop of players. With experience in the team in the form of Diego Alves and Alvaro Negredo, creative sparks like Perez and Feghouli, not to mention young stars like Gaya, Bakkali and Paco Alcacer. If Gary Neville can rally these players and lead them to a respectable finish in La Liga as well and potentially do well in the Europa League, he could remain Valencia further than next June and be the next Bobby Robson and build a foundation for the club for years to come like Robson did with Barcelona. Or he could the next David Moyes, be woefully underwhelming and get booted out in less than a year. Let’s hope for the former eh?