Sunday, February 6, 2011

Neville the Tw@t...Good riddance

The moment I woke up on Wednesday and discovered Gary Neville had retired, I hit Twitter with the first words that came to mind: ‘Farewell to the most annoying player in the history of world football.’

Within seconds I was bombarded with abuse from Manchester United fans all over the world and congratulations from fans of every other team. And there, in the proverbial nutshell, is the dichotomy that is Gary Neville.
Loved by his own, despised by everyone else. And he wouldn’t have it any other way.

My own hatred of the rat-faced weasel ran so deep that the mere sight of him would make me come out in blazing boils of fury.
As his former colleague, Jaap Stam, so memorably observed in those ill-fated memoirs a few years ago, Gary and brother Phil were ‘a pair of busy little ****s’. And the Dutchman didn’t mean they were always occupied.
From the moment Neville walked out on the pitch, puffing out his small chest like a stunted peacock, he’d irritate me. He was like the worst kind of office block shop steward.

An officious little numpty with delusions of grandeur, a haughty overestimation of his own talents and a relentless ability to wind everybody up at all times with his sheer presence.

Every brawl Arsenal ever had with United involved Neville. But he always played the role of ‘hooligan spotter’ — the spotty kid who set up the fight, then scurried away to let the bigger boys scrap it out.
Who can forget him exchanging verbals with Patrick Vieira in the tunnel (over Neville’s appalling treatment of Jose Antonio Reyes), then begging Roy Keane to help him out?

He was there, too, when ‘Pizzagate’ erupted and during both the Ruud van Nistelrooy/Martin Keown on-pitch battles — sneering, spitting and shouting like a particularly virulent puff adder.

Arsenal had it easy, though. Neville was even more annoying against Liverpool, where he seemed to pride himself on being the Most Hated Man in Anfield History.

Every time the old rivals played each other, he’d pop up in the papers goading and taunting the Scousers in an admittedly rather admirable, yet reckless, disregard for his own life.

The Kop would scream abuse at him for 90 minutes, and he’d return the favour with bells on. And he’d be even worse in the home legs.

Witness the day when he sprinted from the halfway line at Old Trafford to celebrate a 90th-minute winner from Rio Ferdinand right in front of the small Liverpool contingent?

He was fined for ‘improper conduct’ but protested afterwards, asking if it was preferable for players to become ‘emotionless robots’.

And then there were the goal celebrations. Every time United ever scored, Neville would charge like a demented rhinoceros to his successful colleague and jump on his back, arms punching the air — thus ensuring his own ugly mug would be splattered all over the papers the next day.

This diabolical show-stealing display would be ruined only if his equally camera-hungry mate, David Beckham, got there first. Sometimes you could actually see them fighting each other to get on their striker’s back.
As a player, Neville was like a Jack Russell with worms, constantly nipping at people’s ankles, foaming at the mouth and raging at anyone trying to discipline him.

His behaviour towards referees was shockingly bad, regularly hurling foulmouthed abuse at the man in black. Often because the official had just had the gall to send off his beloved Keano for butting some opponent.

So my gut reaction, as communicated to the world of Twitter, was absolutely accurate. I genuinely do believe that Gary Neville was the most annoying player in the history of world football.

But the truth, the awful, sickening truth, is that Neville is also one of the neccessary players in a football club.

I don’t agree with Arsene Wenger that Neville was even the best Premier League right-back ever. As Keown said last week, Lee Dixon could do everything he could but was a better positional full-back.
No, I mean in regard to the virtues that are so sorely missing in the modern-day game — loyalty, passion, dedication, hard work and commitment.

Neville played 602 games for United in 20 years. He never played for anyone else. He never even thought about it. And he played 85 times for England.

He was renowned for the ferocity and intensity of his training. For him, there was never ‘practice.’ If a colleague came under fire, he was always there to defend him.

And off the pitch, he was a good ambassador in terms of personal behaviour. Not for him the vagaries of the drunken, drug-fuelled, womanising night-clubbing scene.

If I’m honest, I wish we’d had more players like Gary Neville at Arsenal.
Men of steel with the team badge metaphorically tattooed on their hearts. Men who would fight to the last drop of their blood. Men who never contemplated defeat until it actually happened. And men who understand what it takes to win and to keep winning.

Gary Neville won eight Premier Leagues, three FA Cups, two League Cups and one Champions League. All while being a serial pain in the backside.

The greatest accolade I can pay him today, as an Arsenal fan, is that I will miss him like I’d miss a large rusty nail stuck in my forehead.

And I know when he reads this, he will smile to himself and — rightly — think: ‘Job done.’

Now onto Fernando Torres, a player I’d have most liked Arsene Wenger to sign in the January transfer window.

His electrifying pace, fabulous ball control and extraordinary nose for goal make him one of the most lethal strikers I’ve ever seen.

But during his elongated departure from Liverpool, we saw a whole different side to the Spaniard — surly, sulky, arrogant and woefully disrespectful.

Add his worrying injury-prone nature to the list and you’re left with the nagging feeling that he’s more trouble than he’s worth.
Torres and Didier Drogba ought to be the best goal machine double act in Britain since Dwight Yorke and Andy Cole. But I suspect it will end up being the biggest clash of egos since Mick McCarthy caught his own reflection in the mirror. And just as unsuccessful.

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