It probably will not surprise you to hear that, should Manchester United lose the FA Cup Final and should Liverpool win the Champions League, Gary Neville has a plan.
‘We’ve got a charter booked for the 27th of May,’ the footballer-turned-pundit-turned-coach-turned-entrepreneur, states. ‘There will be a million flights booked out of Manchester to the forests of the Amazon where there’s no wifi. We’re out of here, we’re gone. It’d be the season from hell.’
Safe to say he will not be cheering on his old rivals and neighbours when they take on Real Madrid in Kiev.
Gary Neville joked he will leave the country if Liverpool win the Champions League
Neville hopes former Manchester United team-mate Cristiano Ronaldo scores a hat-trick
‘Let’s just live in hope that United win the FA Cup and our friend Cristiano Ronaldo turns up, scores a lovely little hat-trick,’ he says. ‘Liverpool have done brilliantly to get to the final. I just don’t want them to win it!’
Neville is on good form. We are at Salford City, the club he part-owns along with his Class of ’92 mates and businessman Peter Lim. He has just unveiled manager Graham Alexander, who earlier described receiving a ‘machine gun of information’ from his new boss after agreeing to take over at the newly-promoted National League side.
Alexander is not wrong. The topic of United’s much maligned style of football under Jose Mourinho — and how it compares to the Sir Alex Ferguson era he was a key part of — comes up and the gun fires again.
‘Under David Moyes, Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho it’s been suggested the football is not very good,’ Neville says. ‘And every game that goes by Sir Alex Ferguson’s football gets better and better because you forget the bad games, the 1-0s, the horrible defeats. We’ve become a bit idealistic about what the football was at times under Sir Alex.
‘I was there for a large part of it, 20 years, and saw every game. Yes, it was mesmerising at times, but from 2003 to 2006 it wasn’t good.
‘I played in that team, it wasn’t good. We weren’t playing at a high level. We were pretty average. So you think about this three-year period now and what are you measuring against? Sir Alex’s 1999 or the 2003 to 2006 period when the football was pretty poor and Jose Mourinho was at Chelsea and destroying us?’
United boss Jose Mourinho has faced criticism for the style of play he oversees at Old Trafford
Neville believes that people have become ‘idealistic’ over Sir Alex Ferguson’s style of play
Neville said that from 2003 until 2006, Mourinho’s Chelsea were ‘destroying us (United)’
What has not helped is that the noisy neighbours across town are louder than ever. A century of points and a title, delivered with breathtaking football, rub salt in the wounds. It is not lost on Neville, who describes this campaign as ‘progression, not success’.
‘What City have done this season — the way they’ve done it and the points difference — that’s the pressure,’ he says. ‘This almost complete, pure football at City. United play differently, but they knew that when they appointed Mourinho and City knew it when they appointed Pep Guardiola.’
Neville believes if Mourinho wins United’s first title since Ferguson’s departure in 2013, he could claim victory in the new war with the old adversary.
‘These two managers have been at Real Madrid and Barcelona and both won leagues there,’ he says. ‘At the end of next season if Pep wins another league that will be a big problem, looking over a three-year period. But if Jose was to win the league next year you could argue Jose has done the better job. Next season is critical.’
From United to another ex-employer. Neville, who won 85 caps and served as assistant to Roy Hodgson for England’s underwhelming 2014 World Cup and 2016 European Championship, is well placed to comment on why things have been so miserable for so long.
Neville believes expectations can be unrealistic. ‘Sven Goran Eriksson would not be seen as a success but he reached three quarter-finals. Top eight in the world, top eight in Europe — that could be seen as a success.
‘It’s probably where England are. It is realistic, not defeatist. You’d never say that as a player or coach but now that I’ve finished being a player or coach, I can say it.
‘Was it unsuccessful or was it where we were? It was where we were. That’s par. What we never did was overachieve.’
Neville enjoyed an extensive career at international level and won 85 caps for England
After retiring, Neville worked alongside Roy Hodgson as the England assistant manager
Neville believes Harry Kane is the one player England have who would get into any other team
To do that in Russia, England will need a big summer from Harry Kane, who suffered at the Euros. Neville thinks the mental scars will have healed.
‘Top players get over it. If you think back to David Beckham in ’98, he went on to play in many tournaments and did well. Wayne Rooney in 2006. Harry Kane mentally is very strong. I’ve never seen him have a sustained dip. They reckon he’s been out of form the past two months — he’s still scoring goals.
‘He’s a dream really. He’s a great lad. He’s the one player England have who would get into any other team and squad.’
Neville is adamant that England need Kane, Dele Alli and Co at their best, along with ‘a little bit of luck’. Then he makes an admission.
‘I played in two World Cups and three European Championships and there was one, 2000, where physically and mentally I wasn’t at my best and it was a shocker for me. I was nowhere near it physically or mentally. That was in 2000, under Kevin Keegan — I was terrible for him.’
There are other admissions. Alexander replaces the managerial duo Anthony Johnson and Bernard Morley. Under the pair’s guidance, Salford won three promotions in four seasons.
‘It was coming for months,’ says Neville. ‘They are two incredible characters who demand a lot. It’s been like worlds colliding, knowing this moment has been coming.
‘People have suggested we always wanted to get rid of them. If we had wanted to do that, we’d have done it last year, when we didn’t get promoted. We don’t make decisions like that. Those two have done an incredible job.’
Neville recently oversaw the appointment of Graham Alexander as Salford City manager
Alexander replaces Anthony Johnson and Bernard Morley, who won three promotions
Neville believes the personality clash did not help. ‘I was leading in the meeting last week, I knew it would be tense and wouldn’t go well. The type of blokes they are is the type of person I am. It just felt like we needed to jump off the roundabout. They didn’t leave because they were asking for more or because we wouldn’t pay, it was over principles on lengths of contract. It was coming.’
Was he tempted to take the reins himself? ‘I will never manage this club,’ he says. What about Paul Scholes, who had talks over the Oldham Athletic post last year?
‘If he was the best person we would appoint him, but we felt Graham was the best person. We met him and I was comfortable straight away.’
One of the first tasks will be to find a permanent training ground for Alexander to work on. A plan to redevelop pitches at Turn Moss in Stretford collapsed in the face of protests from residents and a frustrated Neville has to take a breath before commenting.
‘There is a deepening mistrust in communities and it comes from the very top,’ he says. ‘All we ever wanted to do was put some decent pitches in.
‘It’s a loss for the community and the local sports teams who are desperately disappointed. People will see it play out somewhere else.’
The campaign saw insults and accusations of profiteering hurled in the Class of ’92’s direction. Does he ever wonder why he is doing it?
Neville said the change in personnel had been coming but Paul Scholes wasn’t the right man
Neville and Scholes own 10 per cent of Salford with their Class of ’92 mates and Peter Lim
‘Sometimes,’ he says. ‘We don’t take backhanders, we tell the truth. We could sit there and do nothing. Spout rubbish as we do on TV, write nice words, go home, go to the gym, pick the kids up from school. We don’t. We have decided to enter into a huge commitment to Salford City, the university in Trafford, development projects, hotels. We try to do things.
‘This ground was grass banks. Look at it now. We’ve done this. We’re not building a brand, we’re building stadiums. It’s not for a laugh. It’s big money. Owning a club isn’t something you do with a premise to make money. We’ve matched Peter Lim every step of the way. We are proud of that.
‘We are here, we are doing it. If it fails, it fails, but we want to build communities, facilities, football clubs, academies, wonderful hotels.’
The machine gun finally falls silent.