It seems rather fitting that both Gary Neville and Remi Garde left their respective jobs less than 24 hours apart. Neither man seemed suited to the needs of Valencia, in Neville’s case, and Aston Villa for Garde. Yet both went in, just four months ago, with good reputations, making it all the more disappointing that they failed to deliver.
The main difference between them, though, was the remit under which they were working. Garde, who had done great things with Lyon before departing there in 2012, stepped into a crisis situation at Villa, without the required track record to help save the club from relegation. Ten games into the campaign, having failed to win under Tim Sherwood, Garde was ushered in, but failing to secure a victory until January meant he was unable to have the desired effect. Having departed by mutual consent on Tuesday, he leaves them cut adrift and hurtling towards the Championship without hope of a fight.
Neville, meanwhile, joined Valencia, most likely thanks to his personal friendship with owner Peter Lim and brother Phil being on the coaching staff, with a proven knowledge of the tactical side of the game, a great personality and winning mentality. Crucially, he had never managed at any level before, despite a role as England manager Roy Hodgson’s assistant.
Success was never out of the question for him. He had, after all, rewritten the rules on punditry during four years with Sky Sports. That is by no means easy, but falling into the trap of mundanely stating the obvious, definitely is. Neville was able to portray immensely complex analysis in simple steps, all with intoxicating humour and great on-screen chemistry with former rival Jamie Carragher. Learning from the very best, Sir Alex Ferguson, during hid entire career with Manchester United also stood him in good stead for a career in management.
A first job, particularly these days with the average lifespan of a coaching job seemingly shrinking by the week, has the ability to make or break a career. Neville could hardly have entered into a more pressurised situation than the one he found at Los Che, one of Spain’s biggest clubs with the financial power and reach to return to past heights thanks to the input of Lim and super-agent Jorge Mendes.
The first campaign under that regime, with Nuno Esperito Santo in charge, went well, with the club gaining Champions League qualification for the first time in four seasons. Fans expectations, which have never been particularly low anyway, skyrocketed, and a poor start to the season, Nuno was sacked. It seemed a tall order for anyone to get them back on track, despite only being 11 games into the new campaign.
Neville was also arriving in the shadow cast by a second failure of David Moyes’ career, at Real Sociedad. Moyes spent a year at the Anoeta looking to rebuild after a nightmare stint at Man United, but ultimately his poor grasp of the language, culture and footballing style cost him dear. Neville had to learn from that, but faired worse, something he deserves some criticism for, too.
The Spanish media, particularly in the Valencia region, and fans never took to him. In that country, more than most, it is like swimming against a heavy tide when the respect of those is lost.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but Neville’s claim that he would hurt his credibility had he ignored Lim’s call is not entirely correct. Not many would turn down such an opportunity, but his biggest mistake was not looking beyond the bright lights of Europe’s premier club competition and focussing on the fact he faced an uphill battle to succeed. No one has ever criticised his credentials, and he was brave not to shirk the responsibility by remaining in the comfortable Sky studio, but a job in this country would have given him a better springboard.
It is worth remembering Neville completely changed his public image during his television career. His playing days showed him in as an arrogant, competitive loudmouth, a persona which returned on the touchline in Spain. Those traits are needed for success as a coach, but must be honed and tailored if he chooses to step into another job any time soon. An honourable man, he knew his time was up because his results have not been good enough. After losing 11 of his 28 games in charge, he leaves Valencia just six points above the relegation zone.
Football is far too unforgiving. While Neville has made some errors in judgment, which can only be expected when taking his first steps, he remains the brightest footballing mind in Britain today. This entire experience has proven a stark reminder that a good pundit doesn’t necessarily make a good coach, as much as a good player doesn’t, but it would be interesting to hear Neville the analyst’s observations of Neville the coach. He did admit he would have reservations about the appointment as an onlooker, after all.
Gary Neville may be battered and bruised, but will come out of this experience much stronger. He took a job many would dream of an found it too much at this stage in a promising career. Perhaps Remi Garde’s old job would be more his speed, but some time away would do him good.