This week saw the retirement of someone who has cemented his place as a United great, and fulfilled the rare prophecy of being a “one-club man”.
Gary Neville, hated by many all around the country with the exception of the United faithful, will surely go down as one of, if not the, greatest right back that the country has ever seen. Although it has been clear for some time that the clock was winding down on his career, the announcement that his playing days were over still caught me by surprise, especially as he had chosen to end it immediately rather than following Edwin Van Der Sar into retiring in the summer.
However, I truly believe he has made the most dignified exit possible. I’m sure there would have been many opportunities to earn a little extra money abroad, a short term money spinning contract waiting for him in some Middle Eastern country or even plying his trade somewhere in the lower leagues, but instead chose to end his career at the club he truly loves without spending the rest of his playing days warming the substitute bench and for that he deserves the utmost respect.
Quite how Neville has fashioned a career at the top level for so long is remarkable. It was well known that of the two of them, his brother Phil was considered the more talented of the two, and yet it was Phil who was moved on to another club, and Gary remained, earning more silverware on his way as well as being made club captain. The reason for this is clear; he was simply more motivated and harder working than many other players in the league. Despite being outspoken in his views, he was always willing to learn from the best and do whatever he could to improve, and for that we saw someone who would consistently perform week in week out and although people doubt him, the fruits of his labour are clear for all to see.
An example off the pitch as well as on it, Neville cut a leading figure in the dressing room, a role model for the younger generation to follow as well as to seek advice. One such example is when Rio Ferdinand was banned for missing a drugs test he planned to lead the England players on a strike, which garnered support from those around him. Throughout he continued to have his say on football-related matters, a notable example being his opinion on football agents and it is for this quality that Sky are rumoured to be keen for him to replace the disgraced Andy Gray as their number one pundit.
Despite all this, Neville also cut a hated figure with fans of other clubs, particularly the Liverpool following (not that they needed any more reason to hate United), after THAT celebration in the 2005/2006 season. But for all this, his place in the hearts of the United faithful will forever be cemented.
I could now talk about potential future replacements, if Rafael Da Silva would fit the bill or whether I believe Neville could be a future manager, but instead I would rather this be a mark of respect for a player who has given many great years of service to Manchester United. A tribute to a player who served the club with absolute loyalty throughout his career and as someone who will not suffer the indignity of an acrimonious exit, someone with no contract disputes, no transfer requests and no other club. Loyalty at it’s finest. Gary Neville, we thank you. Enjoy your retirement.
Follow Zayd Jawad on twitter @Zayd90