Of all the United players and ex-player autobiographies that have come out over the years, few have been more anticipated than Gary Nevilles.
‘Red’ as it’s appropriately titled is just what you’d expect from one of the most outspoken and passionate players in United’s history. I’ve always enjoyed reading autobiographies of United stars, whether its legends such as Lou Macari and Nobby Stiles, which can give you an insight into the history of our great club or modern heroes such as Roy Keane and Andy-sorry Andrew- Cole who can describe the way Sir Alex works and how it felt in 1999 etc.
I was looking forward to Neville’s autobiography more than any I can remember for three reasons, one, unlike Bobby Charlton or George Best, Neville is from my own match going era, secondly, unlike Cole or Keane, he isn’t still playing for United so can look back upon his entire career rather than where it’s up to at the time of publication – and thirdly he’s guaranteed not to pull any punches.
Neville’s story is one of a true United fan who happened to have enough talent, and determination to play for a club he supported just as passionately as anyone reading this. As Neville himself states: “Something grabs you when you are a child and gives you a passion. Mine was always United.”
Neville’s book, covers his entire United career from the early days of training as a boy with the likes of Paul Scholes – “bad asthma struggled to get up and down the pitch” and Nicky Butt -“hard as nails” to the arrival on Summer of a “skinny lad with gel on his hair.” The first few chapters deal with Neville’s time as a schoolboy at United as well as his relationship with his brother Phil, who he claims was the far more naturally gifted of the two.
One funny story from early on in his United career, involves taking Robbie Savage to Toni and Guy to get a trim, only for the Welshman to “burst into tears” when he saw how short they’d cut it.
My favourite parts of the book were the inside look at some of the club’s legends and how they were in the dresssing room.
Cantona is naturally revered by Neville who notes he practically won the 1996 title “single-handedly” yet somewhat surprisingly doesn’t include him in his greatest United XI- which I’ll get to later.
Roy Keane’s departure is explained along with the whole MUTV ‘Play the Pundit’ segment controversy that was led to it.
The rather surprising aspect of Neville’s book is the fact that he seems to plump for Cristiano Ronaldo as the greatest player he’s played alongside. I say surprising not because Ronaldo isn’t arguably the most naturally talented player I’ve ever seen at United, but because I actually expected Neville to lean towards Keano- who he admits would have been his “favourite player if he had grown up watching him” or maybe even Eric who inspired the class of 92 to the title in 96 or maybe even his old friend Scholes.
Of Neville’s England stories it’s the tale of the infamous ‘strike’ of 2004 which earned him his nickname RedNev which I found the most fascinating. Neville explains how in a secret ballot of England players as to whether they should strike in support of Rio Ferdinand, who’d been dropped pending his drug hearing, the vote was unanimously in favour of striking.
Without spoiling it too much for anyone, it took a surprise phone call from a huge influence on Neville to make him realise it was better to back down. Not before he’d had a slanging match with FA Chief Mark Palios: “you’re being judge and f*cking jury, trying to make a point as the new sheriff town.”
I dont’ want to give too much away other than to say Neville’s book doesn’t disappoint, its full of interesting anecdotes and as you’d expect Neville isn’t afraid to speak his mind- he’s already courted controversy for his -accurate- comments about Liverpool making it easy for Chelsea in 2010.
You can pick it up for around £14 and it’s well worth it for not just any United fan but also any football fan who wants an insight into the career of one of the most successful footballers of the modern era.
It ends with Neville’s greatest United XI: Schmeichel, Irwin, Rio, Vidic, Evra, Beckham, Keane, Scholes, Giggs, Wazza, Ronaldo. As Neville notes: “I’ll be lucky if I make it onto the bench.”
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