What went wrong for Gary Neville at Valencia?

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Image Courtesy: © Facebook - Valencia

What went wrong for Gary Neville at Valencia?

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Rakshit Chopra


The city of Valencia celebrates the Las Fallas festival every year from 15th to 19th March in commemoration of Saint Joseph, the patron Saint of carpenters. During the Fallas fiesta, the locals celebrate the end of darkness by burning Ninots or cardboard figureheads as a way of symbolizing the victory of good over evil. This year’s festivities witnessed the effigies of Gary Neville being burnt all over the city of Valencia. A week later, Neville was sacked by Valencia after just four months in charge of the club.

Gary Neville was appointed as the manager of Valencia on 2nd December, 2015 by the club’s Singaporean owner Peter Lim. Neville left his role as a popular pundit at Sky Sports and took on the challenge of guiding the Los Che to a top-four finish in La Liga come the end of the season. When Neville took over the reins at the club, Valencia were 9th in the league table and five points off a Champions League spot. Upon his departure, they lay 14th in the table – hovering perilously close to the relegation zone.

The Valencia job was always going to be a tough one for Neville. As pointed out by Iain Macintosh, since the departure of Unai Emery in 2012, only Nuno Espírito Santo had survived more than 31 games in charge of the football club. The managerial merry-go-round at the Mestalla saw Mauricio Pellegrino, Ernesto Valverde, Miroslav Dukic, Juan Antonio Pizzi, Salvador González and finally Gary Neville depart from the club within a few months of taking over.

The Mestalla faithful are notoriously unforgiving when it comes to their team’s abysmal home displays. It took 70 days and 10 matches for Valencia to win their first league match under the stewardship of Neville. A nervy 2-1 home win over Espanyol bought some temporary respite for the embattled manager and his stuttering Valencia. But that win came a week after Valencia were crushed 7-0 by Luis Enrique’s rampant Barcelona side in the semi final of the Copa Del Rey. Neville described the defeat as “one of my most painful nights in football” and “one of the worst experiences I've ever gone through in football”. It was certainly one of the worst defeats in the history of Valencia, as pointed out by the club’s Sporting Director Jesus Garcia Pitarch, and one which antagonized the fans even further.

The squad inherited by Neville upon his arrival at the club was inexperienced, low on confidence and fractured. Crippling injuries to major players such as Sofiane Feghouli, Javi Fuego, Shkodran Mustafi and Rodrigo among others further inhibited the ambitions of the club under the managerial reign of the former Manchester United full back. Misfiring striker Alvaro Negredo was made the captain of the club by Gary Neville in the middle of January. Negredo’s frustrations in front of goal this season have earned him the constant wrath of the Valencia supporters, far from vindicating Neville’s trust in the former Manchester City striker.

It is a well known fact that super agent Jorge Mendes is a close associate of club Chairman Peter Lim. Indeed, it is undeniable that many of the players currently at the club (André Gomes, Joao Cancelo, Rodrigo and Santi Mina to name a few) are represented by Mendes. According to Andy Mitten, Neville wanted “to make the significant changes he thought necessary, but he had to be aware of local politics at an already unstable club, of incorporating expensive acquisitions even though they weren't good enough.” Lim’s continual interference in Valencia’s transfer policy forms a small part of the malaise that currently afflicts the club.

Valencia’s lackluster displays under Neville also drew the ire of former club legends. “Being a good analyst is not the same as being a good coach. Valencia is not a team for experiments, it’s not a place for a coach to get his apprenticeship,” warned club legend Santiago Cañizares upon Neville’s appointment at the club. In the aftermath of Valencia’s humiliating defeat to Barcelona, Canizares urged Neville to apologize to the Mestalla faithful and render his resignation with immediate effect.

It now appears that Neville had lost the dressing room as well. Three days after going down 1-0 to Athletic Bilbao in the first leg of their Round of 16 clash in the Europa League, Valencia went on to lose to bottom club Levante by the same scoreline - a defeat later labeled by Neville as “unacceptable.” Gary Neville’s abysmal record of three wins in 15 league matches had already made his position at the club untenable.

A 2-0 home defeat to Celta Vigo on 20th March proved to be the final straw for the Mestalla faithful as they openly turned against the Valencia manager, like many before him, after the full time whistle.

The end of Neville’s ill-faited tenure at Valencia, as it turns out, wasn’t too far away.

So what next for Gary Neville? Despite being sacked by Valencia last week, Neville will continue to stay in Spain with his family for the time being and consider all his options before joining up with the England squad in the summer. Neville, who is a part of Roy Hodgson’s senior coaching staff, will be hoping to guide the Three Lions to their maiden European Championship in France this summer.

A swift return to management is another possibility for Neville. The former England International will be desperate to repair his broken managerial reputation after a damaging spell as the manager of Valencia. Taking over the managerial reins at a Premier League club, maybe even Manchester United, is a possibility that cannot yet be discounted for Neville.

Neville also has the option of re-joining Sky Sports, where he used to work as a pundit alongside former Liverpool captain Jamie Carragher. Sky have reportedly asked Neville to return to their ranks and revive his career as a football pundit. But with his managerial reputation in tatters, it will be interesting to see if Neville is able to rescale those heady heights that saw him establish his status as one of the most-respected football analysts in the country.   

All Images Courtesy: © Facebook - Valencia CF

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