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Gary Neville: A Plea to Preserve Football’s Soul

Gary Neville’s Passionate Plea: Preserving the Soul of Football

A look at the Vision of a Football Pundit

We delve into the candid conversation between Gary Neville, the former Manchester United stalwart and now a highly-regarded Sky Sports pundit, and Jonathan Northcroft from The Times. A candid chat revealing Neville’s passion for football, his memories, insights, and plans for a better footballing future.

Honouring the Greats: Guardiola and Ferguson

“The greatest manager in history,” Neville extols Sir Alex Ferguson’s accomplishments, remarking on his extraordinary feat with Manchester United in 1999, winning the Treble – the Premier League, the FA Cup and the UEFA Champions League in a single season.

“Do I want City to win the Treble?” Neville says. “No! No! No, I don’t. Nobody wants City to win the Treble if you’re a Manchester United fan.”

And yet, he pays equal respect to Pep Guardiola, describing him as “a worthy companion” to Ferguson. Neville lauds Guardiola’s influence on football and recognises his potential to recreate the Treble feat with Manchester City. However, he’s not shy to express his desire to see City fall short, given his deep roots with the rival club, Manchester United.

A Pundit’s Love for the Beautiful Game

Neville’s unmistakable passion and profound knowledge of the game are evident not just in his punditry but also in his book, “The People’s Game: A View From the Front Seat of Football.” This book is a comprehensive exploration of football’s essence, its community heart, and the urgent need to protect its soul from corporate greed.

He shares his frustration over the controversial European Super League, calling it a “corporate heist,” highlighting the nefarious impacts of such initiatives on local clubs like Bury FC. Neville’s deep connection with Bury, via his parents’ long-standing involvement with the club, offers him a unique perspective on the emotional toll football can exact on those who live and breathe it.

Photo: IMAGO

On the issue of football club ownership, Neville is abundantly clear – he wants the Glazer family out of Manchester United. He describes their potential sale of the club as a threat, fearing that private equity firms, with their singular focus on financial returns, may violate the principles and ethos of football clubs.

Neville contrasts this with the ownership of Manchester City by the Abu Dhabi group, which he believes has brought prosperity and development to East Manchester. However, he notes that no matter the ownership structure, strict regulation is necessary to ensure the integrity of the sport.

Vision for Football’s Future: Independent Regulation

Neville’s book and our conversation highlight his firm belief in the need for independent regulation in football. He proposes a more equitable financial distribution within the sport, support for the women’s game, and a stringent ownership test to prevent future Super League-like breakaways.

While his optimism about the implementation of such regulation under the current political landscape is cautious, it is a crucial step forward for football’s future. He sees football not merely as a return-on-investment business but as a community-driven passion that deserves respect, integrity, and protection.

Photo: IMAGO

Guardiola’s Legacy at Manchester City

Back to the matter of Pep Guardiola and his impact on Manchester City, Neville recognises the Catalan’s unique ability to extract extraordinary performances from his team. He likens Guardiola’s success with City to Ferguson’s achievements at Manchester United.

However, Neville admits that he has found recent City teams less exciting, despite their success. He acknowledges that this year’s squad, with new additions like Erling Haaland and a more varied style of play, has rekindled his interest.

Yet, his allegiance to United holds strong. He clings to the “5 per cent” chance that United could prevent City from attaining the same immortality Manchester United did a with an infamous treble back in 1998/99.

As the conversation meanders towards the comparisons between Pep Guardiola and Sir Alex Ferguson, Neville says, “If you think what he did at Barcelona then Bayern Munich, and what he’d do at City with the Treble . . . it’s quite fitting if this manager does it. Sir Alex Ferguson deserves to be the only manager in history to have done the Treble because he’s the greatest but if Pep Guardiola joined him, he’d be a worthy companion.”

Football Clubs: More Than Just Profit-Driven Ventures

As the talk shifts to football’s financial aspect, Neville reveals an interesting perspective. He believes that while football clubs should indeed aim to be profitable, the entire revenue generated should ideally be reinvested back into the club, from facilities to youth development. He sees football as more of an emotive pursuit, steeped in passion and community, rather than a mere profit-making venture.

“I feel more threatened by private equity into football,” Neville admits, pointing out that while he has private equity partnerships in his business, such arrangements don’t work well with football clubs. The prime reason? These firms aim to deliver financial returns to their investors, often contradicting the principles and ethos of a football club.

Photo: IMAGO

A Stand Against the Glazer Family’s Ownership

Neville further expresses his discontent with Manchester United’s ownership under the Glazer family. His preference is clear: he wants the Glazers out, primarily due to their inclination to maximise profits at the expense of the club. The choice between private money from the likes of Jim Ratcliffe’s Ineos group or a Qatar-backed group, and a US private equity firm is clear for him.

“The Glazers just have to leave. So if Jim Ratcliffe or Qatar came in without the Glazers, I’d be supportive of it on the condition of what they were pledging with respect to their manifesto to the club.”

The Heart-Wrenching Bury Saga

Digging deeper into the financial struggles that plague the beautiful game, Neville recounts the grim tale of Bury FC. His personal connection to the club, through his mother who served as Bury’s longstanding club secretary, and his father, who was a director and the original driving force behind the ‘Save our Shakers’ (SOS) campaign, reveals the harsh realities of football management. He reflects on the club’s heart-breaking downfall under Steve Dale, an obscure local businessman who bought the club for £1.

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