The mid nineties saw a rise in the exceptional youth that Manchester United had to offer the world. Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs had arrived and behind them in ability came the Neville brothers. Home and away fans took time to warm to Gary and Phil, whether it was the slightly gormless expressions strung across their faces, the fact that their father was called Neville Neville or whether people simply wondered if they were worthy to don the same shirt that previous heroes such as George Best and Dennis Law had done years before. A lot of questions surrounded the ability of the two brothers. However Gary and Phil have amassed almost 1000 premier league appearances between the two of them, an outrageous amount of games. In fact Phil arguably the less talented of the two adds himself to a group of illustrious players to reach over the big 500 top flight appearances and is in the top ten for most premiership games played and still going strong. Only until Phil had moved to Everton and that Gary had hung up his boots that football fans from all other clubs could sit back and appreciate them. Love them or hate them during their United playing days it is concievable to say that the whole nation is falling for them now....maybe with the exception of Liverpool supporters.
The Nevilles style of play could easily be described as "safe". In their time at United Gary and Phil were not exactly the sort of players that were blessed with ample technique or blistering pace that could see them beat an opponent and have the crowd at their feet. Their strengths lay in being disciplined and being extremely hard working. Its fair to say when they turned up at the club they were children only a mother could love and Fergie was that mother. But these are players that went on to win the Treble in 1999 and Gary became the most capped England International right back ever. Despite their lack of flair football the brothers have always been annoyingly consistent.
Phil started out as a full back by trade but he was slowly ushered further up the pitch into a holding midfield role. Phil made a wise choice moving to Everton it guaranteed him first team football and gave him a chance to impart his wisdom on a team being managed by an up and coming David Moyes. This move would have endeared Neville to a lot of football fans as it showed his commitment to play first team football, sure enough he became captain of the team shortly after. Phil epitomises the definition of a good, honest hardworking footballer. In a frank interview he gave after the Merseyside derby in which he was booked for diving he said "it was a stupid thing to do by myself i don't find myself in that situation up that end of the pitch, i actually thought Daniel Agger was coming into take me out....took the rollicking at halftime and i wont do it again that's for sure." This sort of honesty is exactly what fans like to see and a lot of people warmed to him because of this.
Lee Sharpe reminisces of a story about Gary at Manchester United in his autobiography, while Lee ate in the canteen he could hear a dull thudding noise outside. When he went out to investigate he saw Gary throwing a football as hard as he could over and over again at the wall, "practising long throws, Gary Nevilles idea of fun," Sharpe jested. It just showed the extent that Gary needed to go to in order to cement a place in the first team, he had to work hard on all aspects of his game. It is also worth noting that this era was when players outside of football would let loose perhaps a little too much and would be pictured in nightclubs midweek. Gary much to the surprise of all his team mates managed to avoid all that and simply told them that night clubs were not his scene. Just like that he was able to knuckle down and become one of the players picked first on Fergies teamsheet. For the rest of us it is easy to joke about but in a time where going out and clubbing was the norm for proffessional footballers you have to respect Gary Nevilles will power and discipline.
Gary has been a revelation in football punditry since his retirement from playing. Taking over from Andy Gray on Sky, Gary won over millions of sceptical football fans over the country in his first season on television. So succesful was his transformation to being a pundit Roy Hodgson offered him an England coaching role which saw him travel with the England football team to Poland and the Ukraine last summer. The fear for most people was that Gary could have been a little biased when it came to United and were not sure if he could shake off his affinity with the club that was so close to his heart. Gary has passed the test when covering the Manchester derby towards the end of last year. Perhaps the most monumental moment for football fans in realising Gary can be completely impartial was during the Chelsea vs Barcelona game or the famous Gary Neville "scorgasm." While Torres was rounding Valdes in the final moments of the game to put Chelsea through to the final, Gary Neville was letting out and excited extended screech. The fact he was that passionate about a Chelsea goal spoke volumes. Since then he has gone on to become the most likeable pundit, he is honest, insightful and is a real breathe of fresh air to a profession that had started to go a little stale under Sky's football coverage with Richard Keys and Andy Gray.
Over the years football fans have become accustomed to the Neville brothers whether it was their style of play that epitomises the industrious side of the game or whether it is what they have put back into the game. What ever the future holds for Phil after retirement rest assured it will be in football. As for Gary, i am sure he will see be on our TV screens for years to come giving fans an incredibly detailed analysis games they have seen. If he is not found there he will be at a training ground somewhere in the nation sharing his vast knowledge of the game.