The news that Gary Neville has been sacked as Valencia coach was met with predictable schadenfreude by many a football fan as the news broke late on Wednesday afternoon.
One of the chief topics of discussion in response to his dismissal was that now he had so spectacularly failed in his quest to reignite the fortunes of one of Spain’s top clubs, he cannot possibly expect to return to his previous role as pundit in chief at Sky Sports.
It was cited that he no longer has the ‘right’ to comment about either the game or the teams, players and tactics that play it. He is, it is claimed, a busted flush; a man who, as far as football is concerned, has no place left to go.
What utter nonsense.
Of course he has the right to comment on the game. He played it at the very highest level for two decades, played for England on 85 separate occasions and won two Champions League medals.
Just for starters.
That sort of experience and know-how more than gives him the right to comment on the game. For Sky Sports or anyone. People may not want to listen to him, and they don’t have to, but to then claim there is no way he can recommence (and they will most certainly want him to do so) his duties with Sky is ridiculous.
I admire him. He gave up a lucrative and high profile role to take on the job as coach for a Spanish team; one where from the moment he was appointed legions of football fans were willing him to fail.
Would that I had the courage to make such a career move. Me and all those who mocked him when he did so and are mocking him now.
His balls are twice the size of those he used to kick for Manchester United and England.
I note that some of the former players who are capitalising on his fate have never ventured much further than the safety of a TV studio since they retired from the game. Players who, when put on the spot about a game they are watching or player they are offering an opinion on, rarely venture further than the “game of two halves” or “he should have put that away” school of punditry.
Players who would have ran a mile if they were ever offered the opportunity to play abroad during their careers.
Few English players have done so with distinction. Steve McManaman did well at Real Madrid and is now offering insights for BT, likewise Michael Owen whose time at the Bernabeu was not quite as successful as his one-time teammates.
Jonathan Woodgate, a player who might have turned out to be one of the great English centre backs, went over there as well but soon came home again. Mark Hateley made a decent go of it for AC Milan whilst David Beckham, another Madrid signing, also did well for himself playing out of his comfort zone for a few seasons.
Yet there are armchair critics out there who maintain he was “overrated”. The very same people who, I suspect, are declaring there is no way Neville should ever appear on Sky again.
Ho hum. For all the joy that the game of football gives us, there is also so much bitterness. Bitterness that is, more often than not, relative to the amount of success that the individual has enjoyed in their particular field.
It applies to a lot of sport. Some of the most successful sportspeople that this nation has ever produced have, at one time or another, been vilified by both the media and the paying public.
No-one ever seemed to be very fond of Nick Faldo for example. Lewis Hamilton is another for whom professional excellence seems to have led to personal antipathy whilst Andy Murray seems to have as many people willing him to lose whenever he plays a game of tennis as those who want him to win.
Eddie Edwards, in the meantime, has just had a film made about him.
Gary Neville is now tasting that bitter side of the British sporting psyche for himself.
He, it seems, cannot possibly ever be allowed to return to our screens to offer an opinion again. Yet you, me and the countless other millions of armchair critics out there can go on doing exactly that.
And yes, of course we can. I know I speak complete bollocks a lot of the time when I’m discussing football. But that’s because my knowledge and practical experience of the game is limited to a less than stellar career playing for 71 Brancaster in the NW Norfolk League (Division Three) as well as a few decades watching the game, either from the terraces or on the small screen.
Yet I reserve my right to spout bollocks because all it is opinion. It isn’t fact or definitive. It’s opinion. If the sun is shining and I say “the sun is shining”, then that’s a fact. If Wes Hoolahan is playing for Norwich City and I say to the person sat next to me, “Wes is best deployed behind the striker” then that’s my opinion, just as it is if he or she declares him best in a “free role”.
Football is all about opinions, it’s one of the things that makes the game such a great one. Little is fixed or set in stone – and how dull a game it would be if that was the case.
It just happens that, when it comes to offering an opinion in football, Gary Neville is rather better placed than most of us to offer one.
Likewise, one that is worth listening to. Regardless of what has happened at Valencia.
And I hope he is offered the opportunity to do that again with Sky very soon.
But that’s only my opinion you understand. You may think different. But that doesn’t make me right and you wrong. Or vice versa.
It just shows we have an opinion.
And that, again, is what our wonderful game is all about.
It’s a pity that more people don’t see things that way.