Gary Neville should be cheered, not jeered… but still get the sack

Fans at the renowned La Mestalla have slowly, quietly, begun to jeer their new manager, Gary Neville.

The former Manchester United right-back has led Valencia CF through a poor run of form in La Liga, as his team sit 11th in the table with 10 consecutive winless games leading to only 7 out of a possible 30 points available. His last game, a 1-1 draw with Deportivo de La Coruña, was only salvaged by a 93rd minute header by Negredo. For a team so important to the history of Spanish football that only 12 years ago won La Liga so convincingly and finished a highly respectable 4th last year 1 point behind Atletico Madrid, a top half standing is the bare minimum expected.

Even with this abominable run, Neville has brought some positive changes to the club. He has found a way to balance a squad and give opportunities to the wealth of talent, much of it young, that Valencia CF has at their disposal. Singaporean owner Peter Lim has made some terrible decisions in buying players both for too much money for positions that were already filled, like buying the aging 30 year old Enzo Perez for €25 million last year despite having a wealth of midfielders. Neville has managed to navigate this issue to the immense number of players a decent time on the pitch.

Neville also said that he wasn’t going to buy anyone in the January transfer window, a smart move considering the incredible depth the team already has (on Neville’s own admission of the club having “two players at every position” when healthy). Buying more players would have restricted opportunities for already established players to start and for young players to get first team experience to develop.

Neville’s decision has led to players like Bakkali and Santi Mina (both wingers) and João Cancelo (right back) to get valuable first team experience, all of whom have shown strong potential – at least until the final third of the pitch. He even managed to find a way to bring players like the 31 year old striker Negredo back into form, scoring 5 goals in his previous 6 games.

Neville with Negredo

Neville with Negredo

He has also tried to manage the language barrier he has with his players by giving them iPads to help them understand training drills and game tactics. This type of technological development will help the players gain essential knowledge and be on a unified field with each other and the manager, whoever that may be.

He has also seen success in bigger league games, drawing Barcelona 1-1 in his first game after being appointed and later Real Madrid 2-2 (both of which Valencia probably deserved to win), very respectable results especially for a struggling team.

His biggest successes have come in the Copa del Rey, where he has pushed his team into the quarterfinal round after some great performances and faces Las Palmas away on Thursday after last week’s draw to decide the club’s future in the competition.

But not all of Gary Neville’s changes have been positive.

Since coming to Valencia, Garry Neville has struggled to adapt to Spanish life and football. Hiring a manager who has never coached to one of the most prestigious managerial jobs in La Liga was always going to be a risk, but to add to that Peter Lim hired a manager used to a very different style of play and who speaks an entirely different language.

Some saw his appointment as an opportunity for Gary Neville to prove himself and to improve an already struggling side – but Neville has not been able to prove he is ready for a “bigger” coaching job back in England or to reform Valencia by any means.

The language barrier also can’t be overstated. Yes, he has tried to use iPads to communicate his ideas to players and undoubtedly has excellent translators at his side, but not being able to communicate with his own players at the half-time talk is, by his own admission, the “biggest frustration and challenge” for both himself and the players.

Neville has also struggled to adopt the more possession-based football so prevalent and successful in La Liga. As a player and an English Pundit, he has been used to the fast paced, end-to-end, counterattacking football of the Premier League and has failed to play the way his team is best suited to playing. And in my opinion, being a former pundit, and a great player, does not automatically qualify you to be a coach, especially a coach of such an important team as your first job.

Loyalty is seemingly one of Neville’s biggest issues. The Valencia boss has stated to Sky Sports, “I’m not going to say where I want to end up, and it isn’t in management or head coaching, so I want to be clear about that.” What?!? Then why did you take the job as manager of a top club?? Why are you running a team into the ground (at least in terms of results) if you aren’t committed to their long-term future?

In all honesty, Gary Neville should have never been hired.

His appointment comes in a string of puzzling decisions by the ownership of Valencia CF and Peter Lim, and many fans are calling for a change. Paying high prices for average players and hiring an English coach does not automatically give success.

At this point in the season, it is abundantly clear that Valencia won’t see good results in La Liga, and may even (probably will) miss out on qualification for European competition next year. So Neville should focus on the Copa del Rey – and hope that their success in the cup can transition into better league performances.

Left-back José Luis Gayà has said, “We need to have a complete game, then from there continue to grow. We are all suffering a lot, so we understand the fans.” The players themselves have come out to show their frustration with their form and the way the club is being run, and know that if they were fans of this club they would be upset too. But at least the players are maintaining a positive mentality, looking to gain confidence and build on their success in the Copa.

I am normally one to advocate for a manager staying through tough times at a club, especially if they are appointed mid-season and need time to adjust the team to their new ideas and tactics. Gary Neville is essentially still in pre-season mode, figuring out how to use his players and adjust his strategies to face different opponents, as well as balance his squad and make sure it is sustainable for the long season ahead.

And Neville’s positive changes have been laudable, and his effort is, no doubt, consistently strong. The visible changes such as hard training sessions and giving iPads to the players and the mentality of giving younger players a chance to play, managing injuries and rotating the squad will serve as a strong backdrop for the club in the future. Neville should be cheered and remembered for these changes by fans and players alike.

But any amount of positive changes cannot mask his blatant lack of loyalty to Valencia CF and his inability to get good performances and results out of his overall squad, even against easy Liga competition. And for such a strong club to be performing so poorly, something has to change.

Neville should be fired at the end of the season. Firing him now would cause even more turmoil and create a dangerous cycle of managerial changes that can take a team from one of the best to fighting to avoid relegation. But for the good of Valencia CF’s long term success, results need to be better to avoid sliding down the table, both financially and in terms of results.

I will remember to cheer Neville until he leaves the club and as a gesture to his legacy when he does, but Neville is right – his future does not lie in management, at least of Valencia CF.

If you would like to see Neville trying to communicate with his players during the Deportivo-Valencia game, click here. Warning: Neville isn’t scared of profanity.

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