Speaking on a video call with Sky Sports colleague Geoff Shreeves, Gary Neville has spoken about his time as head coach of Valencia CF.
On accepting the offer to take over at Valencia
When Peter Lim [Valencia owner] rang me, he knew he didn’t want to bring in a new manager halfway through the season because he knew he wouldn’t get the man he wanted. He wanted somebody that he trusted to navigate him to the end of the season. I said no initially but then eventually wanted to do it for him. A little bit of arrogance, a little bit of ego – I’d lived through Manchester United for 20 years, I’d gone to Sky and it had gone well and you feel a little bit unbreakable. But when you take something on that you’re not as qualified in as you should be, you get a slap round the face.
On Valencia as a football hotbed
The only way I can describe Valencia in terms of a hotbed of football, it’s a little bit Liverpool or Newcastle – it’s like a ferocious city in the sense that it’s fans, if they take in you in, they’ll love you forever but if they don’t take you in, they’re going to be quite difficult with you very quickly.
On taking on his first job as head coach abroad
The ego in me said I could handle anything; I could take anything on. That was a belief I had, which is good. But then you got to have that awareness and perspective and ask yourself: Have I done this before? Is this really the first job you’re going to take in management, Valencia? You don’t speak the language, you don’t know the league, you don’t know the away grounds, you don’t know the local media. You’re a stranger in a city that doesn’t expect you to come.
On what he could have done better at Valencia CF
I should’ve made a couple of big decisions on players that weren’t committed to the club, even if it was for non-footballing reasons. I remember speaking to Sir Alex [Ferguson] on the way home from training one day and he was saying to me: “Just get rid of them, son, don’t even think about it, protect yourself, only have people in the dressing room that are facing in the same direction as you.” I didn’t take his advice because I went into training the next day and I thought I’m only here for four months and these are two senior players, I had no problem with them as people and I tried to talk them around to staying until the end of the season. But they weren’t happy. And I went weak. And I promised myself after that that I wouldn’t go weak on a big decision again. I lost my confidence and I felt embarrassed in doing the training sessions in broken English. In the end, I just completely lost my confidence. I couldn’t get my message across.
On Spanish language difficulties
When you’ve got four months in a job, you haven’t got time to learn Spanish. I was doing four or five lessons a week. I should’ve put the Spanish lessons to the backburner and taken in two or three dual language-speaking coaches that could essentially do the job for me.
On being a head coach
If I went into a coaching role in the future, which will never happen, I would go in there with the best-in-class coaches. The ability to coach a football squad of 22 players requires hundreds of hours of practice on the grass and I didn’t have that behind me. I was only doing video analysis work with Roy Hodgson at England. I think I lost the dressing room in the quality of the training sessions that I put on.
On Cristiano Ronaldo complaining about the length of the grass at Mestalla
We were struggling in the league and Real Madrid were outstanding, they had Gareth Bale, Cristiano Ronaldo etc and we left the grass really long so the ball wouldn’t travel very quick (laughs). We didn’t water it either. Cristiano came over to me before the game and said: “Gaz, Gaz, this is a disgrace, cut the pitch.” I said, you’ve no chance of me cutting the pitch. Honestly, it was like a farmer’s field.