Gary Neville, a baptism of fire and going from a pundit to Valencia manager

Spanish side Valencia has been a club in transition over the last decade, which has probably been the key reason why they have consistently not lived up expectations.

The Mestalla outfit’s glory days of the late 1990’s and early 2000’s heralded back-to-back La Liga titles and consecutive agonising Champions League final defeats.

In more recent times Los Che have developed world-class stars such as David Villa, Juan Mata, Jordi Alba and David Silva, but have been forced to sell their prize assets to balance the books.

Fast forward to the present day and Valencia have been bought over by wealthy businessman Peter Lim, have no shortage of stars but have not reached their potential over recent seasons.

A slow start to this season saw under-fire head coach Nuno hand in his resignation following a defeat to Sevilla, with the Portuguese’s relationship with Lim and business partner and super agent Jorge Mendes irking the Valencia fans.

When considering a possible replacement, Gary Neville’s name would have been very far down the list.

Lim knows the former Manchester United defender well as they have joint ownership of Salford FC, but for the former player this is his first taste of management.

Since retiring from the game in 2011, Neville has not taken a backward step and has added to the reputation he forged as a player.

Working as a pundit for Sky Sports and writing for The Telegraph, amongst others, the former right-back has showcased a holistic knowledge about the game and has even earned the respect of non-United fans by his reporting of the sport.

Neville has been quick to undergo the necessary accreditation to join Roy Hodgson’s England coaching team, where his input is said to have been significant also.

There is no doubting that the 40-year-old has been on the fast-track to management, but surely even he would have doubted the destination is has embarked on the journey.

Valencia fans have sky-high expectations for their team and comprise one of the most ardent, opinionated and unforgiving fan bases in the Spanish game.

Most recall the heady days of Héctor Cúper and Rafa Benítez repeatedly, and feel that Los Che should be at an equivalent level today, despite the unfair domestic balance created by the power of the Clásico clubs.

Gary NevilleNeville has entered a dressing room that Mendes has had a significant role in populating, with players still to prove their worth and others simply not up to deputising for their predecessors.

The loss of Nicolás Otamendi to Manchester City has robbed the Spaniards of a defensive stalwart and leader, while Sofiane Feghouli’s ongoing contract situation threatens disharmony.

Despite a credible 0-0 draw with European champions Barcelona last weekend, the club sit in ninth place and have only won five of 14 La Liga games.

Neville’s introduction to management saw the club dumped out of the Champions League, with a 2-0 home defeat to an off-colour Lyon condemning the club to elimination.

The Englishman’s first taste of Spanish action comes later today as Los Che travel to take on Eibar  at the Estadio Municipal de Ipurúa.

On paper or to the uneducated it looks like a game that Valencia should win, but the Basque club have only been beaten at home this season by Madrid giants Real and Atlético and have the exciting Borja Bastón leading their line.

A cultural and language adaption could be used to explain any slow start Neville makes, but the Valencia fans have no room for sentiment, reputation or excuses and the pundit-turned-manager will be immediately judged.

His relationship with Lim, who the Valencia supporters do not fully back due to his culling of former fans favourite and director of football Francisco Rufete, will also be a reason to criticise should things on the pitch not work out.

The presence of his brother Phil, who has been assistant coach since the start of the campaign and has a reported rapport with the players, will make things easier though.

Neville has talked a great game for the last couple of years, but observing the game from a distance is certainly easier than being put directly in the firing line.

The Englishman revealed that he consulted former boss Sir Alex Ferguson before taking the Mestalla post, with the Scotsman encouraging him to grab the opportunity with both hands.

There is no doubting that Neville appears to have all the attributes to become a successful manager, but his decision to start the journey in Spain’s south east is a very bold choice.

By
I am a freelance football journalist from Northern Ireland living in Broome in Western Australia. I have worked for top media outlets such as FourFourTwo, goal.com, Soccerlens, Football Fancast and Here is the City. I am a lifelong and long-suffering Tottenham fan. Follow me on Twitter at @90MinsOnline
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