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Gary Neville’s first managerial role ended abruptly last week; a bold risk taken moving to Valencia as one which did not pay off. There is now plenty of speculation over his next move, with one suggestion being that he should return to Manchester United if Jose Mourinho becomes manager. Others believe Neville’s ambitions are higher, and match those of Ryan Giggs - to become the manager of the UK’s biggest club himself.
The short time in Spain does very little to tell us about the managerial capability of Gary Neville, such were the difficult circumstances, but such is the lot of a manager that even with all of those mitigating events, the former defender turned pundit’s stock has inevitably fallen with his inability to bring instant success.
Of course, what remains a truism is that some former players are simply better coaches and assistants than managers, and Neville will retain some goodwill until his next failure, whenever or wherever that might be. He has time on his side to make that decision, and it may well be that he decides he has been bitten by the management bug - the determined and stubborn individual that he is, one suspects he may seek to prove himself as a head coach again.
Whether that opportunity will pop up at Old Trafford for him in the near future remains unclear. It seems certain that Jose Mourinho will succeed Louis van Gaal in the summer, even with all of the recent speculation that the Dutchman will actually see out the third year of his deal. If that transpires then there is no reason to disbelieve what was stated in 2014 when Van Gaal took over - that the management position is being groomed for his assistant, Ryan Giggs.
That itself is a curious one as many remain convinced Giggs ought to be the next man, but one cannot help but think that the Welshman is benefitting from the goodwill that he has undoubtedly earned for being the club’s most successful player of all time. After all, were Mike Phelan and Steve Round not pilloried for their mere existence? And Phelan in a period of success that has arguably only ever been matched once.
A cynical eye might quiz what exactly Giggs’ influence is at Old Trafford, and how much his ideas hold weight - United’s play has been, at times, so insipid, and this is all attributed to the man at the top, but supporters may be entitled to at least question why, if Giggs has the influence an assistant ought to have, there is very little of what is considered the traditional style of United play on show.
It is widely acknowledged that Anthony Martial was a player Giggs identified and championed and that has to be taken on board, and it stands to reason that when Michael Carrick and Wayne Rooney challenged Van Gaal on the training at the club earlier in the season, they first went to Giggs to air their concerns. That could be a positive or negative thing - if Giggs is distancing himself from the association of how things are run, that in itself must be concerning. If true, what it does tell us is that we know very little of his capability to manage at this level - certainly far less than we might have expected at this stage.
This is not to say that Gary Neville is any more capable, but it perhaps suggests that the experience these players have could be put to actual significant use in order to progress the club rather than trying to decide on a hierarchy more concerned with suiting egos.
For example, if Neville is so inclined to take a step back (such is his love for United, he may not even consider it a step back), is the perfect role for him actually the one which Eric Harrison once held?
Harrison was fabled as the hard faced task master who turned a bunch of prodigies into young men capable of mixing it with senior players in their teen years; a man who was so hard on the players, many found their confidence broken.
Nicky Butt has done a fine job in his relatively short time in charge, and Warren Joyce ought to be deserving of equal praise for the unheralded work he continues to do, but Neville would complement the pair incredibly well.
This is an era of pampered stars - Marcus Rashford is on ‘just’ £3,000 a week, a deal which will surely increase tenfold in the summer - and as former United youngster Danny Higginbotham has eruditely observed, many young players may be inclined to lose motivation once they sign those kind of contracts which make them instant millionaires.
Who better than Gary Neville, then, to convey his dedication about Manchester United and what it takes to be a winner at the club? The kind of effort he expects to see because it was the kind of effort he once put in as a youngster at the Cliff all those years ago. It’s no guarantee of success but that kind of grit and determination is what the Old Trafford crowd really responds to - it’s been noticeable by its absence in too many limp defeats this season, and was notable in its presence in some of the club’s greatest successes from 1992. The physical manifestation of those qualities might be the best source in which to tap to try and pass those same qualities on to the stars of tomorrow.
Neville as a man may have loftier ambitions - he undoubtedly will. But what Manchester United need may be something different than he is currently thinking - and it may be the perfect role for him, too.
Follow Wayne Barton on Twitter @Yolkie_
Wayne Barton has been the football columnist for international broadcaster Setanta Sports since 2011 and has been described by the Independent as ‘the leading writer on Manchester United on the period between Sir Matt Busby and Sir Alex Ferguson’ after numerous books on the club and autobiographies. The most recent are ‘74/75’ with Tommy Docherty and ‘Rise Of The Underdog’, the autobiography of Danny Higginbotham.
Wayne has also worked in Hollywood and across the USA with Gold and Platinum selling musicians and actors from the monster hit TV show ‘Breaking Bad’.