Gary Neville: Still life in the old dog yet

Gary Neville will not be at this year’s World Cup and may never play for England again but the full back should be happy with the fact he is still playing, and there is still some energy in those aging legs.

The omission of the Manchester United full back is a little confusing, and despite a faultless process by England manager, Fabio Capello, this was the only crack in his selection. Glen Johnson is the only natural right back in the 30 man squad and if something happens to the Liverpool player then Capello will turn to Johnson’s teammate Jamie Carragher who looks like the most likely replacement.

Carragher himself has not had the greatest of seasons and has played at right back for large parts of the season due to Johnson’s ankle injury. At times he looked very out of position and his lack of pace and frame restricted him playing anywhere near the level required. The fact has covered Johnson at right back, has obviously alerted Capello. This is what makes Neville’s exclusion even more frustrating. Yes, Neville has not got much more pace than Carragher and he is not getting any younger, but for someone who has played at right back at the highest level for the past 18 years and has 85 England caps to his name, would surely be better suited for the job.

Neville nearly faced early retirement due to the turmoil over his ankle injury that saw him miss the entire 2007/08 season. However, the man that he is and the hunger he shows when wearing the red jersey, he could not let go. His footballing ability is questionable but his heart and determination cannot. It was his manager Sir Alex Ferguson that said: “Gary never had the talent of Ryan Giggs or Paul Scholes, but he had determination to make sure.” His link up play down the right with David Beckham was formidable and played a huge part in United’s success. However, with the change of formation and 4-4-2 slipping away from manager’s clipboards, Neville’s contribution in the final third has been limited.

The Bury born player is part of a dying breed of right backs, who just head, tackle, and pass. Some managers are now turning towards fast, attacking minded players that are wing backs rather full backs. This is evident with his soon to be successor at United, where Brazilian Rafael is waiting in the ranks while the 35 year old edges closer to retirement. Rafael is far more attacking and creates more in the opposing half but his defensive ability has been questioned and his mental attributes tested. It was his needless tug in the Champions League quarter final against Bayern that cost United the game. He is young and can learn a lot from Neville.

Sir Alex has found it hard to ever let Neville move on and with another year added to his current contract, he looks set to form another push for the Premier League next season. Neville will always be a one-club man, as will Giggs and Scholes. He is only two appearances away from making it 600 for United, which is no mean feat. Glen Johnson is a better player than he is but if anything was to go wrong, Neville could have stepped up and played his role. He knows the ins and outs of the World Cup and this could be crucial in any success for England. Fabio Capello is missing out on quality right-back.

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