The Nevilles' ill-fated spell at Valencia: What went wrong?

Gary Neville has admitted he was out of his depth during that ‘eye-opening’ spell at Valencia… Papers labelled him ‘the intern’ and fans recall a man who was honest, decent but TOTALLY unsuitable

  • Gary Neville took charge of Valencia for four months before he was sacked
  • Man United legend was out of his depth and struggled to connect with the club
  • A Mundo Deportivo columnist referred to his time in Valencia as an ‘internship’
  • He is still seen as a decent man but it was impossible task for both Gary and Phil

Gary Neville’s recent admission that his four-month spell managing Valencia wasn’t all bad because it taught him things about himself, has done little to change the club’s supporters’ perception of him. They think of him as someone who was honest, decent, and totally out of his depth.

The comments also reinforced one of the reasons why he failed to make it work. When he told Sky Sports: ‘It didn’t go well but the lessons I learned, the experiences I had in terms of finding out about myself, I learned more in that four months than the 14 years before that,’ only served to reinforce the idea that he was using the club as some sort of work-experience post.

At times they found that amusing. ‘El Mundo’ columnist Inma Lidon began referring to him as the ‘Becario’ (intern) in her editorials.

Gary Neville was out of his depth at Valencia and failed to connect with the proud supporters

He and his brother Phil (left) spent four months at the helm before they were sacked in 2016

But the idea an Englishman was doing his work experience at one of Spain’s most historic clubs, soon started to leave an unpleasant taste, especially with Valencia’s proud supporters.

Fans of the club from all generations believe Valencia should be at the top table of European football. Those of a certain age remember the team beating Arsenal on penalties in the Cup Winners Cup final in 1980 with players such as Mario Kempes and Rainer Bonhof the stars.

Those slightly younger recall the team 20 years on that reached two European Cup finals and won two leagues and a UEFA Cup.

One of Neville’s biggest problems was failing to connect with those fans – a task made all the more difficult by not being able to speak their language.

He’s a great communicator but it’s impossible to get across, through a translator, that you are not just in town to ‘give management a go’ and Valencia are your guinea pig.

Valencia’s fans remember the team beating Arsenal on penalties in the Cup Winners Cup final

He did his best in his first press conference to tell them he knew how big the club was. And in another recent interview he admitted: ‘Looking back Valencia did not need an inexperienced coach. And the last thing I needed was a staff without experience.’

That inexperienced staff included former Valencia winger Angulo who was no more bilingual nor experienced than Gary.

Brother Phil was also on his team and demoted by the club just three days after Gary’s departure.

He felt hard done by at the time. He had been part of the coaching team that the previous season had helped Valencia reach the Champions League. He was assistant to now-Wolves coach Nuno Espirito Santo who Valencia had been foolish to impatiently sack the following season.

In 2004, Valencia won the UEFA Cup and fans are desperate to get back to the top table

Neville failed to connect with the passionate fans, not helped by his inability to speak Spanish

Phil’s matchday duties were taken away once his brother departed. His coaching role was reduced and there was an inevitability over his eventual exit. His demotion owed something to Pako Ayestaran who Gary brought in to assist him halfway through the four-month stint. Neville regretted not bringing the experienced Ayestaran earlier. Altough when Ayestaran took over the top job he managed just 10 points from a possible 36 before and was also dismissed.

It had also counted against Gary Neville that he was, not just Peter Lim’s appointment, but also his close friend.

When Valencia’s previous owners decided to sell the club’s emblematic stadium in 2007 and build a new almost out-of-town Mestalla the idea was sold to the supporters as something that was both necessary and inspired. It was neither.

When the credit crunch of 2008 burst the property bubble (the old ground still isn’t sold and the new ground still isn’t finished) the club were set on the road of selling their best players every summer to save themselves from bankruptcy.

Gary (left) and his brother Phil bark instructions during a game against Rapid Vienna

It counted against Neville that he was not just Peter Lim’s appointment, but also his friend

When Lim bought the club in 2014 from main creditor Bankia he was briefly hailed as a saviour but that did not last long.

His close links to Jorge Mendes and the fact that the club now relied heavily on players brought and sold in deals that connected directly or indirectly to him, did not sit well. And in that vein Neville, being seen as Lim’s man, put another mountain in front of him.

Neville learned all about the ‘passion’ of the supporters during his spell when a 2am welcoming committee at the training ground screamed abuse at the team bus as the players came back from a 7-0 defeat to Barcelona and protestors did their best to articulate the ‘Gary go now’ message in English as well as Spanish.

He was finally relieved of his duties at the end of March 2016. He flew straight out of Spain and joined the England camp where he sat next to Roy Hodgson as England beat Germany 3-2.

There was no shame in failing at Valencia… he was not the first and certainly won’t be the last

Valencia were just six points from the relegation zone when Neville was sacked in 2016

That was him back on familiar ground: speaking without a translator and working as a number two. His coaching appetite, even for that, seems to have gone.

There was no shame in failing. Fourteen different coaches had lost the Valencia job in the 16 years before he arrived. 

It had not been the 7-0 against Barcelona that did for him but his 11th defeat in 28 games, against Celta Vigo.

It was a result that meant he left Valencia – who had been five points from the Champions League when he took over – just six points from the drop.

News of the fans wanting Neville out reached as far as Singapore, and Lim pulled the trigger

He had a tough time at Valencia, including a 7-0 defeat against Barcelona at the Nou Camp

The fact the news that the supporters were now calling for Neville’s head had made the front page of the sports section of the ‘Straits Times’ in Singapore, where it made uncomfortable reading for Lim were rumoured to have tipped the club’s owner over the edge.

Neville still believed he should see out the season and still backed himself to keep the team up. He had cancelled plans to join up with England immediately after that defeat to Celta Vigo and took the next three training sessions.

In the last of those he had arranged a 45 minute 11-a-side match between first team players who had not gone on international duty and the club’s youth team. ‘He can’t even beat the kids’ ran the headlines when the practice game ended in a 3-3 draw. It was harsh but it summed up the mood. The internship was over.

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