Phil Neville joined Everton from Manchester United in the summer of 2005 for a fee of up to Â£3.5m. A fee which, at first, seemed a little large for “the wrong Neville” – until you look at what he has done in his career so far, and realise that he is still only 28.
Neville had his first break in the Manchester United team in the 1995 FA Cup 4th Round against Wrexham as a callow right-back. By the start of the following season he was a regular in the side, filling in at both left and right back. He was never quite in the mold of his brother; more naturally talented, laid back, less of a leader on the pitch. Neville junior impressed from the off however – his pace, composure and confidence marked him out as a huge prospect.
It wasn’t long before Terry Venables handed Pip his England debut aged just 18, against China on tour in May 1996. He did well enough to earn himself a place in Venables Euro ’96 squad – ostensibly as cover for his brother. He didn’t make an appearance at the tournament but went on the start at the following year’s ‘Le Tournoi’ tournament in France on both the left and right flanks.
Back at Old Trafford Neville had already marked himself out for his versatility, offering cover in both fullback positions. He played his part in United’s ‘double-double’ season in 1996.
Pip continued to make appearances for the national side in the run up to the World Cup in 1998 only to be left out of the squad at the last; it was to become a theme.
The 1999 season was the highlight of Neville’s and many United players’ careers although he only played 30 games that season, including six in Europe.
Under Kevin Keegan Phil returned to the England side only to be handed the biggest blow of his career at Euro 2000. In the deciding group game it was his tackle from the left back position that gave away the crucial penalty. England were out and most of the ‘Ingeeerland’ support blamed Neville. He was an easy scapegoat, especially because he played for United.
At club level his career blossomed with Sir Alex increasingly using him in the holding midfield role. This culminated in 30 games in that position in the 2002-3 season – nicely summed up with an awesome game against Patrick Vieira’s Arsenal. Yet he couldn’t sustain his run in the side and by 2004-5 he started just 12 Premiership games.
For all his technical faults – he didn’t develop in the way many hoped that he would – Phil was the perfected Manchester United professional. He never once complained, never got caught out late boozing away, never demanded huge pay rises. In an age when players disrespect fans on an almost daily basis, Neville is definitely old school, and to be held in high esteem for his professionalism.