Gary Neville: Manchester United need to find dressing room guardians
Written by Simon Austin — June 22, 2019
MANCHESTER UNITED legend Gary Neville says the club no longer have "guardians" in the dressing room and manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer needs to have a summer clear-out.
Speaking at the Soccer Science Conference at Hotel Football in Manchester, Neville said that when he was playing, there were always ’guardians’ to enforce the club's principles and philosophy. In an article for TGG last year, Professor Damian Hughes described such players as “cultural architects”.
“When I was playing, you always had three groups - the guardians, the middle group and the younger ones,” said Neville, who played 400 games for United during a 19-year career.
“When I started in the first team, there were players like Paul Ince and Roy Keane and one bad pass was regarded as an absolute crime.
"Manchester United doesn’t have the guardians now. Absolutely not, no. There are some good professionals, Juan Mata for instance, Ander Herrera, when he was there, and Scott McTominay - you can see he’s a good lad and wants to play football.
“But I don’t think they carry the influence in the dressing room to be able to dominate the culture and that’s a real problem.
“In any business, in any football team, if the guardians in the dressing room, the ones who have the influence, are not setting the example, then you have a big problem and have to clear them out.
“I’ve referred to it as Japanese knotweed - when it starts to grow it needs a real aggressive approach. If you think of when Sir Alex Ferguson was there, he cut it out straight away, got rid of it.
“I love Ole (Gunnar Solskjaer) to bits. Whoever he feels is not aligned to the principles of Manchester United, he has to get rid of them. I remember when Mauricio Pochettino went to Tottenham, I went to see him and he had this board split in two - the ones he wanted to work with and the ones he didn’t.
"It was about half and half by the way, a massive clear-out, and he got rid of them all.
"Look at Tottenham now. He did a brilliant job, along with whoever helped him on the recruitment side in the first two or three years. But he had to make some tough decisions and the club had to lose money to get it right and that’s what United will have to do.”
One of Manchester United’s senior players is Jesse Lingard - a 26-year-old England international who has been at the club for 19 years.
However, the forward attracted heavy criticism when he posted an expletive-ridden video from his holiday in Miami on Instagram last week.
Neville gave a fascinating and nuanced assessment of the forward’s actions.
“When I watch Jesse Lingard play I always think he works really hard,” he said. “But why would you do something that is potentially going to bring you criticism?
“As a player, you have to ask yourself a few questions before doing anything. Is it going to help me? Is it going to make me a better player? Is it going to make people feel better about me? Is it going to earn me money? Is it going to make my coach like me more or less?
“If the answers come up negative then it’s probably best not doing it. We all make mistakes and I’ve made loads of them.
“We had a Christmas do once where we made a right mess of it and ended up in a load of trouble and made all the national newspapers.
“I organised it with Ryan Giggs and we all got fined a week’s wages, deservedly so. No problem with it, we got punished and he (Sir Alex Ferguson) absolutely battered us. We didn’t do it again, we were a bit calmer the next year and went a bit more under the radar.
“The idea of a guy going on social media, looking a bit of a prat while not winning football matches and not playing that well is a really bad cocktail.
“But then again, on the other side, he’s giving his all, he’s a young lad and social media is the modern form of media, so get over it.
“These players today run faster, they eat better, they drink less alcohol. They’re all running 13, 14km a match, some of them are running 1500m at high intensity and 20 years ago Gary Neville and his team-mates weren’t doing that.
"You can’t do what these lads are doing without working your absolute bollocks off.
"That’s why I retired, because I was seeing it in front of my own eyes, that I couldn’t get to that level any more.
“We came through when it was Kells on a Saturday night after a game, the Amblehurst on a Wednesday. There was still a drinking culture Saturday-Wednesday-Saturday, every club was doing it. We stopped, we didn’t do it, and we won four out of our first five league titles purely based on fitness because the rest of the clubs were still drinking.
“Think of Liverpool and the Spice Boys, they didn’t get that nickname for nothing. They were still going out and drinking. We weren’t.
“Jesse Lingard doesn’t drink a lot. Twenty years ago, somebody going on a holiday would have been bladdered for four weeks. What’s worse - a social media post where somebody’s having a bit of a joke or getting bladdered for four weeks?
You’d rather have your player being sober, probably training all day and having a joke with his mates. This is absolutely a lesser evil than we had 20 years ago when players would go off for five or six weeks and come back overweight, saying ‘pre-season’s for getting fit.’”