Pepe Reina weakly palmed the ball in to the back of the net, the strength from Rio Ferdinand’s header too much to keep out. The Stretford End behind went mental. We’d done it! In a match where Liverpool arguably did more with the ball, United snatched the three points at the death.
Like every other red, I couldn’t wait to see Match of the Day that evening to relive the great moment. It was only when I was settled in my lounge, watching BBC 1 with a beer, that the true greatness of the day was revealed. Gary Neville had charged to the away corner, grabbing his badge and shouting at them. It was magic. God only know how they were reacting, but he didn’t give a fuck. Banging his fists on his thighs, the emotion of beating the dippers in injury time turned him almost tribal.
This behaviour is exactly what sets us apart from our rivals. We have players in our side who have supported the team since they were lads, who live and breath United just like us. Our rivals have players who claim to feel the same way, as dedicated and loyal servants to the club.
Liverpool have Steven Gerrard, who claims to love the club… but has handed in two transfer requests and thinks playing for England is bigger than playing for his club. Chelsea have Frank Lampard, who claims to love the club… but has stalled on a contract for nearly two years and will probably sign for Inter Milan this summer. Arsenal have… Arsenal have… Cesc Fabregas? He seems fairly committed for the time being, but will be at Barca by the time he’s 25-years-old.
Fergie has hinted that Gary Neville’s days at United might be over, which could have disastrous effects on United…
“I am hopeful Gary Neville can come back,” said Ferguson. “I am sure he can. At 33, it is always difficult if you have been out of the game for a year. But Neville is such a determined character. You would not bet against him coming back. He’s not bitter about having to fight for his place. He is a low-key type of lad who neither gets up nor down. But he has a great determination and that gives him a chance to return. He is club captain so that is another incentive.”
Gary Neville’s appointment as captain has coincided was a resurgence from Manchester United, after the period the media named “Manchester United’s decline.” Of course, there are several factors influencing this, but it’s not a complete coincidence. Neville is a leader, he’s passionate about United, and won’t ever settle for defeat. For him, United will always come first, with our success always being the priority.
If we compare this to Arsenal’s captain, William Gallas, who behaved disgracefully at times, there is no wonder Arsenal fell away so rapidly last season. The incident against Birmingham was one of the most humiliating sites I’ve ever seen on a football pitch. He refused to defend the last minute penalty, angrily pacing in his own half of the field. Had the player he was supposed to be marking scored from the rebound, I can only imagine the Arsenal fans and manager wouldn’t have jumped to his defence in the way that they did. Highly immature and self-obsessed.
Whilst his team mates ran off the field at the final whistle to check on their team mate who’d broken his leg, Gallas sat in the centre circle crying. He is a complete drama queen who cares far more about his own press and his own success than he ever will do Arsenal.
I think we are right to be concerned over our future success without Neville’s influence as our captain, whether on the pitch or from the dressing room during his period of injury. The fact that Gary Neville was fined £5000 for celebrating that goal against Liverpool shows just how much football is changing. The loyalty to clubs is going, fewer and fewer local lads play for the teams at the top, and contract are starting to mean nothing. In this day and age, to have a player like Gary Neville (Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Wes Brown…) gives us an advantage over our rivals, who are lacking in this respect. However, if Neville has played his last game for United, it’s not all doom and gloom.
When Neville stops playing, that will not mean we see the back of him. Just like Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Bryan Robson and Sir Bobby Charlton, I have every faith Neville will continue to work for the club, in some role or another.
Three years ago, I would have laughed at the suggestion that Ferdinand replacing Neville as captain would be something I supported. This, afterall, is the man who stalled on his contract after missing 8 months of football. However, the change we have seen in Ferdinand, particularly over the last year, is remarkable. Ferdinand is highly competative and is similar to Keane in his regards for love of winning and hatred of losing. Watch footage back of Hargreave’s freekick over Arsenal or Tevez’s late goal against Blackburn and look for Ferdinand’s reaction. He loves winning, and now it seems, he loves winning for United exclusively, signing a 5-year contract in April of this year. What we’ll lose in complete passion for United in Neville, we’ll see replaced in complete passion for winning in Ferdinand.
United have just completed the second most successful season in the club’s history, claiming the league title and European Cup double. Whilst Neville was still a presence in the dressing room and training ground, we spent the whole season without his presence on the field.