Gary Neville once revealed that when he was younger he basically dropped all his friends from school so that he could concentrate on his Manchester United career.
“If you aren’t the most talented player in the world, you have to sprint to keep up,” said Nev in 2006. “You have to make sacrifices. When I left school at 16, I made the conscious decision that I would cut myself off from all of my mates. It sounds brutal, and it was selfish, but I knew that they would be doing all sorts of teenage things that I couldn’t get involved with, even if that was just having a few drinks. I’ll always remember my dad telling me: ‘You’ve got two years to give it a real go. Never look back and wish you’d done more.’”
Rio Ferdinand has today reflected on what makes a successful footballer, claiming that the drinking culture is getting in the way of some careers and they’d be better off having an attitude like the Neville brothers.
“Looking back, the Nevilles, people used to laugh at them, saying they were ‘so professional’ and this and that,” said Rio. “But they were good professionals at a young age. Look at the length of their careers now.”
Ferdinand also used his Manchester United team mate, Michael Owen, as an example.
“Look at someone like Michael Owen,” he continued. “I’ve always used him as an example because we came through at the same time, went to the 1998 World Cup, and we had two different outlooks on life. I was a social butterfly. He was a real professional who had a good structure around him and knew exactly what he wanted to do and where he wanted to go. It took me longer for me to get where I am than it took him.”
Rio, who was behind the infamous Christmas party which saw women shipped in and Jonny Evans slapped with a rape accusation, insists that footballers should be able to enjoy a drink sometimes, but it’s all about choosing the right time.
“Nowadays you have a game Saturday, then Tuesday, then Saturday, then Tuesday,” he explained. “There’s no room in the game to go out on the lash and get smashed like you used to. That was part of the culture when I was growing up as a kid. Nowadays, you can’t afford to do that. You’re playing against teams that are physically in tip-top condition. If you’re going out there and are not in the same physical condition, you can’t do yourself or your team justice. If you’ve got a free week, there’s no problem going out, enjoying yourself and letting your hair down. You don’t have to live like a monk. But you’ve got to pick and choose your right times. It’s about managing yourself right.”