“My brother always celebrates like that when we beat Liverpool,” said Phil Neville in January 2006. “It means a lot to him and I think people should just let it go.”
Rio Ferdinand had just scored an injury time winner against Liverpool and Gary Neville had gone mental. Phil, who’d left United for Everton 5 months previously, was sat in the commentary box at Old Trafford. I’m sure there were plenty of Everton fans who weren’t best pleased to hear their new signing referring to Manchester United as “we”.
This shouldn’t be a problem for Phil anymore though, as he believes that after 3 years away from the club, he’s got us out of his system.
Phil Neville had spent his entire career at United, struggling to hold down a first team place. He was a better version of John O’Shea if true be told. Versatile enough to play competently as a full back or in the centre of midfield.
Whilst rather famous for the crucial mistakes he made on occasion, for both United and England, he actually was a fairly decent player, and his passion for the club made him even better. In United’s infamous 2-0 win over Arsenal at Old Trafford, ending their 49 unbeaten run, it was Phil Neville who played in the centre of our midfield, filling in for Roy Keane. He was capable of doing a job, and doing it well.
However, with him not getting much joy in the first XI, Phil was off.
“This has been the most difficult decision I have ever had to make,” he said. “This was a mutual decision between myself and the manager (Sir Alex Ferguson). I’ve spent 18 years of my life at the club and I would like to thank Sir Alex, all the players and the fans for their great support.”
Whilst not wanting to sell Phil, Sir Alex Ferguson had enough respect for him to free him from his contract after the years he’d spent loyally playing for our club.
“This was not a decision we wanted to make, but every time I picked the team and Phil’s name was not on the teamsheet, it was very difficult for me,” said Fergie. “You couldn’t meet a better professional and he leaves with the gratitude of everyone at the the club for his service to United.”
Frustratingly, Keane got injured the following month, leaving a gaping hole in the centre of our midfield, which Phil would have happily filled. Instead, we shoved striker Alan Smith in to the midfield and we struggled. When Keane left United a couple of months later, it was gutting to think Phil could have stayed and had a starting place for at least the whole of that season. Hindsight is a wonderful thing.
With Phil just about to start his fourth season at Everton, wearing the captain’s armband, he has claimed he has finally got United out of his system and can focus entirely on his place in Everton’s history.
“I never thought I would get United out of my system,” Phil said. “But this is a special club and it sucks you in. Now I look at myself as an Everton player and the ex-Manchester United thing doesn’t even come into my mind. That is how much I have ingrained myself into the club. Breaking into the top four here would be as big as anything I won at my previous club.”
Is it possible to really get United out of your system?