Although it’s now more than seven weeks since Iceland dumped England out of Euro 2016, former England and Manchester United defender Phil Neville is still in shock.
“I have no words to explain that night,” he says with a heavy sigh. “Up until that game, I was impressed with England. Here was a young team playing attractive, attacking football. Yet, on the big occasion, they simply froze. All of them. It was a truly shocking performance.”
Neville, whose older brother Gary was England assistant manager on that humiliating evening in Nice, claims not to have spoken to him about it.
“We both know that sometimes there are just no answers. Often you can blame the pitch or the referee, but the truth is we scored early and then, to a man, failed to perform.”
However, Neville is more upbeat about the national team’s future under new manager Sam Allardyce. “I’m delighted that Big Sam’s got the job. He’s highly experienced and a great man manager, so I’m really confident he’ll do well.”
Neville is also keen to follow his brother and become part of England’s coaching set-up. “It would be fantastic to work with the best players in the country, but it’s the sort of position you have to wait to be asked.
“You can’t go chasing it or applying for it. But, I’m a proud Englishman, so if asked, the answer would be yes.
“England don’t lack great coaches. The problem is foreign club owners think foreign coaches are superior. Well, I’ve worked abroad [as assistant coach at Valencia] and I can tell you they don’t do things better. Our own coaches just need the opportunity to prove themselves.”
One foreign managerial appointment he welcomes is Jose Mourinho at his beloved United. “With Jose in charge, I’m confident United will win the title this year. Unlike the other high-profile foreign managers, Jose has a proven track record in the Premier League and a history of achieving instant success.”
Neville himself has had some of that. Since buying non-league club Salford City in 2014, along with his brother Gary and other former “Class of 92” United legends Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Nicky Butt, he has overseen successive promotions, resulting in the club reaching the National League North, just two levels below the Football League.
“When we won the play-off final last season, it was the same feeling of elation that I had after winning the league title, FA Cup and Champions League for the first time,” he says. “Whatever the level, that feeling of winning doesn’t change.”
So have any of the United legends been tempted to put on their boots again? “We used to join in the occasional training session, but we quickly found our fitness had gone. The legs, the body – it’s all packed in!”
Running things off the field is a big enough job, given all five of them have other interests. “It’s difficult to synchronise our diaries. Face-to-face meetings are more enjoyable – we get the business done over a bite to eat and a few drinks. But they’re few and far between, so there are a lot of 7.30am conference calls as that’s the only time all of us can be available.”
Who has the final say? “We throw ideas around and between us come to a decision. We’ve known each other for solong, it just seems to work.”
And will the Class of 92 use their Old Trafford connections to tempt a few Manchester United youngsters to join Salford City on loan?
“Our market is a little below that level,” he chuckles. “We’ve had a 17-year-old on loan from Blackburn’s academy, which was terrific. But we plan on having our own academy.
“We want to be a league side and that means producing our own young players. It’s all part of our 20- or 30-year plan. We’ve all got other interests that come and go, but Salford is the one constant thing in our lives.
“The dream is in ten years’ time to be in the directors’ box at Old Trafford, watching Salford play Manchester United in the Premier League.”
Stranger things have happened in football. As Iceland have already proved.
Class of 92: Still out of their League is on BBC1 tonight, 9pm
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