Gary Neville is the brusque diamond of the television studio and an emerging talent in the technical area. Since retiring from Old Trafford in 2011 his dual roles have dovetailed nicely, working as both a pundit with Sky Sports and alongside Roy Hodgson whenever the England squad gathers.
It’s an ideal arrangement that at the moment suits both parties. Sir Trevor Brooking, however, believes Gary Neville could be much, much more to England – but only if he gives up the TV work.
The former FA Director of Football Development says Neville would be an ideal choice to eventually succeed current England manager Roy Hodgson. First, however, he would have to stop combining “the best of both worlds” of coaching and punditry.
“Who should be the next England coach? Gareth Southgate is the Under-21 coach, but Gary Neville is working closely with Roy Hodgson,” Brooking said. “People say it’s better for someone to take on the role late in their career, but a young coach like Germany’s Joachim Low proves it doesn’t have to work that way.”
Brooking says Neville’s current role as England coach is good for both him and the national side, but if Neville has ambitions to manage then he would eventually have to give up his role as Sky Sports analyst.
“The players like him because he hasn’t been away from the game that long. Roy was very good in selecting him. Where he has a difficult decision to make is whether he wants to go into management.
“He’s getting the best of both worlds at the moment, but does he want to keep doing the punditry? I think at some stage he will want to do a club job. The England stuff is great preparation for that. He’s learning all the time from Roy, seeing what it’s like being under that pressure. He’s intrigued by all of it.”
Last year Neville told Radio Times he was still unsure about going into management. “I can’t say I will go into management – it’s very difficult. Sixteen months is the average time a Premier League manager lasts. That’s not enough time to get your feet under the table, let alone build a team or a club,” he said.
Yet since the World Cup the voices beckoning Neville into management have got louder. Michael Owen pointed out the former Man Utd defender’s England opportunities, writing in the Daily Telegraph, “I do not buy the idea that lack of management experience would hinder Neville, because there is no comparison between managing your country and a Premier League club.
“It would be a risk, but the so-called ‘safe pair of hands’ we have gone for over the last 20 years have hardly brought success,” said Owen.
Neville has been a coach with Roy Hodgson’s England since May 2012, and will be in place until at least 2016. However, Hodgson warned during the World Cup that there was no rush for Neville to give up the TV work.
“The longer he can combine the two roles the better,” Hodgson said. “He’s learning a lot in the environment with us, working with more experienced coaches and top players, and that’s beneficial to him. He’s doing a very good job on the television.
“So my advice would be to keep it going for as long as he feels he wants to keep it going. I don’t have any doubt in my mind that he will become a top-class coach and a top-class manager. It’s just a question of when he decides to leave the punditry behind and go in to the job of working with players. He likes working with players and he’s good at it.”
Brooking said he didn’t see a conflict of interest between Neville’s work as both pundit and coach, but he needs to maintain the boundaries he has established with the Sky Sports’ production team.
“I think the role he does, he’s quite analytical,” Brooking said. “The pundit role generally has become a bit more critical – you have to be more personal about players.
“But Gary never gets asked for example, ‘Who do you think should be playing midfield for England?’. That’s where a conflict of interest would arise. When he’s analysing a game, he’s not being judgmental on particular players’ talents, he’s just seeing how the teams match up. He’s not being asked who should play for England, because he’s established those boundaries.”