Timely farewell to Everton servant Neville

by Alan Feehely

Phil NevilleThe news that Phil Neville would be leaving Everton at the end of the season didn’t come as a shock to anyone who follows the fortunes of the club closely.

The versatile operator who can comfortably play in both defence and midfield has been slowly weaned out of the first team this year, making just 18 league appearances to date.

Where he once was ultra-reliable – his seamless decision making on the pitch, robust tackling and excellent work ethic – he began to fall short rather noticeably, coming to a head in what can only be described as a horror show against Wigan in the quarter final of the FA Cup.

The 36 year old looked a shadow of his former self. He gifted possession of the ball to the opposition frequently, was caught out of position a number of times, and in general looked to be lagging behind the pace of the game. Playing in the centre of midfield, he looked positively overran.

As the 3-0 reverse score line suggests, he was not alone in a blue shirt to have a bad day at the office, but the whole occasion felt like a final death knell for his career.

And what a career it was. Philip John Neville was born in Bury, Greater Manchester in January 1977, and joined the Manchester United youth setup aged just 13. He quickly worked his way up the Old Trafford hierarchy, and made his first team debut five years later in 1995. He went on to make 263 appearances for the club, winning six Premier League titles, three FA Cups and the UEFA Champions League.

In 2005 he found game time restricted however, and made the brave decision to move to Merseyside with Everton. Neville’s willingness to make the move is a testament to the man – rather than sit on the bench at Old Trafford and earn vast sums of money, he chose to take up a new challenge with the Toffees.

Everton and Phil Neville proved to be a perfect match. Both shared similar ideals – hard working, non-complaining, all while possessing a youthful like zest for the game of football.

Add to this the manager David Moyes, and you have the perfect marriage. Neville soon became one of the Glaswegian boss’ absolute favourites. The aforementioned work rate and willingness to play anywhere played large parts in this, and he was appointed club captain in 2007.

Neville and Moyes have endured eight years together at Goodison Park, and overseen a number of successes and disappointments – sometimes at the same time. His qualities have endeared him to the Everton support, and more than make up for his shortcomings in other departments.

Perhaps one regret he must have as an Everton player is his inability to lift a trophy as Everton captain, something he would have loved to have done. Still however, there are tangible mementos that Evertonians can remember him by – namely his crunching tackle on Cristiano Ronaldo at Old Trafford in 2009.

One anecdote I have always liked about him was this – every morning Neville rises at 5am to perform yoga, and still is the first one into Finch Farm, Everton’s training ground. This has not only prolonged his career, but epitomises the phenomenal dedication and professionalism the man has brought to the football club.

His slogan – shared with equally enthusiastic brother Gary Neville – is ‘attack the day’ something that I feel sums up what Phil Neville is all about rather nicely.

He is now moving on to pastures new however, in search of new challenges. He claims to be looking to carry on ‘at the highest level’ although I for one would question his ability to perform on that lofty stage any longer. A move into coaching then seems imminent, as he has already taken some of his coaching badges and worked with the England U21 side.

Whatever his next step is, I’m sure that everyone associated with Everton Football Club thanks Phil Neville for his services – he was worth every penny of the £3.5 million paid to Manchester United back in 2005, and then some.

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