Archive for the ‘The Last Word’ Category

Good riddance Mr Neville

602 senior appearances for Manchester United: check. 85 England international caps: check. Eight Premier League winner’s medals: check. Champion of Europe 1999: check. Contemptible human being and vastly overrated footballer: check.

This past Wednesday, Gary Alexander Neville announced his retirement from competitive football with immediate effect. It was a decision that was long overdue – many would argue Neville hung up his boots during United’s win at West Bromich Albion on New Year’s Day.

As a journalist, I understand it’s my responsibility to portray a degree of impartiality. However, when it comes to “the best English right back of his generation”, any notion of a fair hearing falls on irrevocably deaf ears.

Thrust onto the unsuspecting public in the mid nineties, Neville emerged as the lesser part of Alex Ferguson’s new brood alongside Ryan Giggs, David Beckham and Paul Scholes. Despite his obvious limitations, he would go on to become a mainstay of the Reds defence for the next two decades, inheriting the role of club captain in 2005 following Roy Keane’s departure.

In terms of footballing honours, it’s hard to argue with the 35 year-olds credentials. He’s heavily decorated at club level and is the most capped full back in England’s history. My major gripe with ‘Gaz’ is the flagrant disregard and disrespect he has shown to opposition players and fans on countless occasions throughout his career. Fans based in Merseyside – where Neville is something of a hate figure – will no doubt sympathise with my sentiments.

Everton supporters will recall with fury an incident in 2005 whereby he received a straight red card for ridiculously kicking the ball at a spectator in the crowd, whilst he has long been a target for abuse from the Liverpool faithful after he ran half the length of the pitch to celebrate wildly in front of them following a late United winner in 2006.

Neville has attempted to excuse his behaviour, citing that his passion for the game is often misunderstood. If by passion he means inciting and berating opposition fans, hounding referees and insulting rival players, then knock yourself out Gary.

During a recent radio interview, Neville’s team mate Edwin Van Der Sar was asked how much he hated the full back on a scale of one to thirty seven – the latter being utterly despised. The Dutchman, without a moment’s hesitation, replied thirty seven. Granted, his answer was delivered in jest, but the mere fact the question was posed emphasises the media perception of Neville.

As one door closes, another appears to be opening, with Neville being touted as Andy Gray’s replacement as part of the Sky Sports punditry team. I suppose it makes perfect sense that a company who previously employed two chauvinistic, sexist pigs would look to replace them with a man who openly voices his disdain towards Liverpudlians.

Neville’s budding media career is a matter for another day. For the time being, let’s embrace the fact we no longer have the pleasure of his company at three o’clock on a Saturday afternoon. I shall be glad to see the back of him.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain: What’s all the fuss about?

Cold beer in hand, I planted myself on the sofa in anticipation of this evening’s FA Cup fourth round tie between Southampton and Manchester United.

My interest in the match itself was subjective. First off, I don’t care much for the FA Cup and the “romance” that surrounds it. Secondly, and most importantly, my sole intention was to see Southampton’s much coveted wonderkid Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in action.

Bursting onto the scene at the start of the season, a string of impressive performances has seen the 17 year-old wingers’ stock rise dramatically in recent months. A £10 million transfer fee is being mooted and with Arsenal, Manchester United and Liverpool ready to pounce, it looks unlikely Chamberlain will be plying his trade in League One for much longer.

Complimentary in tonight’s pre-match interview with ITV, Alex Ferguson labelled the teenager as “very talented”, citing that he had “undoubted potential.” I was intrigued and desperate to find out if all the hysteria was justified.

Sporting the number 26 jersey, the youngster started brightly. Playing on the left hand side of a compact midfield diamond, he looked to put United full back John O’Shea under pressure from the word go. Brimming with enthusiasm and endeavour, he produced a quietly industrious first half showing.

With United chasing the game, they upped the tempo in the second half. As a result, Chamberlain faded and, aside from a sublime backheel to setup team-mate Dan Harding, he was virtually anonymous as an attacking force.

So what’s the verdict on the latest superstar to come bounding off Southampton’s conveyor belt of talent?

It’s definitely a positive one, albeit with an air of caution.

It’s clear that Chamberlain possesses all the tools to become a top class player. He’s comfortable in possession, has an eye for a pass and has pace in abundance. That said, it was his willingness to work for the team and put in a shift defensively that impressed me the most. For a 17 year-old merely cutting his teeth in the professional game, his disciplined attitude and approach to the game was refreshing.

However, for the time being, we’re only dealing with a player in terms of raw potential. Chamberlain is still very young and is nowhere near to being the finished article. While many think a move to one of the Premiership big boys would be in the players’ best interests, there are others who fear his career could stall and Chamberlain could find himself swallowed up in the world of reserve team football.

Perhaps it’s an idea for the teenager to bide his time, consider his options and continue enjoying first team football.

Stu Martinez

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