David Moyes has made a lot of astute signings during his tenure at Everton, and as we approach what is possibly the end of his reign at Goodison Park we can look back at certain transfers and be fairly sure that they were value for money – Mikel Arteta, Tim Cahill, Darron Gibson, Joleon Lescott, Phil Jagielka… The list goes on.
Then there’s Phil Neville. The Evertonian equivalent to Marmite who, depending on who you ask, has been a solid Everton captain, leading his squad into battle since his arrival from Manchester United, or a complete fraud of a footballer who has somehow wheedled a professional career and picked up £50k-plus a week in the process. The view of his role at Everton is very rarely anything in between.
One thing is for certain; he has played a very active role in the David Moyes project at Everton. If Moyes is the voice in the dressing room, “Pip” is certainly the voice of his manager on the pitch, barking orders frenetically all game to all and sundry, pointing out (literally, he points) positional advice to his colleagues and making sure everyone is doing their jobs. Nobody can dispute that since his arrival in 2005 that he has forged a very influential role at Everton and that is reflected by the fact he has worn the captains armband for the vast majority of that time.
Has he been value for the £3.5m we paid for him? In terms of actual time on the pitch, yes, he absolutely has. He’s a dedicated professional, he has kept himself in great shape and he hasn’t been one to seek the shelter of the physio room on a regular basis. He has never complained about being used in various positions.
But here’s the problem – being a professional in his work is all well and good, but at the end of the day he’s paid to play football, and it’s in this regard that Phil Neville falls down badly.
When he first arrived at Everton, he was still reasonably mobile, had a decent work rate and got about the pitch. Therefore, until about 2010 he was acceptable. He never made waves, there were very few occasions where you could say “wow, didn’t Neville have a blinder today!”, but he got on with the job and rarely let you down.
From 2010 onwards, he has been a shambles. The little pace he had disappeared, never to be seen again. He has little to no technical ability on the ball – his attempts at a stepover are something to behold – and rarely if ever attempts a forward pass in excess of 10 yards. Whilst the phrase “Conference standard” to describe his ability might be harsh, he’s certainly not a Premier League standard footballer in terms of technique.
When this became increasingly obvious, it would have been reasonable to expect that the 33-year-old would be gradually phased out of the first team picture, kept around the first team squad but not be an automatic starter, passing on the torch. This happened with David Weir, Alan Stubbs, Duncan Ferguson etc. before.
But unfortunately, Neville has been the first name on the team sheet for the last three years. I say it’s unfortunate, as no Evertonian wants to get on the back of an Everton captain, but it’s impossible to ignore his limitations.
He had a brief resurgence when he shackled Gareth Bale once, leading to interest from Harry Redknapp and Tottenham (we should have sold at the time in retrospect). But Neville will be remembered as the man who threw a slide tackle on Cristiano Ronaldo once and for the best slide rule assist a Wigan player will ever get in an FA Cup Quarter Final. An eight year Everton career, summed up in three moments.
But for all that, a remarkable statistic exists – Everton generally win more games with Phil Neville in the team than without. And we cannot forget that Phil has been an ever present at the club since 2005 and we have had quite a decent time of it in the league. So he must offer something valuable to the team, even if that is solely in terms of defensive organisation.
But despite that, I just don’t rate Neville. I can acknowledge he’s a great guy, a dedicated professional and all the rest of it, but I don’t want him at the club, and I think that’s the view of a lot of Evertonians who just wish he’d retire. Not because he’s a Mancunian (we genuinely don’t care about that), but because he’s finished as a footballer.
So overall, it’d be a foolish person to state that Neville was a “bad” purchase for Moyes. Committed pro, terrible overall footballer, his Everton legacy will divide opinion.
Tubey is a member of the Grand Old Team forum.
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