Phil Neville: I want to go it alone

When the announcement was made that Phil Neville was to be appointed as Nuno Santo's assistant coach at Valencia questions were asked, but the ex-Manchester United, Everton and England international has answered them so emphatically that he's at the point where he now feels ready to go it alone as a coach.

Perhaps it says more about those on the fringes of the game than it does about those working within it, that there was initial surprise at the route Neville had decided to take because he quickly proved himself a decent acquisition by Los Che.

Given that he had a long and illustrious playing career in the upper echelons of the professional game, why wouldn't that experience have held him in good stead for an assistant's role?

Despite the unfortunate departure of brother Gary after a short-lived stint at the helm of the club, Phil still retains the confidence of the current staff.

He took time out of his busy schedule to talk exclusively to MARCA's Jason Pettigrove.

When you were first approached by Nuno Santo at Valencia, how surprised were you to get the call initially and did you have any other interesting projects lined up at the time?

At the time I was really content doing the television work I'd been doing and I'd signed a long contract so I didn't really have any plans to get into coaching straight away.

I'd been out to Valencia during the year to watch a game - against Barcelona at Mestalla when we drew 1-1 - and then secondly my brother and I spent 2-3 days looking at the new stadium, the infrastructure of the club, the academy philosophy and to watch a little bit of training really.

I got to spend a little bit of time with Nuno, an hour maybe, and that was it.

About three to six months later I was on a driving range in England and I got the call asking me to become the assistant manager and to be honest, I said yes straight away.

It was one of those life-changing moments when you think 'you've always wanted to work abroad, you've always wanted to play abroad, the opportunity to play abroad has gone and this is your moment.'

If I didn't do it then, I probably never would so I grabbed it with both hands.

There was never a hint of the job after that initial meeting?

No, when I came out to look at the club it was because of my relationship with the owners and my interest in the infrastructure of a football club.

Not for one minute did I think I would ever have the opportunity to work there.

I read that you accepted the position before even talking to your family.

Would you have taken the job even if the family weren't as supportive as they have been?

I'm very lucky that my wife's very flexible and she wants the best for me.

She knows that if I had a great opportunity she would never, ever stand in my way and say no to anything that I wanted to do.

She never has done and she never will.

Yes, there were considerations and my main concern was actually my two children.

My son was at Manchester City academy, he was doing very well, he was happy there, he had friends there, they rated him very highly - so I had to make sure there was the same kind of commitment from Valencia to him, which there was.

Secondly, my daughter is disabled. She's in the system back in England and she needed the care, the attention, the physiotherapy....

If there wasn't the same kind of opportunities open to her than what we had in England, then I would've had to have said no.

So, taking the job was always on the proviso that those two had the same care and attention, and that was facilitated.

My wife was like 'yes we've got to go, we've got to fulfil your dream of working abroad'....

There was trepidation and fear but it was pretty straightforward really.

Did you think the position offered you anything different and would aid your coaching development over and above any employment you could've had in England?

It was different than your average English coach going into a club and doing the norm...

It was off the beaten track and probably made people sit up and think 'well this lad's serious about what he's doing, he wants to learn the culture, he wants to learn the language, the style of football....'

I've always looked at my coaching career as a long-term project.

People say 'you've got to get a coach's job, you've got to get a coach's job....'

I'm 39, I was 38 at the time, and I want to be coaching when I'm 60.

That's another 22 years, and a long time for me to be a coach.

I wanted to make sure that I gained as much experience, qualifications, knowledge.

When an English coach or players go abroad, the media always seem to paint it as a brave move, but it's the reverse when foreigners come into England.

Did you regard it as particularly brave for you to take the job?

It was brave.

I think because there's not that many people coming out here, you're in a minority, whereas in England it's almost the norm.

So there's probably a stigma with English people going abroad.

Do they settle very well - history tells you that they probably don't - do they learn the language...

It's something that's labelled at us, that we don't learn the language, we don't integrate into the culture, because we're English and we're stuck in our ways and we expect the whole world to speak English.

That was one of the main challenges really, to overcome the perception that English people have, particularly in a town like this where there's not many foreigners.

It's very Valencian, there's not many tourists here.

You walk down the street and you don't see many English, it's fantastic.

It's one of the reasons that I've fallen in love with the place, you have total anonymity.

You're in a Spanish town with Spanish people and in at the deep end.

Learn Spanish or you can't live here.

How long would you say it took you to settle in, both personally and professionally, and get used to things?

I'm settled now but after one or two months we thought the same.

We rented a house, continued learning the language, so every day was a challenge.

People said we'd feel settled after five or six months but I said no, I want to be settled in three.

Actually it wasn't until the midwinter break when we went home to England, and after a day we wanted to come back to Valencia, the kids were crying because of it.

It was six months at Christmas and I thought, do you know what, this is a place that I love and I now call home.

With your job, aside from the wealth of experience that you had in the game, what else did you think you could bring to the role that would engage the players?

I think the main thing was that I'd played at the highest level, I'd played Champions League football and I'd played for one of the biggest clubs in the world.

So, instantly you gain respect because of your past history.

Then you've got the challenge of living up to that and that's the biggest challenge for any footballer that's played at the top level.

Your name and your career gets you through the door, your name and your career gets you respect initially, but then you've got to produce - and that's the challenge.

From day one of becoming a coach, the main thing I wanted to do was to be myself.

And I think by being myself I gained the respect of the players at Valencia.

Did they [the players] ever feel that your association with Peter Lim was actually what got you through the door, or was that never an issue?

Maybe at the start there was a wariness, although not necessarily from the players because players don't bother about things like that.

Maybe it was more from the staff in terms of them thinking 'where's this lad come from?'

But hopefully I gained their [the staff] respect and I actually became friends with them....it's like I said before, I was myself.

I got this job because Nuno employed me.

Nuno was the first port of call, and that's the first question I asked him - 'do you want me or is it the owners?' and he said no, I want you.

It's a question I also asked Peter and Layhoon, the president.

I came here because Nuno wanted me not because of Peter, and if I felt that Peter was behind it then I wouldn't have accepted the job.

That was important.

Ultimately the only way you can win the respect of anyone, in any work in the world, is by doing your job well, by being a nice and honest person, and I think for me coming from England to Spain, it was actually showing them that I was going to commit to them.

People talk a lot about what commitment is.

The biggest thing is the language without doubt and from the very early days I committed to doing just that.

On the training pitch, what did you learn coaching wise and how much different did you find it to training in the UK?

I think there is no magic formula in football.

Most of the coaches in the top leagues are probably doing more or less the same sessions with a different slant on it perhaps....

The difference is how you communicate that session, how you coach that session and obviously the quality of players that you've got helps with the quality of performance you're going to get.

In terms of the actual sessions, the biggest thing I learned was, probably a lot more focus is made out on the training pitch.

In England there's an influx of sports science, analysis, stuff like that...there's a lot more emphasis on that in England.

I found the detail in the sessions a little bit more in depth, tempo of players probably a little bit slower...

I wouldn't say the actual effort or the workload is less, the tempo just looks slower but a lot of that is down to the climate.

Yes, I found some things a little bit different, but football's football, whether you're in Spain, Argentina, Brazil or England.

Coaching is coaching; to teach someone how to cross a ball or to play in a certain system.

Everyone has different slants on it but 4-3-3 in England is similar to 4-3-3-in Spain.

Would you have taken the top job if it hadn't been offered to Gary and whether yes or no, what are your reasons?

Well I couldn't have been offered that job because I've only just passed my pro licence, so it's a hypothetical question.

If I'd had my pro licence at the time, would I have taken the job? Yes, probably.

But I didn't, and I was just glad that Gary got that opportunity because you know what, when a new coach comes in he wants to bring his own staff and his own ideas, so it meant I could continue with my journey which was fantastic.

Were there any downsides to working with Gary in a coaching role?

Not really because I think Gary and I are a bit unique in our relationship.

We're clinical, we have different personalities, but we understand what each other wants and we understand what it takes to get to the top level.

We had that understanding right from day one and it wasn't difficult because we'd played together, we obviously lived together, we share businesses together...

It was actually a smooth transition.

Once Pako was appointed, did you have any fears in terms of your own position at the time or moving forward?

There were no fears at all.

Pako was brought in by Gary to help the technical group in terms of his communication, his experience in La Liga and his experience at Valencia.

It was a decision that we made together.

Gary is not a dictatorial type coach, he likes to communicate well with his staff, he gives empowerment to them so it was a decision made between everyone and one that ultimately was to help us in the situation we were in.

I've read that you considered Valencia as 'the last year of university,' so how long do you think it will take for you to know enough before taking the top job?

I think you get to a point, probably where I am now...I've got my pro licence, I've gone through the process - Level 1&2, level 3, levels 4 and 5....I've been an assistant for two to three years.

I feel as if I want to be at the point now where I'm the one making the decisions.

The final bits I'm going to learn are the bits when I'm on the job.

There's no amount of practice or coaching licences in the world that can prepare you for that first day in the job where you're the boss and people are coming to you with their problems, and making decisions that have to be made, you can't be taught that.

It's like going out on the motorway for the first time after passing your driving test, you learn on your feet.

I'm at that point, now it's time.

I don't want to be working as a number two now but obviously you can never say never.

If there's an opportunity of working with some of the best coaches or some of the best clubs then I'm sure that I'll look at that but, ultimately I now want to go alone and give it a chance.

There's no rush, there will be opportunities.

I've turned down opportunities but when the right one comes up, at the right club, with the right owners and the right players, then I'll take it.

In terms of perhaps more long-term aims, do you see yourself as a Man Utd or England coach?

I don't look at things like that....I'm at the point where I want to coach at the top level, that's my goal...

In England or in Spain?

Well, you know what.....now, I would love to manage in Spain.

I've nearly cracked the language.

Another six months here and I'll be fluent in Spanish so that means the whole world is a bit of a smaller place now in terms of communication as a coach.

It's a big thing in Spain - you have to communicate properly with your players, so it does open a few more doors.

I've moved away from England once, so now the next move can be anywhere.

Whether that's back to England, Germany, France, Portugal, America, China...now the world is a smaller place because I've got two languages under my belt, two leagues I've worked in and all of a sudden you look at coaching in a different way.

I used to think the only place I wanted to coach was in England but but I've got two countries now where I'd love to manage, maybe three if you count South America.

Finally, is Jose Mourinho the right appointment for Manchester United in your opinion and if so, why?

It is.

It's the right appointment at the right time, the club probably needed it now.

Man Utd. needs a spark to get back up to winning the Premier League and they've employed the best manager in the world.

I think when you're the best club in the world you need the best person running it.

United at the moment have got the best one, his track record is the best.

You can never say that you're guaranteed success but with Mourinho it will be a really exciting ride.

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