As the song goes “he’s got more medals than Steve Gerrard”. Phil Neville confirmed over the weekend that his illustrious playing career was at an end after 692 games, 59 England caps, 6 Premier League titles, 3 FA Cups and 1 Champions League.
He may have enjoyed tremendous success at his first club, Manchester United, but it was at Everton were he stepped out of the shadow of his brother to establish himself as a footballer, a fantastic leader and captain, and in the process earning the respect of his fellow professionals.
Those who know Phil best, often speak about his fantastic attitude to the professional game. Making the most of his talents, through a combination of hard work and determination. This was optimised by his move to Everton, leaving the relative comfort of Old Trafford in search of becoming at integral part of the David Moyes revolution at Goodison Park. He joined Everton shortly after the Blues had qualified for the Champions League and although he was unable to assist the Toffees to return to Europe’s top stage, he played a leading role in changing the mentality in and around Goodison Park and making a top 6 finish the minimum of requirements.
More often that not, Everton did much better than 6th during his time on Merseyside. An FA Cup Final, a League Cup Semi Final and progress to the last 16 of the Uefa Cup, offered opportunities for trophy success, unfortunately on each occasion the Blues came up against a glass ceiling and more often that not, Chelsea, who prevented Phil Neville from adding to his Old Trafford trophy haul. Why Everton were unable to make that breakthrough will remain an unknown, but whether it was a lack of finance, a lack of quality of a negative mentality from Moyes, the Blues failure to win a trophy during his 8 years at the club will be a lasting disappointment for Neville.
Neville was incredibly well liked by his colleagues, Tim Cahill flew half way around the World to see his best friends final day at Everton, but it took a while to win over the sceptical Evertonians. Many thought he was too ingrained in the Manchester United way, but a crunching tackle on Christiano Ronaldo in a crucial league match in 2008, against United won the doubters round. His two greatest moments in an Everton shirt both arrived in Penalty shoot outs. Not renowned for his goal scoring, Neville was a surprise penalty taker in the 2009 FA Cup Semi Final, but he calmly stepped up to convert from the spot and in the process defeated his previous club, United. In 2011, again in the FA Cup, Everton travelled to Stamford Bridge for a 4th Round replay. The game again went to Penalties, but this time Neville was on the decisive and ultimately match winning spot kick, expertly firing home from 12 yards.
He was certainly not loved by all, but even those who disliked him appreciated his worth to the Everton team. His influence wained in the last 18 months and Moyes prolonged with him in the team too long. Neville’s final appearance in an Everton shirt proved disastrous, as he inadvertently created Wigan’s second goal with a back pass which went straight to the oppositions Callum McManaman to score. But with an Everton career of 303 first team appearances, many of those as Captain, he will be missed at Goodison. I am sure everyone wishes him good luck, and although he was an unsuccessful candidate for the recent managerial vacancy, I would not be surprised to see him in charge of the Blues in the future.