Football pundit, podcast host, hotelier, €$£ sceptic, football club co-owner, property magnate, champion of the homeless and Leader of the Opposition. Gary Neville has more strings to his bow than the combined forces at the Battle of Agincourt. Even when he was “just” a footballer, teammate Roy Keane disparagingly described him as a “busy [c-bomb]”. But since the former Manchester United full-back decided it was time to hang up his boots, he has never been short of a forthright opinion on pretty much anything … except when it comes to criticising the pig’s ear Ole Gunnar Solskjær is currently making of Manchester United.
While picking over the bones of United’s latest poor performance against Leicester with Monday Night Football sparring partner Jamie Carragher, Neville acknowledged that United are a bit of a shambles but was also happy to come right out and say he would not be calling for Solskjær’s head on the grounds that it was not something he had done with any other manager, bigger-name bosses than Solskjær had done worse jobs at the club and because Solskjær is his former teammate and pal. “It’s never going to happen,” he said, addressing the question of why he refuses to call out Solskjær. “He’s a club legend. He’s my teammate. I actually like him a lot.”
On Tuesday morning, Neville doubled down. “I’m really happy to admit I won’t ask for any manager or Ole to be sacked,” he tweeted. “Me being a pundit is irrelevant compared to my position as a human being and someone’s friend. At least I admit it.” As with any football debate, this one quickly became mired in tedious, nonsensical whataboutery, accusations of hypocrisy, bias and outraged cries that Neville is no longer fit to wear the shirt and tie while going about his very important work of explaining how United’s players “broke rank, didn’t listen to their coach or their coach didn’t give them instruction … whichever one it is it’s pretty bad”. While Neville has an influential voice, it seems a lot of folk have hugely overestimated the amount of clout he carries in the corridors of power at Old Trafford. Even so, that sounds to us like tacit criticism of a manager and mate who is quite obviously struggling.
“There’s pressure all of the time,” chirped Solskjær before United’s Big Cup match against Atalanta on Wednesday. “There’s pressure on me, of course. We’ve been under pressure before but come through it. I’m just looking forward to the response now and, as you said, I’m in dialogue with the club all of the time, so that’s an open and honest discussion.” With United owned by American bread-heads who care far more about noodle partners, shirt sales and the bottom line than anything so vulgar as winning trophies, Solskjær’s job seems secure until such time as it looks like his brave boys might not qualify for next season’s Big Cup. Neville reckons he’ll definitely still be there come season’s end, but The Fiver won’t be rushing out to bet on it.
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Join Nick Ames from 5.45pm BST for hot MBM coverage of Club Brugge 1-3 Manchester City in Big Cup, while Barry will be on hand for Atlético Madrid 1-1 Liverpool at 8pm.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
“We just went out there and wanted to get our goal difference up. It does seem a bit harsh but that’s football, you’ve got to score as many as you can score, that’s the aim of the game” – on the topical Fiver subject of thrashings, Peterborough Rangers player-manager Dwayne Rankin reflects on his weekend 13-goal haul in the 40-0 humiliation of Sawtry Reserves, who had to start the Peterborough & District Football League fifth division match with eight men. Rankin added: “We’ve gone out there with the attitude of whoever we’re playing, score as many goals as we can and entertain the people that are watching.”
Here’s David Squires on … Groundhog Day for Newcastle.
“Perhaps the best way for football fans to show their backing for human rights in Saudi Arabia (yesterday’s Fiver) would be for those supporters of whichever team is playing Newcastle to simply bring banners highlighting the abuses going on in Saudi Arabia. A few well-placed banners saying ‘Justice for Jamal Khashoggi’ or some such, strategically placed around the stadiums where Newcastle are playing, might be picked up on TV cameras and beamed around the world. Including Saudi Arabia …” – Brendan Delahunty.
“Re: thrashings (Fiver letters passim). During the unforgettable 1990-91 season, my U-14 team had to play in our local U-15 league. At that age a year makes a big difference, and at times it really was young men against boys. Every week we were thrashed, culminating in a 33-0 defeat (I chose not to start in goal that day, but went in for the last five goals, and saved a penalty in the process). It wasn’t all bad, though; a local paper picked up on our plight and we were given a free trip to Burger King and our local cinema to watch Home Alone. The joy of stuffing my face and then watching Macaulay Culkin almost washed away the shame of our repeated hammerings” – Steven Pye.
“Re: Peter Clarke’s annoyance at verbal misuse from the commentary box (yesterday’s letters). What really grinds my gears are: ‘a game of two halves’ … by definition it can only ever be two halves; and ‘they was just offside’ … there is no just about it, offside is black and white. It’s like saying someone is a little bit pregnant. Grrr …” – Mike Wrall.
Send your letters to email@example.com. And you can always tweet The Fiver via @guardian_sport. Today’s winner of our prizeless letter o’ the day is … Steven Pye.
NEWS, BITS AND BOBS
Premier League clubs have voted through legislation designed to prevent Newcastle’s Saudi owners from striking lucrative sponsorship deals. It was passed with 18 votes in favour and only Newcastle against, while Manchester City abstained.
Despite salvaging a 2-2 draw against Crystal Palace with almost the last kick, Arsenal are still fuming about James McArthur escaping a red card for booting Bukayo Saka out of the game. “I cannot believe how [he] stayed on the pitch,” sniffed Mikel Arteta.
And Gillingham chairman Paul Scally has hit out at fans protesting against his running of the club, following a disturbance and arrest during Saturday’s League One defeat to Sunderland. “This was organised thuggery to the extent that these people only came to the stadium for trouble,” he fumed. “They were behaving worse than animals in some instances.” As for the criticism aimed at him, Scally added: “Some of the abuse was unacceptable, disgusting and vile, adjectives can’t describe how bad I feel.”
STILL WANT MORE?
Kieran Trippier gets his chat on with Sid Lowe about surreal La Liga title festivities, coping with a ban and facing Liverpool again in Big Cup.
Fifa’s biennial World Cup wheeze would kill football’s golden goose, reckons Philipp Lahm.
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