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26th Mar 2015

Phil Neville speaks to JOE about the difficult switch from player to pundit

"I'm not going to go on TV and be somebody I'm not."


The grief Phil Neville got when he made the switch from player to commentator was enough to make most men hang up their microphone.

But the former Manchester United and Everton hero persevered and is all the better for it.

“It was no different to my career as a player,” Neville told JOE. “You have a bad game and you’ll get hammered.”

“The social media stuff was a bit of a kick up the backside and something that forced me to think Okay, I need to work really hard at this if I’m going to improve and I think I have.

“I’ve managed to get back out there and I’ve done a lot of co-commentary since. I’ve made a point of learning as much as possible from all the people around me and the people I worked for.”

Soccerex - Manchester

Neville, who retired from the game in 2013, admits that the pressure of commentating at the World Cup was a huge challenge as he picked up the mic for the first time when England faced Italy in their tournament opener.

“It was a new career for me and it was a really big moment,” he added. “I was covering an England game and they lost.

“There were 14 million people watching at 12 o’clock at night so it was always going to be a pressure cooker atmosphere and it was something I thought I could handle.

“It obviously didn’t go as well as I expected but it’s something I decided to throw myself into and thankfully the feedback has been predominantly good ever since that game.

“That night, out of 14 million viewers only 400 complained so I was actually quite happy,” Neville laughs. “That’s not too bad a ratio.”

England v Italy: Group D - 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil

Another testing aspect of punditry is how every opinion you share is immediately put under the media microscope. Neville was recently criticised after he joked that he’d “two-foot” a player if they were to attempt a no-look pass in training, a reference to Tomas Rosicky’s skill in Arsenal’s FA Cup match at Brighton.

But the 38-year-old is adamant that it’s a pundit’s job to speak their mind, and that the comment was meant in jest, rather than a glorification of dirty challenges as some claimed.

“It’s one of those things that, if you’re a pundit, you have to say what you feel and I’m not the type of person who’s going to go on television and be somebody that I’m not,” Neville told JOE.

“It was a tongue-in-cheek comment and something that every defender in world football would have thought when they saw that piece of skill.

“I do think there was a bit of an overreaction and that people within the game understood what I meant.

“If I had the chance to relive the situation again, I don’t think I’d change anything. I’d be myself, I’d have a joke on-screen and people have got to accept that.”

Last week, Newcastle manager John Carver reacted angrily to another Neville comment on Match of the Day when he claimed that some of the club’s players already “had their flip-flops on”.

But Neville claims that Carver was within his rights to defend his players.

Everton v Newcastle United - Premier League

“I think what happens is that you go on air and say something,” he said. “Then journalists try to get a story started by going into press conferences and telling managers ‘he said this about you’ and so on.

“You had the same situation with Graeme Souness, Jamie Carragher and Jose Mourinho when a reporter probably went into a press conference and said ‘oh they’ve said this about your players’ so straight away, I can understand why a manager would react angrily.

“They have to stick up for their own team and I would have done the same thing if I was in his position.

“I think a lot of the time it’s these journalists who hide behind our words and don’t have the courage to ask managers their thoughts based on their own opinions.”

Rigobert Song and Phil Neville

Asked whether he missed life as a footballer compared to his new career behind the microphone, Neville was keen not to linger on the past.

“I’ve had my day,” he said. “I’m the type of person to look forwards and not backwards.

“My legs have gone and I’m a pundit now. I’m enjoying this new career and I say good luck to the lads who are still playing, but I’m not going to be one of those ex-players who dream about playing again.

“I could not have achieved any more or sucked anything more out of my body in those 20 years as a footballer. I’m proud of what I’ve achieved and there’s no looking back for me now.”

Phil Neville was speaking to to promote Predikta, a new football prediction website which allows friends to interact with one another in a fun environment while sharing their picks for upcoming games.