A diving header from Denis Cheryshev gave Gary Neville his first win as Valencia manager in a nail-biting tie against Espanyol at the weekend. It was the first time Valencia had taken the lead in 10 league games under Neville, granting the Englishman huge relief.
The result came just over a week after ‘a historic humiliation’ at the hands of a Barcelona team that currently looks unstoppable. The Spanish press teared into Neville after that 7-0 defeat, and it looked like his tenure in Spain was coming to a premature end.
“Positivity has been immovable in my life,” he told the press when questioned about whether or not he would resign.
But far from getting better, things were getting worse at Valencia under Neville. When he arrived the main fears were that Valencia might not qualify for the Champions League, but they since became fears of being sucked into a relegation battle.
The challenge Neville took on was huge, and you can’t dispute that performance and results have been poor up until Sunday. But you have to give him credit.
After a great playing career, it takes a lot of balls to make the transition from punditry to management. From critically analysing players and managers to being under the microscope yourself is a brave move. To go do that in a different country, at a club with huge expectations in one of the most competitive leagues in the world, is a massive risk.
Walking the walk is of course different to talking the talk, and perhaps that’s why many want Gary Neville to fail.
“I’m almost happy for Gary Neville’s troubles at Valencia,” Hernan Crespo told Fox Sports. “I remember he was too harsh as a TV pundit.”
But after arriving at a struggling club, with language barriers and under mounting pressure, Neville has earned his first league victory.
His understanding of the game is extensive, and his professionalism towards the Spanish media has been commendable so far. With the confidence Sunday’s victory brings, and with Rafa Benitez’s former assistant coach at Liverpool and Valencia Pako Ayesteran joining the coaching staff, things are starting to look brighter.
Gary Neville was a player who could read the game like the best. That’s an important attribute when you’re trying to outsmart the best, so I hope he will bring more of that to his Valencia team.
“Things in football change quickly,” Cheryshev said. “One day you’re down, the next day you’re up.”