Neville misses local dimension to Premier League mix

Gary Neville had already spent the morning talking Premier League but, like any good full-back who spends the 90 minutes motoring up and down the sideline, there was no sign of him flagging come the resumption after lunch.

Neville misses local dimension to Premier League mix

Brendan O’Brien

Gary Neville had already spent the morning talking Premier League but, like any good full-back who spends the 90 minutes motoring up and down the sideline, there was no sign of him flagging come the resumption after lunch.

The allotted time had already dipped well into the red when the PR handlers put the whistle to their lips. It was Neville who insisted on another five minutes of chat before the next round table was rolled in.

At least two answers stretched towards the five-minute mark. Some interviewees use such monologues as filibusters but the former Manchester United defender never once looked less than switched on and engaged.

Most obviously when he launched into a detailed critique of the demographics and wider realities of the Premier League having been asked if his old club had ‘lost some of its soul’ with the draining from the senior roster of any Irish blood.

He nodded when names such as Johnny Carey, Noel Cantwell, and Roy Keane were uttered but the response was emphatic.

“This is not a Manchester United, or an Irish problem,” he pointed out. “This is a problem, full stop, in the Premier League.”

Neville widened the debate. Where are all the Welsh players at top clubs, he asked. The Scots and the Northern Irish. Even the English. They make up just over 30% of the playing panels in their own domestic league. That’s roughly half the percentage of Germans in the Bundesliga.

This is a transformation of the profile of players playing in the Premier League over the last 25 years that has completely obliterated the home nations and the Republic of Ireland representations in the top Premier League clubs. It’s a problem, it’s gone too far.

Neville is no cheerleader, his punditry work on Sky is evidence of that, but he is a paid-up fan of the Premier League and believes it is the best in the world for everything from branding to viewing figures, excitement and supporter engagement.

He couldn’t imagine a playing career that didn’t involve the sharing of a dressing room with the likes of Peter Schmeichel, Eric Cantona, or Carlos Tevez. That said, he liked the mix of local and international at United in his day.

Sir Alex Ferguson never had a 50-50 rule in the sense that half of the team had to be international and half the team had be home nations. But the principle around that was that we had five or six homegrown players and five or six international players.

“That to me feels like the right blend for an international league.”

It’s wishful thinking now, of course.

Players from these shores are finding berths in the divisions below to be far more accessible although the decision this summer of Adam Rooney to swap the Scottish top-flight for Salford City in the Vanarama National League still came out of left field.

Part-owned by Neville, his brother Phil, Giggs, Nicky Butt and Paul Scholes, the fifth-tier club’s ambitions have been laid bare by the capture of the experienced Irish striker who scored 66 goals for a side second-best to Celtic this last four seasons.

Reports in England have suggested that a wage reputed to be in the region of £4,000-per-week simply blew anything Aberdeen, or Motherwell, who had also been interested in signing the 30-year old, out of the water.

Neville hasn’t seen the new man first-hand yet.

City drew their season opener at home to Leyton Orient on Saturday, thanks to a goal from Galway native and former Limerick player Rory Gaffney, and Rooney’s first for the club couldn’t prevent a 2-1 defeat away to Gateshead on Tuesday.

Next up is Sutton United tomorrow and Neville will be there. The move is a challenge for Rooney. He accepts that. Salford play in front of crowds of just 2,000 people and the standard is below that of the SPL. But he has clear expectations of the star signing.

The first thing I always want from any football player, whether I’m watching them as a pundit, whether I’m a coach, a teammate or a fan, (is) are they giving their all on the pitch? The next thing is, would I like him to score goals? Of course I would.

“In football that will come if you do the first thing right. I would like him to influence his team-mates in a positive way, because he’s got the experience, the knowhow and he’s been around the block.

“So the idea is that you’d like to see him influence his teammates, you’d like to see him being the man who scores the goals that his reputation and previous record brings. But the most important thing is that he fights for us every single game.

“I watched the game on telly last Saturday against Leyton Orient and his workrate was fantastic. With workrate, performance will come and goals will come. Things will happen.”

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