Manchester United legend and Class of 1992 graduate, Gary Neville has spoken recently about a torrid time at the Old Trafford club during his first season in the senior squad. The legendary right-back who helped United win eight Premier League titles, two UEFA Champions Leagues an Intercontinental Cup and the FIFA Club World Cup, amongst others.
It would seem that the young defender received a verbal backlash from goalkeeper and fellow United legend, Peter Schmeichel. Neville was just 17 at the time he made his debut on the 16 September 1992 against Torpedo Moscow in the first leg of the first round of the UEFA Cup at Old Trafford, a 0-0 draw.
Neville had replaced Paul Parker at the club after starring in the youth team with fellow graduates David Beckham, Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs, although he had made the first team a long time before the others. Neville was constantly given a verbal dressing down, according to his comments, which seemingly helped his mental resolve as he did quite well.
It was not just Schmeichel who gave the right-back a dressing down, United captain, Steve Bruce was not impressed with what he saw either. You cannot blame them as they were professional footballers and seeking to return the glory days at the time, winning the inaugural FA Premier League title during the 1992/93 season. Speaking on The Football Show on Sky Sports, Neville said:
“The one that was hardest with me was [Peter] Schmeichel, he was brutal with me in that first year or two.
“Schmeichel was constant, every single day in training at me.
“He told me on the team day out, he didn’t think I was capable of replacing [Paul] Parker, nowhere near as good as him.
“It was maybe true as Parker was a very good defender.
“That back four of [Denis] Irwin, [Steve] Bruce, [Gary] Pallister and Parker had played two or three years and kept clean sheets.
“I was the first player to break into it. Schmeichel saw me as a risk and I was a risk in some ways.
“I didn’t see it as tough love at the time, I saw it as being brutal but it did toughen me up eventually.
“I realised the team wanted to win. Some days it was hard. I remember [Bruce] ripped me to shreds and I was thinking, ‘what’s going on here?’”
Neville spend 19 seasons at United and was the club captain from 2005 until 2011, replacing Roy Keane and seeing Nemanja Vidic take over from him. In total, Neville made 602 appearances at United, scoring a total of seven goals during his career, which was not his main outlet during matches, his composure, passion, dedication and aggressive tenacity was what made him the player he was.
Many may feel that Neville was bullied by his peers, this was not the case. I wonder what would have been said of social media was around back then. United were a team entering a rather successful period of the clubs history and, quote rightly, players wanted to be the best with their teammates being the best too.
Neville may have felt under the spotlight but Schmeichel and Bruce were actually giving him constructive criticism. These days, people seem to be praised for doing any job, whether they did a good job or a bad job. This is not learning or excelling. It is just expecting praise because you did a job. That is not going to make people better at all.
Many will disagree, but that is life. Not everyone has to sing from the same song sheet and not everyone will. Neville achieved something magnificent at United, winning eight Premier League titles, three FA Cups, two League Cups, three FA Community Shields, two Champions League trophies, one Intercontinental Cup and one FIFA Club World Cup, also winning 85 caps for England.