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Phil Neville: "There are also more pitfalls for football players now"

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The Salford City co-owner talks to ShortList about how the game's changed, what went wrong for England at the Euros, and the time he met Tom Cruise

How do the highs and lows of owning a team such as Salford compare to those associated with playing in the Premier League?
Watching the team you own is far worse to being on the field. People say ‘it must be a nightmare being on the field’, but actually when you are on the field you can do something about it. You can affect the performance and affect the results, with a tackle, a pass, a shot, talking to team-mates. When you are stood up in the gantry you have no power at all, so in this regard I empathise with owners. They run the show, they put the money into the club, allow players to be bought and sold but when it actually comes across in that line you have no control whatsoever.
 
Has it been stressful?
For sure. People think that owning a football club must be great, you just deal with the managers but you actually have to deal with so much more. The lawnmower’s broke, the turnstile needs fixing, the toilets in the away end need doing, the ground capacity needs extending, this player wants this, or that, Babs in the café needs a new oven. It’s almost overwhelming.

What has changed the most at the top end of the game since 1992?
The facilities have changed, the training circumstances have changed, the wealth in the game is far greater. 
 
Is it better?
I am not one who says, Oh, in my day it was better’. I think of it like fatherhood, in that I want the best for my children, like my dad wanted for me. But I want to give them more than my dad could afford for me. I want to buy them more presents or better trainers. If you look at league facilities nowadays, Salford’s Moor Lane ground is better than it was years ago. Facilities are heaps better. Football in general has improved because of the investment made from the top level filtering down. You can’t look back you can only look forward and take what you can get as a club. Especially in non-league: the players at Salford get pre-match meals now, they go on better buses, travel is better, the wages are better, the kits are better, the training kits are too.
 
Is it tougher being a top player with the level of media now?
Yes, I think so. There is far more pressure and expectation levels. There are also more pitfalls than when I was a young apprentice, so It is definitely harder for a younger person to be a player now. When I was 16 I didn’t know what people were earning and what other players’ expectations were. The press didn’t care as much about the ins and outs of people’s lives. Everyone knows everything about everyone’s life as you want to be more accessible. I am not knocking younger players down because it is more difficult environment it is a tougher environment. Sure, they are given a lot today but we still need to help this younger generation more than we are doing.

Speaking of pressure and young talent, did Gary give you any insight into what went so wrong for England at the Euros?
It is very simple to evaluate the Euros, and it was the game against Iceland. I don’t think we should look about the game or the game before because I think that we played really well. It was basically one game and one poor performance. A shocking performance by the players. One that they will regret for the rest of their lives and it was so out of character from them.
 
Should Roy Hodgson have rested the players for the Slovakia game?
Listen, it's easy to criticise it now but it seemed sensible at the time. Look at right-back, the pair of Clyne or Walker - there was nothing between them. It was all pretty much like-for-like, perhaps barring the swap Roy made for Wayne Rooney. Sometimes you just cannot put your finger on why the players played like that. I am sure Roy is sat somewhere in the world still wondering.

Would you ever consider manage England?
Managing England is the pinnacle. At the moment my expectation levels are slightly lower. I just want to manage my own team that is the level where I think that I am at so I have done a lot. I have done all my badges and now I’ll be looking to see a) whether I can be a manager, and b) if I have the ability to be a manager. So that is the stage I am at right at this moment.

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What have you learnt from your time out in Spain coaching Valencia?
Lots. The only thing that matters is what goes on the football pitch. Because if you don’t win you get sacked; if you don’t win you don’t get promoted; if you don’t get promoted you don’t get your bonuses. It's tough.

What did you make of Gary’s move back to Sky Sports and the criticism that followed?
It was the logical move. As he was during his playing career, he was outstanding at what he did on Sky Sports. Some people are saying ‘oh, how can you go back to Sky Sports now?’ – he actually goes back with more credibility, because he’s stood on the touchline as a manager against Barcelona, against Real Madrid, he’s managed a team in the Champions League and the Europa League. The last time he was on Sky, these same people will have said 'How do you know? You’ve never stood on the line'. Well he’s done it, he’s experienced wins, he’s experienced great performances, bad ones too, he’s experienced being sacked. So now he can sympathise with the managers even more. He’s in a better position to be a better pundit now than he’s ever been. There aren’t many pundits capable of reading the game as he can.

Do you think he’ll go back into management again soon?
I don’t know. I’d say he’s more long term with Sky now. But then I didn’t know he was going to go into coaching before he took the Valencia job. Opportunities come up sometimes and you’ve got to grab them.
 
When’s the last time you were star struck?
I met Tom Cruise once. He had an aura to him, definitely, and was a really nice guy too. Kobe Bryant was another person who I was starstruck by. Oh and of course, Pelé, who without doubt is a hero of mine. To meet someone with such a standing in the game and for them to be so kind with you is an honour. That was a great moment.

Forget Pele, how did you meet Tom Cruise?
I was just in America on holiday and through a friend I managed to meet him. Just hanging out. That was great. 

We’re guessing your mate is David Beckham. Did you not fancy going on a motorbike trip with the pair of them?
Unfortunately not, I don’t do motorbikes.

Catch up with Class of '92: Out of Their League on BBC iPlayer now

[Images: Rex]

[Images: Getty]

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