One of the golden generation of early-1990s Manchester United players, Phil Neville was one of the most decorated footballers of his era when David Moyes paid £3.5million to sign him in the summer of 2005. An England international of a decade’s standing, Neville had graduated through the youth ranks with David Beckham, Paul Scholes, and his older brother Gary, and could lay claim to six Premier League, three FA Cup and a Champion’s League winners medal as well as more than 50 caps.
An outstanding schoolboy cricketer, who had focussed on football when a top class cricket career was also a viable option, Neville was a versatile and underrated member of United’s great 1990s squad, usually filling in at full back. Later he became frustrated at the lack of first team opportunities and sought a transfer at the end of the 2004/05 season.
At Goodison Neville started started out as a central midfielder, but was usually more effective at full back and his experience and tenacity have been important components of the club’s progress since his arrival. Yet for Everton Neville has always been more than just a versatile and talented player to the Goodison dressing room; he was the possessor of a great experience and a terrific winner’s mentality too, which enthused the Goodison dressing room. It was no surprise when Neville succeeded David Weir as captain in January 2007, but by his own admission it was never always easy.
‘I thought “wow, I could be upsetting a whole dressing room here,” and I think at the time I did,’ he told The Guardian in 2009 of his first days at the club. ‘No one said anything to me but I could feel the vibe. Maybe it wasn't me as a person but the way I came in from Manchester United. “Who does he think he is?” I had to be strong and I was. At the start I had to grit my teeth but I think once people worked out that all I wanted was the best for Everton they accepted me.’
As Moyes’s lieutenant he was crucial to Everton: the manager’s eyes and ears – and voice - on the pitch. ‘Phil is someone who may be part of a dying breed, he’s a great leader,’ Moyes would say, some five years after signing him. ‘We have a good squad and there was consideration about Phil’s position but the team just seems to function better when Phil plays. It might get to the stage where he might not be the best player but the team still needs his leadership qualities.’
‘You should see and hear him in the dressing room before a game. He’s a top man. He prepares himself right and that’s why he has had nearly 60 England caps and why he’s got longevity in his career. He is terrific at motivating and cajoling and is always the first one to put his hands up if he’s not on his game.’
For Neville he accepted he was part of the manager’s attempt to alter the mentality at Goodison. ‘The gaffer had a vision of where he was going and I was an important part of that,’ he said. ‘I am not a shouter or bawler. I lead through my professionalism, through my training, and that is what he wanted. He wanted to change the mentality at Everton.’
A fine athletic defender, with a good tactical brain and the ability to seamlessly slot into a defensive midfield position, Neville has continually proved crucial to the team. His leadership qualities are exemplary. One of the fittest members of the Everton dressing room it came as no surprise when Neville signed a new two year contract in 2011, having previously extended his first deal with the club. ‘I feel really proud and this club has never let me down, ‘ said Neville. ‘It's shown faith in me again and for the next two years I'm going to give my all for this football club.’