Neville not to everyone's taste

The retiring defender upset people inside and outside Old Trafford but Gary Neville loves Manchester United and will be missed.

Gary Neville, in action above centre, was a popular player in the Manchester United dressing room with his teammates.
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Nobody thought Gary Neville, my old teammate who announced his retirement on Wednesday night, had a sense of humour. He knew that and played on it.

After one European away game, all the players and the media returned to the team plane. The players would sit at the front, the press lads at the back.

There was little notable about those night flights back to Manchester at 2am, but Neville had other ideas.He stood up and announced that the preparations for the next game on Saturday started now, before making shuttle runs up the aisle of the plane.

The players were in stitches. We knew he was joking, but I'm sure some of the press pack believed it. I have heard the story since, told as an example of Neville's dedication to playing football.

Neville could be a right pain in the backside. He would get under everyone's skin and could moan with the best of them. He was the perfect foreman for the dressing room, the one to air any grievances the players had and fight for our rights. Yet we used to hammer him for complaining all the time and call him the biggest moaner in the world.

Neville had a problem with everyone, even if there was no reason for him to have a problem. Roy Keane, who was not adverse to a good whinge himself, once chased Neville off the pitch at Coventry because they had had cross words.

Keane tried to catch up with him in the dressing room, but a scared Neville kept getting away. It was hilarious, like a cartoon cat and mouse.

The manager wanted to go mad at the players as we had not performed well, but even he found it funny. Keane never did catch up with Neville.

I liked Neville, both as a player and a person. I just took to him for being who he is. I knew what he stood for and respected his dedication to Manchester United.

Every team needs characters like Neville who are utterly driven towards winning. He trained like a trouper and was a top player too. He will be the first to admit that he was not the most technically gifted footballer.

It did not matter. He worked his socks off and got his rewards. He was a selfless player and Sir Alex Ferguson, the gaffer, was right to call him the best right-back of his generation.

He was vastly underrated but also lucky that he played with his good mate David Beckham on the right, though Becks was also lucky that he played with Neville.

They both worked hard for each other and for the team. Neville would often overlap, knowing full well that he was not going to receive the ball. But by taking a marker with him, it afforded Becks the space to cut inside or fire in a cross. It worked perfectly for United, but Neville was a top crosser himself.

Neville could be outspoken. He did not like Liverpool and said it. How refreshing. How much better than the clichés you hear too often. Liverpool fans hated him for it, but he could live with that.

I was surprised that he announced his retirement this week. I thought he would see the season out, but Neville knows his reasons and you have to respect them.

One lad who has a long time left in the game is Andy Carroll. Like me, he moved from Newcastle United to England's north west for a British record transfer fee.

I was stunned at his £35 million (Dh208.5m) tag. I don't think he is worth that - but then people did not think I was worth £6m. And the player does not set the price.

Despite me doing well, the criticism never fully went away. People said that I only scored goals because I was in a good team. I would say that I adapted to play in a good team and worked my socks off for the seven years I was at Old Trafford.

The English transfer market went deadline crazy. How can Carroll cost more than David Villa, a World Cup winner and one of the best strikers on the planet?

People were questioning the £18m fee Aston Villa paid for Darren Bent recently, but he looked a bargain compared to Carroll, who has only played half a season in the Premier League.

Someone tried to justify the fee to me by saying that he is England's No 9. He was for one game, but is England supposed to be a sign of quality? They did not look like it in the World Cup.

Everyone says that Liverpool are buying potential. That's another way of saying they are taking a risk on someone who does not have a long-standing track record of scoring goals like Bent or Villa.

Andrew Cole is the second-leading goalscorer in Premier League history. His column is written with the assistance of correspondent Andy Mitten.