Buried by Barcelona, Gary Neville resolute in digging Valencia back out

Andy Mitten writes that as he suffered through his worst night yet as a manager, as Valencia were decimated 7-0 by Barcelona, Gary Neville nonetheless held his resolve for a club that needs to be patient.

Valencia manager Gary Neville shown during his team's La Liga match against Sporting Gijon last weekend. Manuel Bruque / EPA / January 31, 2016
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Gary Neville knew what was coming. His Valencia side had been hammered 7-0 by Barcelona – their worst defeat for 23 years and not the kind of scoreline normally associated with semi-finals. In the after match press conference, the journalists, especially the ones who specialise in Valencia, were brutal.

“Will you resign?” he was asked more than once.

The last time Neville visited Camp Nou as a player, he was part of the Manchester United team which won the treble in 1999. On the other occasion that he played at Europe’s biggest football stadium, he was part of an epic match as United drew 3-3 with Barca. Now, he was a manager, alone and facing a barrage of hostile questions.

“No,” he said, to the question if he’d quit less than two months into his first managerial job. “I won’t sleep well tonight. I didn’t like what I saw. The fans didn’t deserve that tonight. We have to recover incredibly quickly.”

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Neville’s priority was never the Copa del Rey. Reaching the semi-finals was a bonus, a bright spot in a so far difficult tenure at a difficult club. His Valencia side have yet to win in eight league matches and sit five points clear of the relegation zone with 16 league matches left to play. He inherited an inexperienced, lop-sided squad which was poorly reinforced before he arrived. Valencia is a politically charged club, where expectations are unrealistically high, whoever is in charge.

Neville was welcomed by fans who've continued to support him. The club's Singaporean owner bore the brunt of the Valencian media the day after with Super Deporte's cover: "Mr Lim – choose the headline 'Ruin – Shame – Unworthy – Disgraceful – Insulting'."

They know Neville is not responsible for the mess, but he's also expected to get Los Che out of it quickly, to stop the slide. The expectation was that that he'd push the sides towards a top-six European finish. The reality is proving very different, with Sunday's game at Real Betis vital. Betis have the worst home record in La Liga, but they too have a new manager. They've got more bite to their game and held Real Madrid in their last match at home.

“I wish the Betis game started in 10 minutes,” said Neville, who retained his composure under fire. “It’s going to be a painful three or four days. This was one of my most painful days in football. They happen, I had some as a player, now as a manager. When you give the ball away close to your own goal three times in first 15 minutes, you get punished.”

Barca could have scored ten against a side reduced to ten men by half-time. Luis Suarez, Lionel Messi and Sergio Busquets were among the many sublime stand outs.

Neville batted away more questions about resigning. Valencia are not going to go anywhere without patience. This is a club whose fans were not happy with Rafa Benitez after he led them to a league title, who began to despise Unai Emery after he led them to consecutive third place finishes. Some fans wanted more, they wanted to be first.

Neville remains positive.

“Positivity has been immovable in my life,” he said. “When I have moments like this I don’t enjoy them at all. I stood out there both halves feeling helpless, trying to change it in some way, knowing the tide of the game was against us. We were playing against a fantastic team – keep that in perspective – but the scoreline is unacceptable. But they (Barca) don’t lose games. The reality for me is that I last had doubts as a player 18 years ago and from that moment on I developed a mechanism to deal with situations like this. I need to make sure everything in the players’ minds now shifts to Betis. Be clear, we have to deliver on Sunday.”

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