Phil Neville played 386 games for Manchester United in a glorious decade, more times than Darren Fletcher, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Wes Brown or Cristiano Ronaldo.
He also played with and against all of those players in an eight-year career with Everton, where he became captain. Given the rivalry with Manchester United, the younger Neville brother needed to convince Everton fans.
“The Everton fans always said I was a 'Manc',” said Neville on the new Manchester United podcast. That view would change after an unforgettable tackle at Goodison Park in October 2008. “The day I tackled Ronaldo – I did a really bad tackle on Ronaldo – was the day they changed their opinion of me because I went against the club they thought I loved.”
With the visitors leading 1-0, Neville committed a horrendous foul on United’s best player, not that he saw it as such.
“Do you know when you get them moments and you think, ‘I’ve got you here’? ‘I can go through you and win the ball!’,” explained Neville. “And I thought wow, it was like having a tap-in!”
His former teammates did not share his view “Giggsy and Fletch, two of my mates, and Rio came towards me, effing and blinding,” Neville said.
“And I’m saying, ‘Guys, I’ve won the ball there’. I was just walking away and not one Everton player came and helped me. It was funny because after the game, Giggsy said, ‘I would have done the same thing.’ And I said to Giggsy, ‘I would have chased you down as well if you’d have tackled one of our players like that.’ It was just one of those things.”
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Neville, who is set to end a three-year stint as England woman’s manager in 2021, added: “Ronaldo was absolutely brilliant. He obviously rolled around, but the ball went up the other end.
"I was playing right-back and he was left-wing and he just high-fived and winked at me and said, ‘Great tackle, I’d have done the same thing.’ It was great. And Ronaldo was brilliant.”
Neville came through United’s youth ranks and won the Jimmy Murphy award for being the best young player at the club.
“That [the history] is the first thing that you are taught when you play for Manchester United. I think it is the first thing that any kid should be taught – any signing that comes in should be taught about the history of the club,” said Neville, 43.
“I hope that the kids nowadays – you should walk them up that Munich Tunnel, tell them about the history of the club. I actually didn’t realise the magnitude of winning that award until you take the trophy home and see the previous winners of that trophy. Man United legends, Man United greats that went on to win and play for ten years at the club."
Neville was one of those players in the first team for a decade, winning league titles and the treble, plus spending lots of nights away sharing hotel rooms with teammates at a time when that was the norm.
"I roomed with Gary a lot," he said of his older brother. "I roomed with Scholesy once. He didn't enjoy me. The thing with Scholesy was, with England we had our own rooms, he liked his curtains closed all day and literally you would go into his room as if it was 2 am in the morning all day long.
"He used to just like watching telly with the curtains closed. I would wake up and open the curtains, bright and breezy, busy. I think that was Brondby away, that was a one-day experience that Scholesy never had again.
“I roomed with Jordi Cruyff, because me and Jordi Cruyff were quite close, for two trips. But he used to play Football Manager up until about 3am in the morning, and I used to go to bed at 9 o’clock so we weren’t really that compatible.”
When contacted by The National, Cruyff laughed and agreed that this was true.
“The only one who was compatible was my brother. We’d rise early and go to bed early so we stuck together really. Obviously Gary and Becks were close but Gary and Becks were totally the opposite. Becks would stay up late, get up late. So, they just stuck us together," Phil said.
“But the experience with Scholesy, I thought we’d be a match made in heaven, we were close friends. I brought Maynards gums for him, he liked sweets. [However] the minute I walked in the room, even me unpacking the bag annoyed him. Everything I did annoyed him. If I went to the toilet and flushed, and then wiped the sink down, it annoyed him."