Football: Neville ready to take his chance

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The Independent Online
It's great being up North," Phil Neville said at England's Cheshire training camp yesterday. "We know all the places to go out..."

Go out what? Drinking, partying, birding? "Shopping."

It was foolish to expect otherwise. While Gazza cannot be trusted to behave on his 30th birthday Phil Neville, though 10 years his junior, is more interested in behaving than raving. Even the shopping is restrained: unlike the Armani-clad Spice Boys from down the East Lancs Road, Neville and his brother, Gary, are sponsored by Berghaus, the makers of sensible clothing for walkers and campers.

"They are a credit to their family," Glenn Hoddle, the England coach, said. "They have a great attitude and it is refreshing to have them around. Phil is capable of playing in a couple of positions, which is important in the modern game, and he is relatively two-footed. He has good pace and is a good technical player with a very bright future."

Hoddle then confirmed that, along with Gascoigne, Neville was the only certain starter for today's international friendly against South Africa.

While Neville appears to have been part of the England scene for ages (14 months in fact) it is only his second cap. The first, won a year ago yesterday, was in Peking and the disappointment at not playing at Wembley today is tempered by being at Old Trafford, his football home.

"I love playing at Wembley. I think it is special playing there for England and it is something I still want to do as I haven't done that yet, but it is nice to be on our own ground.

"It seems a long time since I last played for England. I've almost forgotten what it was like. What with being injured and having glandular fever, I didn't expect to get back in this season."

Neville made the Euro 96 squad but did not play, and he added: "At the time I didn't think much about it. Only afterwards I thought: `If only I could have got 10 minutes here and 10 minutes there I could have said to myself: `You've played in the European Championships'."

The illness was, he admitted, worrying, as is the fear that it may recur. "The boss said it could come back and every now and again, when I have a blocked nose or something, I think it is, but luckily it has not and I hope it never does."

Though naturally right-footed, both Neville and Alex Ferguson, his club's manager, believe he plays best on the left from where he can cut in. Eventually it seems both he and Gary will play together regularly for United and probably for England, too, but so far one brother seems to replace the other.

That may be the case today, in which case the proudest man at Old Trafford will not be his father, Neville Neville, but Eric Harrison, who guided Fergie's fledglings through Manchester United's youth system. Even if Gary is rested and though Nicky Butt is injured, Harrison could see three former pupils involved at some stage, with David Beckham and Paul Scholes expected to feature from the substitutes' bench.

"We all played together in the 1993 Youth Cup final but we never envisaged that we would all play for England," Phil Neville said.

"We never even thought we would all play for United together. There were all these great players, like Kanchelskis, Ince and Hughes. We had just bought Keane. Robson, Bruce and Pallister were there. We thought: `How are we going to get past these world-class players?'

"The boss paved the way and we took each step as it came. We wanted to win the Youth Cup, then it was the reserve league then the League and the FA Cup, then to play for England. It has all been a natural progression."

Natural for some: Keith Gillespie of Newcastle and Northern Ireland was also in that team while, of the Leeds side that beat them in the 1993 final, only Noel Whelan now plays regularly in the Premiership.