England was the itch Neville couldn't ignore

Hodgson's assistant says chance was too good to miss and is sure he can combine it with TV work

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The Independent Football

Like every major decision in his career, Gary Neville wanted first to tell Sir Alex Ferguson that he was minded to accept Roy Hodgson's offer of a place on the England team staff. He might be 37, and no longer a Manchester United player but as he knocked on the door he says he still felt the usual anxiety, "panicking as you do walking into his office".

How did Ferguson respond? "He said he knew about it 10 days before me, as per usual. Roy had spoken to him. That is just typical."

That last part was delivered with a smile and the acknowledgement that Ferguson knows the latest news in English football often before those it concerns. Even before he met Ferguson at Carrington on the Saturday before the last game of the season against Sunderland, Neville had made up his mind he wanted to take the job. He already felt strongly that this was an "important moment", the "opportunity to do something, to contribute in a different way".

If it sounds a bit like Neville has found his calling, then that might just be right. In a career in which he won everything with United, five international tournaments without a trophy was the biggest regret. When he spoke about his new role on the England staff at the team hotel this week it was clear that, however much United is his first love, England is the itch that cannot be ignored.

The obvious question that confronts Neville immediately is how he feels about working for an organisation, the Football Association, that he has criticised, and even defied, in the past. "If you went through my back catalogue you'd have some fun," he said. He answered the only way he could. Yes, the two parties have not always seen eye-to-eye but that does not mean they cannot work together.

"The times I've [criticised] the FA it's always been about one incident. It's not a widespread: 'The organisation is this and that.' At times I can look back and think I may have handled myself differently but we are where we are and I have said continuously over the last 12 years that there are an awful lot of good people at the FA, always have been.

"The preparation for the players before major tournaments has always been incredible. I've always said that, for every single tournament it's incredible, it's A1."

As for the prospect of analysing – and potentially criticising – England players in his position as a Sky Sports pundit, Neville simply asked that he be given the chance to show he can walk that fine line.

"I'm comfortable in my own mind. I think 12 months ago there were a lot more questions being asked about me becoming a prominent person within Sky in respect of my ambassadorial role with United, my history with the club and how would I ever be able to commentate on a Manchester City or Liverpool match and praise them or criticise them without it being seen in some way as pro-Manchester United.

"I'd like to think in 12 months I've overcome those fears and I'm going to have to do it again and prove to people that I can overcome the questions they are asking of me.

"If you're a player ... [your mistakes] are highlighted on television anyway, there are probably 100 million watching around the world, the manager has probably pointed it out to them. They will know in their own mind they've made a mistake. So the fact Gary Neville might be sat up there in the commentary box pointing out their mistake, I think it's the least of their worries."

What is he there for, given that Hodgson is a manager who takes pretty much every training session himself? Neville is there to "affect players' mentalities" although to do that "without saying 'In my day...'". If there is one thing that Neville knows well it is the pressure of playing for England, not to mention the occasional backlash, which he and his brother, Phil, experienced as much as anyone.

"We have to try to create an environment for younger players so that they do understand that it is a pressurised atmosphere where you are expected to do well all the time. And so you should be. Criticism will come as will praise and you will be tested in every way."

Successful nations, like Germany, bring former internationals into the fold when they have finished playing. The FA, in the past, never has. Now that has changed. "I don't get emotional about things," Neville said, "but I felt it was an important moment for me."

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