Keane the inspiration for Neville's midfield role

Manchester United veteran revels in new position as England take on Denmark at Old Trafford
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The Independent Football

With its cool, modernist lines, the Lowry Hotel is a world away from the traditional country house atmosphere of Sopwell House in Hertfordshire, where England's footballers came within an ace of striking in support of the exiled Rio Ferdinand.

Ferdinand was still missing from the squad which arrived in Manchester yesterday but in all other respects everything else had changed. Led by Gary Neville, the England players had made their point and then gone to Istanbul and made another, one which guaranteed their place in next summer's European Championship.

Despite the somewhat wild accusations of treason, Phil Neville has no regrets about their actions, arguing that it demonstrated a kind of solidarity which made the goalless draw in the fevered surroundings of the Saracoglu Stadium possible.

"There was an awful lot of pressure on the players brought by the stance that we took but we showed a lot of guts by going out there and getting a good result," he said on the day when Ferdinand's case for failing to take a drugs test took another ponderous step forward. "What pleased me more than anything was that it was not just a Manchester United thing, it involved all the England team; they all wanted to stick up for him. It showed great unity from every single club in England."

Neville has been an England player a long time. He is 26 and yet this will be his third European Championship (although he has never made a World Cup finals) - and the spirit he has seen in Sven Goran Eriksson's squads has been better than any others. "In my time as an England player I don't think I've been involved in a closer set of lads. There are a lot of young players who have come up through the ranks together and brought a great freshness to the squad."

It is what these young talents might achieve that is truly exciting. A couple of years ago, Gérard Houllier stated that although he did not give England a real chance in the 2002 World Cup, he thought that since they had more good young players than any other European country, real damage might be done in 2004 and 2006.

"There is a lot more to come from this team," Neville agreed. "The next major tournaments are our best chance of winning a major championship. The next World Cup is in Germany so there can be no excuses about travelling and the young players will be two years older and more experienced.

"As a team we have all learned and improved since the last European finals. In the three games of Euro 2000, we didn't play well. We only got to the finals through a play-off. This time there is an extra spring in the step; we have qualified, and we have qualified well."

There is an extra spring to Phil Neville's step. His transformation from a sometimes barely adequate left-back to a midfielder was completed by his decisive goal at Ibrox which gave Manchester United victory in a "Battle of Britain", and proved beyond question there was no comparison between the English and Scottish champions.

The fact that he is keeping Nicky Butt, one of the great successes of the last World Cup, out of the United side tells its own story. "It's a long season and I'd rather be playing at the end when the games and, hopefully, the trophies are coming thick and fast."

The glowering presence of Roy Keane alongside him can only have helped his education. "I have learned more from playing next to him than from any other player," Neville volunteered. "The advice he gives me before and after games is something I will take on board."

And the language he uses to keep the team in line? "It's not just me, it's the whole team. Even the kit man, if he slips up he'll get a bollocking. He demands the best from every area of the club and I can but only learn from playing alongside him. You try to aspire to his level and if he has something to say, you just listen.

"There are not too many talkers in the England team. They tend to lead by example rather than words. Obviously, Gary in the back four can be very vocal and you need that from a defender, but Scholes, Gerrard and Becks let the football do the talking."