'We don't want to let this manager down' says Neville

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The Independent Football

Gary Neville will never forget his first tournament with England. It was the one in which he never slept.

Gary Neville will never forget his first tournament with England. It was the one in which he never slept.

The Manchester United right-back is now one of England's most experienced players but in Euro 96 he was a rookie with a year's international football behind him, and not much more in the domestic arena. The excitement, he recalled yesterday, left him perpetually shattered.

Eight years on, as England prepare for another European Championship finals, Neville intends to use that memory to help his younger team-mates to deal with the experience. His task is made easier, he said soon after England arrived at their Lisbon base, by the calmness Sven Goran Eriksson brings to his work as manager.

"One thing I know after Euro 96 is that we have to look after ourselves," he said. "Though I was suspended for the semi-final, I played in the quarter-final against Spain and I was absolutely shattered. After we played Scotland I never slept for three days. After we beat Holland everybody was on a high and I didn't sleep again.

"You're on such a high and such an adrenalin rush, especially when you're a young player. Everybody in the country is going mad and you can't believe what's happening to you. You don't rest. You just want to do things, play table tennis, anything. You're young and you want to do things. So, from remembering that, I'd say we've got to rest, got to get into our hotel rooms and sleep. We're going to need every bit of energy we can muster in this tournament if we're going to go far.

"It helps that we have the best manager in terms of handling the England position that I've known. Nothing seems to faze Sven. He's just calm, level-headed. In victory he doesn't get too high and in defeat he doesn't get too low. You never see him panic, fazed or angry.

"You get a lot thrown at you when you're England manager - apart from the Prime Minister it's the most high-profile position in the country - and he's the perfect man for the job.

"I hope people don't take this the wrong way, but he's removed the emotional thing that's gone with England. I don't mean he doesn't care, because he actually cares passionately, and you can see that when he's with us, but he's removed the nonsense and the silliness that has affected some England managers over the last 10, 20, 30 years.

"He's a different sort of man, ice when others are fire, but it needs that dispassionate attitude. He's put the full trust in the players and in return for that we like him, because we like to be trusted. But we'd like to think we repay him with our performances. We've done that at times and I don't think we've let him down. We don't want to let this manager down.

"In terms of preparation and the work that goes into it, it's incredible. They make it so easy for us. We couldn't be better prepared. It's now a case of 'Let's just go and play football' and that's what we all want."

The England players will find it easier to relax now they are in Portugal. While it has been uplifting to see every other car flying the Cross of St George, it all adds to the weight of expectation. "I know from Euro 96 and the last World Cup, when I was injured and had to stay at home, what it gets like, but I've never seen so many flags in cars," said Neville. "There is a good feeling. I think there has been a good feeling for three years, to be honest.

"I think even in the World Cup there wasn't the depressing feeling that we have had in previous tournaments when we have been knocked out because we realised we had been beaten by a very special team in difficult conditions.

"As long as people can see you moving forward and progressing as a team, England fans will always be OK. I think they have seen a progression over the last three years, certainly with the young players coming in. We're better off now than we have been for a number of years."

This year it is Rio Ferdinand, Neville's club team-mate, who will be at home watching on television. Neville sympathises. "It is extremely hard to deal with because you want to be playing in a big tournament ... But apart from Rio we've been very fortunate this time. We have 23 players that the manager wants.

"I've never known a squad selected where there were no surprises. I think everyone was expecting that this is the squad that was going to be picked. And it is a credit to the manager that he has created that continuity and that calmness. There weren't any bombshells. And that is something that has really given the squad confidence over the last three years.

"We have a good feeling about us and the tournament, we have good players. But I'm not going to shout about how well we are going to do...

"We've never said we are going to win this tournament. It's going to be difficult enough getting out of the group. But if we play to our capabilities we can do it. Can we then win two football matches and reach the final? Yes, on our day we can. But it is easier said than done.

"We are capable of doing well in individual matches, but you always have those questions in the back of your mind - are you going to play well? And in any football match when it is do or die, you just don't know.

"The Iceland game was pleasing because we've given the fans a good game, and scored plenty of goals. But it is all about next Sunday and the game with France."

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