Neville calls for players to behave in public

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The Independent Online

Phil Neville yesterday became the first senior England international to speak out on the responsibility of famous Premier League footballers to behave themselves in public after a difficult week for his former club Manchester United. Neville returned to Old Trafford yesterday on the losing side as Everton were beaten by a late penalty from Cristiano Ronaldo.

The 22-year-old scored twice for United, who had to rely on a bizarre foul by Steven Pienaar to gift them an 88th-minute penalty after Tim Cahill had equalised following Ronaldo's first-half goal. The United winger said that "Father Christmas gave me the present early" after Pienaar's needless trip on Ryan Giggs. However, it was Neville whose comments before the game will set the agenda this week.

Speaking in broad terms about the debate over abuse of players by fans, Neville also appeared to touch on the circumstances that have surrounded the now infamous United players' Christmas party that took place a week ago today. The rape allegations from that night against Jonny Evans are still hanging over the club. The 19-year-old defender was at Old Trafford yesterday and sat alongside the injured Rio Ferdinand in the club's directors' box.

While there is no suggestion that Neville had Evans or any other United player in mind when he made these comments, in his interview with BBC Radio Five Live, he said that players had to assume responsibility for their public image. "As footballers, we need to look at ourselves," he said. "Eighty to 90 per cent of footballers handle themselves with dignity and in the right way. But it's a small minority that are letting us down, and the vast amounts of money we earn means we have a lot of responsibility and are there to be shot at.

"If we are going out for a drink, then you have to make sure you are going to the right places and behave in the right way. If you don't, let's make sure the punishment is severe enough so you don't do it again.

"But I look at the young kids at clubs now and they don't seem to have the same upbringing in terms of punishment and things like that. There's a softness coming through, not helped by the foreign influence. I know when I was an apprentice, I not only did my football duties, I went to college one day a week and I also cleaned boots, showers and cars.

"Nowadays, they are not allowed to do that. I asked a young apprentice at Everton the other day to fill the fridge up with drinks for the first team and the youth coach said he was not allowed to do that. I find it incredible there is that softness because young players are being paid vast amounts of money, and they don't seem to be working for that money. Too much is coming too soon to these players. There isn't that toughness I know I had when I was an apprentice."

With United a point behind Arsenal in second place in the Premier League, Ferguson praised Ronaldo's composure. "I don't know if he made a mistake today, he was absolutely perfect," the United manager said of his winger. "Ronaldo has always had that great confidence and temperament. He came here with that and he is never going to lose it. That's a great quality he has. He has composed himself for the [penalty] kick. He knows it is an important one and he has taken his time and won the game for us."