The Manchester United captain Gary Neville has hinted that he has more respect for Liverpool – a club with whom he has waged a one-man civil war for years – than Manchester City, declaring yesterday that he could at least find "respect" for Anfield's "sense of their tradition and their history".
City are hardly without a history themselves, having actually baled United out when the club fell on hard times in the 1930s. But it is the modern City which Neville was clearly alluding to in the course of a discussion of his enmity for Liverpool.
"When I was younger there was no doubt about it, I [hated Liverpool because] I was a United fan," Neville said. "They were winning everything and it was a horrible time for the club, to be honest, through the Seventies and Eighties. It was jealousy, hatred, passion for your own club - you don't want them to win anything and you don't like the people who are winning, just like I've seen in the last 15 or 16 years, from a good side, everybody's 'we all hate Man United' and they hate Man United because we are winning.
"I suppose it comes from jealousy through my childhood but I have more respect for them as a club in a sense of their tradition and their history than I would do some of the other clubs that have been coming on the scene in the last few years, throwing a load of money at it. They have got a good history, you have to hand it to them for that, and they have been successful."
Neville has been fined by the Football Association for deliberately goading Liverpool supporters and was lucky to escape injury when a group of Liverpool fans once spotted him in his car after a game at Old Trafford and tried to overturn it. But he is clearly mellowing. Last season, the 35-year-old right-back insisted he has never said he did not respect Liverpool, and declared that "you have to respect a team that have been as successful as they have and have the history and tradition they have."
The defender, yet to feature for United this season, also admitted if he had been anywhere else but Old Trafford, he would have lost his three-year battle against a succession of injuries that started with a broken ankle and eventually turned into a muscular problem. "What keeps me going is the thought of running out at Old Trafford and winning trophies," he said. "It is all I have known since I came to my first match when I was four. If I was anywhere else I would struggle. At this stage of my career, my motivation is to extract every since ounce of enjoyment I can. I want to contribute to a team that can win things. That is all I have ever wanted to do."