Gary Neville, Manchester United’s 35-year-old club captain, has signed a one year contract extension that will keep the defender at Old Trafford until 2011. The extension is just reward for Neville, who has forced his way back into the United side after more than 18 months on the sidelines. The right-back has appeared 597 times for United.
“We’ve agreed a contract with Gary Neville for another year,” Sir Alex Ferguson confirmed Friday morning.
“We’ve been working on it for a couple of weeks now. We’re delighted with that. We think he deserves it because his contribution to the club has been fantastic.
“As I’ve said time and again about certain players, they make a career out of their will and determination to do it. Gary is one of those players.”
Neville is now fifth on Manchester United’s all-time appearances list behind only Ryan Giggs, Bobby Charlton, Paul Scholes and Bill Foukes. The new deal will take the Bury-born player past 600 appearances for the club. It’s a remarkable achievement given the long-term nature of the player’s injuries in recent seasons.
“The amazing thing he has achieved is coming back from a year-and-a-half out in his thirties,” added Ferguson.
“To get to the level he is playing at today is astonishing. The man is doing it because he wants to do it, he has the determination and drive within himself not to give in on his career.
“He’s getting the rewards for that because his performances levels have been outstanding at an important time for the club.”
Even so many supporters will point to Neville’s ineffective outings against Bayern Munich in Germany and Chelsea at Old Trafford recently, when Florent Malouda and Franck Ribéry exposed the veteran’s relative lack of mobility.
Neville, first choice at right-back since the turn of the year, cannot continue indefinitely though. Indeed, the new deal should offer teenager Rafael da Silva an opportunity to learn from a player who has surpassed the bounds of his naturally ability.
That the Brazilian’s talent exceeds that of 85-time capped Neville is a valid argument, even if Rafael’s maturity is years behind Neville’s at a similar age. The Bury-born defender’s fundamental understanding of his position thrust the right-back into the United and England team at 18. Rafael, by contrast, still has a lot to learn.
Neville’s new deal comes with a warning though. Should inconsistent performance levels continue, it is Rafael who will take the right-back mantle sooner, rather than later.
“I think experience could also be misinterpreted in the sense of the ability to play in games,” warned Ferguson.
“You could keep a player with great experience and not play him. I don’t think Gary would enjoy that, I don’t think Scholes, Giggs or van der Sar would either. They want to play, nobody more than Gary.”
Neville has appeared 27 times in all competitions for United this season, with Rafael chosen on 16 occasions, Wes Brown 29 times and John O’Shea 18.
Early season form and fitness will decide which of these players will begin 2010/11 in the red shirt.
Neville’s competitive nature ensures he wants the role. Rafael’s development dictates that the Brazilian needs more games next season.
Premier League: (7) 1995-96, 1996-97, 1998-99, 1999-2000, 2000-01, 2002-03, 2006-07, 2008-09
FA Cup: (3) 1996, 1999, 2004
League Cup: (2) 2006, 2010
FA Community Shields: (3) 1996, 1997, 2008
Champions League: (2) 1999, 2008
Intercontinental Cup: (1) 1999
FIFA Club World Cup: (1) 2008