|If you could, you would.|
Over the past 20 years as a professional, he's been called many things: A "sock-sucker" by Carlos Tevez, a "busy c**t" by Jaap Stam and "a not very nice man" by various Liverpool fans. But whether you love him or loathe him, Gary Neville deserves to be remembered as one of the best full-backs in his family.
Having become the captain and linchpin of Manchester United's all-conquering youth side of 1991, Neville found himself commander of a ship including the likes of: Ryan Giggs, David Beckham and Robbie Savage. A year later, he made his first senior appearance as a wispy-'tached 17-year-old. And last night, as a wispy-'tached 35-year-old, he called time on a career spanning 602 Utd appearances, 85 England caps and 957 jibes against Scousers. "Obviously I am disappointed that my playing days are at an end, however it comes to us all and it's knowing when that time is, and for me, that time is now," droned Neville, acknowledging the fact that referees could no longer sympathetically overlook blatant red-card offences such as the ones against West Brom and Stoke this season.
Neville deserves credit for the abrupt announcement of his retirement. He could have quite happily sat in the reserves, not playing, but picking up a healthy pay-packet for the rest of the season. This, however, is not the Neville way. Never a man motivated by fame or money, the only bling this player has pursued is medals. And plenty of them. Eight Premier League titles, three FA cups, one Champions League, three Charity Shields and one World Club Cup. Not to mention five appearances in the Premier League Team of the Season, and one appearance in the Premier League Team of the Decade.
An argument constantly used by the Neville-haters is that he was an average player in a decent team. And although it is the case that whilst at Utd he was never the best full-back at the club (Paul Parker, Denis Irwin, Patrice Evra), his commitment, loyalty and general desire to play for the Red Devils have made him one of the Premier League's most consistent defenders, and arguably, one of England's finest.
With the announcement of his retirement comes the question of what to do next? A coaching job at Utd has always been in the pipeline, but it seems Sky - who have vowed to become more PC after accusations of bigotry - have become hell-bent on employing a man who has enthusiastically displayed his hatred for all things Scouse. "Obviously there is a bit of speculation about who replaces Andy Gray and Richard Keys but it is not my agenda," quipped Sir Alex this morning, "But of course, we want him to stay here when he finishes playing but we'll see. I don't know what he'd be like as a pundit." Of course, the other obvious option would be to lend a helping hand in leading popular uprisings in the Arab world. But we'll see.
So how to sum up a twenty year career at the country's most successful football club? Perhaps two quotes from some of football's most respected voices will suffice.
"Neville was the best English right-back, certainly. If you look at his record, he has won absolutely everything. And with the number of games he has played, he is without doubt the best." - Arsene Wenger
"If you were to pick a Premier League Team of the Decade, the full-back positions would both go to Denis Irwin. Nailed on." - Alan Hansen
This then, perhaps, sums up Gary Neville. To some, he is the best full-back of a generation. To others, an odious little man who was average at best. But I guess they'll never take the medals away.