“I was finished” – Gary Neville’s final “horror show” that convinced Man Utd legend to retire

ON THIS DAY: Gary Neville announced he would retire from football in February 2011, but there was one performance for Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United which accelerated the decision

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Gary Neville’s Manchester United career was winding down by the time the former club captain called it a day, but there was one particular match which left him in little doubt about his future.

Neville announced his retirement on February 2, 2011 – 400 Premier League games after he broke into the United first team as a teenager, but just a month after the appearance which told him the end was nigh.

The right-back had a strong finish to the 2009-10 season, impressing during the run-in as United came desperately close to chasing down Chelsea and winning the title, but that form would not continue into the new campaign.

While the end was all but in sight by the time United faced off against West Bromwich Albion on New Year’s Day, Neville’s performance that afternoon settled it, helping bring down the curtain on a decorated career.

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Neville was lucky to escape a red card in his final Man Utd game



“I have been a Manchester United fan all my life and fulfilled every dream I’ve ever had,” Neville said after ending a career which saw him play 602 times for United and win 85 caps for England.

“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.

“I have played in the most incredible football teams, playing with some of the best players in the world as well as against them.

“I have been lucky to be a part of the team’s achievements and the club’s great success.”

Neville’s stand-out moments in the 2009-10 season included a start in the memorable 4-0 Champions League victory over AC Milan, when Park Ji-sung famously kept Andrea Pirlo under wraps, and an appearance from the bench in the League Cup final as United came from behind to beat Aston Villa.

The following campaign was different, though: his first three games before the turn of the year didn’t bring a single clean sheet for United, and things almost got much worse on January 1.

Man Utd sat top of the league when they travelled to The Hawthorns, ahead of Manchester City on goal difference but with games in hand, while their opponents were down in 13th after three straight defeats.

However, United rode their luck to escape with all three points: Peter Odemwingie missed a penalty in the first half, but it was the decision not to punish Neville for a last man foul which left home manager Roberto di Matteo fuming.

“It was very clear from everyone’s view,” Di Matteo said, regarding a challenge from Neville on Graham Dorrans.

“Only the main man who was supposed to see it didn’t.

“I spoke with the fourth official during the game but he can’t do anything about it and nothing is going to change now.

“I don’t know if there is anything in the referee’s mind. But it was so clear. Neville didn’t touch the ball and my player is through.

“I would have liked to see what we would have been like against 10 men. It wouldn’t have meant we would have won but you never know.”

Neville was caused problems by West Brom’s Graham Dorrans



It was rare for United manager Ferguson to admit his player got a let-off, but that’s what happened in this instance.

“Gary was lucky to stay on,” the United manager admitted.

“It was a penalty. At first I thought he had got a touch but when I saw it again, he was lucky.”

And Neville himself would later concur, describing the West Brom game as a “horror show” performance when discussing his display.

“In that last six to eight months I was at the club I felt embarrassed,” he said in 2020.

“I didn’t want to be picked, I knew that I was a risk when I went out on the pitch and in training every single day I was looking at Rafael [da Silva], I was looking at the other lads, the energy and speed of the game, it had shifted beyond me.

“It was obvious for me to see and not even my experience really was covering the sort of yards, if you can’t get there you can’t get there, and you start up taking bad positions.”

Neville was taken off at half-time against Stoke in his final season


Getty Images)

Neville couldn’t be blamed for West Brom’s first goal that afternoon, with James Morrison firing home a stunning equaliser to cancel out an early opener from Wayne Rooney, and he had already made way by the time substitute Javier Hernandez gave United what some considered an undeserved victory.

After Odemwingie’s penalty miss, the right-back made way for Rafael in what would end up as a rather muted farewell appearance – not that those watching were as certain as Neville that it would be his final action in a United shirt.

“You think about the game at West Brom, it was a horror show performance from me for 62 minutes,” Neville admitted.

“How I didn’t get sent off, how I didn’t cost us more goals [I don’t know].

“The same happened at Stoke in the game before that in November and the same at Everton where we were 3-1 up and it finished 3-3 and the two goals came down my side.

“So, for me I had no choice, I was finished, I was done.”

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