Gary Neville is the best right-back England and Manchester United have seen in a long time. Since he’s broken into the first-team squads of both England and Manchester United, Gary has been consistently brilliant and effective to a fault. The ABU brigade has often put down Neville but you cannot play consistently as a first-team player for Manchester United for as long as Gary has without having some class.
However, injuries and a lack of pace have hampered Neville’s career of late. He’s sat on the sidelines and watched Micah Richards and Wes Brown make the England and Manchester United right-back roles their own this season, and as he plots his comeback the question must be asked – is Neville still good enough to be picked ahead of Richards and Brown?
Neville vs Richards
Avoiding the obvious Man Utd vs Man City comparison, I think Micah’s recent performances have shown that he’s more than earned his spot in England’s starting line-up. What Richards lacks in positional experience he makes up for it in physical strength and pace, and come Euro 2008 (heck, even the qualifiers against Croatia and Russia) his pace and strength will be essential in helping England keep a clean sheet.
Richards is also quite good going forward, although one area Neville beats him is in his passing and crossing. Seeing Richards and SWP link up they have in recent England games though makes me wonder if Neville will be able to overlap the same way Richards does.
Richards provides England with a penetrative threat down the right flank AND he’s blossoming in his partnership with Wright-Phillips AND he’s one for the future.
I don’t think that Gary Neville will settle for being second-best, so it’ll be interesting to see what he does when he comes back. His influence in the dressing room is unmistakable but England is not Manchester United and Neville is already behind Terry and Gerrard when it comes to influence.
Neville vs Brown
Wes Brown is an excellent defender, highly under-rated. The problem Brown has had over the past few seasons has been one of confidence – he’s barely had a decent run in the side, forced to play backup to Vidic and Neville and often in the last season dumped behind O’Shea in the pecking order.
This season Brown has had his chance, and he’s improved with every game. He doesn’t have the experience or tactical nous of Neville but he’s got pace going forward and provides a greater attacking threat than Captain Neville. Defensively Neville edges it, but that’s because of Brown’s concentration lapses which I attribute to a lack of confidence rather than a lack of ability.
This is a tougher comparison than the one for Richards, although the difference at this point between Brown and Richards is the chances both players are getting in their own squad. Brown expects to be ‘filling in’ for Neville, and I don’t think that approach is going to help either Brown or Manchester United.
Both Neville and Brown would do great for Manchester United at right-back, but looking at the future and especially in terms of getting the best out of a defender like Wes Brown who has several more years to play for the club, I think Brown should retain his place ahead of Neville in the Manchester United lineup.
What do you think? Should Richards start ahead of Neville? Should Brown start ahead of Neville? Let us know in the comments.