Lee Dinsdale is joined by ex-Manchester United, England footballer, SKY Sports Commentator and joint owner of Salford City FC – Gary Neville. Gary gives Lee incredible insight into the importance of resilience, team-work and great tips on a winning mentality.
5 Part Interview with Gary Neville at Unity Radio – The Real Sound of the City.
Gary Neville joins Lee Dinsdale to talk about resilience, teamwork and his tips on a winning mentality.
Lee: Thank you for coming in today, congratulations on the weekend.
Gary: Why what happened?
Gary: Oh I thought you said United then for a second. I sometimes switch and am not quite sure where I’m at!
Lee: We’ll come onto Manchester United in a moment but firstly as we are in media city we are in Salford let’s talk Salford.
Gary: Yeah, I didn’t think I was going to get to the game. I was doing the United game at Huddersfield and because it was the lap of appreciation for Huddersfield I just ran across the pitch, got into my car and all the Huddersfield fans had stayed in. I got on the motorway so quickly, and I got there just after half-time. It was forty-five minutes of panic, another half hour of extra time panic and then penalty panic. I don’t think I’ve ever won a penalty shootout meaning either as a coach, as a player, as an owner. I have to say it was one of the most thrilling experiences and Salford, I have to say over four years has been the most amazing thing. We’ve had three promotions, we have a game at Wembley on Saturday. We’ve got an incredibly tough game against Fylde, which is fifty/fifty but what an opportunity we have, and what an opportunity they have.
Lee: How was it different, or was it different- the- feeling that you had with that to potentially other experiences that you’ve had so far in your career?
Gary: Very different. The experience of a player is the most relaxing believe it or not, because you are in the zone and you just feel like, it’s what you do. You’ve got a lot of noise around you but you don’t really feel it or hear it. Then you go as a coach and you feel a lot more responsibility. You feel like a caring type of approach to the players. You want them to do well, you’ve worked with them for months, years, and you feel like that father figure thing, and it’s like wanting your children to do well. As the owner you feel the ultimate responsibility in that, if don’t go up then you’ve done something wrong. I always think of an owner as who someone who, to be fair takes a lot of time thinking about what to do at the club with the chairman and the sporting director. We work so closely together that every decision we make is absolutely vital. If we get one wrong that can impact the team on the pitch. We’ve had three promotions in four years and the year that we didn’t go up, I blame myself for not being aggressive enough and clinical enough in the transfer market. The summer before, we missed out on three or four players to Halifax and Fylde and we shouldn’t have done. Since then we’ve put it right. We’ve made sure we learnt and you have to be clinical and ruthless. Every decision we make is not one for personal benefit, it’s for the clubs benefit and to get the club further forward. This year – no club has ever gone from the conference north straight up into the football league in the first season. So it would be a unprecedented achievement but, like I say, it feels like you’re so close, yet you’re so far and this game this Saturday is huge.
We’ve made sure we learnt and you have to be clinical and ruthless. Every decision we make is not one for personal benefit, it’s for the clubs benefit and to get the club further forward.
Lee: Turning to the Premier League for this season, we’ll come on to United in a sec, what do you think have been the differentiating or the contributing factors for success for City and Liverpool this time?
Gary: Well the best teams by a mile, and quality. Consistency is everything when you are going for a title. You have to know what you are going to get week in, week out. Concentration is at the highest levels for those players. Obviously if you’ve got the most talent you’ve got an incredible work ethic and you’ve got high levels of concentration. Then you’ve got a championship team. Then you need that little bit of luck, that little bit of resilience along the way. I was at Newcastle on Saturday night watching the Liverpool game, and that’s not about quality, that’s not about talent it’s just about hanging in there and just hoping that something comes. I’ve had many games like that during my career playing for United and Liverpool and hung in there and got that moment. Last night for City, something looked down from up above on Manchester City last night. I stayed after the game and you can imagine the million ways in which that game would’ve been won, and that wouldn’t have been one of them. Vincent Kompany doing what he did, an incredible professional to put aside rivalries that I have with both Liverpool and Manchester City. I don’t like either of them, I don’t want either of them to ever win a trophy or a game of football. However you’ve got to respect enormously what they do at this moment in time. They make a lot of good decisions on the pitch and off the pitch. Vincent Kompany, he epitomizes Manchester City. Leader, character, steps up in big moments and last night it was a sensational moment, even if you’re not a Manchester City fan just to see him do what he did.
Lee: Your thoughts have been well documented over Sky, at the weekend about Manchester United. Very quickly, what do you think they need to do to improve for next season?
Gary: It’s no different than any other organisation, sports team, or business in the world. If you’ve not got the right people you are not going to do well, simple as that. If they haven’t got the right people, and I’m not going to go through which department, which team, which player in the team. I don’t need to individualise it – if they’ve not got the right people it’s as simple as that. They’re getting beaten on and off the pitch, by many clubs I think at the moment not just two clubs, many clubs.
Lee: Okay, so in terms of your own football career, if you cast your mind back to when you were fourteen, fifteen, sixteen years old, at what point did you decide, right this is it, or was it earlier than that? I want to be a footballer I’m going to commit to it – and what advice would you give to young people who are thinking about their career at that age?
Gary: No, it was a lot earlier than that. I drove over Barton Bridge at the age of four to watch my first ever United game and from that moment, I was hooked. I just thought it was a magic experience, every single weekend going to Old Trafford. I thought it was amazing. It actually gives me goose bumps thinking about going watching the club as a kid, and just dreaming all the time about playing for the club, pulling the shirt on. I then was fortunate enough to get a trial at the age of eleven and get selected. I was a player at the club, a young player, one that was a million miles away from the first team but I was a young player at the club representing the club. At fifteen, sixteen you just commit. You don’t have to by the way because, there have been points in my life, and I’ll come on to them. For instance when I retired, when I didn’t know what I wanted to do, I was unsure. I felt as though I needed to try different things and explore different areas to get what I wanted after my post career. But certainly in my pre sixteen years I was absolutely obsessed with Manchester United, with playing football, with practicing with doing all the right things. If you do know what you want to do go for it and commit to whatever it is. Don’t be scared by not knowing what you want to do because, I can sit here and say I knew exactly what I wanted to do but it’s probably unique actually at fifteen, sixteen. Who knows what they want to do at fifteen, sixteen? You should actually not be scared about not knowing what you want to do because if you don’t know what you want to do, don’t panic, don’t force it just develop your skills, develop your knowledge. So you might do different subjects at college. You might do different subjects at university, you might go down different paths. You might travel, have an international experience, explore and see where that takes you. I wouldn’t commit to something unless you are absolutely certain at a young age and that’s not just in terms of professionally. I would say personally as well, don’t commit because you’ve got a long way in front of you. There’s no need for you to give up your life at that point and think I’m going to put myself into a box and that’s me. Don’t do that if you’re not sure. Explore and keep finding different things to look at. Have different jobs, do different things and eventually you will think, that’s me, that’s what I am and it’ll just come home – it’ll hit you and it’ll happen.
Who knows what they want to do at fifteen, sixteen? You should actually not be scared about not knowing what you want to do because if you don’t know what you want to do, don’t panic, don’t force it just develop your skills, develop your knowledge.
Lee: Okay and in terms of your career, are there any standout moments for you that people may not be aware that you thought along the way, actually that was a really good moment for me?
Gary: The best moments for me have been sometimes the toughest moments. I’ve been looking at David de Gea in the last three or four maybe six months actually going through the most difficult time. He’s been making a lot of mistakes. He looks like he’s really struggling with his confidence and looks lost a little. I remember at the end of the 2000 season, I didn’t want the ball on the pitch. I wanted every game to end. I didn’t even want to be picked, I lost my confidence. I’d had a break up in my relationship personally which I suffered from. I’d been with someone for seven years. Nobody knew this at the time. None of the fans knew this, only a couple of people close to me knew it. I went to the Euro 2000 and had a nightmare tournament with England. We got knocked out of the group phase and I remember thinking I needed the season to end at that time. I only spoke about this at the very end of my career. I went to see a phycologist and started to build myself back up again, started to feel more confident and put things into perspective. Perspective is an amazing thing. If you can, put things into perspective and compartmentalise things. So when you’re going through a tough time if you can say to yourself; it was never always going to be a bed of roses: I was going to have a break in a relationship; I was going to fail at a job. I was going to play badly. I was going to get injured. I was going to have a difficult time; I was going to lose a member of my family. These moments were always going to come in my life. It helps you to actually cope with them. I found ways of coping during that six month period personally and professionally, through that phycologist and that support that I had. That for me I could then cope with everything that has been thrown at me since. Valencia came a long time after which I suffered four months of criticism. I felt a lot of isolation at the time, but I was able to cope with it because I was able to say ‘its fine, no problem, I’ll just keep working hard again. I will become successful and I will achieve the things I want to achieve.
Lee: Now can we hear your tips or share his experience focussing mainly on dealing with the ‘inner voice’ and doubt that a lot of people suffer from now and again. I can imagine at the highest level a footballer, listening to the inner voice of doubt can troublesome for many people. Throughout football what did you do, or do footballers learn techniques to quieten that inner voice down to deal with the pressure?
Gary: Yes absolutely. You have to have a mechanism to be able to deal with doubts, and if you don’t have doubts then you’re not human, everybody has them. Again those sessions I had in early 2000 where it was described to me, you have a positive parrot on one shoulder and you have a negative parrot on the other shoulder. There will be one saying you are going to play really well today, and one saying that winger you are playing against is really good and he could cause you a problem. Those voices always go on in your head. There are very few people who can just feel positive all the time, it’s not unusual. I have to say there were times where I struggled in certain types of matches, emotional matches. Maybe the Manchester derby, I made a mistake against Shaun Goater or Liverpool games, and I always remember Sir Alex saying to me – and I use this for the rest of my life – \”son if you play football today and we lose and you make a mistake what are you going to do tonight?\” I said \”I’m going to go home and have a Chinese ‘cos that’s what I always do after a game.\” Then he said \”and if we win today and you play well, what are you going to do?\” I said I’m going to go home and have a Chinese. He said \”okay so we can all relax now can’t we, because whatever happens in that ninety minutes, you’re just going to go home and have a Chinese and it’s going to become normal again.\” During my life if I ever feel anxious or have a moment that I feel uncomfortable with I always think, do you know something I’m still going to go home in a few hours’ time and have a Chinese. So if you’ve got an exam that’s coming up and you think after this exam I’m going to go out for a drink tonight irrespective of whether you’ve done well in that exam or not. That’s the way it is, that’s the way life is. You’ve got to go home after work whether you’ve had a good day or a bad day and I think putting into perspective all the time is for me something that works and making things not as serious as they are sometimes. Sometimes you come across serious things in life. A big game for me is a serious thing. University or college, that’s a big thing for someone in their life but if you can actually think this is going to come to an end. I am going to do normal things after it. You can then start to look at how you deal with those things in a more comfortable way.
Lee: Okay so in terms of the inner voice, flip it to the other side. Do you do any other thing to maintain a positive mind-set? A lot people do mindfulness, yoga.
Gary: No I don’t do anything like that. I’ve done yoga in my life but not for any relaxation purposes. No, just try to simplify things in terms of positivity, I am generally positive and thinking in that you have to get things done. I generally have been like that throughout my whole life. I generally do believe that you have a choice every single morning. You have a choice what time you wake up. You can set your alarm and decide whether you are going to go for it or not. Am I going to work hard today? Am I going to give my all today or am I going to turn up a little bit late, do easy hours in the office. I’m not going to do my best or play my best game. I don’t care really, that is your personal choice. There are some things out there that are out of our control in life like who our boss is and if we get selected for things or get promotions. What we can control is the fact that we wake up every single day and give our best. If we do that I think quite often you get paid back in terms of, people will believe in you every single person in the wold in terms of if it’s a boss or colleague they actually warm to people who work hard and have got a good attitude and a good work ethic. People will buy into you irrespective of whether you’ve got the most talent, irrespective of whether you are brilliant at your job. If your work hard and give it your all, people will give you some credit and will actually want to give you a leg up.
Lee: Obviously you have moved into management and leadership on the pitch. Spotting a winning mentality, you touched on hard work. What are the winning attributes that you’ve seen generally in life?
Gary: That’s it, work hard. What more can you do? You can develop your knowledge, you can make good choices. You can improve your experience, but the most important thing is do your very best every single day. I generally always think of something my dad told me when I was very young. He said you know what’s right and what’s wrong. If you have to think about it and hesitate, more often than not it’s not right. You know what’s right and wrong in life and sometimes, me included you make a decision to do something knowing it’s not right. I did that in Valencia. I kept a couple of players that I shouldn’t have kept. I didn’t get my staff right around me and I wasn’t experienced enough. I knew at the time it wasn’t right but I continued to make those mistakes. I blame myself for that. I have to say that you do know what’s wrong and right in life the majority of the time and we take responsibility for our own actions. That’s what I would say, be an independent thinker, take responsibility for your own actions and work hard. Don’t blame other people. The greatest thing about the dressing room I lived in for twenty years is I never saw a player come in at half time and blame the other. They always took responsibility and owned up. You know from that moment, you can move on and forget your mistake and get on with the rest of the game and the rest of the season.
Lee: On management and coaching then beside Alex Ferguson who, are some of the best coaches and managers you’ve worked with? What is it that they’ve had that has been the differationing factor?
Gary: Well Sir Alex is the only premier league manager that I ever worked with. I think to be fair he just instilled all the time into us the never say die spirit. Wake up every single day and be proud to say you have given it your best and you’ve worked hard. I never heard a team talk for twenty six years that didn’t elude or reference those things. The talent and the quality was the reason he picked you to be at the club and he’d taken care of that as far as he was concerned. You just needed to make sure you were grounded and that you did your very best. That’s where I think he had a group of people who bought into that, and never let him down on the pitch. They might have let him down in terms of results at times but it was never for the want of trying or effort or commitment or attitude. We always prepared well, we always did the right things. We celebrated when we won but we generally did the right things ninety-nine point nine percent of the time. In terms of coaches other terms Eric Harrison, Nobby Stiles were great. You can’t control who your coaches, teachers and bosses are going to be in life sometimes, you get handed those cards. The biggest bit of fortune I had was Eric Harrison and Nobby Stiles being my youth team coaches at Manchester United because every single day, what they believed it took to be a Manchester United player was instilled into us. To be a Manchester United player takes something very different. It takes something that isn’t just about talent and skill, it’s something that’s deep inside that you have to build a character and a personality, resilience and toughness that will get you through the most difficult moments because you are going to get slagged off. You’re going to get criticised and get praised. I’ve been critical of the current team at this moment in time, but get on with it because you are playing for United and you have to be able to handle. I got slaughtered when I played for United on many occasions. I got booed away from home I got whistled away from home. I got slagged off in the newspapers as every single player did that played for that club. Think of Wayne Rooney, David Beckham, Roy Keane, Cristiano Ronaldo, the greatest players. Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes they all got slagged off. Away grounds they all got criticised for bad performances if they didn’t play well, if they missed chances. You have to be able to cope with those things and deal with them and those coaches built us into men to be able to cope with those things.
Lee: Now we are going to talk about teamwork. What from your experience are the top attributes for a top performing team at team level?
Gary: Everybody knowing what the goal is, buying into it and being aligned.
Lee: And on an individual level?
Gary: Delivering on your own individual performances, that’s the most important thing believe it or not. Make sure you do your own job, but always with an ethic of helping and covering your teammate if you can.
Lee: Before, you mentioned about Manchester United about the standard or criteria. How or who sets that team standard? Where does it evolve from?
Gary: It comes from the very top. It flows down through the manager and flows down into the team and there has to be a connection right the way through. If any part of that is broken then it will fall over. The reality of it isn’t rocket science. If you haven’t got the right people in a team it will fall over, it will break. If people don’t want to be there then – you know you can’t run a radio station with a group of people who don’t want to be here every single day. It becomes a pretty terrible radio station. I’m in here this morning and people are sort of dancing around, rocking their shoulders a little bit – I feel a little bit out of place I have to say! But everyone looks happy. It’s a nice place to be, it’s energetic, everyone has a smile on their face and that works. I’m not quite sure when I watch United play football at the moment, they don’t look like they enjoy it, it looks like it’s a struggle. Yes of course it should be a struggle in terms of winning matches, but it shouldn’t look like a struggle. It was the same under José Mourinho.
Lee: And in terms of in the team when conflict arises, how did you deal with conflict with team mates? Also any tips there for people. They may be at work, they may be a team member and go in one day and feel, and I can’t face it. What did you do?
Gary: Front it up. Conflict can be good you know. When I say conflict I don’t mean tension, but competitiveness, creative challenge. You know if you just sat here all day long asking questions without anybody saying, oh that was a bad song you played or a bad question you’d just carry on being bad wouldn’t you? That’s the fact of the matter and that’s what happened at United. We were told when things were not quite right. We were told how to improve; we were guided on how to improve. That should be the same in any business. We’re living in a world now where we are a lot more nervous about approaching people and confronting issues which to be fair are challenging. But what you need in a real elite environment is where your capability is to come in at the end of the game, challenge each other, push each other, stretch each other and then be able to forget about it and go and put it right the day after on the training pitch.
Conflict can be good you know. When I say conflict I don’t mean tension, but competitiveness, creative challenge. You know if you just sat here all day long asking questions without anybody saying, oh that was a bad song you played or a bad question you’d just carry on being bad wouldn’t you?
Lee: What do you think the keys are to a healthy relationship between team mates?
Gary: Well ideally that you can speak openly and honestly with each other. That you respect each other, you trust each other. That you know that you want the same thing and are going to fight for the same goals. Understanding that you are both very different. When you’re in a team you have to be tolerant of other people, of different cultures, different behavioural patterns and different types. I’ll give you an example; I would be on the coach fifteen, twenty minutes before we set off to go to an away game. Teddy Sherringham, brilliant player, great professional would walk on with one minute to go. I used to say Teddy do you just sit in the room looking at your clock in a hotel? It’s like nine fifty seven and ten seconds nine fifty eleven seconds. Right it’ll take me one minute thirty to get down there. I’ll get there, just before we leave at ten! I just couldn’t get my head around that and he used to say you just need to relax Gary you need to chill out. Now I’m a bit older I get it a little bit. I always like to be early, but you have to be accepting of other people’s ways. You see Teddy on the pitch, so composed in the final third, it’s all fast around him he was the one that could control it and Scholes was the same, so you see those different characters and different personalities in a team. It’s brilliant and you get to understand that. You have players coming from foreign countries who speak different languages. You have to teach them what the culture of the dressing room is about. Think of all the great international players like Cristiano Ronaldo, Patrice Evra coming from France or from Portugal. Anderson from Brazil, and you think, they’ve all come from different backgrounds and different parts of the world. They all have different languages and you all come together as one. It’s an amazing thing that when you all accept each other for what you are and how you are.
Lee: Moving away from your time as a footballer you now have a range of different interests. We talked about Salford FC and the sky punditry, what are you enjoying most at the moment?
Gary: I enjoy everything. Today I’ve got meetings on the hotel that we are opening in a few months. I’ve got meetings tomorrow on the university and on Salford City. I had a meeting yesterday from eleven through ‘till two about planning for Wembley at the weekend in terms of logistics with the management of Salford City. I keep busy every single day. I do things every single day, I never stay at home.
Lee: You mentioned about the university. For those who don’t know, can you just share a bit more about the university – what’s the offer? What do you aim to achieve and what are you looking for?
Gary: We’re opening in September. It’s called UA92. It came about out of own personal experiences that character should be very much at the heart of the curriculum. Building resilience and building coping strategies and wellbeing should be at the heart of the curriculum. I think they are things that you can be taught and that you can work on. Think about the idea of coming out at eighteen and going for a degree and coming out at the age of twenty one. You need to be a well- rounded, prepared individual who is ready to be able to cope with what’s going to come your way in life. That’s the most important thing. The degree will take care of itself. The skills will take care of themselves. It’s the other bit that will get you through.
Lee: In terms of your business life, how have you had to adapt from your sporting life to your business life? My perception of that is in your sporting life everyone is an elite professional. In your business life, people around you may not be as elite as you are used to. How are you as a person adapting to that?
Gary: I have to say there have been adaptations for me in the last couple of years. One I think in terms of making more clinical decisions after Valencia, and making more definite decisions. I also think in that dressing room at Manchester United it was a brilliant place, a wonderful place – but it was also quite a brutal place where you could say anything to anybody. They would get on with it and you had to accept it. You were here to win and that was it. We were here to win and to do our best, and you can’t be like we were in that dressing room in the workplace – you couldn’t be you have to adapt so we’ve adapted. I’ve adapted in this last five, six, seven years to be more accepting of peoples situations, peoples circumstances. I had to change myself and hopefully people change around you. As long as there is respect between each other and we all work hard. I always think that for me I like people that I work with that don’t put there out of office on.
Lee: Okay so if you want to work with Gary don’t put your out of office on! One of the questions I want to ask is who is the most interesting person you’ve ever met?
Gary: Roy Keane was the most intriguing person in our changing room, the most demanding person, the most inspirational person. Sir Alex Ferguson, obviously. Tony Adams was interesting. He had an interesting story and he had some troubles. They are well documented and he was happy to share them with you and talk to you about them. He had problems particularly after playing for England, Euro ’96. I always remember him speaking to us about those and it’s good when people share their vulnerabilities with you I think. It makes you feel like, okay everyone is suffering but it’s good to be able to listen to people\’s stories. He was particularly interesting.
Lee: I think sharing your vulnerability does create a more trusting relationship I suspect. On business then for anyone listening who may be starting out on their entrepreneurial journey, if you were to write a business book, how has sport helped you?
Gary: I would say if you are going to start a business, make sure you are passionate about it. If you’re not, don’t do it. You have to feel it in your heart. You can’t just think I’m going to set up a business and think that’s a really good idea to make money. To me, that doesn’t work for me. It may work for some people but I think the reason people get into stuff is because they have a passion about it and they love it. That way then you’ll get the best out of yourself. If you take on anything in life try and love what you do if you can. It’s not always possible but if you’re going to follow a career try and love it. If you’re going to set up a business make sure you’re passionate about it and that will get you a long way. It’s a bit like the work ethic in a football team really.
I would say if you are going to start a business, make sure you are passionate about it. If you’re not, don’t do it. You have to feel it in your heart. You can’t just think I’m going to set up a business and think that’s a really good idea to make money.
Lee: Any practical tips that you’ve learnt along the way? Obviously you’ve got passion which is the driving force but practicalities that people just don’t think about?
Gary: Have really good people alongside you and make sure that you look after them.
Lee: Finally let’s end on your top three attributes of being an entrepreneur.
Gary: Top three, risk, determination, and hard work.
Lee : Gary thank you very much for coming in. I wish you success and success for Saturday as well.
Gary: It’s going to be a nerve wracking experience. I know the Fylde owner. He was very good to us a few years ago when we took over Salford City because he built a stadium; he was going on the journey. We went to see him. He was a couple of leagues above us at the time. He’s always been very good to us and I still message him, so I have to say if it wasn’t us that was going up on Saturday, Fylde would be the team I would want to go up so it’ll be us or them!
Lee: Thank you very much Gary.
Article Transcription by Terry Capostagno
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