x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Gary Neville: The time was right to retire

The former Manchester United right-back says the team "were on another level" and admits he could not contribute to the squad.

Gary Neville speaks in Abu Dhabi yesterday.
Gary Neville speaks in Abu Dhabi yesterday.

ABU DHABI // Gary Neville, the former Manchester United right-back, believes his decision to retire midway through this season has been vindicated by the club's participation in what he describes as "one of the biggest weeks you could ever imagine to have".

United slipped to defeat to Arsenal yesterday in the Premier League, but all will be forgiven on Wednesday if they beat Schalke to book their place in the Champions League final. Four days later, they play Chelsea at home in what is shaping up as a play-off for the Premier League crown.

Neville could have been involved had he chosen not to call time on his 19-year career in February. The decision appeared abrupt, but Neville, 36, said "it was something that came over a period of time".

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"You don't just wake up one morning and decide you are going to retire from playing for Manchester United," said Neville, who was in Abu Dhabi to help train youngsters at Manchester United's Soccer Schools. "They were playing on a different level than I was playing at, and I just had to be honest with myself and admit that. It just felt like the right moment - I couldn't contribute to the team. And it's been proven: they are going into a Champions League final, hopefully, and winning the league."

Such success is a far cry from what was expected of a team that at the start of the season had their ambitions written off following a series of disappointing draws against the likes of Sunderland, West Bromwich Albion and, most notably, Everton, where they conceded twice in injury time.

Neville, however, said the players were never too concerned, joking that "we were just a bit bored at the start of the season".

"There have been many seasons in the past when we have not played well at the start," he said. "But then all of a sudden things just pick up after Christmas. It's like the team don't start taking it serious until after Christmas. But the start of the season is never the point to be at your peak. We are coming into our best form at the right time: at the end of the season, when it matters."

In 1992, Neville found himself on Sir Alex Ferguson's team sheet following an injury to Paul Parker and he soon made the position his own. He is pleased the process proved similar with him and the Da Silva twins, Rafael and Fabio.

"You can't stand in the way of young talent," he said. "Once young talent starts to emerge, you have to let it be free and fly."

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae