“He just took me straight to Sir Alex’s house.”
Phil Neville has recalled the circumstances surrounding his Manchester United exit and revealed that his brother, Gary, played a key role in getting his move to Everton done.
The younger of the Neville brothers knew that his future lay away from Old Trafford early on in the 2004/05 season.
Neville was quizzed on his United departure during an appearance on Jamie Carragher’s Greatest Game podcast and revealed how he arrived at the decision to call time on his decade with the Red Devils.
“The decision came in an eight-month period when they kept playing these players, and then I would play a few games and do well but then these players would come back in,” Neville said.
“And there was one game against West Brom at home, I played and I got subbed – [Eric] Djemba-Djemba got brought on – and I was sat on the bench, and I’ll never forget that the secretary after the game came up and said to me, ‘I know what you’re thinking’. He said, ‘You need to leave.” And I said, ‘Yeah, that is what I am thinking.’
“The ball had started [to drop] over the previous eight months. We got to the cup final and we played Arsenal in Cardiff and we lost on penalties. I wasn’t named as a sub and that was the final nail.
“I remember that day thinking it was time, the writing was on the wall. Steve McClaren rang me from Middlesbrough and asked me if I was interested. I knew Steve knew Sir Alex so I thought they had maybe spoken to each other, and thought that was a real sign. But David Moyes had obviously approached my dad as well.”
Neville admitted that his older brother, Gary, took command when he discovered that wheels were in motion to find Phil a new club.
Gary Neville immediately got in touch with legendary manager Alex Ferguson to have a frank discussion about what was best for his younger sibling.
“I told Gary it was happening and, Gary being Gary, he literally picked up his phone and phoned Sir Alex straight away, and within 10 minutes we were sat in Sir Alex’s front room,” Phil revealed.
“Literally Gary wasn’t my teammate, he became my brother, the protective one around me. He just took me straight to Sir Alex’s house and I had a cup of tea, a piece of cake and we spoke about the next stage of my career.
Phil Neville on Gary’s role in Man United exit
“We literally came out of his house and I was no longer a United player from that moment. Ultimately, it was probably Gary that instigated the final bit.
“My dad was away on holiday with my mum. And he literally picked up the phone and rang the boss, and said, ‘Right we need to talk, Phil wants to talk!’ And within an hour, Gary had got me a move to Everton.”
Neville left Old Trafford with six Premier League titles, three FA Cups and a Champions League to his name.
Neville revealed that he initially had no interest in moving to another Premier League club and held out hope of a switch to La Liga but Fergie was determined to have Neville join David Moyes’ Everton side.
“He didn’t want me to leave,” Neville said of Ferguson. “All he kept saying to me was, ‘I don’t want you to leave, there’s a contract there, I want you to stay but I understand for your career.’
“I said, ‘Well I’m not going to another Premier League club.’ I wanted to go to Spain and there was interest from Atletico Madrid at the time, I never wanted to play against Manchester United.
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) March 15, 2021
Phil Neville initially wanted to move to Spain
“But he said, ‘I thought you said Everton were interested.’ And I said, ‘Yeah but I’m not.’
“And he said, ‘I want you to sign for Everton.’ And I said, ‘No boss, I don’t want to play against Man United, I would find it too difficult.’ He said, ‘You’re signing for Everton, that is the best club, David Moyes is the best manager, it’s just down the road, you can keep your family unit together.’
“I said, ‘But boss, I am thinking about speaking to an Italian or Spanish agent.’ I wanted to move abroad. He kept saying Everton. We came out and the next day, Moyes phoned my dad, he came to my house, two days later I drove to Goodison Park, signed for Everton. Three or four days later, first game of the season, we played United.
“The funny thing about Gary is that he is the most unemotional person ever. He doesn’t get emotional, doesn’t hug, doesn’t do high fives.
“So I go into United and clean my boots out, the only person I didn’t see that day was Gary, he hid somewhere in the training ground because he didn’t want to say goodbye to me, he didn’t want any fuss. He was the only player who never came to say goodbye to me.”