By Tim Hanlon
REUTERS – The task facing former England and Manchester United defender Gary Neville in his first job in football management is a considerable one by anybody’s standards — to reignite struggling La Liga side Valencia.
Neville was the club’s surprise choice on Wednesday to replace Nuno Espirito Santo, who stepped down ‘by mutual consent’ after Sunday’s 1-0 league defeat at Sevilla which left the club languishing in mid-table.
The 40-year-old joins his younger brother, Phil, who survived the departure of Nuno and will assist interim coach Salvador Gonzalez at their game against La Liga leaders Barcelona on Saturday.
Gary Neville will take over the running of the Valencia first team the following day, in time to prepare for their Champions League game against Olympique Lyon next Wednesday.
His new team face a difficult task to reach the last 16 of the competition, as they are languishing in third place in Group H with one round of matches to go.
It is not only in Europe where Valencia have had problems recently.
The six-times Spanish league champions, who have also won the UEFA and European Cup Winners Cups, have struggled this season despite plenty of investment.
It will be a tough challenge for Neville, with expectations high among the notoriously demanding Valencia fans, and his job will be to fulfil the ambitions of Singapore billionaire owner Peter Lim, who aims to make the club one of the top sides in Europe.
Lim bought a 50 percent stake in Salford City, an English semi-professional club owned by the Neville brothers and their fellow Class of ’92 team mates Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes.
Phil Neville was appointed assistant manager at Valencia in July.
Since retiring as a player in 2011, Gary Neville has worked as a media pundit and began gaining coaching experience with the England team.
His manager at international level, Roy Hodgson, believes Neville’s move will benefit him and England.
“As far as I’m concerned this will be an extra string to his bow and the experience he will gain working in the Spanish league can only be beneficial to our work together with the England team,” he said in a statement
As a first managerial role, it could not be much tougher, however.
Valencia are ninth in La Liga, with 19 points from 13 games.
They are struggling in the Champions League, lying in third place in Group H with six points from five games and only the match at home to Olympique Lyonnais next week to play.
Zenit St Petersburg lead the way with a maximum 15 points and Gent have seven.
Nuno, endured a stormy tenure at the helm of Valencia after being chosen to lead Lim’s project in 2014. With his lack of experience, some fans felt he was chosen because of his friendship with the owner and there was discontent among the crowd over the team’s style of play even though they qualified for the Champions League last season.
Despite signing players such as Alvaro Negredo, Rodrigo Moreno and Aymen Abdennour, the club have not been able to progress.
Discontent led to regular chants of ‘Nuno out’ during home games and after the Sevilla defeat on Sunday Nuno decided to stand down.
“(Neville) is somebody who has technical experience as part of the England national team and a brilliant career as a player for Manchester United and England,” Valencia president Lay Hoon Chan said on the club website (http://valenciacf.com).
Neville is about to find out whether that experience will be enough to put the spark back into the Mestalla.
(Editing by Neville Dalton)