Jamie Carragher and Gary Neville disagreed during Sunday’s coverage of the Manchester derby on Sky Sports
After so long in the wilderness, it appears Gary Neville is now unable to see the wood from the trees at Manchester United.
The former Red Devils captain was at it once more on Sunday evening as he and his Sky Sports colleagues, that included Jamie Carragher, picked the bones out of another damaging and demoralising loss to local rivals Manchester City at Old Trafford.
The bleatings, as he clashed with Liverpool legend Carragher, were familiar ones that centred around the Glazer family, their absentee ownership and the general lack of stability that has caused at Old Trafford in recent years.
“Are we going to keep blaming the kids in the class or are we going to blame the headteacher?” was one of Neville’s retorts to Carragher’s questioning of Erik ten Hag’s style of play; one that saw them fail to get close to their most fierce of enemy during a game they lost 3-0, at home.
It’s a regular trope from Neville, who never wastes an opportunity to turn his ire on the Glazers whenever United stumble. So much so, in fact, that it has become a running joke among Liverpool circles whenever their rivals at the top of English football stumble. When the conflict is so historic , schadenfreude is a powerful intoxicant for football supporters.
For Carragher’s part, he knows all about what it is like to try and perform at the elite level when your club’s American owners are detested but the legendary centre-back won’t ever have ducked behind Tom Hicks and George Gillett whenever things were turning sour on the pitch around the turn of the 2010s.
Neville’s back-and-forth with Carragher made for compelling viewing after the game and such impassioned debate has helped make Sky Sports’ coverage of the biggest Premier League games what it is over the years.
Such fervent chatter is now as big a part of the show as the action on the pitch itself, particularly when results are so striking and defeats so humiliating. When the conversation is genuine and fiery, the post-match dissections are appointment viewing, particularly when it is two of the most polished and respected analysers around.
But while resounding United defeats – like Sunday’s 3-0 humbling by City or last term’s 7-0 capitulation at Liverpool – bring in the viewers to catch a glimpse of the withering Roy Keane put-downs or the sober, stoic assessments of Neville, the latter is beginning to sound like a broken record with his refusals to truly call out what is unfolding on the pitch.
An inability to criticise the job Erik ten Hag is doing with the incredibly expensive squad he has built over the last three transfer windows – to the tune of around £400m – is undermining the pundit’s credibility.
Sure, the model of ownership preferred by the Glazers and the ongoing questions around a potential sale of the club is contributing to what has been, generally, a decade of underperformance at Old Trafford, but one thing the Americans cannot be accused of is not backing whichever manager has sat in the hot seat since Alex Ferguson walked away in 2013.
Not content with just one analogy that portrayed Ten Hag and his staff as children, however, Neville doubled down on it once more on social media on Monday morning in response to a tweet that was critical of winger Antony’s contribution.
“If the kids ask for something on a continual basis and the parents keep writing the cheque who do you blame?” he wrote on X. “Context on Antony. We’d just lost to Brighton and Brentford and the club was in reactive panic mode as per usual and sanctioned and said ‘Yes’ to Casemiro and Antony .
Luis Diaz of Liverpool during a training session in Germany this week
“It’s all on the Glazers for complete panic and lack of leadership! They’ve done this for 10 years. CR7 (Cristiano Ronaldo) to City and panic. Alexis (Sanchez) to City and panic. Ajax couldn’t believe we’d offered that money. Owners and Directors sanction deals. Now I agree Antony needs to do better but it was never a deal to do in those circumstances.”
When an ownership group is being criticised for granting their manager the funds needed to sign his No.1 target in Antony, who cost an eye-watering £81m, it is time to press pause the very obvious agenda.
The more pertinent question for Neville is why, after so much spent by Ten Hag, is 35-year-old Jonny Evans, who rejoined as a free agent in the summer, being asked to stop the world’s most fearsome striker in Erling Haaland? That is not on the owners.
Goalkeeper Andre Onana has yet to truly convince since moving from Inter, while Mason Mount has become something of a forgotten man after joining from Chelsea. The pair cost United over £100m while £64m striker Rasmus Hojllund is yet to get off the mark in the Premier League. These are problems for Ten Hag to resolve.
For all the complaints around Glazers, of which so many are valid, it was Ten Hag and the football side of the United operation who created such a lopsided squad that has had £75m Jadon Sancho banished to the shadows after a falling out with the Dutch manager.
With just 15 points from a possible 30 in a campaign that has seen them now lose to City, Arsenal, Tottenham, Crystal Palace and Brighton – while also just about squeezing past the likes of Burnley, Sheffield United and Brentford – Carragher’s questions over their style of football are much more relevant than Neville’s constant critiques of the owners.
Neville’s agenda has never been hidden but it is now the only thing he sees.