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Gary Neville has seamlessly swapped playing for punditry and coaching

Gary Neville sits and gathers his thoughts. High up in the Camp Nou press box, he has just commentated for Sky Sports on Barcelona beating Bayern Munich in an epic Champions League semifinal first leg.

"Wow," he says. "That was incredible. Messi."

Neville shakes his head in amazement, having just seen two giants go toe-to-toe and create a thrilling spectacle.

Watching such games live is a major reason why he went into television after a career that saw him play 602 times for Manchester United and win eight Premier League titles, three FA Cups and the Champions League.

He was celebrated by United fans who loved a driven fan who came through the youth ranks to captain the club. Yet success attracts envy, and he was reviled by many opposing fans and considered the embodiment of United's perceived arrogance.

Then something strange happened. Those who used to knock Neville began to respect and admire him when he turned to television work after his retirement four years ago.

He spoke to ESPN FC about his current roles in television and as a coach with the England national team.

Before becoming a coach and TV pundit, Gary Neville played 602 games for Man United and won 85 England caps.

On working in television

"I didn't make a conscious decision that I wanted to go into television when I retired from football. But I was clear that I didn't want to go straight into coaching. I wanted to see the game from a different angle.

"All I knew is that I wanted to learn. I'd not seen the darker side of football at United. You're in a bubble -- a successful bubble -- as part of this winning machine. That can be an advantage and a disadvantage.

"When Sky offered me the contract, I felt that it was the right thing for me. It would give me a chance to watch 95 percent of all the big games in person, which is far better. Big games in England, but also in Europe, where I knew I could learn. I could also learn new disciplines in the media. It was too good to turn down."

On the quality of football punditry

"The analysis of football on television has got better and better. Punditry used to be knocked by players, including me, especially when it was old pros just being negative. Now I see it differently. I try and not just explain what is happening in a game, but, crucially, why it is happening.

"I see my job as communicating that in a manner which people watching at home will understand. I think people now have a greater awareness of tactics than they did have. Fans demand more now. They want specific details about why a player did a certain thing. I'm happy to provide that information."

On mistakes he has made

"I've made a few blunders in the heat of the moment. I said that it was 'some sight' when Gareth Bale opened his legs. And I get reminded a lot about the noise I made after Fernando Torres scored for Chelsea in Camp Nou. I'm not going to try and repeat the noise, but it came from having a great passion for football and seeing the dramatic events unfolding in front of me."

On his most dramatic moment

"I'm always asked how I felt when Sergio Aguero scored the goal which meant Manchester City pipped United to the title in the final minute of the final game of the 2011-12 season. It was the most dramatic end to the season possible, and I was at the Etihad covering it. With a few minutes to play, that was the best place to be for a United fan. I was surrounded by all these miserable blue faces and broken hearts. It was fantastic.

"Then Aguero scored and I was like, 'Get me out of here.' Everyone was going crazy, and they'd have liked nothing more than rubbing the win in my nose. I don't think we'll see anything as dramatic as that again."

On Liverpool and Man City fans

"I actually get a lot of Liverpool and City fans coming up to me and saying that they obviously didn't like me when I played but that they can just about put up with me now. I've had a couple of incidents where people have tried to have a go -- once coming out of Old Trafford after we'd played Liverpool and one at the Etihad. I go to a lot of games and 99 percent of the time -- even at Anfield and the Etihad -- there's humour without aggression."

On escaping the Man United bubble

"The television role also brought me into contact with coaches. I'd bump into them in tunnels at stadiums before or after matches. We'd talk and I'd learn. It all gave me a greater appreciation and understanding of football after spending all my adult life at United."

On combining TV with coaching for England

"While I loved my role in television, the icing on the cake came when I was offered a role coaching with England 12 months later. That would allow me to keep working inside a dressing room and stay inside football. It was the perfect combination as I still had plenty of learning to do in both roles.

"I don't change from television to the dressing room; I'm exactly the same. But I've learned to change inside a dressing room from when I was at United. There, everything was very blunt. You spoke your mind and that was that. I've learned that you can't always do that. What you say might stay with that person for a long time.

"I've learnt to be tolerant and that comes from Roy Hodgson and Rey Lewington, two very experienced coaches who I'm lucky to work with. You can't be blunt with everyone because not everyone takes criticism as well as others. I've also learned to be more patient than I was."

On the future

"I accept that what I do can't go on forever, but what I'm doing works for me now. People ask me if I'm going to be a manager. I've got a year left on my England and Sky contract so I need to think about my future. I've not made my mind up. By the end of the year I think I'll have a clearer idea."

Carragher on Neville

Neville's work on television has elevated the expected standard of punditry. His current Sky colleague Jamie Carragher explains how the pair's relationship has changed since their playing days.

"We didn't have that much of a relationship when we played," says Carragher. "We were rivals for clubs so we weren't going to be pally when we played for England. I didn't like United, he didn't like Liverpool. And that was that.

"I knew he was very straight, that was clear. And he's been brilliant for me in television. He's a grafter, he has a good humour and he works very hard. And he's managed to get Liverpool fans to like him!"

Andy Mitten is a freelance writer and the founder and editor of United We Stand. Follow him on Twitter: @AndyMitten.


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